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The Values and Problems of Discipleship

We started in our last conversation to talk about why the term “disciple” fell out of usage in the New Testament after the Gospels and the record of Acts. Its formal absence from the letters of Paul, James, Peter, and John catches my attention just as I’ve often wondered why those same writers didn’t make a practice of directly quoting Jesus.

Thanks for being willing to wade into this with me. I found your comments  helpful. At this point I’m not sure that I have it figured out, but will tell you where I am, and if I’m wrong, want to be corrected.

As to the second issue of why the writers didn’t quote Jesus more often, it seems clear to me that what all of them did do was to embrace the truth and heart of who Jesus was; what he did for us; and what he taught.  That suggests to me that when Jesus’ perfect example, teaching, and sacrificial rescue were completed (as documented by the Gospels and Acts) the letters that followed were inspired by the Holy Spirit of Jesus to advance the next step implications of God in the flesh coming to our rescue.

That the word disciple fell out of usage at the same point seems related even though, as a number of you pointed out, the idea of being a learner and follower of Jesus comes through strong in the letters of the New Testament. That remains. But what does change is that the identifying mark of “disciple” goes away (in the New Testament text) even as a general reference to Jesus’ learners and followers.

What makes sense to me is that we’re seeing here something similar to what happened to the law of Moses once Jesus perfectly fulfilled it. Even though the practical truth, heart, and implications of the law continue to be useful for wisdom (2Tim 3:16), the Law as a binding national constitution was set aside, having served its purpose in bringing us to Christ (Gal 3:23-26).

The institution of discipleship seems to follow a similar pattern. Jesus fulfilled the perfect teacher in that, as the Living Word of God, he walked just as he taught. He also fulfilled the perfect learner in that, as a faithful son, he became a perfect example of listening, being, and doing.

In the process, however, the requirements Jesus gave for being his disciple parallel the law of Moses.  His principle of discipleship (Luke 6:40)  brings us to the end of ourselves, and to him, when he makes it clear that no one can truly be his disciple in the full sense of the word (Luke 14:26-27) (Luke 14:33).

The result is that other identifiers that emphasized who Jesus is and what he did for us (saints [set apart ones], children of God, followers, family, servants [in a grateful self-identifying sense], people of the Way, Christian [i.e. in Christ]) became the identifying norm. This seems so appropriate since, although we no longer sit physically at Jesus feet, and walk with him through olive trees, we do live by in his Spirit, by his grace, in ways that would earn us failing marks as disciples.

Again, this is by no way a complete answer. But I hope it’s enough for us to keep thinking about together.

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107 Responses to “The Values and Problems of Discipleship”

  1. BruceC says:

    Is it possible that the writers of the letters did not want the new believers to get mixed up and start saying they were diciples Peter or of Paul??
    Also; could it be that they didn’t quote Jesus often is because they had already relayed this unto all the new believers and the newly founded churches while they were with them? This would likely apply mostly to Paul and the churches he founded.
    I know that we in our church still use the word diciple and dicipleship.
    I have never given this much thought before Mart.

    Soli Deo Gloria!

  • florida7sun says:

    Thank you, Mart. Two verses come to mind this morning: John 14:16 and Colossians 1:27.

    As disciples, He was with them: teaching as Rabboni (Master), eating, laughing, weeping and praying. He showed us Our Father in Heaven. “He is the radiance of God’s glory…” – Hebrews 1:3

    As children of God, He lives in us: His advocate, the Holy Spirit, comforts and guides us through His Living Word; giving us the assurance of sharing His glory in Christ Jesus.

    He is soon returning for His bride, the Church: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” – John 14:3

    United in Spirit, we are one with Our Lord and Savior and in fellowship with each other: the Body of Christ.