One of the best axioms in teaching can be expressed in this way, "Define your terms, then stick to your definitions."
In considering the subject DISCIPLESHIP AND ITS DANGERS IN THE LAST DAYS, we must first define the term "discipleship". What do we mean by discipleship? Here we are faced with a problem inasmuch as the term is not employed in any of the epistles of the New Testament. The 272 instances in which the word occurs are to be found in the Gospels and Acts- 240 in the former, 32 in the latter.
Examining these references we are impressed with the fact that discipleship in a peculiar sense was connected with Christ's earthly life, when it had a two/old significance. First, there was the literal, physical following of Christ to learn from His personal teaching. That is the reason for His demanding that those who would follow Him as disciples must forsake all.
"So, likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple." Luke 14:33
If they were to actually follow Him in His itinerant ministry, then they must leave home, loved ones, possessions and occupations.
But there was a deeper spiritual following of Him in heart's affection and loyalty. Judas could be called a disciple in the outward sense. but certainly was not in the inward. This would seem to be the explanation of an otherwise difficult passage in John 6:60-66.
In verse 60 some of Christ's disciples murmur at His teaching. In verse 64 they are charged with unbelief. In verse 66 many of them permanently forsake Him. These were, undoubtedly, the outward followers who did not possess the inward reality.
When Christ died, arose and ascended to the Father's right hand, the personal aspect of His ministry ended. Now we learn through the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Christ said to the Twelve, "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of Truth, is come He will guide you into all truth, for He shall not speak of Himself, but whatsoever He shall hear that shall He speak and He will show you things to come. John 16:12-13
There is no literal, physical following of Christ now, it is a spiritual exercise. Consequently we are under no obligation to leave home, loved ones, occupation and possessions to become His disciple. These are to be recognized as belonging to Him, and held in trust for Him, to be used as He directs for the furtherance of His interests. The hardworking Christian wife and mother can be as true a disciple in the kitchen as the missionary worker in a foreign field. The important question is, Is each where God would have them?
I believe the hymn writer caught the true meaning of discipleship, as it applies today, when he wrote,
Naught that I have mine own I'll call,
These facts would seem to throw us back on the popular use of the term "discipleship". Consulting the American Collegc Dictionary, it is interesting to note that the meaning assigned to the word "discipleship" is
I. One of the twelve personal followers of Jesus Christ.
2. Any follower of Christ.
3. An adherent of the doctrines of another; a follower.
Combining this current use of the term with what we have learned from Scripture can we not correctly define discipleship as ihe dedicated spiritual following of a risen, enthroned Christ?
Now let us consider the second part of the subject, DANGERS TO DISCIPLESHIP IN THE LAST DAYS. While the present time, (which many of us believe to be the last days of the church age,) undoubtedly possesses significant features which increase the danger to the child of God, yet, basically, our dangers are the same as those which beset the first century disciples. Therefore, I am going to ask you to turn in your Bibles and read a passage in Luke's Gospel, chp. 9, verses 57 through 62,
"And it came to pass that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto Him, Lord, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest.
And Jesus said unto Him, foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.
And He said unto another, Follow Me. But lie said, Lord. suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead. but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.
And another also said, Lord, I will follow Thee, but let me first go bid them farewell which are at home at my house.
And Jesus said unto him, No man having put his hand to the plough. and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."
It is certainly not my intention to consider these verses in detail. I only want to point out three dangers that beset those who would have become Christ's disciples in the first century, and to suggest that these dangers are still with us today.
The first volunteer (in v. 57) was discouraged, apparently, by the uncertainty of the future, the lack of any tangible security.
"Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head." said our Lord, and you can almost hear the man mutter, "No security there", and he disappears from sight. It may be no exaggeration to say that we, today, are living in the most "security-conscious" age of all time. Americans insist on job security, social security, old-age security, and every other security except eternal security. Does this not, then, present a very real danger to all-out discipleship, THE DESIRE FOR SECURITY?
