Discipleship (Response to Jesus call of love)
Standing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (Lake Gennesaret), Jesus Christ saw two fishermen, Peter and his brother Andrew, washing their nets. He literally said to them, "come, follow me; I will make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19). At that call they simply obeyed and followed Jesus at once, leaving their boat and nets.
The dramatic response of these men to Jesus call is too hard for most people to understand, and to some it is a stumbling block. How could these fishermen take such an impulsive decision that brought far-reaching consequences in their lives? There may be some that might venture to suggest that Jesus must have had earlier meetings and discussions with them, which explains this dramatic response, but the gospel narratives about the call of the disciples are silent on this point. What then prompted those fishermen to follow Jesus instantly, leaving everything behind? And where did they get faith enough to venture out into the unknown with this Rabbi whom they had met only for a few moments?
The Bible does not give any direct answer to the above questions, and as such we are unlikely to agree on the answers. But the background of this call, as recorded in the gospel of Luke suggests an answer. Luke 5:1-11 Just before Jesus called the first disciples, they had heard Him preach the gospel of God's infinite grace and love. As they heard the gospel their weary and burdened soul looked up to Him with hope and joy, Jesus invitation to God's kingdom, into God's family as children of God had kindled great hopes in them.
The preaching of the gospel had also brought great conviction as sin. This is evident from the cry of Peter: "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord."
Jesus comforted him, "Fear not" or "Don't be afraid" and that was enough. The crushing conviction of sin, the sense of unworthiness and fear generated by amazement all vanished instantly. Faith flooded their hearts as they listened to the author and perfector of faith. At the preaching of the gospel, the Spirit of God opened their hearts to the message of the gospel and the person who preached the message of life. In Him they saw the embodiment of God's love and grace, the word of life in bodily form. They saw His glory, full of grace and truth (as the Apostle John later confessed in John 1:14). Their hearts experienced the warmth of His love.
The love that was poured into their hearts was compelling and overwhelming. When His love filled their hearts they were irresistibly drawn to Him. The dynamic power of that love motivated them to follow Jesus, although their action was contrary to natural reason and prudence). When Jesus love exploded in their hearts all that mattered was Jesus, and everything else was irrelevant and insignificant.
Indeed, the call of Jesus was a call of love. As they heard His call to follow Him, they could not but obey. Their hearts were filled with the call of His love and the love of His call, which were irresistible.
The response to the call of Jesus was spontaneous and unconditional. We do not read of any discussion or conversation about the content or involvement of this call, or its terms and conditions. It might seem strange, but the fact remains that the simple disciples simply followed Him as they heard His call.
When Jesus called His disciples, whether it was Mathew, the publican or Levi they followed Him instantly and spontaneously. There were not questions or discussions about involvement’s or conditions of following Him. Matthew 9:9 "And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him." Mark 2:14 "And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him." John 1:35-49. Those that the Spirit of God touches when He speaks to them, hear and respond to His call without question and those who are not His do not hear nor heed the call. Jesus said "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." John 10:24-28
The reason for this strange behavior of the disciples is Jesus himself and His magnetic love that drew these simple disciples to Himself. Following Jesus was the natural consequence of His love filling their hearts, thereby producing a strong attachment to Him. Their discipleship had begun when they responded to His call. Supreme love for Jesus, the motivating power for discipleship, was ruling their hearts.
Discipleship does not begin when someone offers to follow Jesus, but when Jesus calls someone in love to follow Him. It is a response to His call of love, and a person can follow Christ only when his heart is filled with love for Him.
There is an unquestionably great authority in the call of Jesus, simply because He is Christ, the Creator and Lord. Even the enemies of Jesus recognized the authority of His call. But the love of Jesus was the primary and overwhelming force that propelled them after Jesus, because that authority flowed mingled with His great love.
Discipleship, then is the response in love, to the call of love from Jesus. It is not a code of good conduct or good works, or conditions of serving Him. It does not consist of a list of things to do or the things that are taboo. It is simply following Jesus Christ in love. When we receive His love and hear His call as we have seen in the verses above.
