When the topic of discussion is "follower," how would you describe yourself as a follower? Do you know how to follow? What is your concept of following? To you is following "keep your mouth shut, try to stay out of the way, and don't create a problem"? Is your concept of following "stand quietly on the side, occasionally offer your opinion, try not to criticize, and occasionally share a word of encouragement"?

Does your concept of following involve understanding the objective, learning the reasons for the objective, and helping make the objective a reality?

Do you consider yourself a good follower, an average follower, a poor follower, or an awful follower? Do you work well in a group because you are a cooperative team player who follows leadership well? Do you work poorly in a group because you rarely agree with the group's leadership? Do you work well in a group only if you are leading the group? Do you enjoy following, but find it difficult to lead? Do you enjoy leading, but find it difficult to follow? Do you restrict following to leadership that does what you want done as it goes where you want to go?

Regardless of the kind of follower you are, will you follow anyone who wants to lead you? Every day in this country there are countless urgent calls for people who are willing to follow. Every type of cause is looking for followers: environmental issues, social injustice issues, political issues, union issues, physical and mental health issues, moral issues, and volunteerism of every type.

Every week you hear so many appeals for followers that most of those appeals do not even register in your awareness. "Become a part of us. Share our concerns. Share our purposes. Share our objectives. Serve our cause."

With so many causes pleading for you to follow, when do you decide to be a follower? What causes you to decide to become a follower? Why do you follow? Those are significant, relevant questions.

  1. One of the original, basic concepts of belonging to Jesus was based on the concept of following.
    1. The people Jesus recognized as being his followers were called disciples.
      1. The word "disciple" is not a common word today; it is not used much in our everyday language.
      2. Though it is not a bad word today, neither is it a good word.
        1. Sometimes it is a condescending word: "Oh, he is a disciple of ____________;" meaning he follows a person or cause that you neither respect nor trust.
        2. Or, it can suggest that a person is a fanatic who is out of touch with reality: "Don't take him seriously; he is a disciple of ________________."
      3. Many people who are not a part of a religious group and who do not read the Bible do not know the meaning of the word.
    2. What does the word, disciple, mean?
      1. Our English word, disciple, comes from a Latin word that means pupil or student.
      2. The Greek word in the New Testament that we translate with the word disciple means "to learn."
      3. The words disciple or disciples occurs (in the American Standard Version):
        1. Seventy-three times in the gospel of Matthew.
        2. Forty-two times in the gospel of Mark.
        3. Thirty-six times in the gospel of Luke.
        4. Seventy-five times in the gospel of John.
        5. Thirty times in the book of Acts.
      4. During Jesus' earthly lifetime, the people who followed him to learn were called disciples--disciple was the most common word used to describe the people who choose to follow Jesus.
      5. The earliest word used, after Jesus' resurrection, for the people who believed, repented, and were baptized still was disciples.
        1. Acts 6:1 states the disciples in the Jerusalem congregation were increasing in number.
        2. Acts 6:2 states the apostles summoned the congregation of the disciples.
        3. Acts 6:7 says, "The number of disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem."
        4. Acts 9:1 says that Saul "was breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord."
        5. Acts 9:19 and 25 state that, after Saul became a Christian, the disciples in Damascus took care of him.
        6. Acts 9:26 says that the disciples in Jerusalem were afraid to associate with Saul when he tried to become a part of them.
        7. Acts 11:26 says the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
        8. Some 18 times after Acts 11:26, Acts still calls Christians as disciples.
    3. The disciples/teacher relationship was not invented by Jesus, and it was not unique to Jesus and the people who followed him to learn.
      1. Disciple was a common word in their language when Jesus lived.
      2. The disciple/teacher relationship was also a well understood relationship.
      3. John the baptizer had disciples (Matthew 9:14; Mark 2:18; Luke 7:18; John 3:25).
        1. They followed John for the same reason that Jesus' disciples followed him--they wanted to learn.
        2. They became very concerned about the rising popularity of Jesus and expressed that concern to John (John 3:26).
        3. John stated something that they did not understand: "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30).
      4. The Pharisees had disciples (Mark 2:18).
      5. The Pharisees declared that they were the disciples of Moses (John 9:28).
        1. Moses through the law led them.
        2. All their answers about life and God came from Moses.
        3. The law they followed determined who they were and what they did; it governed their entire existence.
    4. But Jesus raised the concept of discipleship to a new level.
      1. For example, in Luke 14:26,27 Jesus said that anyone who came to him and did not hate his family and his own life could not be his disciple, and whoever refused to carry his own cross and come after Jesus could not be his disciple.
        1. Discipleship meant accepting Jesus as life's most important reality.
        2. It also meant the commitment to accept and endure shame and suffering.
        3. In verse 33 he said that if they did not give up all their possessions that they could not be his disciple.
      2. In John 6, some of the men in the Capernaum synagogue involved themselves in a discussion and confrontation between Jesus and some people that Jesus miraculously fed the day before.
        1. Jesus gave them a difficult teaching to understand.
        2. He said that, just as God had given the nation of Israel manna in the wilderness centuries before, God had sent him as the new manna.
        3. They must eat him and drink his blood if they expected to find life.
        4. This offended the men in the synagogue, the men that he fed the day before, and many of his disciples who were listening.
        5. Jesus refused to retract the teaching, and many of his disciples left him never to follow him again (John 6:66).
        6. When he asked his twelve disciples if they, too, were going to leave him, Peter said, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68).

