Colonial mentality is still very much embedded in the minds of most people, especially here in the Philippines. Simple discipleship approaches have to be imported from foreign soil. No wonder Christianity here has always been challenged, without real progress.
Discipleship is never about programs. Approaches might differ according to each cultural background but the main task of discipleship remains the same. Programs without truthful teaching of God’s Word cannot be real discipleship. If programs are just approaches so that Christianity would adjust to the likings of unbelievers or nominal Christians, then it’s already a failure even at the onset.
A lot of people lose interest in Christianity not because of the Gospel message, but mainly due to the hypocrisy or conflicting nature of supposedly Christians. Yes, professing Christians (wolves in sheep clothing) are the main stumbling block to Christianity.
Jesus Christ called on His perpective disciples saying “Follow me”. Christ’s call on people to follow Him – that’s the essence of real discipleship. Now, to follow Jesus does not simply mean eating with Him or walking with Him, but to learn from His teaching. Hence, discipleship without truthful teaching of God’s Word is not discipleship – it’s simply a bandwagon in the guise of discipleship.
Here are the Words of Jesus Christ concerning His call for discipleship. See Matthew 10:24-39. I am separating it into two parts for clarity sake.
First, Jesus Christ said:
““A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the Master of the house (Jesus Christ is the Master of God’s house, the church) Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of His household. “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him (God) who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges Me (Jesus Christ) before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father who is in heaven.”
Doing discipleship is never a walk in the park. It would have its challenges. You would always be maligned, gossiped or backstabbed; it all comes with the work. So we cannot be onion-skinned. Just shake off the dust if it don’t work out. But never leave the potential disciple if he/she is truly seeking to follow Jesus Christ.
Second, Jesus Christ went on teaching:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
Jesus Christ told us, disciples should continue the journey of following Him even when opposition seems to overwhelm us. Even loved ones or family members could oppose our journey. Yet, if we chose to save it, that would be the end of our discipleship journey. On the other hand, if we persist on our journey, surely we would find Jesus and not be lost on our way.
Jesus Christ was not all talk without application. He demand commitment to discipleship, taught it, and applied it to Himself.
Jesus Christ exemplified discipleship, teaching only from the perspective of the Trinity God. See John 7:16, “So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not Mine, but His (God the Father) who sent Me.” Checkout also John 12:49.
Even the Holy Spirit, the 3rd Person of the Holy Trinity, has always been consistent with Word of God. See John 6:63 “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
Perhaps James, one of Jesus’ brothers by Joseph, appeared also to oppose His way. Jesus was ridiculed by His own and yet He persisted following the Father’s will. See John 7:2-5.
“Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. So His (Jesus’) brothers said to Him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works You are doing. For no one works in secret if He seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” For not even His brothers believed in Him.”
Yet, it was after Jesus Christ had faithfully followed the will of the Father – died on the cross, resurrected and ascended; thereby, fulfilling Scripture – did James became His determined apostle.
Worry not that our personal relationship might be compromised by following Jesus Christ. But trust His heart, goodness and grace. Just as James found grace in Christ Jesus, Scripture assured us saying “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
The main goal of discipleship should be QUALITY, not QUANTITY. But that has always been a challenge to workers of the Word ‘cause discipleship is never an overnight journey. Jesus Christ spent three years teaching the disciples. Sadly, the quest for QUALITY disciples has always been challenge by demands for QUANTITY. The issue of ROI (Return of Investment) from supporting organized Christianity forced workers of the Word to fast track, thereby compromising truthful discipleship.
On the other hand, sad to say but we also have pastors who seem not able to teach only from the Bible. They relied on human tailor Bible study materials, most of which – if not all – have compromised from the truth. Human biases are very obvious for Christians who truly understand Scripture. Consequently, we have well meaning Christian leaders having no option but to sent pastors joining discipleship conferences. Worse, even with joining such conferences nothing seem to progress. So, at the end of the day, we see pastors and Christian leaders joining discipleship conferences to no avail.
Learning discipleship begins with learning to study and teach the Word of God. Before the disciples were sent out to preach, they have to know the message. Paul went around the Roman Empire teaching the Word of God only after he had personally been called by Jesus Christ and taught by Him. See Galatians 1:11-12.
“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Paul’s understanding on Judaism didn’t suffice. He needed to see the connection between the Old Testament Scripture with that of Jesus’ teaching (New Testament Scripture) and work. Yes, Jesus Christ didn’t offer a new teaching; rather He connected the OT Scripture with His Word ‘cause Christ came to fulfill all Scripture (Matthew 5:17).
Apollos’ preaching in Ephesus was called upon and augmented so that it may fully adhere to the teaching of Jesus Christ. See Acts 18:24-26.
“Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.”
