In modern academics, we go to school to learn subjects like History, Science, Math, and English. A successful education is defined in terms of being able to retain and use a certain percent of the information we’re learning. Generally, we don’t spend time with our teachers outside of the classroom, and we certainly aren’t trying to pattern our lives after theirs.
But in the rabbinic model of discipleship, becoming like your teacher was the whole point. Taking on the identity of your rabbi was even more important than memorizing facts and information. In this lesson, we’ll see how Jesus purposely lived this model with his first twelve disciples, and how he invites all of his followers into the same pattern today.
Don’t think of this pattern as four distinct stages, where you graduate from one to the next. There is a logical and chronological sequence to these behaviors; but, in reality, they overlap. As you grow and mature, you continue to do all the previous behaviors, and they build on and feed into each other.
1. Association: “be with me.”
Over and over again, Jesus’ initial call to discipleship sounded like, “Come to me, follow me, be with me.” Jesus invites you to be present with him, to do life with him, to associate with him as an apprentice would connect with a mentor.
How to be with Jesus was relatively obvious when he was a flesh and blood person walking around ancient Israel. It’s a bit trickier – and a bit more of an abstract concept – today. Though we believe Jesus is alive and is present with us, we don’t experience him the way we experience a friend, or a spouse, or a neighbor. So how can we be with him in an intentional way? A few suggestions:
First, cultivate your awareness that he is present. In everyday life, don’t we forget this basic truth? Doesn’t it seem like he’s far away in heaven? But the Bible says God is both omnipresent (present everywhere at once) and particularly present with believers. We are his temple, and he dwells with us (1 Corinthians 3:16).
Second, consciously turn your attention to him. Don’t just blow through your day without any silence and solitude where you deliberately focus and center on him. Learn to hit pause, acknowledge his presence, and consider what a gift his nearness is.
Third, spend time in conversation with him. Read his Word simply to hear from him and commune with him. Pray simply to share with him and enjoy him.
Fourth, go where he’s going. His first disciples literally followed him and got his dust all over them. We can do the same in a more figurative sense by walking in his ways and by pointing our life in the direction he said he’s going. We can prioritize his priorities, value what he values, and find that he’s right here.
2. Education: “learn from me.”
The word “disciple” literally means “a follower, student, or learner.” And learning from him is at the heart of what he explicitly invites his followers to do.
In Matthew 11:29, Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” The yoke was a euphemism for a rabbi’s entire collection of teachings and way of life. So Jesus is saying, “Come, learn the shape and pattern of my way of doing life, and you will find the right boundaries – and rest for souls.”
So how do we learn this way today?
First, get in the Word of God consistently and thoughtfully. The “red letter” parts are the spoken words of Jesus, but the entire Bible is the inspired Word of God. Read it. Study it. Learn it. Memorize it. Discern what God’s teaching you about himself, about sin, about salvation, and about everyday life.
Second, get in community where you talk about the Word. Invite others to help you understand and apply what you’re learning. Teach one another, encourage one another, admonish one another, and support one another in knowing the Bible inside and out.
3. Imitation: “become like me.”
Imitation was always the goal of discipleship in Jesus’ world. Jesus himself described it this way: “A disciple is not above his teacher but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).
Jesus’ best friend, John, later wrote this: “By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:5-6).
This is more than just imitating behaviors and practices, as important as those are. This is about imitating the way Jesus thinks, the way he feels, the way he loves, the way he acts and reacts. This is about living a life that is instantly recognizable as being patterned after Jesus.
4. Replication: “teach others about me.”
In a predominantly oral (as opposed to written) culture, the way of a teacher was passed from one generation to another through replication. Disciples would learn the way of their teacher and then would go and teach others. They would repeat the words of the teacher and they would model for others the way of the teacher.
In some of Jesus’ final words to his disciples’, he explicitly told them to go and make more disciples and to “teach them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 18:19-20). We don’t simply love and serve others, we teach them the central message of Jesus – the Gospel – and we instruct them in the specific ways of Jesus.
Where do you find yourself on this pattern? Have you skipped anything? Have you stopped short of a fully-orbed discipleship to Jesus? What’s your next step?