Christian Discipleship - Rev. David Paterson
“I will follow thee…” - Matthew. 8:19
“I will follow Him.” Do you remember when you first made that promise - or was it a vow? You believed you were utterly sincere. Nothing was too much for Jesus. In the light of the Cross, in the light of forgiveness; in the experience of forgiveness; in the joy of gospel peace; in the fullness of your personal surrender, you made the vow and truly meant it. Yet, the truth is you did not fully know what was involved. How much you had to learn in the school of Christ! Have you been disappointed in Him, as well as in yourself? Is it possible that you have become a bit “worldly wise”, while teaching the mechanics of Salvation? Have you become a little cynical? Has the foolishness of preaching become to you foolishness? We, perhaps, long for New Testament Power, but we often forget how Power expresses itself. We want to be a powerful minister or home missionary or ordinary Christian witness, and to feel the thrill of being useful and breaking through. We often want the power of Christ more than the Cross of Christ, or the power without the Cross. Perhaps we feel we’ve heard all this before, in fact preached it. If we put into words the thoughts that brood in the heart, they may say - “It doesn’t work”. In a sense, we are right. “It doesn’t work.” Power without a Cross never works. The Bible has much to say concerning Power. Remember Paul ... “That we may know Him and the power of His Resurrection”. Yes, Him first, and the Resurrection Power second.
Never reverse the order!
Perhaps we might do well to go back to Matthew’s school to find afresh the portrait of a saint. Let us try to see the portrait in the frame of Matthew 8:9· ...“I will follow Thee.”
This confession is so often made and, yet, its implications are so seldom realized. Follow where? ... to obscurity? ... to deprivation? ... to outside the crowd? The Son of Man has still nowhere to lay His head. To develop as a disciple, we must first, of necessity, recognize who He is. Is He a Royal King, possessor of Eternal Power, or just someone who gets us out of a jam? If the first, He cannot change. He is the same now as then. Matt. 9:9, 27 gives a true picture. Remember the Centurion? “I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, ‘Go’, and he goeth; and to another,‘Come’, and he cometh; and to my servant,‘Do this’, and he doeth it…. Speak the word only and my servant shall be healed.” Yes, a Royal King. In 8:27 - “What manner of man is this that even the winds obey Him”. A supernatural, timeless King…. God’s Blessed Son. We must never lose sight of the Saviour. It was He who shed Blood! He who agonized! He who atoned! He who promised! He who commands! “I will follow Him. ...” What does this entail?
(I) God’s first demand
The portrait begins to take form - the form of a true servant for all time. Minister, missionary, elder or young Christian. Matt. 5:44 is God’s first demand. “Love your enemies.” What has this to do with power? What has this to do with sanctification? Just this ... He demands that we accept His standards, whatever they be. Love your enemies; Be ye holy as I am holy; the fruits of the Spirit as in Galatians, i.e. meekness, lowliness, love, joy, peaceableness. There are no short cuts, no lesser demands for some. If we accept less we call Him to cut off our power. His standards get progressively higher. When He says, “Love your enemies” He is not only asking us to do one particular thing, but is laying down a standard for everything. His standard ... nothing less!
(2) Wholehearted service
Wholehearted service comes next. Matt. 6:24, “No man can serve two masters for either he will love the one and hate the other or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon’.” Not a foot in each camp. We may be tempted, yes we will be tempted. Yet, Christ demands wholehearted service. Not only is serving two masters difficult, it is impossible, it just can’t be done! If we are holding back anything - sinful or legitimate - at that moment, we are serving Satan and self. The acceptance of persecution as a common lot is promised in Matt. 10:16-20 and this is often hard to stomach, especially social persecution. To be socially ostracised is not easy on flesh and blood. Jesus says, “Beware of man” - the subtle dig - the scornful sneer - the scowling scoff - yes, and worse. This is something the flesh always hates and fears, something we shun, yet something which is promised. “I will follow you” is sometimes so difficult when it leads to the school of persecution. Open witness is a full prime requirement and the call is accepted with a fearful threat. “Whosoever shall confess Me before men, will I confess before My Father. Whosoever shall deny ... him will I deny…” (Matt. 10:32). Before men - yes, men of all sorts ... open sinners, scoffers, intellectual superiors, social leaders! Courage comes before triumph! Honesty comes before success! This is what we are all called to. There is no road of escape and we ought not to want one. In Matt. 10:37, utter allegiance is called for. “He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.” The knife goes deep. The soul will bleed. Note that “more than Me”. The demand to utter allegiance is great, yet it does not destroy family love, but places it in its true perspective. Yet, how hard! Do we complain at this point? Do we murmur? This is not worthy of Me. Is there a situation just now which is challenging this allegiance? Are you facing conflict? Is the battle fierce? Remember, then, “more than Me”. “I will follow Thee.” Does it not grow progressively harder?
