Discipleship – A Dying Concept

The following letter was written to a few faithful prisoners who for years have manifested their steadfastness to the Lord in spite of their natural limitations.  This letter addresses the concept of the decline of Christian discipleship.

Dear Brothers in Christ,

Greetings in the name of God our Father and His Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus!

First, I thank God for your steadfastness and commitment to Him and to His work in spite of your restricted environment.

In addition, I dare not overlook the respect and faithfulness that you have shown toward me, a simple servant of God who honestly sees himself as greatly unqualified to represent our awesome Saviour.

However, I do hope that the faithfulness you have manifested is not a mere façade of self-righteous traditionalism, considering the historic fact that this kind of faith collapses in the face of trials.

My reference here to trials includes both negative and positive circumstances brought into the lives of the believers to create opportunity for conflicting choices.

The amazing fact is that positive situations such as wealth and job credibility have ruined many Christian lives, while on the contrary, negative trials have often resulted in greater dedication and commitment.

Disappointments

As I reflect on the many years of my ministry, I can testify without reservation that I have often been disappointed by the fickleness of men.  Time and time again I have witnessed individuals coming into the Church, staying for a while, and then, like the seed that fell on “stony ground” , they wither and backslide in the face of their trials. (Mt. 13:5-6).

There were those whom I personally assisted both materially and spiritually and quite a few were nurtured from the basest levels of spiritual degradation.  Their verbal commendations and support for my ministry were never lacking.  But, similar to the ‘Brutus/Caesar’ or ‘Judas/Jesus’ scenarios, the loyalty displayed by many was nothing more than a veneer that disguised their perverted ambition.  To be stabbed and condemned by those who seemingly guarded my credibility has been a common occurrence over the years.

Some men capitalized on my name and office to further their own selfish goals, and as a result, hindered those who came under their influence.  Paul described this kind of influence in 2 Timothy 2:16-18, showing that, “their word will eat as doth a canker…and overthrow the faith of some.”

This attitude of disloyalty was not a result of fickleness on my part seeing that over the past 30 years I have not recanted from the vision of my spiritual fathers.  My religious convictions have in no way deteriorated to blend with the trends of an ungodly society, but with God’s help, I remain steadfast to my calling.  The gospel I proclaim is not tainted by apostate philosophy or designed for religious entertainment, and there is still no desire in my heart to pursue the academics or methodologies that enhance 21st century religious credibility.

Rather, I prefer to follow the footsteps of men like the Apostle Paul, and by God’s help, cleanse my mind from all similar apostate contamination.  I will endeavour to preach the truth — that unpleasant reality that often brings to light our hypocrisy and human frailties, yet at the same time, offers many possibilities for transformation.  We should always bear in mind that nothing good and profitable ever comes without sacrifice and commitment.

Commitment

Speaking of commitment, I must admit that this remarkable characteristic is an almost lost element in our society as well as the Church.  Yet, in the development of spiritual stability, commitment, loyalty and sacrifice are absolute requirements.

Every notable character in the scriptures, whether priest or prophet, saint or apostle has exhibited extreme sacrifice and commitment.  It would be an effort in futility to try to compare the flamboyance of present day ministries with such examples.

For the Early Church disciples we will notice that the price placed on discipleship was not cheap.  To be a disciple it was necessary to deny one’s self and pursue an entire life of commitment and sacrifice.  Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”  (Mt. 16:24).

Serving God sacrificially in the days of Christ was not an option, even though it appears to be so in our day.  It was necessary for disciples to submit their lives and their will to God’s will.  By doing this, the carnal nature was gradually subdued as it allowed for the development of the mind of Christ.  The cost of discipleship was high.  Jesus said, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me is not worthy of me.”  (Mt. 10:37-38).

The entire volume of scripture is brimming with endless accounts of commitment and sacrifice.  A good example is the Apostle Paul who declared, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.  Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ…”  (Phil. 3:7-8).

Careful notice should be given to the fact that Paul “suffered the loss” of religious credibility and power in order to “win Christ”.  His proud and arrogant attitude, resulting from years of scholastic prowess, had to be subdued and the ‘old Pharisee’ had to die.

Not only does discipleship demand the abandonment of an ungodly lifestyle, but it oftentimes necessitates withdrawal from what may be viewed by many as religious associations and clout.