It is love that motivates a disciple in the path of discipleship when his heart is filled with God’s love. Romans 5:5 says, "because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." Following after Christ comes as a natural response to hearing the gospel message of His love. "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Hearing the call of Christ and obeying Him produces enough love energy in the disciple enabling him to follow his master. There are endless discussions in Christiandom about conditions of discipleship. Very often we also hear confessions of complaint of how hard it is to follow Jesus. But for a disciple whose heart is filled with love, his commandments are not burdensome. Unfortunately much of the discussions about discipleship and much of the literature on the subject seems to suggest that discipleship starts after an elaborate discussion on the terms and conditions of discipleship or after an intelligent evaluation of the call of Jesus. Many of these discussions which rest on misleading assumptions have raised a bogey of discipleship which most Christians dread. The reason is that they have not emphasized the fact that the prime motivation for discipleship is love. To consider that discipleship begins after an elaborate discussion on the contents and conditions or an intelligent evaluation of the call of Jesus is to put the cart before the horse. As we have noted already, when the first disciples followed Jesus there were neither discussions about the contents or contract of following Him or about terms and conditions. They never evaluated the call of Jesus but simply followed Him, on hearing His call of love. So long as that love filled their hearts following Jesus was natural and spontaneous and there was no need to discuss the terms and conditions. But later when love ebbed away for many reasons, making faith weaker, following Jesus was becoming difficult. Once when Jesus spoke about how hard it was for the rich to enter into the kingdom of God, Peter was startled. Jesus had told the rich young ruler in Mark 10:21, "One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me." Peter seemed to become uneasy and shaky because of what he has heard. So he said to the Lord Jesus Christ: "Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee" Mark 10:22-28. Was Peter shaky about the failure of his discipleship life although he had forsaken all, whatever that be? He constantly needed an assurance from the Lord Jesus that his forsaking all and following Him was not in vain. Peter, who had followed Christ at His word without any question or doubts, was now showing signs of fatigue in following. He was faltering when he said, "behold we have left everything and followed you." Within it was the question to Jesus of "what will there be for us?" That is the normal reaction and question in life concerning our giving of ourselves, our time or our talent to do anything, whether concerning a job or for the Lord – "What’s in it for me – what will I get out of this in exchange for what I am giving." There were other problems too. It seems there was a constant argument among the disciples as to who should be their leader. Mark 9:33-34, Luke 9:46-48.
Peter, being the natural leader (he was probably their leader as fishermen) would advance his claims to leadership. Perhaps it was countered by John who claimed to be close to the Master. This problem was not solved even until the day of the last supper. Luke 22:20-30 This desire and struggle to be greatest or somebody within the kingdom of God, in which He alone is to receive the glory and honor will open a door for Satan to attack and tear down a man spiritually. Notice the words of Jesus following the above passage. Luke 22:31-32 "And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not." And notice how Peter, still trying to hold onto his ego and pride in his own strength and ability and wanting to remain in the forefront replied to Jesus and His reply which finally caused them to become silent. Luke 22:33-35 "And he said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death. And he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me. And he said unto them, When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing? And they said, Nothing."
Certainly this fight for leadership, expression of egoism and a desire to be the chief was altogether contrary to what Jesus taught. All this was at the cost of love that Jesus had poured into Peter. Love of the world was entering his heart in subtle ways and was displacing the love of God. Following the Master was becoming harder as the propelling force was diminishing. The climax came when Jesus revealed to His disciples His impending journey to Jerusalem. Jesus clearly told them that he must suffer many things at the hands of the Jews, and that He would be killed.
