By David Bennett
One of the most familiar verses in the Bible is Jesus' command in Matthew 28:19 to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Editor’s Note: David recently shared a devotional for a group of Asian Access leaders at the GProCongress in Bangkok. Entitled The Marks of a Disciple, David’s presentation speaks powerfully to the core values of Asian Access—so much so that we would love to share it with you. Following is Part One of David’s devotional, Total Commitment.
But what did Jesus mean by the word “disciple?”
The Meaning of "Disciple"
The Greek word translated “disciple” comes from the verb, which means “to learn.” So the basic meaning is “learner.” A disciple of Jesus is someone who has come to learn from him. The gospel writers sometimes use the word “disciple” in this broad sense to refer to the crowds who followed Jesus. But other times they are referring only to the Twelve whom Jesus chose to be with him constantly.
In the Greek world, the word "disciple" was used of students who apprenticed themselves to a philosopher or teacher. In Jesus' day, the Jewish rabbis also had students. In many ways, the relationship of Jesus to his disciples was similar to the relationship of the rabbis to their disciples. But whenever Jesus himself used the word "disciple," he described a relationship that went far beyond what any rabbi ever asked from his student.
I'd like to take a brief look at the four passages in which Jesus defined the marks of his true disciple.
The First Mark: Total Commitment
Consider first Luke 14, where we read in verse 25 that large crowds were following Jesus. Now Jesus was never impressed by large numbers as such. Bigger is not always better. Sometimes it is, but it depends on what we are counting.
Jesus is interested in counting disciples. And in Luke 14, what Jesus was teaching was not calculated to gather a crowd. It was more likely to disperse the crowd he had. [Read Luke 14:25-33].
The first mark of a disciple is total commitment. According to Jesus, a disciple is “All in.”
In verse 26, Jesus lists virtually every primary family relationship— father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters. And he says that the one who comes to him must hate all these, and even his own life.
Now of course the Bible puts a great deal of emphasis on the family unit. The fifth commandment requires honoring the father and mother. The book of Proverbs is full of instructions about raising children. The laws about sexual behavior are for the protection of the home. Jesus himself as a child was obedient to his parents. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church.
But the very fact that the family bond is so strong can make it a source of dangerous temptation— namely, to put family ahead of the Lord. In the name of family togetherness, a family can totally ignore worshiping with God's family, or taking time to build relationships with other Christians. A mother's determination to cater to her children's every whim can gobble up the time that she needs to spend alone with God in prayer and Bible study in order to be a more effective Mom. Intimidation by a vocal and antagonistic father can keep a grown son from making a wholehearted commitment to the Lord. Lukewarm family members can quench our own zeal, if we let them.
But when Jesus calls us to obey, no-one, absolutely no-one, not even the closest family member, can become an excuse to say "no." Our love for Jesus, and our commitment to him, requires a loyalty that makes every other loyalty pale by comparison. That's what it means to be his disciple.
Samuel Zwemer: All in with God
In 1890, after seminary and medical school, Samuel Zwemer became an ambassador for Jesus to Bahrain, one of the most difficult places in the Middle East. The first struggle was learning the Arabic language. In Bahrain Zwemer married a nurse from Australia. But life was very difficult. Within one week their two little girls died of dysentery, but the local people at first refused to let them bury the children, for fear that they would "contaminate the soil." Even then, Dr. Zwemer had to dig the grave himself. Yet the grieving parents showed their love for Christ by inscribing on the gravestone a phrase from Revelation 5:12,
"Worthy is the Lamb to receive riches." [Global Prayer Digest, Sep. 7, 1991].
They were “all in” with God.
Not even the natural instinct for self-preservation can stand in the way of the call of Jesus for total surrender. In verse 27, Jesus says that to be his disciple means to carry our cross and to come after him, that is, to be willing to follow Jesus even along the path of suffering and death.
James Calvert: We already died
When James Calvert went out to share the love of Jesus with the cannibals of the Fiji Islands, the captain of the ship that had carried him there urged him to turn back by saying, "You will lose your life and the lives of those who go with you if you go among such savages." But Calvert replied,
"We died before we came here." [Ill.Bibl.Pr. #215].
That is the reply of a disciple.
Discipleship, says Jesus, involves not only surrender of family ties, and giving up the right to self-preservation, but also the willingness to part with every material possession. [Read v.33]. Now Jesus did not call every one of his followers to sell every possession and to give it away. Nor was that the teaching of the apostles. But every possession is to be given up to Jesus.
Is Jesus' name is on the deed?
It's like putting Jesus' name on the title deed of everything we own. The disciple doesn't say anymore, "God can have that, but this belongs to me." No, he signs over everything to Jesus, then asks Jesus how it ought to be used.
Discipleship, says Jesus, is a radical commitment. It is a bond which looses all other bonds. The disciple will not be distracted by ties to family, or possessions, or even by instincts for self-preservation. The first mark of discipleship is total commitment—to be “All in.” Our Asian Access Core Values statement expresses it like this:
We are committed to building and nurturing a LOVE relationship with God—a relationship of the heart as well as the head. We long to experience God spiritually and emotionally as well as intellectually. This love relationship grows lifelong disciples of Jesus—men and women of God whose lives and ministries flow out of being rather than just doing.
- Part 2: Faithfulness to Jesus’ Word (coming soon)
- Asian Access' core values
- Photo credits: Samuel Zwemer, courtesy of The Traveling Team; James Calvert, courtesy Wikipedia.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rev. Dr. David Bennett is a veteran pastor, global researcher, and a passionate follower of Jesus. He currently serves as Global Associate Director for Collaboration and Content for the Lausanne Movement. David also serves on the Asian Access Board of Directors.