  2. By personal decision and choice, I am a Christian.
    1. That means many things, but basically it means this: by my decision and choice, I follow Jesus Christ to learn from Jesus Christ--He is my teacher; I am his pupil.
      1. In religion? No.
      2. In theology? No.
      3. In church doctrines? No.
      4. In spiritual matters? No.
      5. In the totality of life!
      6. Certainly, Jesus Christ is my teacher in religion, theology, church doctrines, and spiritual matters--but that is only a part of the things he teaches me.
    2. What do you mean that Jesus is the teacher and that you are the student and follower in all of life? What are you talking about?
      1. My objective is to allow Jesus to lead me in all of life, and for me to follow Jesus by learning and by redirecting my life--all the time, every year.
      2. It means that Jesus will always be my teacher and that I will always be his student.
        1. My understanding and knowledge will never equal Jesus' teachings.
        2. I will always let him teach me from the way he lived and used life, from his word, from his death, and from this resurrection.
        3. I will never equal nor surpass him; I will never reach a level of knowledge or understanding when I do not need to learn.
        4. I will never be able to say to Jesus, "Jesus, I know what God wants better than you do. I understand the needs and the situation better than you do. I know what you said, but I know what God wants. I know what you said is important, but what God wants is more important."
        5. Jesus explained our disciple relationship with him in these words:
          A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become as his teacher, and the slave as his master (Matthew 10:24,25).
      3. Choosing to be Jesus' disciple means that I let Jesus teach me:
        1. Who I am.
        2. What my life's purpose is.
        3. How I am to live in this world.
        4. What my focus and perspective should be.
        5. How I am to treat other people.
        6. What it means to belong to and serve God.
        7. What my eternal destiny is.
      4. As I learn from Jesus, my thinking and understanding will always be changing and maturing.
    3. Why would any person give Jesus that role of leadership in his life?
      1. There are numerous reasons, and the reasons mature as the relationship matures.
      2. Let me illustrate what I am sharing in this way: in a good, healthy father/son relationship, why will the son allow his father to be a source of unique, powerful influence in his life?
        1. When the son is an infant, the father has that role because the son is totally dependent.
        2. When the son is a small child, the father has that role because the father is powerful.
        3. When the son is an older child, the father has that role because the son does not want to suffer the consequences of rebelling against him--at this time, he may even be afraid of him at times.
        4. The time likely will come when the son allows the father to continue in that role because the son needs him.
        5. But if it is a healthy relationship, the son willingly allows the father to occupy that role because he loves and respects his father.
      3. At different times, a person chooses to be a disciple of Jesus Christ for all those reasons.
        1. There will be a time he/she is a disciple because he/she is totally dependent.
        2. There will also be times when he/she is a disciple because of Jesus power, or because he/she realizes the consequences of not following Jesus, or because he/she has special needs only Jesus can address.
        3. But if the discipleship relationship with Jesus is allowed to mature, the time will come when the person chooses to be a disciple because of love and respect for Jesus.
        4. And it will be at that time that he/she will become the most mature, committed follower that he/she has ever been.
    4. David, why do you choose to be a disciple?
      1. Because I love and respect him, and in that love and respect it is my goal to allow him to teach me anything I need to learn and change my life in any way that he wants it to change.
      2. Why? Because I understand what Peter understood: he is the son of God, and only he has the words of eternal life.

How much does discipleship factor in what you believe? How important is Jesus Christ to your faith system? Is he the primary factor in your faith system, or is he no factor at all? Could you remove Jesus from all your thinking and all your motives and your faith system remain intact, unchanged, doing all the same things that you have always done? If that could happen, I ask you a very serious question: are you a disciple of Jesus Christ? Do you allow him to teach you?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 23 November 1997

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