When Peter saw the prospect of losing His Master whom he had followed all these years, and who was now his only stay, he was shocked. Peter was shaken beyond words. All his hopes were shattered. He saw that he was going to lose his Master who he had followed over three years and for whom he had forsaken everything. Fear of the unknown and feelings of insecurity haunted him; thoughts of a bleak future and self-pity were ruling him. All these were displacing his love for Jesus, and oh it seemed impossible to follow his Master anymore. Love was ebbing away and faith waning. He made a desperate attempt to hold together and his hopes that were crumbling down. Peter took the Lord Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, "never Lord, this shall never happen to you" (Matthew 16:20-23).
Jesus rebuked Peter in unusually harsh language: "Get out of my sight, Satan, you are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men." It was at this point that Jesus reminded them of the conditions underlying a life of discipleship. "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it" Matthew 16:24-25.
During the early part of the earthly ministry of Jesus, large crowds used to follow Him. They had followed Him for varying motives. Some were following him believing that He was going to establish a kingdom by defeating the Roman rulers. Others followed Him for healing and others blessings. But this great crowd followed Him not because they had heard the call of Jesus or their hearts were filled with His love. Hence Jesus had to tell them that only a supreme love for Him would enable them to follow Him. "And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:25-27). Within Jesus message was this statement: No one of you can be my disciple who does not give up his own possessions.
The above passage is often referred to as "the conditions of discipleship." While it gives valuable insight into the attitudes, goals and heart condition of a disciple who follows Jesus, it would be wrong to think of these as prerequisite conditions for coming to follow Christ. If these are accepted as preconditions for coming to follow Christ, then we will be forced to conclude that fulfilling Christ’s demands of hating father, mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters and even his own life is a product of a glorious self-effort of those seeking to follow Christ. Even a superficial understanding of man’s nature will teach us how utterly impossible it is for human beings to fulfil the above conditions in their own strength. For the sake of argument, even if we assume that a select few, a microscopic minority of super followers may be able to fulfil some of these conditions, it is plainly evident that ‘self’ cannot deny ‘self’. Therefore if these conditions are to be understood as preconditions for coming to follow Christ, then most people can never hope to follow Christ! It is appropriate in this connection to remind ourselves of an important declaration that Jesus made to His disciples in John 15:4-5, "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." It is evident with out any comment that the demands that Christ makes on a disciple are far beyond the reach of the natural man however great his efforts and capabilities are! But these are possible for those who abide in Christ and in whom He abides. Christian life, following Christ, is not seeking to obey Him in the power of "self" but Christ enabling him to do this by His Spirit and enabling him to do His will. When Christ calls a person to Himself, regenerates Him and makes him a child of God, the Spirit of God abides in him and fills his heart with God’s love. As he abides in Christ and Christ in Him, love abounds in him. It is this surge of love that enables him to love Christ more than anyone or anything even more than his own self. In the light of these observations it is clear that the "conditions of discipleship" cited above are not preconditions for coming to follow Christ, but conditions that govern the life of those following Christ in response to His call of love. It is the power of Christ that enables a disciple to meet the conditions laid down by them.
It should be noted here that no one can begin to follow Christ unless he hears His call and responds to it whole-heartedly. Whoever responds to that call receives God’s love in his heart and the Holy Spirit unites him to Christ. He becomes a member of the body of Christ and those who are united to Him will naturally follow Him. Therefore the disciple has no choice but to follow Christ. Any person who responds to Jesus call and is united to Him is a disciple. The Word of God says in 1John 2:6: "the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked." Walking as Jesus walked, following Him in love and obedience is discipleship. Everyone who abides in Christ, therefore, is His disciple. However it is a sad thing that much of the discussions about discipleship in contemporary Christianity has been built on the foundation of a wrong assumption, an endurance theory of discipleship has been propagated. No wonder discipleship is now a dreaded theme among the general masses of God’s people. They have misunderstood it to be a set of terms and conditions that border the impossible, a code of good conduct and good works and of course a list of things that are taboo. They therefore complain that the demands of Christ on them are unattainable. Surely the demands of Christ are not "natural". No one can obey his commandments in the strength of the natural man. To love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, is not "natural". But Jesus calls us to these not in our natural power, but that which He gives to those who abide in Him. When we abide in Him and He in us, in that union Christ does the supernatural through us. A disciple follows Christ as a natural consequence of that union. The normal Christian life is a result of this union and discipleship is learning from Christ as a learner, while following Him in love. Therefore, there is no place for an iron-frame work of legalism in following Jesus. When a person is in union with Christ his conduct will be governed by the love of Christ and his love for him. 1Corinthians 6:17 He will seek to do only such things as please his Master; he will also serve his Master with single-minded devotion. 2Corinthians 5:15 says, "And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again." Matthew 6:24 "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon."
