2nd March, 2003
The Promise of Effective Discipleship
Matthew 4:12-22; 9:9-10, 29-31; 28:19-20
Nothing excites me more than being a preacher of the Gospel. These past three weeks on annual holiday, has given me the opportunity of both proclaiming the Gospel and of training others to more effectively become men and women who serve Jesus Christ in discipling people to follow Him. At our own expense and in our holidays, Beverley and I go every couple of years to stay with dear friends in North East Tennessee and to minister in their area. I lecture students for 36 hours in the arts of building a city church. My students are people studying for their Master of Divinity degree at Emmanuel School of Religion, or else graduate ministers and key lay people from cities across USA doing their Doctor of Ministry degrees or who else just want some guidance in church development. I also teach a couple of classes for young people in near-by Milligan College who are studying for under-graduate degrees in ministry and youth ministry.
I preach each time at Grandview Christian Church, a good medium size church with some outstanding leaders from the Seminary and from the College. I also preach at Munsey Memorial Methodist Church in down-town Johnson City. This is an outstanding church with a huge property, large congregations, a great service ministry, and enough significant members to help guide the course of the city. So both in teaching and in preaching I seek to help a community and a number of churches in great city ministries in effective discipleship. So long as the ministry of the church follows the way of Jesus, it will be effective in its discipleship. The promise of effective discipleship was the first great promise of Jesus to His followers.
Matt 4:18 "As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." 20At once they left their nets and followed Him. 21Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, pre-paring their nets. Jesus called them, 22and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him."
This is one of the best remembered pieces of scripture. It has been immortalized in a little chorus sung by Sunday School scholars for generations: "I will make you fishers of men, fishers of men, fishers of men, I will make you fishers of men if you follow Me!" That is the first promise of Jesus to be found in Scripture.
As I was preparing this talk in USA, I was sitting at a bay window, looking out over a deep valley in the Smokey Mountains. Suddenly there was the faint blast of a great freight train as it returned north through the mountain valley to the coalfields of Virginia. These freight trains, up to a mile long, haul coal from Virginia south to Tennessee and East to the seacoast to Norfolk for shipping to Japan. The long wail of the freight train made me look up, and behind the three diesel engines were 108 enormous coal trucks returning to be refilled with coal. Each one rolled on behind the engines. So long as they obediently fol-lowed they were secure, and able to fulfil the purpose for which they were made. Like them, we fulfil our destiny when we obediently follow the Master.
1. THE CALL TO FOLLOW.
"Come, follow me". It was a gracious invitation: "Come." It is an invitation that includes everyone, and all are able to accept it. There are no preconditions for discipleship. You do not have to clean up your life first. Nor is a minimum of belief or knowledge of religious tradition or habit required. You come just as you are. "Come". It is the ultimate open invitation to all. It should be remembered who these people were that first heard this invitation to discipleship. It came to rough, uneducated fishermen who did not understand the finer points of theology or of Old Testament exegesis. What they did know was how to fish! Jesus told them He would take their skills in the boats, and teach them how to apply those skills to the task of making disciples from those who wished to follow Him. Later Jesus was to call Matthew, the Tax Collector to fol-low Him. Matt 9:9-10 "As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and fol-lowed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples."
Fishermen, a tax-collector, sinners, who next? When Jesus calls, it is to a band of the most inclusive people in society. Fishermen were regarded as foul-mouth, uncouth fellows. Tax collectors were regarded as traitors to their country for their collaboration with the Roman rulers. They were hated because they oppressed and defrauded their own people. The sinners were social and spiritual outcasts who were rejected by the religious people of their day. But Jesus called them to follow Him. So every-one is included in the invitation to discipleship.
But to the invitation there is a command: "Follow Me." Some church members think we neglect them when we spend time reaching out to outsiders. In fact, more than 90 percent of all our evangelism programs and our evangelising time is targeted toward nominal church members. Those church members also think we must win our own nominal Christians and inactive members before we can evangelise outsiders. But frequently our own immunised nominals and inactives are more resistant to the challenge to discipleship than are rank pagans! (Hunter)
A week ago, Beverley and I attended a dinner party organised by a friend, Betty Brown. She had invited some of her friends to meet with me to tell them about the faith that motivates us at Wesley Mission. Her friends were an interesting group. Betty is a national leader in the United Methodist Church. Her husband is a medical specialist. Two men invited were professors of law, one a professor of medicine, two were retired professors, one a former head of a teachers association, two were scientists and the other a Senator of the State of Tennessee. Her party was full of respectable and learned people for Betty wants all of her friends to come to know Jesus and hear His call to follow Him. When Matthew decided to follow Jesus, he did the same thing. He gathered his friends for a party to hear Jesus. This is a great insight about the calling of the first disciples. Jesus went. None of Matthew's friends were the kind of people that normally would be on the invitation lists of any respectable person in town. They were different from the people at Betty Brown's party. Matthew was an outcast. His friends were just like him. But like Betty, Matthew wanted his friends to meet Jesus.
Luke 5:29-31 "Then Matthew held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to His disciples, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" Jesus answered them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." The people who have the greatest potential in bringing others to Jesus Christ are the newest Christians, for the friends of new Christians are not yet Christian. Give them the invitation of Jesus: "Come, follow Me."
2. THE PROMISE OF DISCIPLESHIP.
Jesus never calls a person to follow Him, without also promising to equip them. "Come, follow Me. I will make you fishers of men." To this rough group He gave a promise: "I will make you". He was offering them His power and ability so they could follow His way. Discipleship is not something you do in your own strength. He was offering them a new career: "I will make you a fisher of men." A new career, catching not fish, but people, and He would enable them to do it. The Greek word in the New Testament for being a fisher of men is "matheteuo" (pronounced mah-they-TYOO-oh). It means "to make disciples" Matt 28:19; acts 14:21. We find it in the Great Commission: Matt 28:19-20 "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 every-thing I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Jesus used this word "make disciples" with the command "go".
"Go" is a participle and "make disciples" is a verb in the imperative mode. The participle indicates what must be done to accomplish the main imperative. This is the only command Jesus gave in the Great Commission: we were to go and make disciples. To the Great Commission, must be added the Great Commandment. Luke 10:27 '"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind' ; and, 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'" Our discipleship must be a commitment to word and deed.
As a young pastor to the slums I visited the unemployed in public housing. Theirs was a bleak life. I in-tended the church make a difference. Discipleship could impact all of their lives. Christians had turned their backs on these people, calling over the shoulder, 'Am I my brother's keeper?' That question haunted me. Where was the social dimension to my discipleship? In the answer to that question lay the reworking of my entire lifestyle and belief system. A concentration on 'spiritual' disciple-ship was misguided. Some might reject me as having lost my single-mindedness to the Gospel of salvation. But I wanted a Jesus-style discipleship that not only preached the word of salvation, but also practised the deed of compassion. That involved a discipleship that brought together all of life - social, economic, political, spiritual - under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Disciples have to find Jesus' answers for the homeless, the poor, the exploited factory workers, abused women, frustrated single people, frail aged people, the disabled and the mentally ill - the kind of people John Wesley loved. We must have a word of hope and a deed of love.
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