Matt. 11 :6 demands an acceptance of all His providences. “Blessed is he who is not offended in Me.” John, in the darkness of doubt, cried out, “Art Thou He that should come or do we look for another ?” The cry from this dark dungeon is always the same, “Have I made a mistake?” Ought I to have begun this Christian work? Ought I to have started training for the Ministry? Ought I to have come to the mission field? The subtlety of the serpent is seen here. Why did this or that happen? I expected things to be different. Brethren, it is the Leader who makes the policy, we just follow. Why, thought John, does not Jesus intervene here? I have prayed, cried, longed, thought and tried. Jesus wants us to surrender to His Providence. You are fitting in to His Plan. You are acknowledging His Purpose when you don’t understand. Not, have I made a mistake about my conversion and need it renewed? Not, have I made a mistake about my call and need it renewed? Not, have I been deceived by myself - for the Gospel is preached and is successful.
Not till the loom is silent,
And the shuttles cease to fly,
Will God unroll the canvas,
And reveal the reason, why,
The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skilful Hand,
As the threads of gold and silver,
In the pattern He has planned.
To say I will follow in the darkness is to advance in the school of Christ. An acknowledgment of all His brethren as ours, is a mark of true discipleship.
Matt. 12:45-50 says: “Whosoever doeth the will of my Father the same is my mother and brother and sister.” This concept demands developing grace and wisdom. John 3 is “Whosoever will….” Matt. 12 is “Whosoever does….” Our brother may make mistakes, and have all the sins of immaturity, carnality, inefficiency, smugness or even worse. The question we must ask is really this. “Is he trying to do the will of God ? Is he trying… even so weakly ?” Then they are your brethren. You must love, care, pray, help them as Christ helps you. You must give them the place and position He gives them. You need not agree with them on everything, but you must agree with everything Christ says about them and everything Christ would do for them.
(3) The conditions for continuing discipleship
Matt. 16:24 gives the conditions for continuing discipleship. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up the Cross, and follow me.” Self-denial, self destruction, self-abasement.
There is no such thing as self-denial and going our own way. Self-destruction involves the Cross. Self-abasement involves following Him. His Way ... His Paths ... not ours! These are ever the present demands of discipleship. They do not change when the going is tough. They do not change on the Home Field or on the Mission Field. They do not change because of failure - either personal or united. The human will must ever be crushed; self-trust must always feel the touch of the Cross; human wisdom must always bow where Jesus leads. In order to follow, we need daily what Matt. ‘7:9 shows clearly. The supreme vision of Jesus only. “They saw none save Jesus only.” To begin with, they saw the Law and the Prophets - then - Jesus only! Supreme in the estimation of His Father, He must become supreme in their estimation. When He is seen supreme in the estimation of His Church, whatever our problems (trial difficulty, etc.), the only true and satisfying answer is seen in the light of “Jesus only”. Love for Jesus only; the vision of Jesus only; work for Jesus only, hardship for Jesus only; labour for Jesus only. If we have the vision, we have the strength. If we lose the vision, we lose the strength!
Matt. 18 continues and the portrait takes deeper form. He demands the pattern of childlikeness. “Whosoever shall humble himself as this little child the same shall be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” The principles on earth are as in Heaven - the example of the little child coming quickly, obeying immediately and trusting implicitly ... is ever an illustration for each generation. His undoubting assurance, willing obedience and unclouded trust seem to be the daily demand here. Is it so with us? Are we childlike or childish? Is our trust in Jesus today clouded by doubt, defeat, disillusionment or denial? Is our obedience at this moment joyous, willing and confident? Is ours an undoubting assurance, in spite of the difficulties we find, even when we find them insoluble? ... in spite of the mountainous task? ... Are we childlike in our Christian service, or are we in the group who “know better”?