However, God’s love that is poured into a disciple can be displaced by such things as the love of self, the love of the world, and the love of the things of the world. It can also be displaced when a disciple wanders away from a life of faith and trust. Peter had many failures in following Christ. He had denied Him three times; he had quit His Master and gone seeking his old boat and net which he had forsaken once, causing other disciples also to follow Him. Matthew 26:69-75, John 21:2-3
It was grievous backsliding indeed. Yet, in love Jesus restored him to love. Jesus encounter with Peter is one of amazing love. The least that we would expect from Jesus is a mild rebuke to Peter. But Jesus meeting with Peter was with a gentle and loving call. "Come and dine" (John 21:12). Jesus knew well Peter’s mental and physical needs and once again poured his love into Peter’s heart. To restore Peter to love, Jesus asked him "Do you truly love me more than these?" Although Peter answered in the affirmative twice yet, the Lord Jesus repeated that very question a third time. John 21:15-17a At this Peter broke down and confessed, "Lord, you know all things…" All that had happened since the day Jesus had first called him at this very place over three years before must have flooded into Peters memory. It was a confession of failure and unworthiness. Yet now he had love for Jesus and confessed– "You know that I love you" (John 21:17b).
Jesus restored Peter to love and then said to him, calling him again, "Follow me" (John 21:18-19). Now that Peter’s heart was filled afresh with love for Jesus he was worthy to follow Jesus. It is that makes a person able and worthy to follow Jesus. Peter had failed but the Lord Jesus love drew him back again into the path of discipleship. When love for Jesus fills a person he will follow Jesus in love. Then the commands of Jesus are not burdensome. It is only when love is displaced that the commands of Jesus seem hard and unattainable and following Jesus and obeying his commands seem hard and impossible. We should ask the Lord in faith to fill our hearts afresh with His love. Abide in His love. Live in conscious identification with His death and resurrection. In that partnership in which the love of Christ becomes our motivating power, our life of discipleship will become delightful to walk with Him.
The life of the disciple is a walk of love, being filled with the Love of God and therefore being able to love others because we love Him and are filled with His love. It is of primary importance and that which is the greatest influence upon the life of the disciple. It is that love that enables the disciple to love his enemies and forgive them, even to the point of their taking your life, as when Stephen was being stoned to death. Or when Paul was stoned and left for dead, and the Lord raise him up and he went back into the very city that and preached again among those who had stoned him. Acts 7:59-60, Acts 14:19-21. It is also that Love that enables one to lay down his life for the Lord in every respect, including the surrendering of the self-will for the will of the Master. There is no other way that it is possible to overcome the devil by fulfilling the testimony of Jesus to "love not your life unto the death" (Revelation 12:11). Or follow the admonition to "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" which caused Him to humble himself and "became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:5-8). The key to the overcoming and victorious Christian life is being filled with the love of God and loving Him with a pure heart. That is what will give you the strength to stand when others fall, to be faithful when others falter and stumble, and to walk in obedience and forgiveness when others become disobedient, bitter and unforgiving.
Why is this so? "And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him" (1John 4:16). Simply put there and again in 1John 4:8, "For God is love". It is part of the very essence and nature of God and who and what He is. He is love. A love that is greater, deeper, wider and more encompassing than any love that man can know outside of God. Ephesians 3:16-19 says, "That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God." That is the key to discipleship and following Jesus faithfully.
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