THE DETERMINED DISCIPLE
In order to accomplish any goal for God, our mind for God must be fine tuned. We must never forget that the bull’s eye of the target of many peoples’ lives is the last thing to wear out. One must be able to make a plan to accomplish great things for God, and then not fail to work his plan, knowing that God is working in our lives (Ph 4:13). But we must make our goals, knowing that in order to get anywhere, we must start somewhere. We thus plan our work and work our plan to the glory of God. We determine what we want to do, assume that there will be a great deal of striving in order to accomplish our goals to the glory of God, and then get on with the work. It is as one poet once wrote,
Bite off more than you can chew,
Then chew it.
Plan more than you can do,
Then do it.
Point your arrow at a star,
Take your aim, and there you are
.Arrange more time than you can spare,
Then spare it.
Take on more than you can bear,
Then bear it.
Plan your castle in the air,
Then build a ship to take you there.
James Allen once wrote, “The dreamers are the saviors of the world.” Now focus on how the Holy Spirit said we should use the examples of the Old Testament dreamers: “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our admonition …” (1 Co 10:11). We could say the same about the Holy Spirit’s record in the New Testament concerning the first century heroes of faith who dreamed of things far beyond this world. Their life’s ambitions and walk by faith were not simply recorded for doctrinal studies, but as examples for life behavior. The Spirit seeks that we focus on how these great men of faith behaved their faith, and consequently, accomplished their dreams. A few examples will prove what the Holy Spirit is trying to encourage us to do in reference to living after the example of those who have gone on before us.
There was once a king who desired to build a great temple. After the initial start of construction, he walked among the workers. He asked one worker who was digging a hole what he was doing. The worker replied, “I am digging a hole.” The king then walked further and asked another worker who was digging a hole what he was doing. The worker replied, “I am building a temple.”
Once Solomon had settled into his reign, he set out to do the desires of his father, David. “Now Solomon determined to build a house for the name of the Lord and a house for His kingdom” (2 Ch 2:1). He first determined to accomplish a goal. He then, with “70,000 men to bear burdens and 80,000 men to quarry stone in the mountains and 3,600 to supervise them,” set out to accomplish his goal (2 Ch 2:18). And what happens when one determines to accomplish a goal which he has set for himself? “And in the eleventh year [of his reign] … the house was finished throughout all its parts, according to all the fashion of it. So it took him seven years to build” (1 Kg 6:38). Remember Genesis 11:6?
Ezra was a teacher of God’s word. As a teacher, he determined to teach the word of God to the people in captivity, as well as the returnees to the land of Palestine. So Ezra “prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments” (Ez 7:10). In order for a disciple to be a disciple, he must get into the word of God, and then get the word of God into his heart and behavior. No one is a disciple of Jesus who does not know the word of Jesus.
Ezra’s task was not easy. Profound ignorance of the word of God in the minds and hearts of the people lay heavy upon his heart. He knew that he had to first repent himself by seeking the law of the Lord. And then upon his repentance, he went to work teaching the law of God.
Now when Ezra had prayed and when he had confessed, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, there assembled to him out of Israel a very great assembly of men and women and children, for the people wept bitterly (Ez 10:1).
Ezra, and all Israel knew, as someone said, that “the path to success is not paved with good intentions, but with good intentions that are carried out.” If they listened to the word of God, then the Israelites knew that they had to do what they heard. In the context of Ezra’s teaching of the law of God, the Israelites had married foreign women. If this marriage between the Israelites and Gentiles was allowed, then Israel as a distinct people of God, would pass away into history as nonexistent people. And if Israel did not exist as a distinct people by the time the Blessing promised to Abraham had come, then it would not be known if God had fulfilled His promises to the fathers. Both Ezra and his audience of Israelites knew that this was a serious matter. Their return from captivity to the land of promise was for the purpose of reestablishing the identity of Israel in order to receive the promises that were made to the fathers of Israel. But if they returned with their Gentile wives, then they would become as the Samaritans who had no identity with the fathers (Compare Jn 4:9).
The sincerity and respect of the people for the law of God was profound. According to the law, everyone knew what had to be done to preserve the identity of the children of Abraham for the fulfillment of the promises. And so they did what had to be done. Notice this determination to repent and do the will of God:
We have trespassed against our God and have taken foreign [Gentile] wives of the people of the land. Yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing. Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born to them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God. And let it be done according to the law (Ez 10:2,3)
Would such obedience ever be done by one today who realizes that his behavior is contrary to the law of God? This is what discipleship is about. It is about loving Jesus more than any relative (See Mt 10:37; Lk 14:26). As Ezra, and the Israelites who had married Gentile women, if we discover something in our lives that is contrary to the commandment of God, then we must change our ways. Those who would be disciples of Jesus must remember what Paul wrote to Timothy: “And if a man competes as an athlete, he is not crowned unless he competes lawfully” (2 Tm 2:5). One cannot expect to receive what the law promises unless he is willing to strive for it according to the law.
Now before we commend the Israelite men too much for putting away their Gentile wives, we must also commend the wives who believed that this had to be done in order to preserve the identity of Israel. These were some well-taught women in the law and prophets. They understood that the hope of Israel, the Redeemer, would come out of Israel for their salvation also. We commend these wives for the part they played to preserve the identity of Israel. With their children, we would think that they made the greater sacrifice than their husbands who headed back to Palestine. At least they understood that God’s plan to redeem mankind was more important than themselves. They loved God more than themselves, even the well-being of their children. In our claim to be disciples of Jesus, we should think on these things.
