DYNAMICS OF DISCIPLESHIP
by Brian Knowles
In Jesus commission to the church, we find these words:
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations . . . " (Matthew
28:19). What did Jesus mean by the term disciple? And how do we
In addition to being the Son of God, Jesus was both a Jew
and a rabbi. His teaching nomenclature and methodology were
Jewish to the core. When He spoke of making disciples, Jesus had
something specific in mind - something grounded in the original
In Greek, the word for disciple is "mathetes," meaning
literally "a learner." This contrasts with the word for teacher -
"didaskalo." A "didactic" person is inclined to teach; a disciple
is inclined to learn. In the Hebrew language, the word for
disciple is "talmid."
Jesus wanted His own disciples to go out into the world and
make more talmidim (the plural for talmid) like them.
Within the culture of second temple Judaism, talmid had a
specific range of meanings. Typically, talmidim were the
followers of great rabbis, many of whom were itinerant teachers.
In Jesus' day, rabbi, which meant "master," was a term of
honor, not an ordained office. Great rabbis gathered disciples
based on their reputation, not because of a line position in a
A disciple was not just a student of the rabbi, but an
adherent. Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really
my disciples" (John 8:31). The result of discipleship was
spiritual fruit-bearing, which gave glory to the Father (15:8).
Anyone who is truly a disciple of Christ bears fruit for the
A disciple often sat at the feet of his master (Luke 8:35;
10:39). Of course, the physical posture wasn't so important, but
the relationship of rabbi to his disciples was. A lower position
illustrated humility before the master and showed itself in
childlike teachability and obedience (Matthew 18:1-4; 19:14).
Teachability is not gullibility, however. The pupil could
question the teacher, as Jesus did His teachers when He was only
twelve (Luke 2:46). In the Jewish school, in fact, discussions
between rabbis and their disciples could be boisterous and
assertive. This is the principle of "iron sharpens iron" at work
(Proverbs 27:17) - a process of thought refinement that reveals
truth and understanding.
Jesus felt that such learning couldn't stay within a small
group. That's why He instructed His disciples to take His
teachings into the world (Matthew 28:19, 20). This is the content
of the commission - to teach "all nations" the same things Jesus
had taught His followers.
A disciple, then, is one who sits at Jesus' feet by hearing
those who preach His gospel. He is humble, teachable, and
obedient, and shares Jesus' teachings with others.
So how do we make disciples? First, we expose them to the
gospel. People learn that Christ came into the world to be
offered as a sacrifice for sins. He was the foundation and
capstone of God's plan to rescue doomed humanity. Jesus died,
rose, and to intercede for us. Those who accept His sacrifice
have eternal life in Christ. Once they receive the Holy Spirit,
they are "sealed" (Ephesians 1:13,14).
Whenever people have heard the gospel, accepted it, and are
baptized, they enter into lifelong discipleship as students of
our Lord Jesus Christ. Through the Holy Spirit and through the
written Word, He teaches them.
As with the original disciples, Jesus doesn't teach only
through words but also through example and experience. This often
means suffering. Life for a disciple is boot camp for eternity.
We endure this boot camp with Paul's words in mind: "He who began
a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day
of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6).
That ought to be a comforting thought. Jesus will not allow
any of His disciples to slip through the cracks unless they, like
Judas, choose to fall away. They will continue to grow in the
knowledge, character, skills, and spiritual power they need to
serve Christ now and to take their God-given places in the world
Sometimes through excruciatingly painful trials and almost
unbearable tests, disciples are readied for a higher calling.
Like Paul and the other apostles, they can bear unjust suffering
at the hands of evil or ignorant people (2 Corinthians 11:16-33).
In this life we suffer loss: children, husbands, wives, parents,
siblings, and friends. Yet all we have lost in this life will be
restored in the next (Acts 3:27). The world swaddled in a sodden
blanket of evil and sin will be renewed, refreshed, and restored
to its Edenic state. God's instruction shall go forth from Zion
(Isaiah 2:3). The disciples of Christ will shine like Him, and
all will come to resolution.
The world will finally understand why it had to go through
these terrible eons of pain and suffering to get to divine
closure. As disciples of Jesus, we have been given insight into
the whys and wherefores of the human condition and into God's
Maturity and perseverance
Until the Lord returns, it is our duty to go into the world
and make disciples. The goal of discipleship is to move those God
has called and who have been reborn ("converted" is a better word
- Keith Hunt) by the Spirit in the direction of spiritual
adulthood (Hebrews 5:11-6:3; Jude 20; Matthew 5:48). As the
writer of Hebrews asserts, we must not freeze our spiritual
development at an immature level. Rather, we must "go on to
As disciples of Christ, we will encounter opposition,
persecution, and ridicule. In our post Christian culture, many
people do not take God seriously. That reality didn't stop the
original disciples, and it must not stop us. We must go out into
the world in humility, realizing that we are no better than
anyone else. We simply have good news to convey and disciples to
Brian Knowles writes from Monrovia, CA. USA. Scripture quotations
were taken from the New International Version.
I'm glad Brian used words like "sometimes" and "maybe" and "often
means" in relation to suffering and hardship and trials and tests
that Christians go through in this physical life. While it is
true we can find in the writings of the New Testament passages
encouraging Christians to bear-up under persecutions and
hardships. While it is true that Jesus said a disciple of His may
have to give up friends, family, husband, wife, children, to
follow Him, THAT IS NOT ALWAYS TRUE, NOR IS IT ALWAYS
Some Christians, in some places, under their circumstances, do
NOT have troubles with their employer, with their wife of
husband, with their children, with their friends or relatives,
and walk the Christian road relatively in peace and safety and
with little or no problems in this physical life. Just because
that is so does not mean you are less than what you should be as
Some mistakingly believe that unless you have big troubles or
large persecutions with an employer, mate, children, friends,
relatives, you are not much of a productive Christian. This is
I think I've had it pretty easy and relatively smooth going in my
Christian life. Yes, I've had trials and tests and troubles here
and there along the way in different situations, but to me they
were nothing compared to what others have faced. Yet I know some
would think my Christian troubles and persecutions were LARGE, so
I guess it is a matter to some extent of your attitude towards
the thorns you encounter along the Christian pathway.
But we need to keep in mind the perspective that what is hardship
and difficult in the discipleship of a Christian for one person
is as nothing to another person. The apostle Paul most would say
did have many serious physical troubles, even near to death, but
Barnabas, Peter, and disciples like John, from what we know, had
little or none of what Paul often faced. They were no less
"Christian" than Paul.
How you live and conduct yourself, how you speak and work, how
you interact with people, how you serve with love, how you show
kindness and patience, in all situations is what makes you a
solid Christian, and a pleasing child to the Father in heaven and
to our elder brother Christ Jesus.
PLease study my study called "Trials, Tests and Troubles" on this
Website, for a balanced understanding of the Christian life.
Entered on this Website, the Feast of Trumpets, September 2007.