The subject of Christian discipleship is often understood in terms of some latest church program or curriculum, but is that what it is? The following message was delivered at Sovereign Grace Bible Church two Sundays ago.
CHARACTERISTICS OF A CHRISTIAN DISCIPLE
One of the overarching themes in this chapter is discipleship; but not just any discipleship, but Christian discipleship. The operative word is Christian discipleship. I say this because there are many different types of discipleship. One can refer to discipleship in the context of martial-arts, religious sect, music, a specific trade like plumbing or carpentry, and so on. But Christian discipleship is more than just showing the ropes or equipping someone for a task. It also involves character training, which involves confrontations, corrections, and other aspects of caring that are Christ-focused, ultimately, for the purpose of honoring Christ.
And last week we have learned that the disciples of Jesus will be persecuted. Hence, from verses 16 to 23, we have learned three aspects of persecutions, namely the certainty of persecution, the reasons for persecution, and the types of persecution. This evening, we come to the final section of this chapter with characteristics of a Christian disciple, that is, what does a Christian disciple looks like?
But before we get to that, let me deal with some preliminary clarifications on the meaning of a disciple. Biblically speaking, terms like a disciple of Christ, a follower of Christ, and a Christian are all synonymous. Exegetically, a disciple or mathetes in Greek refers to a “learner, apprentice, a student.” And the one who disciples others is often referred as a teacher. In fact, in the Gospels, Jesus was often called a teacher. For instance, in Matthew 22:16, the text reads, “And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any.”
Hence, understanding that simple definition of what a disciple means has several implications. For one thing, a Christian, then, is a learner, a student. In fact, there is some truth in saying that if a professing Christian stops learning, he stops living. For me, I don’t know any Christian who dislikes studying and learning God’s truth. If there is such a one, then that person is deceived to think that being a Christian and a student can be categorically different, when in fact those two are not different or can be.
Being a student means he or she has some intelligence and truths about God, the Bible, the gospel, etc. To say you do not know anything may appear as something of humility, but it is a false humility, because to say you are a Christian means that you are absolutely certain about something about certain knowledge. The question is not whether you are an expert since there are different levels of knowledge, but the question is whether you do have some working knowledge of sound theology. All that is to say, ignorance is never a virtue in Christianity.
Since terms like a Christian, a follower, a student, and a disciple are all used interchangeably, such implication also raises a question as to whom are you learning from? I say this because there are too many Christians who are too quick and too interested to hear what other teachers and pastors say than what their own pastor says. They’re not eager to drink and eat from the labor of their own pastor, but quick to eat and drink from others.
Such an attitude and action typically comes from a dangerous, unhealthy, and even erroneous worldview that has a very low view of the local church. In fact, generally, people with a low view of the local church do not see the need to join and become a member, because after all, I don’t need a church to be a Christian, so they say so often. And if you have a low view of the priority for the local church, of course, you’ll have a low view of your own pastor. Keep in mind that when Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you,” it is written for the context of a local church. Literally, the first part of Hebrews 13:17 says, “You all obey or follow (the verb is imperative) the leaders of yours or you belonged to (since yours is genitive in Greek). Again, the question is who are you learning from or studying under? That answer should be the priority of your local church.
Moreover, not only it is important to raise the question from whom you are learning and studying under, but also, are you making disciples? Making disciples is not an option for Christians; rather it is a biblical mandate. The famous Matthew 28:19 clearly commands by Christ, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” Again, the question is, are you making disciples? Again, the answer to that question needs to be within the context of a local church first and foremost. And I’m so glad to be part of the local church, where this is taken seriously by its members. A case in point – because our members take making disciples seriously within the priority of a local church, we take the Equipping Hour seriously. It is during that time the people from children age to adults participate in a discipleship group by its own teachers. We give priority first and foremost to our church folks.
But making disciples does not stop just in our local church. We extend further to our community during the week, with Kids for Christ on Wednesday nights as a community outreach. And due to available technology, our ministry is also reaching Christians around the world via internet. You’ll be amazed to find out people from which countries download sermons or regularly read our blogs. All those things cannot happen unless you and I are on the same page in regards to our mission. In fact, I want to encourage both new comers and members to ponder and pray regularly from our mission statement that is located back of our bulletin. It says:
We exist with a sole mission to glorify God by: exalting the supremacy of Christ; equipping the saints of Christ, and evangelizing the sinners without Christ, with the message of life-transforming gospel – locally, regionally, and globally.
Due to time, let me get to the heart of this message, namely the six characteristics of a Christian disciple.
I. A Disciple Imitates His/Her Teacher (vv. 24-25).
In our Scripture reading tonight from 1 Corinthians 11, Paul says to the church of Corinth, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (v. 1). What timing between our message and our Scripture reading!
In what sense does a Christian become like Christ or imitate him? By walking on the water? Raising the dead? Being nailed to the cross? I don’t think so. When people do bizarre things in the name of imitating Christ it is simply due to erroneous hermeneutics. They cannot distinguish the difference between what is descriptive and prescriptive.