Repentance at an altar is simple when compared to the demands of discipleship.  It is quite difficult to give up personal credibility and then submit to the leadership and lifestyle of another.  True discipleship requires loyalty.

Loyalty

In his letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul wrote, “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”   (2 Tim. 2:2).  Timothy was not expected to promote his own ideas or modify the message he had received from Paul to suit his own theological conclusions.  He was expected to study and preach that message and avoid the vain babblings of false preachers.

As scripture reveals, Timothy was a faithful man and was loyal to the Apostle Paul.  Not being a profound teacher, he recognized his need to submit to the instructions of the Apostle.  He understood that every assembly had to conform to the spirit of it’s minister, and as such, did everything in his power to accomplish this.  He was a remarkable disciple of Paul — a young man with no hidden agenda.

Paul’s confidence in Timothy was manifested in his letter to the church at Corinth.  He wrote, “Wherefore I beseech you,  be followers of me.  For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ…”  (1 Cor. 4:16-17).

But the loyalty of Timothy was not found in too many.  Paul knew that after his departure the work of God would suffer as a result of the  ambition of perverted preachers.  He warned the elders of the church at Ephesus saying, “For I know this, that after my departing shall grevious wolves enter in among you…Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:29 & 30).

It should be noted that preachers who disrupt the harmony of the work of God to draw away disciples after themselves have never really submitted their own selves to the process of discipleship.  They are captives of their own carnal desires.

One would assume that a profound minister such as the Apostle Paul, should have concluded his ministry with much satisfaction and noticeable numerical success. But sadly, it appears that Paul died a disappointed man.  Although he had reached to a place of maturity and was confident of his own spiritual achievement, his followers were few.  In what seemed to be his last letter to Timothy, he wrote, “Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me: for Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessolonica, Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia.  Only Luke is with me…At my first answer no man stood with me but all men forsook me…”  (2 Tim. 4:9-11, 16).

The Process

The safety of God’s work is entrusted into the hands of God-called men who have been processed and sanctified for the ministry.  These men of God must not only be physically separated from apostate religion of their time, but must be cleansed in their minds and spirits from the spirit of Babylon.  They cannot  ‘eat and drink with the drunkards’ of their day and still expect to minister life to God’s people.  When ministers are processed by the workings of true discipleship, their followers will be given the opportunity to follow suit.

The process of discipleship is not pleasant, and the demands are extreme. But with strength from the Lord, and a proper understanding of the intended benefits, the elect are able to endure to the end.  As we search the scriptures, it appears that every child of God must go through this process of discipleship.

However, the examples left for us in the Bible seem to basically focus on ministers and leaders.  God takes His men through a period of preparation, during which time, the carnal nature is to a great extent transformed.

As ministers and leaders submit in discipleship to the Lord Jesus, even so must their followers submit to them as disciples.  Paul wrote, “Be followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”  (1 Cor. 11:1).

The Apostle Paul beautifully described the process of dying to self by saying, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; …perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.  For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.  So then death worketh in us, but life in you.”  (2 Cor. 4:8-12).

As we further examine the examples of scripture, it is quite evident that God uses only the men He has prepared to carry His work forward.

The prophet Elisha is a wonderful example of one who was called and sanctified for the work of God.  He may have been less qualified academically than the sons of the prophets who were being trained at Bethel and Jericho, yet God called him.

Elisha’s submission as servant to Elijah allowed a process to be worked into his spirit that matured him over the years to fill the office of Elijah.  He was disciple to the prophet Elijah and this offered a more excellent preparation process than what was accomplished by the schools of the prophets.

The submission of Elisha leaves us with a classic example of true discipleship and two important observations.  First, we should bear in mind that God never sends an irresponsible individual into the ministry.  The Apostle Paul eluded to this fact in his epistles to Timothy and Titus.  (1 Tim. 3:1-7, Tit. 1:6-9).  Secondly, servanthood and humility are basic elements used in the preparation process.  The called must be prepared.

Consider also the following examples:

Moses:  God called him at the age of forty while he was an Egyptian prince.  He was taken into the wilderness and processed for forty years to undo all that Egypt had placed in his heart.  Aaron on the other hand, not processed as Moses was, submitted readily to the pressure of the people and built a golden calf for them.

