by Bud Steadman
This article first appeared in FrontLine May/June 2003. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.
The term “disciple” is used consistently in the four Gospels to describe the relationship between Christ and His followers. That relationship involved the disciples in the day-to-day affairs of His lifestyle. Thus the Lord Jesus taught in Luke 6:40, “The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect [mature] shall be as his master.”
Two thousand years later, true discipleship involves us with our Lord, with His life and ministry, and relates us to the qualities of His life that He demonstrated while here on earth.
Peter Waldo, the leader of the Anabaptists known as Waldensians, was a rich merchant of Lyons, France. He was converted following the trauma of the death of a friend. He had the Scriptures translated by two scholars into his own tongue, and thereafter gave up all his wealth and followed his Lord. Everywhere he went he preached the claims of Christ, using the words “Look to Jesus! Listen to Jesus! Learn of Jesus!”
Let’s consider briefly a few of the areas of involvement with Christ that true discipleship demands.
Discipleship Involves Us with the Service of Christ
“The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord” (Matt. 10:24).
A young woman who had left home because of her drunken father later became a Christian. After her conversion she announced her intention of returning and doing what she could to win her father to Christ. “But what will you do when he finds fault with all your efforts to please him?” someone asked. “Try a little harder,” she answered. “Yes, but when he is unreasonable and unkind you will be tempted to lose your temper, and answer him angrily. What will you do then?” “Pray a little harder,” came the answer. The discourager had one more arrow: “Suppose he should strike you as he did before. What could you do but leave him again?” “Love him a little harder,” said the Christian. Her splendid perseverance conquered. Through love, prayer, and patient effort, her father experienced Christ’s power to save.
When Catherine Booth, “Mother of the Salvation Army,” died in 1890 of cancer, her body lay in state in London. The poorest of the poor mingled with members of Parliament as they filed past the casket; all were eager for a last look upon the face they loved. Ruffians passed her weeping. Prostitutes turned from her side and begged to be taken to some home where they could begin a new life. “That woman lived for me,” an alcoholic cried in anguish. They drew him aside, and down on his knees he accepted pardon and promised that her God should be his. Three men knelt together at the head of the coffin, repented of their sins, and left the hall saved. Another said, “I’ve come sixty miles to see her again. She was the means of saving my two boys.” What a thrilling testimony to one who had exemplified the qualities of true Christian discipleship.
Discipleship Involves Us with The Commands of Christ
“If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
Two friends were out walking in the mountains. Following hard at the heels of his master was a faithful dog. The dog’s ears and eyes were listening and watching for words of command from his master. In conversation, the master began gesturing. He raised his arm in the direction of a precipice. The faithful dog, thinking that his master was giving a word of command to him, instantly leaped to his death over the precipice. Oh, that we were as quick to obey our Master’s commands, to have our ears “tuned to hear His slightest whisper,” and then to obey from the heart—even unto death.
Henry Martyn said, “Lord, let me have no will of my own, or consider my true happiness as depending in the smallest degree on anything that can befall me outwardly, but as consisting altogether in conformity to Thy will” (William MacDonald, “True Discipleship,” Moody Monthly [Chicago: January, 1965], p. 27).
Discipleship Involves Us with the Persecution of Christ.
“If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).
John Wesley was riding along a road one day when it dawned on him that three whole days had passed in which he had suffered no persecution. Not a brick nor an egg had been thrown at him during the period. Alarmed, he stopped his horse and exclaimed, “Can it be that I have sinned, and am backslidden?” Slipping from his horse, Wesley went down on his knees and began interceding with God to show him where, if any, there had been a fault. Behind a nearby fence an unbeliever passing by had heard him pray and threw a brick at him, thankfully missing. Wesley later said he then knew that everything was right between him and his Lord.
Adoniram Judson, the renowned missionary to Burma, endured untold hardships trying to reach the lost for Christ. For seven heartbreaking years he suffered hunger and privation. During this time he was thrown into Ava Prison, and for seventeen months was subjected to almost incredible mistreatment. As a result, for the rest of his life he carried the ugly marks made by the chains and iron shackles which had cruelly bound him. Undaunted, upon his release, he asked for permission to enter another province where he might resume preaching the gospel. The godless ruler angrily denied his request, saying, “My people are not fools enough to listen to anything a missionary might say, but I fear they might be impressed by your scars.”
