John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Subject: A look at our Identity as a Disciple.
Subject: What being called a disciple reveals about God and what expectation it holds for us.
“Once upon a time there was a fire in a small town. The fire brigade rushed to the scene, but the firemen were unable to get through to the burning building. The problem was the crowd of people who had gathered not to watch but to help put out the fire. They all knew the fire chief well – their children had climbed over his fire engines during excursions to the fire station, and the friendliness of the fire chief was legendary. So, when a fire broke out, the people rushed out to help their beloved fire chief.
Unfortunately, the townsfolk were seeking to extinguish this raging inferno with water pistols! They’d all stand there, from time to time squirting their pistol into the fire while making casual conversation.
The fire chief couldn’t contain himself. He started screaming at the townsfolk. ‘What do you think you’re doing? What on earth do you think you’re going to achieve with those water pistols?!’
The people realized the urgency of the situation. How they wanted to help the fire chief. So, they started squirting more. ‘Come on,’ they encouraged each other, ‘We can all do better, can’t we?’ Squirt, squirt, squirt, squirt.
Exasperated the fire chief yells again. ‘Get out of here. You're achieving nothing except hindering us from doing what needs to be done. We need firemen who are ready to give everything they’ve got to put out this fire, people willing even to lay their lives on the line. This is not the place for token contributions’”
(This story was originally told by Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. He was urging people to realize that discipleship to Christ means much more than token levels of support to the church and God’s mission in the world. It calls for wholehearted and total life commitment).
Being a disciple of Jesus is much more, perhaps, than what we have considered in the western world. We have new-believer and discipleship classes where Christians can learn the essential doctrines of the Bible. We have entire courses (which can be purchased at discount rates) to help us learn what is in Scripture, how to read and interpret our Holy Text, and how to intellectually process what is “most important” to our lives. Discipleship, today, has almost exclusively become an intellectual exercise. This cerebral pursuit is how most healthy churches view the concept of discipleship.
In some unhealthy circles, like the shepherding movement, discipleship has become an excuse for “leaders” to demand obedience to any and all their commands. This has been grotesquely considered where a “pastor/preacher” has ALL authority to require submission to their words and their will. Here, discipleship is used to manipulate people. It can be easy to see how this is not discipleship. But the reality is neither of the above examples fit with the historical/cultural understanding of discipleship. By the time Jesus had called his disciples, discipleship looked very different.
During Jesus’ day, discipleship included a rigorous, three-phase process. This is what it looked like:
Phase 1: Starting at 6 years of age (until they were about 12), Jewish children underwent a process called “Bet Sefer.” This was the beginning of formal education within the Jewish Community. In this phase, six-year-old boys and girls “would go to the synagogue and... [teachers] would greet you with a slate and he would put a dollop of honey on the slate and then he would remove the ancient scroll of the Torah. As you sat speechless and in awe, the rabbi would have you taste the honey on your slate and tell you that the Torah is sweeter than the honeycomb” (Koinonia Institute). Being simultaneously introduced to the Torah and the sweet taste of honey is said to leave a lasting impression on these children. From that moment forward, they would not only learn to read the Torah, but they would be required to memorize it.
Phase 2 was called “Bet Midrash.” From the ages of 13-15, those “who were deemed worthy to continue their educational pursuits went on to study (and memorize) the entire Tanach, as well as learn the family trade.” This was just as strict and rigorous as the first phase. These children would be placed under a lot of pressure to perform and achieve to the best of their abilities. If, and only if, a child had proved himself worthy, the teacher would select him for the next phase of discipleship.
Phase 3 was called “Bet Talmud.” After the most elite and gifted boys had been deemed to pass Bet Midrash, they then had to stand out enough to be invited by a rabbi to be his “talmidim” (or disciple). In this phase, from ages 15-30, “They would literally follow in the dust of their rabbi - desiring to emulate him in ALL of his mannerisms. They would eat the same food in exactly the same way as their rabbi. They would go to sleep and awake the same way as their rabbi and... they would learn to study Torah and understand God the exact same way as their rabbi.” This phase of Jewish discipleship moved the individual from just learning to being and doing. Being a talmidim was a HUGE honor and privilege that only the best could hope for. After much learning, a 15-year-old boy would finally learn to “walk the walk.” The disciple would live with their rabbi, dine with their rabbi, act like their rabbi, and do everything their rabbi would do. Their goal, essentially, was to think and talk and be just like their rabbi.
A lot can be said about this. Especially because Jesus broke the mold. Jesus’s Talmidim were different. Instead of picking the honor-roll students, He chose the drop-outs. Except for Paul, NONE of Jesus’s disciples were qualified to be his talmidim. Most believe that all of Jesus’ 12 disciples were not good enough to have passed either Bet Safar or Bet Midrash. They failed. They had no hope of attaining to anything other than working the rest of their lives in their family’s trade.
Eph. 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
John 8:31, “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.’”
Married with two boys, Dusty is dedicated to his family, the Church were he pastors, and the life-long pursuit of knowing God more fully. There is nothing Dusty loves more than serving God by helping others understand the treasures of Scripture.