Following Jesus is a difficult undertaking. Our Lord told us to count the cost of discipleship lest we be the laughing stock of the community. I guess what he was really trying to tell us is that we should not be halfhearted. Indeed, failure is bound to occur, we are human after all; however our minds should remain on the objective of joining him in the afterlife.
The two great commandments, a love of God and a love of neighbor encapsulates all His teachings on discipleship. We live on this world to learn to love God and to learn to love others (as we would have them love us). How well we excel in this objective is the determinant for where we go in death. Our Lord expounds on his teachings in great detail, but in a nutshell the two great commandments speak it all.
What follows are the expectations and traits of discipleship:
Persecution (Matt 10: 17-25). Disciples should expect harsh treatment from the governing authorities. Persecution will come because of devotion to Jesus and thus a propensity for truth in all things. Is this any different today? Christian disciples are the trouble makers; spoilers of the party; the prudes; don’t know their place; speak without being invited to speak etc. They are the ones that see the reality of things through a Jesus world view and are naturally forced to speak on the same. It is a disciples upholding of righteousness that will always get him or her into trouble. Speaking for the poor and down trodden; against consumerism; commerce for its own sake; profits before people and so on automatically places you against those that are complacent with a “way of doing things” due to its benefits.
Jesus is saying that we should not be concerned about our ability to fight. Let us speak for righteousness and what is correct and the Holy Spirit will give us the wherewithal to keep going even when we think the odds against us are insurmountable. There are many great men that have changed the direction of History as a consequence of remaining on this narrow path. An example that comes to mind is the anti-slavery advocate William Wilberforce. It is through his and others efforts that the British parliament outlawed slavery in the 1830’s. Mr Wilberforce was a staunch Christian disciple. The same goes for Dr Martin Luther King, who was martyred for his Civil rights view. Some may not have been Christian Disciples, but they saw the truth of things, through a world view that mimicked that of Jesus.
Fearing God more than people (Matt 10: 26-33). It is only God that can destroy both body and soul. Men can only destroy the body. Disciples are asked to remember, no matter the hardship of being an adherent of the teachings of Jesus that we are pilgrims that will live on this earth for 100 years at most. Upon death, we are told, an eternity awaits us. Jesus demonstrated his power over death and he promises us a place with him for as long as we live as his disciples. Life on earth is not the end, but only the beginning.
The demons that met Jesus (according to the gospels), were always firstly reverential towards Him and secondly terrified of what He was capable of doing to them (namely the destruction of their souls). Always remember that Jesus is on our side as Christian disciples. If demons revere him, how dare we not?
Loyalty to Jesus. Disciples must be willing to take up their cross (a symbol of hardship and rejection) and follow Jesus. This is even at the expense of one’s family, children, friends and so on. Jesus is simply telling us, it’s no walk in the park to follow Him! We are not meant to be Sunday Christians, but we should be reflective of and adhere to Him at all times.
Humility (Matt 18: 1-5).The apostles want to know how to become the greatest person in the Kingdom. Jesus uses a little child to reveal that humility is the quality that defines greatness in the Kingdom. And humility is often demonstrated by how we treat other disciples of Jesus. This goes back to the beatitude on meekness see here Sermon on the mount .
Warning for those who cause others to stumble (Matt 18: 1-5).The expression little ones (least esteemed), in the verses, refers to disciples (adherents). Now Jesus warns of the dangers of causing others to stumble and fall spiritually. Those who make a habit of making others to sin, will pay a heavy price. We should never under estimate our influence on others for good or bad! In everything we do, we should make an attempt to edify each other rather than cause to stumble. You may be strong and have the ability to resist, however your fellow disciple may not. It is thus better never to present the opportunity for someone else to stumble.
The fathers care and protection (18: 10-44). We are told not to look down upon other Christian disciples (little ones), perhaps especially those who fall into sin. God is extremely committed to restoring his struggling children. In fact even Angels watch over them. In the parable of the lost sheep; lost coin; prodigal son and so on, Jesus teaches us that we are to be like our father and do all in our power to recover lost disciples.
Community discipline (Matt 18: 15-20). Jesus assures the church that their binding or loosing (that is withholding or extending forgiveness) has Gods authority behind it. This assumes they share Jesus’ goal of restoration and follow his teachings to the letter. Matthew 18: 19-20 is often quoted out of context and taken as a blanket promise rather than related to Church discipline (it follows from verse 18).
The need to forgive each other. (Matt 18: 21-35). Peter asks how many times he is to forgive fellow disciples. According to Jesus we should do so infinitely. This assumes that the disciple repents and seeks forgiveness. The parable of the unmerciful servant drives home the point. We should be as our father in heaven who forgives, no matter the size of the debt. Judgment however awaits those that refuse to forgive. The teachings on discipleship are not easy.
Obtaining eternal life? (Matt 19: 16-26). Jesus moves the focus of this young man from self to his relationship with God. It reminds us of the section in the Sermon on the Mount which describes material possessions as a rival God. The disciple’s then wonder who can be saved since it is generally assumed that rich people have been blessed by God; Jesus’ statement is thus confusing. He however reassures them that what seems impossible to people is possible with God.
Rewards for following Jesus (Matt 19: 27-30). His disciples will be given responsibilities to reign with Him. Additionally anyone who has left possessions and family in order to follow Jesus will receive one hundred times as much and will also receive eternal life. The teachings on discipleship have been taken very seriously by saints, both recognized and not over the centuries. Jesus’ parables on finding a great treasure (pearls and gold) makes me reflect on this. Imagine that thousands of people over the centuries have traded in great wealth, nobility and family, all in a desire to live as Jesus instructed, namely focused on where we are going as opposed to where we are. They traded riches today for riches in heaven after death. How truly wonderful and noble. Are you capable? If not, let’s support those who are.
Service over status (Matt 20: 20-28).The two brothers James and John are seeking places of highest honor in the kingdom of God. Jesus immediately connects glory with suffering. They quickly and naively boast that they can suffer and Jesus assures them that they will. Jesus then goes on to elaborate on servant leadership. Pagans use power to control and dominate, but servants of God use leadership to give to others other than taking away. If James and John are to be great, then they should be prepared to be the lead slaves. Jesus dies in our place as a sinless substitute for guilty sinners; the ultimate act of servant leadership. The teachings on discipleship are not easy.
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