WHAT IS A DISCIPLE?
The word “Christian” covers a whole lot of ideas, both in the church and in the world today. Among some groups of people, a Christian someone who is not Jew or a Muslim or a follower of any other religion. To others, a Christian is a person who goes to church on Sunday, pays his tithe, perhaps even reads the Bible and, less likely, even prays sometimes.
The word “Christian” was actually a nickname given to people in the first century who followed Jesus because they belonged to Him. Whether it was the enemies of the church or the believers themselves who coined the name, we don’t know. Perhaps unbelievers gave them the name to mock them.
“The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” Acts 11:26b.
Note that they were initially called “disciples” which is what they were because they were followers of Jesus. It’s important to understand what a disciple is because, just like the word “Christian” is misunderstood, so we in the 21st century don’t understand what a disciple is.
So then, what is a disciple?
In Jesus’ day there were men who dedicated themselves to study the Torah – the first five books of the Bible – after they had completed their basic education at the local synagogue – called the Beth Safar. They would become followers, by invitation, of an “ordained” rabbi, one whose authority to be a rabbi was recognised and acknowledged. They lived with him, learned the way he interpreted the Torah and lived like he lived until they became imitators of their rabbi.
There were certain things a disciple was not permitted to do. He was not permitted to add to or take away from what his rabbi taught. If he did, he was automatically disqualified from being a disciple. He was also not permitted to deviate from his rabbi’s behaviour. He had to imitate his rabbi in every way until he became like him.
Jesus was a rabbi whose authority was recognised although people could not understand where His authority came from. Jesus made it clear that the authority for what he taught came from God.
“The people were amazed at His teaching, because He taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” Mark 1:22.
“For I did not speak on my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.” John 12:48.
He also insisted that those who followed Him should not allow anyone or anything to come between Him and them. They were to die to themselves and their own will and allow Him to lead them, otherwise they could not be His disciple.
“Large crowds were travelling with Jesus and, turning to them He said: ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.’” Luke 14:25-27.
“That’s harsh,” you might say. But that what a disciple is – someone who gives Jesus total loyalty above everyone and everything else. Jesus does not take away our loved ones. He redefines our relationship with them.
First of all, then, a disciple is a follower and imitator of Jesus.
I believe that there are many people who think that they are disciples of Jesus but they are mistaken. Discipleship is a tough road to walk. It demands everything.
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say.’” Luke 6:46.
To be continued…
Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.