When Raymond Edman was a missionary in Ecuador he knew a godly layman who felt called to the ministry; but his wife would not hear of it. She threatened all manner of reprisal if he should leave his employment to become a full-time minister of Jesus Christ. One evening he came to Brother Edman with a bundle under one arm and tears in his eyes. The missionary inquired what the man had in the bundle. “It contains my working clothes,” he replied. “I left my employment today.” He had counted the cost and had set himself to leave all and to face whatever persecutions might come, that he might be Jesus’ disciple. Should it be a surprise to us that this dear man shortly thereafter won his wife to full allegiance to the Master, and that together they have become pillars in the work in Ecuador?
Discipleship Involves Us with the Death of Christ.
“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).
Robert E. Lee was a great Civil War general but an even greater Christian; he was also a man who loved his nation, his wife, his children, and his home. When the conflict between the states came to a head in 1861, he not only had no desire to go to war against the Union, but was actually offered the position as head of the Union Army. After much soul searching, he followed the course that he felt was his duty and chose to fight for his home state, Virginia. That decision eventually led to the loss of most of that which he held dear. Douglas Southall Freeman wrote the classic work on Lee and ended the fourth and last volume of his great biography with a story about a woman who wanted Lee to say some words of blessing over her baby. “In Northern Virginia, probably on his last visit there, a young mother brought her baby to him. . . . He took the infant in his arms, looked at it and then at her, and slowly said, ‘Teach him he must deny himself.’ That is all.”
Dawson Trotman passed away in the midst of the very area of his strength—he drowned. He was an expert swimmer. The last few moments he had in the water he lifted one girl out of the water. He went down and got the other girl and lifted her out of the water and then submerged and was not found again until the dragnet found him a few hours later. A man named Larsen was on that boat when Trotman died, and he said, “The entire United States Navy couldn’t have saved Trotman that day—it was God’s time.” When Time magazine ran an article on Trotman’s life the next week, the editors put a caption beneath his name that read, “Always Holding Somebody Up.” In one sentence, that was Trotman’s life—investment in people, in honesty and humility, holding them up.
Discipleship Involves Us with the Love of Christ
“This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
Agape love was the love of T. E. McCully, father of Ed McCully, one of the missionaries slain by Auca Indians in Ecuador. One night shortly after that experience he prayed, “Lord, let me live long enough to see those fellows saved who killed our boys that I may throw my arms around them and tell them I love them because they love my Christ.” That is the love of true discipleship. This reciprocal love became a reality, for many of the leaders of the Aucas came to Christ, and Mr. McCully had the opportunity to do just what he had said he desired—to love those Indians who had come to love his Jesus, too.
To be a disciple of Jesus Christ ultimately results in the disciple becoming like Him. That process of change into His image is a work of the grace of God through the Word and Spirit of God as the believer is involved personally in fellowship with Jesus Christ. The manifestations of discipleship mentioned previously are merely the external testimony to the inner disciple becoming like His Lord.
At the time of writing, Bud Steadman pastored Community Baptist Church in South Bend, Indiana. He is currently the Executive Director of Baptist World Mission.
- A. Naismith, 1200 Notes, Quotes and Anecdotes [Basingstoke, England: Pickering & Inglis, 1985], p. 55. [↩]
- Quoted in 3000 Illustrations for Christian Service, Knight [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952], p. 431. [↩]
- “The King’s Business”, quoted in 3000 Illustrations for Christian Service, Knight [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956], p. 427. [↩]
- Stephen Olford, Institutes for Biblical Preaching, Volume 5. [↩]
- Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 15,000 Illustrations [↩]
- Stephen Olford, Institutes for Biblical Preaching, Volume 5 [↩]
- V. Raymond Edman, “The Discipline of Discipleship,” The Disciplines of Life [Wheaton: Van Kampen Press, 1948] pp. 12–13 [↩]
- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited [Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988], p. 444 [↩]
- The Pastor’s Story File, no. 21 (Saratoga, Ca.: Saratoga Press, July, 1986), p. 5 [↩]