As pointed out previously, discipleship does not necessarily involve a Romish vow of poverty, the giving up of all material possessions, the rejection of home and married life. This is a false view of Christianity. BUT discipleship is a costly thing. and following Christ will entail loss here. To follow fully we must be willing to find our security in the faithfulness of the One we follow.
In the second would-be disciple we have a conscript, not a volunteer. To him Christ said, "Follow Me." Does this not remind us that there are two sides to the coin of discipleship? On the one hand it should be a free and voluntary expression on our part of a genuine desire to follow Christ; on the other, we really have no choice in the matter. Christ's command is "Follow Me", and the reality of our faith will be demonstrated by the resoluteness of our following. But this man of the first century immediately encounters a danger to discipleship which remains with us today. He exhibits a DEFECTIVE SENSE OF PRIORITIES. His first mistake is seen in his words. "me first". "Suffer me first to go and bury my father." That was a poor start to discipleship, in which "me" must be last not first! John expressed it correctly when he said, "He must increase, but I must decrease." John 3:30
"Less, less of self each day,
The second mistake of our friend was in putting social responsibilities above the spiritual. To bury his father certainly seemed like a definite responsibility. But there were others to do this, who could not preach the Gospel. Hence our Lord's words to him,
"Let the dead bury their dead, but go thou and preach the kingdom of God." v. 60 The social responsibility was great, the spiritual was greater. This is a matter which requires great wisdom and most careful consideration in these days when the emphasis on social responsibilities is being stressed, not only in liberal, but evangelical circles. Certainly we have social responsibilities since we live in a society with other men, and to completely neglect these will undoubtedly be detrimental to our testimony, both individual and collective. As usual, some are going to both extremes. There are those who disavow all social responsibility-they will not vote, will not serve in the armed forces, will not contribute to any philanthropic funds, will not attend P.T.A. meetings, etc. Let us say these are the religious far-right conservatives.
Then there are the religious left-wingers who advocate going all the way. Their slogan is,, "If you want to win them you've got to join them." They advocate looking like, talking like, and acting like the unsaved under the plea of winning them to Christ. This is contrary to Scripture, to logic and to experience. One wonders if such views are not often a mere subterfuge for the indulgence of fleshly desires, and a pretense for escaping the persecution and ostracism that inevitably accompanies discipleship to a rejected Christ.
Where shall we draw the line between the social and the spiritual? Did not our Lord Himself provide the answer? "Let the dead bury their dead but go thou and preach the kingdom of God."
There are responsibilities in the social area which the unsaved-the spiritually dead-can discharge as well as the Christian can. Let them do so, while the believer expends his time and energy and means on the furtherance of the Gospel.
Just a few closing thoughts on the third volunteer for discipleship. He, too, offered to follow Christ, but there were reservations. Again the fatal "me first" intrudes.
"I will follow Thee, but let me first go bid them farewell which are at home at my house." v. 61.
"I will follow Thee, BUT." Here is the clue to this man's difficulty-indecision. Willing-BUT, other things are attracting and distracting. The danger indicated here is DELAY THROUGH INDECISION. But this will not satisfy Christ. His reply indicates that He demands of His disciples an undivided interest in and attention to the work at hand.
"And Jesus said unto him, No man having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." v.62
No plowman can cut a clean, straight furrow if he allows his attention to be diverted elsewhere. This underlines a great need today-servants of Christ who will forget about everything and everyone else', including themselves, and render undivided interest and dedication to the task given (hem by the Lord. Too many are occupied with providing for themselves and their dependents; allowing themselves to be diverted by the opinions, desires and actions of others; and dissipating their energies on activities of secondary importance. Many -years ago, as a young man, I heard an old servant of Christ (I've forgotten who it was) say that he would rather drive in one tenpenny nail than a dozen tacks. I've never been able to shake off the influence of those simple words. That is my definition of dedicated discipleship-doing with undivided interest the task God has assigned to me.