So, in what sense does a Christian imitate Christ? According to verses 24 and 25, two answers are offered. First, a Christian imitates Christ by submission. Jesus illustrates this point with two analogies of relationships – between a student and his teacher, and a slave and his master (v. 24). The most foundational truth in Christian discipleship is submission, that is, “a disciple (a student, a learner) is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master.” What hinders any Christian disciple to become an effective learner and student would be his/her pride, which is opposite to submission and humility. Benjamin Franklin once said, “He who cannot obey, cannot command.” In the same way, he who cannot submit, cannot lead others.
Secondly, a Christian imitates Christ by receiving similar type of treatment like his master (v. 25). Beelzebul was one of the pagan gods, who was a ruler of demons. For Jews it was equivalent to Satan. Hence what Jesus is saying is that if the religious people insulted him by calling him Satan, the disciples of Christ are not going to get a better treatment. Jesus said in John 15:20, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.”
The goal of every follower of Christ is to imitate Christ. Jesus said, “It is enough for the disciple that he becomes like his teacher.”
II. A Disciple Fears God More Than Men (vv. 26-31).
Three times Jesus commands not to fear men (vv. 26, 28, 31). These commands come immediately after Jesus told his disciples that he sends them as sheep in the midst of wolves and would be persecuted.
·NAU Proverbs 29:25 The fear of man brings a snare, But he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted.
The professing Christians who have surrendered to one of our cultural ideologies of avoiding confrontations have lost to become the prophetic voice in our time and have become unacceptable cowards. That’s what happens when you fear people.
And when there is continuous refusal to confront the world with the gospel, it only confirms that such a professor does not belong to Christ after all.
·NAU 1 John 2:15 ¶ Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
Jesus offers a few reasons why we should not fear men.
1. Because God knows everything (vv. 26-27).
The thought that God is omniscient is comforting and condemning, depends on where you are at with Christ.
2. Because God is all power (v. 28).
The power to destroy a person’s body is nothing compared to power to destroy both soul and body in hell! Having the body destroyed is so temporal compared to eternal destruction of having both body and soul in hell.
3. Because God is all providing (vv. 29-30).
In 1 Corinthians 4:7 Paul said, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” If what you have is simply due to your own glory, then you can boast. But if you think that what you have is due to receiving what you don’t deserve, then self-boasting has no place as a recipient of God’s grace.
The notion that we should not fear because God is the faithful provider for his creation is nothing new here in Matthew’s Gospel. Back in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus already said, “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!”
III. A Disciple Confesses the Lord, Not Denies the Lord (vv. 32-33).
Please note that both positive and negative are mentioned, namely confession and denying. To confess means to agree and admit. Literally, the word means to speak the same thing. What is clearly implied is that it is our duty, honor, and privilege to confess Christ before people, not only in words, but in faith and suffering for him. Paul later reiterates such truth in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Also in Roman 10:
·NAU Romans 10:9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
The opposite of confessing is denying, which means to disregard, refuse, or to disown. This particular word is found several times in the Gospels, not only as a warning by our Lord, but also as the recorded account of Peter’s denial of Christ. But outside of the Gospels, there is no one who used this word more than Paul, especially, in the Pastoral Epistles. For instance:
·NAU 2 Timothy 2:12 If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us;
·NAU Titus 1:16 They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.
IV. A Disciple Counts the Cost of Division in the Family (vv. 34-37).
Many translators and expositors believe that Jesus is quoting Micah 7:6 in verse 35. And the key word is “against,” and it is mentioned three times just in verse 35. And that particular verb “to set against” means “to cause a separation or alienation.” Pastor John MacArthur notes:
Sometimes the rift between believers and unbelieving relatives is lifelong and irreconcilable. Yet a true disciple must be willing to pay that price. The gospels report at least two would-be disciples who did not accept Jesus’ call to follow Him because they were unwilling to sacrifice their family ties. One wanted to wait for his inheritance before following the Lord, and the other wanted to delay obedience until he had settled everything with his family.
In verse 37 the issue is not about whether it is wrong to love. The issue is about priority. In fact, the key word is “more than,” and it is mentioned repeatedly. The notion that something is “more than” means it is “above and beyond” qualitatively and quantitatively.
V. A Disciple Denies His Life (vv. 38-39).
Christian life is a life of total self-denial to the lordship of Christ, for the glory of God. We do not receive the crown unless we carry the cross.
Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool, who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot loose.”
VI. A Disciple Receives His Reward (vv. 40-42).
No kindness shown to a prophet or a messenger of God will go unnoticed. Even a cup of cold water will be rewarded. The point is, if you will be rewarded for even the most simplest and basic as giving a cup of cold water, how much more of your reward would be if you would to support and bless such a messenger of God?
As I mentioned on Reformation Sunday, John Calvin not only taught Christians to have a high regard for preaching, but also preachers. And such attitude is captured in his commentary on this particular verse. He wrote:
To receive a person in the name of a prophet, or in the name of a righteous man, means to do them good for the sake of honouring their doctrine, or of paying respect to piety. Though God enjoins us to perform offices of kindness to all mankind, yet he justly elevates his people to a higher rank, that they may be the objects of peculiar regard and esteem (italicized his).
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”
 About six times the verb is found in the Pastoral Epistles – e.g., 1 Tim. 5:8; 2 Tim. 2:12, 13, 3:5; Titus 1:16, 2:12.
 John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003),476.