(The tiltle of this post is the hebrew word for "Disciple," it is "limmûd limmûd")
What are we called to do to be disciples of Jesus Christ? The idea of discipleship seems to have been lost in our culture. Today it seems that the church affirms that anyone who shares common ground with them in regard to the scriptures, what Jesus did, etc. is a disciple of Christ. If a person is "witnessing," if they can argue the doctrine of the Church that is proof that they are a Christ follower.
The purpose of this post is not to give an answer to how we know someone is a Christ follower or not, rather it is simply to challenge common notions of discipleship you and I might have.
First of all the term disciple is not exclusive to Jesus. Jesus was not the only one who had disciples. Philosophers like Aristotle, Socrates, Husseral, Russell; all of them "had disciples." In the first century (Jesus time) Rabbis were followed by disciples. The Encarta Dictionary gives us this simple definition for the word disciple: "Someone who strongly believes in the teachings of a leader, a philosophy, or a religion, and tries to act according to them."
First century Jews followed a process to become a rabbi. Understanding this process will help us understand discipleship in the way Jesus understood it when He called people to be His disciples. The first step of the process was called “Bet Sapher.” Bet Sapher started commonly at the age of six, they would go to a school to study the Torah. The Torah is the books of Moses, the first five books of the Hebrew old Testament. By the age of ten to twelve they would be required to have the Torah memorized, no simple task even for a grown man. If this first step was achieved they’d advance. The second step was called “Bet Talmud.” In Bet Talmud they’d continue on to memorize every book from Genesis to Malachi, the entire Hebrew old Testament. The best ones, the ones who achieved this most naturally and most completely went on to the final step, “Bet Midrash.” In Bet Midrash they would basically apply to a Rabbi to become his disciple. The Rabbi, after testing to see if they had what it took to become like him, would either send you away to learn your family trade or he’d say “come follow me.” Now the Rabbi would only take a disciple if they thought that they could be like him, do what he does. If taken as a disciple they would follow the rabbi everywhere. They’d take on that Rabbi’s set of interpretations of scripture and their whole ambition was to be like their Rabbi.
Jesus called many to follow Him. He has called all of us to follow Him. What does that mean? It means that if we accept this call our ambition is to be Everything Jesus was and to do what He did. So being able to argue Christian Doctrine and agree that scripture is true is not the essential mark of a disciple of Christ. When we view a disciple as someone who accepts things the way Jesus says they are and lives life the way Jesus did, or at least makes those this his or her ambition, we’re called much higher than the current cultural perception of Christianity. We must move closer to seeing the world as Jesus saw it. We must share His mission; share His concerns and even His passions. First we must discover what those are. The greatest commandment in all of scripture as Jesus saw it was love; love God, love people. The defining mark of a disciple of Jesus is love.
Being a disciple of Christ is not an easy endeavor to undertake. We must know what we’re getting ourselves into. Jesus was no stranger to sorrow he was referred to by Isaiah as a “man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3). We should be prepared for sorrow. But holding on to the promise that “all things work together for good for those who love Him” Romans 8:28. Be prepared for a tough road when you decide to follow Christ but realize that His Kingdom is what we are seeking, there is joy in that.
We must also be prepared for Joy. You might say that Joy doesn’t take preparation but indeed it does. Being prepared for sorrow doesn’t mean we have to be sad. Notice that Jesus healed people just about everywhere He went. Healing is central to the desires of Jesus. It says in Isaiah 53 that “by His wounds we are healed,” Healing takes place within you. If you are bitter and angry and hard that will directly affect your Journey in following Jesus. Preparing for Joy is “casting your cares upon God” (psalm 55:22) it is living joyfully and free, it is living a more abundant life. I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly (John 10:10)
See now that discipleship, calling yourself a disciple of Christ, as Jesus saw it in the first century was not taken lightly. Have we abused His call by being hypocrites and placing so much importance on trivial things and empty actions? If our ambition is not to be like Christ can we call ourselves his disciples? Jesus believed that we could be like Him, why don’t we believe it?