There are many terms that are used in Christian circles and Bible studies that can be confusing to someone who is not yet a believer or even a person who is young in their faith. One of those words is disciple, or discipleship. So, exactly, what is a disciple?
The word disciple comes from the greek word mathētēs, math-ay-tes, which literally means, “to learn, to understand.” It’s basically a student, pupil, or an apprentice.
What we have to remember is that back in these days the culture was very different than what we know today. But when we compare our personal relationship with Jesus, knowing what a Jewish disciple was back then, can help give a new perspective and challenge us to have a closer walk with Him today.
Brief history lesson
Back in biblical times a disciple, or student, would learn everything they possibly could from their teacher, or rabbi. The rabbis had extensive knowledge of the law and Scriptures and studied them very carefully.
If someone aspired to become a disciple they would actually have to request to become one to the rabbi. If, and only if the rabbi accepted, the disciple then would agree to submit completely to the rabbi’s authority, especially in regards to the Scriptures.
It was a true honor for someone to become a disciple. Back then, they didn’t have the easy access to the bible that we often take for granted today. Today, we have full access to God’s Word in both book format and digital format as well. Plus we have the Holy Spirit to guide us when we dive into the Scriptures. We are in a far better position than they were in that day and age.
But for them, they had to find rabbis to teach them how to live as close to God’s law as humanly possible. Not only the laws that God handed down through Moses but even the extra “hedge” or “fence” laws that were put in place to try and protect themselves from even the possibility of breaking one of God’s commandments.
It’s also important to know that a faithful disciple wouldn’t just learn and observe what the master would teach them. They went far beyond that and observed and followed their every move. They would study:
- How they ate
- How they lived
- How they interacted with others in society
- How they observed the Sabbath
- How they followed and observed the law and the Scriptures
They had a deep relationship with their teacher and wanted to be exactly like him in every way possible. It’s not the teacher/student relationship that we typically think of that is in our culture today. We see our teachers or mentors as part-time instructors and have very little to no relationship with them whatsoever, much less care about how they like their steak cooked!
This is important to know when looking at what Jesus did and what He commands of us as well.
The 12 Disciples
Usually, one of the first things a person will think of when they hear the word “disciple,” is they think of the 12 men that Jesus chose to be in His inner circle during His ministry on earth.
We think of Peter, James (brother of John), John, Andrew, Bartholomew (Nathaniel), James (brother of Jude), Judas, Jude (Thaddeus), Matthew (Levi), Philip, Simon the Zealot, and Thomas.
When we look at these men, we often wonder why Jesus would have picked such an interesting group of followers. Did these men really deserve to be part of the Messiah’s “inner circle”? I mean, if these men would have inquired of any of the religious scholars of the day to be a disciple of theirs, they probably would have been publicly ridiculed and possibly stoned. Yet, these are the ones that Jesus, Himself, hand picked to His spend time with and pour into…even Judas!
What can we learn from “The Twelve”?
There are 2 major things we notice right away when looking at when Jesus called His first disciples:
- They left their jobs to follow Jesus.
- They left their family to follow Jesus.
They were immediately drawn to Him. Something was different about Him. They had better be sure if they were leaving their livelihood and families behind.
Jesus simply said, “Come, follow Me.” And they did.
If Jesus were physically on this earth today, and came up to you at work and said, “Come, follow Me”, would you do it? How about your family reunion? Would you skip it?
Maybe that’s an unfair question depending on how much you dislike your job or your family! But definitely something worth pondering.
When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, they were at work. They were out casting a net into the lake, and Jesus said: “Come, follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” – Matthew 4:19 (NIV)
The next line shows how powerful just His words were for them.
“At once they left their nets and followed Him.” – Matthew 4:20 (NIV) They didn’t give it a second thought! They just went!
Continuing on He calls James and his brother John. They were out in a boat preparing their nets with their father, Zebedee. Jesus simply called them.
“And they immediately left the boat and their father and followed Him.” – Matthew 4:22 (NIV)
It was an immediate response. They didn’t sit around to pray about it first or seek counsel from their career coach. They just went.
Jesus’s words about becoming/being a disciple
Read: Luke 14:25-35
Jesus has some pretty strong words for those of us who choose to follow Him and be His disciple. They are often forgotten, explained away, glossed over, or ignored altogether. Here are just a few of the things that He mentions:
- You must love Him above all others, including your own family and your own life (Luke 14:26)
- You must bear your own cross and follow Him (Luke 14:27)
- You must count the cost (Luke 14:28-32)
- You must give up everything (NASB says possessions) (Luke 14:33)
- You must have love for one another (John 13:35)
The cost is high. It requires self-denial and personal sacrifice. But, compared to what He did for us on the cross, I think it’s a pretty fair trade if you ask me. It’s easy for us to look at just that list and think, “I’ll never be able to do those things.”
You’re right, in our own strength, we will never be able to do those things. For me, it’s a daily choice…sometimes a minute by minute evaluation of what’s most important. We aren’t going to get it right all the time. But as He becomes greater, we must become less. – John 3:30
So let’s do some self-evaluation, discover where we are now and where Jesus is calling us to be.
If we would simply get up every day with the mindset of, “Jesus, lead and I will follow.” The meaningless cares of this life would actually take care of themselves. You know, all of those things that are causing us stress, debt, anxiety, and robbing us of all the joy that we truly desire. And I know a lot of great servants of God that have great family lives and are blessed with wonderful careers as well. But their love for Jesus and following His plan supersedes everything else.
In the last words recorded in Matthew, Jesus says the following,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore 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. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)
- How closely are we studying Jesus and the Word of God today?
- How much do we desire to be like our Master?
- How close of a relationship do we really want to have with Him?
- Are we just wanting to do enough to get by?
- Or do we want more?
- Doesn’t Jesus deserve and even command more from us?
We tend to fall into the mind-trap of only worrying about what we think we might be giving up, rather than focusing on what really matters what we are really gaining.
Not only are we supposed to be closely following Jesus, but we are supposed to be reaching out to others and helping them to follow Jesus, as well.
So what’s more important? Doing what we know God is calling us to do or sitting around binge watching reruns of old television shows that we’ve seen a hundred times? It’s time to rise up.
Follow, grow, and lead!
Father, forgive us for not following You as we should. Forgive us for not having our priorities right. We desire to be your disciples. We desire to follow You and reach out to others as You have commanded us. Help us to do better each and every day. Thank you for Your grace, Lord. In Jesus’ name, Amen
What does being a disciple mean to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts and join you in a discussion. Leave a comment down below.