In His own life, Jesus established an example for His disciples to follow (1 Pt 2:21). He determined to do that for which He came into the world. He said to His disciples, “And truly the Son of Man goes as it was determined” (Lk 22:22). Jesus determined to do the will of the Father. He had an objective. And like Him, we cannot get excited about determining to accomplish an objective if we have no objective to be accomplished. Jesus’ objective was to suffer for us. It was not a pleasant goal, but necessary on our behalf. Our’s may not be a pleasant task, but it is necessary on behalf of the salvation of others.
In His final hour, Jesus cried out to the Father, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours be done” (Lk 22:42). The cup could not be removed. The Son had to go to the cross. Was this objective easy? Luke recorded, “And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. And His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Lk 22:44). His objective brought Him to sweat drops like blood. With the same agony, so should ours.
Some goals that we set for ourselves will be difficult to accomplish, but they are necessary in order to fulfill our destiny as His disciples. Peter recalled the sufferings of Jesus, and then made a proclamation concerning the cost of discipleship: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow His steps” (1 Pt 2:21).
Jesus determined to go to the cross. With great suffering, He accomplished His destiny for our salvation. It is interested that during His ministry He reminded His disciples that there was destiny in His ministry for their benefit.
Behold, we are going to Jerusalem. And all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished (Lk 18:31).
And from the cross, and in reference to all that was prophesied concerning His ministry, He said, “It is finished” (Jn 19:30). Paul said, “I have finished my course” (2 Tm 4:7). True disciples will be able to say the same on their deathbeds.
There is no greater personality recorded for us that illustrates the example of Jesus with reference to striving for a personal goal to fulfill one’s destiny, than the apostle Paul. When the Holy Spirit allowed Paul to make the statement, “Be imitators of me even as I also am of Christ” (1 Co 11:1), He was pointing all disciples of posterity to the account of his behavior, as the New Testament writers pointed believers to the Old Testament heroes (1 Co 10:11). And from the inspired hand of Paul himself, we would not conclude that he was taking “literary selfies” of himself. The Spirit simply wanted the world of disciples for all time to understand that “here is one of you who can do such things as this” (See 2 Co 11:16-32).
Classic statements of commitment flowed from the end of Paul’s pen. One of the best is Romans 1:14,15, which statement explains his motivation:
I am a debtor both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians, both to the wise and to the unwise. So as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
This is a powerful statement as it is. However, as Paul progressed through his letter to the Roman disciples, he felt compelled to explain the intensity of his discipleship of Jesus.
I say the truth in Christ, I do not lie, my conscience also bearing witness with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh (Rm 9:1-3).
WOW! Paul was consumed with the destiny that every disciple has, that is, to go into all the world and preach the gospel (Mt 28:19,20; Mk 16:15,16). “Brethren,” as if he were writing directly to each one of us today, “my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they might be saved” (Rm 10:1). If we would seek for one passage that explains the heart of the disciple of Jesus, this would be it. If there is no desire to save the lost, then one’s discipleship has collapsed. His discipleship for the salvation of the lost, is useless. If there is no desire to give one’s life for Christ, then what good is it to claim that one is a disciple of the One who died for us? With his own life Paul had to explain this to the disciples in Caesarea.
What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus (At 21:13).
On the Damascus road, Paul was given his destiny directly by Jesus (At 9:15). Once he cleaned up the sin in his life by being washed in the waters of baptism, he was on his way for the rest of his life without ever the notion of giving up his discipleship. He reminded us, “For this purpose I also labor, striving according to His working that powerfully works in me” (Cl 1:29). What is powerful about this statement is the fact that he wrote it from prison. And if we would not believe the intensity of his passion for preaching the gospel to the lost, he wrote to the Philippians, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Ph 3:14). It seems that he would never quit. The doxology of his life would be, “And so I have made it my goal to preach the gospel …” (Rm 15:20).
So if one would want a personal testimony of true discipleship, then it would be necessary to study the life of Paul. We must ask ourselves why the Holy Spirit allowed Paul to write so much about his life in the New Testament? Our only answer is that the Holy Spirit wanted us to have a very personal, and human, witness of what true discipleship is all about. And if we do imitate Paul as he imitated Jesus, then we all can say at the end of our lives,
I have fought the good fight. I have finished my course. I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me at that day, and not only to me, but also to all those who have loved His appearing (2 Tm 4:7,8).
The word we would now use in reference to ourselves is “reflection.” Each disciple of Jesus must personally reflect on himself in reference to his commitment to be a disciple of Jesus. In reference to our financial commitment to the continued work of Jesus through us, Paul wrote, “Let each one give according as he purposes in his heart …” (2 Co 9:7). If we could take this statement beyond coins that are cast into a collection coffer, we must give our lives according to what we would purpose, knowing that in the end, we “must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that everyone may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Co 5:10). Through our living as disciples of Jesus we must lay up treasures in heaven (Mt 6:19,20). We must fill up our treasure chest in heaven in order that Jesus has a great source of good from which to draw when we stand before Him in judgment.
Our commitment to be the type of disciple Jesus would have us be, takes a great deal of effort. In our discipleship in prayer, the Holy Spirit had recorded for our benefit the intense prayer life of Epaphras. In writing to the Colossian disciples, Paul reminded them that Epaphras was “always laboring fervently for you in prayers …” (Cl 4:12). The Greek word for “laboring fervently” in this text is the same word used for the labor pains a mother has in giving birth. Few disciples there are who have reached this level of fervent prayer. Nevertheless, it is a goal to which we all would aspire. The greater our labor, the brighter our light will shine for Jesus.