Matt. 18 demands integrity in personal dealings. “If your brother shall trespass against you go and tell him” ... not others ... tell God and him. How much trouble would be avoided, how much pain eased, how much trust continue, how many difficulties overcome if this command were obeyed, instead of worldly wisdom practised? Some may fear to speak. If you fear to say anything to a brother, fear to talk about him to another!
Matt. 18:22 - The portrait continues to take form in Christ’s call to be forgiving. Forgiveness is a state of mind, as well as a series of acts. Seventy times seven is the demand, and who among us has not asked God for forgiveness this same number of times? In case some do not see the spirituality of this command, let us add ... “Forgive your enemies ... those who despitefully use you”. Know the joy of being a forgiver. It is Christ’s standard.
Matt. 19:11, 29 - Discipleship becomes even more demanding. The rich young ruler comes in to the picture now. Through him, we are called to relinquish all. A glance at verse 11 is frightening…. It is not only riches and ambition, but mother, father, wife and children! We began by relinquishing all. We must continue under the same principle. How hard at the outset! How much harder during the course!
We must go farther in Matt. 10:26. We are not only to accept all believers, but be servants to all: “Whosoever shall be great let him be your minister.” A life spent in ministry, serving, helping and emptying, is a life well spent. The Master’s experience is that of washing feet! Love is needed - patience is needed - strength of character is needed - simplicity is needed. We must wash the feet of the doubter. He did! Wash the feet of the denier. He did! Wash the feet of the forsaker. He did! Even the betrayer. He did! This is the way to power. Out of love, today, we must wash the feet of the self-important and the weak, by putting ourselves out. We must pour ourselves out for all.
In Matt. 22:9, we find the servant’s call to service. This is a call to every Christian in every generation. We find it in the parable of the field - in the words “go”, ‘find”, “bid”. Go from the plans of self-interest, perhaps from the comfort, and even the smugness, of evangelical fellowship. Go from the activities which are legitimate, from the comforts you enjoy. Go from the friends who would hold you back. Go when surrounded by weariness and fatigue. Go, find:... where are they? In the pagan tribes, the materialistic homes, in their Godless occupation, in their hell-inspired pleasures…. Go and find! Remember what C. T. Studd said, “Some want to live within the sound of church and chapel bell. I want to start a workshop within a yard of hell!”
Bid them! Go! Find! Bid! Bid them. Plead with them; woo them; help them; pull them; pray them, with a Godly life and a loving Gospel ... Yes, even with a frightened heart. This is following Him.
(4) The demand for continual self-abasement
Matt. 23 leads us farther in the next demand ... the demand for continual self-abasement. “Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
No matter how far we have developed in the school of Christ, this command is never withdrawn. It comes to the minister, as to the junior missionary ... to the superintendent, as to the recruit. Just how many human problems would never have had to be faced, if this command for true discipleship had been kept! That jealous seed would never have blossomed and that resentment would have had no roots. There is no room for love of place in the school of Christ. It does not say where we should humble ourselves, but rarely are we found looking for the opportunity. We look for other opportunities, other recognitions, but to humble ourselves ... ah, that’s different. Unrest, bitterness, antagonism and suspicion are all the children of personal exaltation. They should have been slaughtered at birth and would have been, had we obeyed this command of the Lord.
So, the way is hard. Perhaps your strength has ebbed, your faith is flickering, your call is just a faint echo ... but now is the time for Matthew’s brush in 24 and 13. We need to keep on enduring. “He that endureth to the end shall be saved.” Yes, he that keeps on enduring is the sense of the word. It is true that we must endure through something ... be it temptation, personal weakness, fear, coldness, lack of vision, little results, bleak prospects ... but to endure is not just putting up with it. It is more than that. It is active, not passive. It is to face the problems, knowing what they entail, whether personal or otherwise, even when they seem insoluble. With one hand on the impossible, stretch the other out and touch the God of the impossible. It is the stretching out that is enduring.