Admit it or not, human-tailored discipleship materials come and go. It has become like a fashion trend. Whichever material was used, after its initial launch or sometime later, Christians are always left hanging, not knowing what’s next.
Let us teach Christians how to study the Bible so that they may qualify to teach and lead others. That should be the foundational rule in discipleship. See Ephesians 2:19-21.
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (the church), built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple (the church) in the Lord.”
Make no mistake the foundation to truthful Christianity has always been Jesus Christ and His Word – nothing more, nothing less.
Here then are the guiding passages for discipleship:
“You then, my child (Timothy), be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me (Paul) in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” (2Timothy 2:1-2)
Discipleship won’t suffice by simply inviting Christians to a short seminar and providing them materials to follow. We all know most Christians are not well-versed with Scripture. They have questions, and they would be asked questions. Hence, we need to have Christian mentors who are truly equipped in handling the Scripture rightly (2Timothy 2:15). Consequently, with our present context launching a congregation wide discipleship is not possible – simply because we need qualified mentors, truly equipped in Scripture. It cannot be denied, not everyone who goes to a Sunday Christian gathering is a committed Christian. Worse, it’s a fact that we have unconverted people joining such gatherings. Sadly, we also have them among supposedly Christian leadership.
Next, “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My WORD, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”” (John 8:31-32)
Clearly then, discipleship is not simply a movement armed with a human-tailored material within or outside a congregation. Rather, it’s all about following Jesus Christ; again, it’s about learning and teaching from His Word. Faith is learned when we knew intimately and believe the One whom we follow.
On the other hand, here is a guide for Christian mentors to know if a person is not ready to be a disciple:
“When many of His (Jesus’) disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in Himself that His disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray Him.) And He said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted Him by the Father.” After this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.” (John 6:60-66)
Incidentally, I’m not endorsing the idea of “election or predestination” in our present context. We have to understand that Christ’s expression of “election language or metaphor” was due to the impending judgment coming upon Old Covenant Jews, they that sent Jesus to be crucified. See Paul’s letter to the believers.
“For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!” (1Th 2:14-16)
Similar to God’s initial judgment against Old Covenant Israel, it was the Babylonians who became God’s instrument for judgment; Jerusalem and the temple was completely destroyed in 586 B.C. Now, with God’s final judgment upon Old Covenant Israel, it was the Romans destroying Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D.; hence, true to Paul’s words “God’s wrath has come upon them at last (1Thessalonians 2:16). Also, fulfilling Jesus’ word concerning that final destruction of Jerusalem and the temple (Matthew 23:37-38; 24:1-2,15-21).
Jerusalem today, without the temple, ceased to be God’s Old Covenant Israel. And mind you, there was no further prophecy of another rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple in Scripture. Whatever that was prophesied in the Old Testament Scripture concerning a rebuilding of the temple was initially fulfilled during Nehemiah and Ezra’s time, and until that of Herod’s temple. The New Testament Scripture has no direct prophecy of another temple to be rebuilt. Therefore, without Scripture, it’s just a myth or fictional story telling.
Not surprising, the temple in Jerusalem was a mere shadow of the true reality of God’s promise dwelling with His people. Jesus Christ, by His resurrection and ascension, commenced the building of His temple – the church. See 1Corinthians 3:16.
“Do you not know that you (Greek plural, not individual, the collective body of Christ, the church) are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”
Next, 1Corinthians 6:19. “Or do you not know that your body (Greek plural, not individual body but the collective body of Christ, the church) is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own.”
Also, 2Corinthians 6:16. “What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we (collective body of Christ, the church) are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make My dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
Again, Ephesians 2:19-22. “So then you (Gentiles) are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints (the Jewish believers) and members of the household of God (the collective body of Christ, the church), built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
Finally, 1Peter 2:4-5. “As you (Greek plural, the collective body of Christ, the church) come to Him (Jesus Christ), a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves (same with the first “you”, plural) like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
In our quest to make disciples, let us not commit the mistake of omitting the Word of God as the main means for discipleship. Keep in mind that our commission for discipleship came from the Lord Jesus Christ, not men. Let us not be pressured by the idea of ROI, but disciple people by the Word of God. It does not need to be fast-tracked. Practice discernment, some may be ready but most are not. Focus on those who truly honor God’s Word. Remember always that our accountability is to the Word, Jesus Christ.
Now, if the issue you are confronting has to do with the ministry support, and you have been coerce to do otherwise, walk away! Trust God for your sustenance. As the saying goes, “God is never early, yet He is never late.” In hindsight, after you have trusted God in everything, you would see God’s work in display – he has led you out of your Egypt and parted the sea, protected and delivered you, not to the wilderness but His promise land. That is the reality and sum of following Jesus Christ. No ifs, no buts. Just trust and believe.
Scripture said, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him (God), for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
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