The book of Hebrews describes Moses’ remarkable denial of self by stating, “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt…”  (Heb. 11:24-26).

Joshua: as a servant of Moses, he was processed through his loyalty and servanthood to the man of God.  He was chosen above the seventy elders of Israel in the wilderness and offered remarkable leadership to God’s people.

Timothy: though not as eloquent as Apollos, was a disciple to Paul and better able to represent the Apostle to the church at Corinth and other assemblies in the Body of Christ.

The Bible is filled with many other examples—too many to elaborate on.  Consider the examples of David in the cave Addulum, Joseph taken to Egypt, or most remarkable, the Apostle Paul sent from Jerusalem to Tarsus for a number of years before God finally sent him into the ministry.  God never places a novice in office and the ministry has no place for the uncalled.

We should never ignore the fact that the process of discipleship does not inflate one’s spiritual ego but rather subdues a person’s pride and arrogance.  The disciple stands in the shadow and puts Christ in the limelight.

The Uncalled

When a  minister or leader is prepared by God through the process of discipleship, he will be able to minister life to his followers.  His soul has been cleansed from fleshly and religious contamination, and his mind opened to the voice of the Spirit.  The uncalled and unprepared are not so and must rely on their own intelligence and the thought-patterns of others.  Most men in this category will pursue theological training as an alternative to discipleship.

The prophet Jeremiah condemned the uncalled by saying, “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Hearken not unto the words of the prophets, that prophesy unto you: they make you [worldly]: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord…Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, saith the Lord, that steal my words every one from his neighbour.”  (Jer. 23:16 & 30).

I am positively convinced that everyone in the work of God has a purpose to fulfill, whether for good or evil.  Every minister of the gospel, whether called or uncalled, will submit to God’s plan — either his secret or revealed will.  In accomplishing this, some will conform to the will of God, others to their own will.  Even the Devil must fulfill his intended purpose.

There are ministers who will gather the ‘wheat into the garner’ while others will scatter abroad or gather tares into denominational bundles to be burned.  (Mt. 12:30, 13:30).  There are those who will leave the “ninety and nine” to rescue and restore one lost soul, while others will “compass sea and land” to make one convert into a two-fold child of hell.  (Mt. 23:15).

Please be reminded again that being involved in religious activities does not necessarily mean that one is doing God’s perfect will.  Jesus explains this in Matthew 7:21 by declaring, “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

To make assumptions as to who is doing the will of God is a conclusion that I would rather leave in the hands of God.  As such, I will try to pursue that which I envision as the will of God for my own life and will diligently encourage those under my ministry to pursue the same course.

I know that the will of God will allow me to submit to the workings of true discipleship and result in a continuous development of godliness in my life.

Our Need

I am not divine, and unlike others who claim to hear from God on a daily basis, I do not.  But by God’s help, I will stand on the foundation of scripture in anticipation that God will touch my mind to recognize areas of His word that are relevant to the spiritual needs of the 21st century.  To this end I am not disappointed.

As I see it, the prophetic statement of the Apostle Paul warning that in the last days men shall be lovers of their own selves — “proud…heady…high minded,”  — is being fulfilled in our day to the maximum.  Commitment, loyalty and humility are almost obsolete, and the ‘cross-life’ is rarely proclaimed.  Discipleship is an almost absent part of the Christian vocabulary.

Is it not a fact that in our day almost everyone, both man and woman, prisoner and free, who has attained a little knowledge of scripture somehow concludes that God has called them to preach?

Is it not true that it is this attitude of pride and over-confidence that is responsible for the many divisions in Christendom?

Even we in the Body of Christ would be less arrogant if we would pattern after the profound examples of scripture rather than imbibing the spirit of apostate Christianity.  Tragically, the latter does take predominance.  It is no wonder that Solomon wrote, “Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?”  (Prov. 20:6).

As we examine our lives in light of the scriptures, may God touch our minds to see reality.  It will be unprofitable to our spiritual development if we only focus on the theological aspects of truth and ignore truth about ourselves.

Are we true disciples?  Are we continuously denying ourselves of those seeming necessities that are designed to pamper the flesh and keep our own nature alive?

My dear brothers, I do hope that this letter would greatly challenge and improve your commitment to the Lord.

Your Brother in Christ,

Brother Singh