Matt. 24.:42 gives wise counsel for all time. “Be watchful. Watch therefore for ye know not what time your Lord doth come.”
These words can be written over many things. We know not the power of Satan or his subtlety, despite our years in the battlefield. We know not the deceitfulness of our own hearts or the indwelling sin. We know not our pride and love of position. We know not our base desire always to be thought right. “Be watchful”, says Matthew, as a sentinel in a castle ... as a mother looks out for the good of her young ones ... as the guard at the front line. Don’t underestimate your enemy. Don’t over-estimate yourself!
(5) Christian humanity
The portrait of the saint is nearing completion. Matthew just added the finishing touches in 25 and 40. “In as much ye did it unto one of the least of these my little ones, ye have done it unto Me.” Matthew, here, pleads for Christian humanity. He makes the tremendous statement that an action done to any out of love to Christ is accepted as an act done, personally, for Him. Is Christian humanity anything less than Christ-likeness? See Him minister to the hungry crowd. So must we! See Him visit the homes of the outcasts ... so must we! There was no one so bad as to be outside the scope of Christ’s Blood and, so, none must be outside ours. He measures the wearisome chores out of love to Him.
When we are tired, it is like virtue going out for Him. He measures persistence in the face of all the things which annoy, as love to Him. His yardstick is not ours. It is not just listening to the Word, but He is looking for the Word in action. It is not just the attitude of prayer, but prayer in action. It is not only pressing food for the soul, but often providing food for the body. To have Christ-likeness, we must be good, kind, helpful. This is truly being evangelical.
Such is the stuff disciples are made of! When Matthew sees the woman breaking the box of alabaster ointment on Jesus’ head (ch. 26 and 7), he is still finishing off the portrait by putting the value on Christ. How do you really value Him? What is He worth? The ointment surely symbolized an outpoured life. Certainly, it is precious ... very precious, ... but is He worth it? “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down His life for His friends.” Is this the value you put on Christ? Your life with all its possessions, talents, gifts, opportunities. Is your life a daily sacrifice? Is it a daily consecration? When you said, “I will follow Thee,” did you mean an outpoured, sacrificed, consecrated life, daily? Do you value Christ above your life?
Matthew now finishes the portrait with the Lord’s command. In 28 and 19, he reiterates, “Go to the ends of the earth; teach at the ends of the earth; I AM at the ends of the earth.’’ Where He sends, He is!
I think, then, as I look at Matthew’s portrait, that I see the power of God at work in the midst of human experience. This power seems to be expressed in character, more than in feelings. What a standard Matthew sets and, yet, this is what it means to follow Him…. We may say, “Who is sufficient for these things?” We will have our part in His strength, if we see that not only is doctrinal assent required, but development from the seed of the New Birth. Christianity is not necessarily a feeling of triumph ... of always being on top of the world. Sometimes it is a fight against the odds, a swimming against the tide and a fight against such utter personal weakness that we must find Christ afresh daily, or face personal tragedy.
Let us think again. “I will follow Him.” Will we? Even if it means Matthew’s way? Let us commit ourselves anew in dependence upon God’s grace. “I will follow Him.” “Yes I will.” “I will accept His standards. I will offer whole-hearted service. I will face persecution. I will start afresh an open witness. I will give utter allegiance. I will accept all His Providences, no matter how dark. I will acknowledge His brethren and my brethren. I will, by His grace, go the way of self-denial and self-involvement. By His grace, I will continue to be watchful. I will practise Christian humility. I will set a value on Christ, such as the woman with the alabaster box did.
This, then, is what is entailed in being a Christian ... a disciple of Christ. This is what it means to say, “I will follow Him”. Of course, we can’t do it without His strength, but how often we refuse to meet the conditions. We refuse to come to the place where His strength is found. Christ must then break us before we come to that place. Perhaps, at the moment, we are in the process of being broken, we are feeling His way hard, difficult, strait and sore. Hear again what He says to His disciples. “Those whom I love, I chasten.” “Those who bear fruit, I purge ... that they may bring forth more fruit.” Let us never make the mistake of thinking that power is merely a feeling. Power is the life of Christ expressed.
Rev. David Paterson has retired, but was formerly Minister of East Kilbride, Clyne & Perth.