Ephesus

MESSAGE TO EPHESUS

 It seems that Jesus started with the city of disciples that had the greatest opportunity of all the other cities.   The prominence and location of this city meant that the disciples in Ephesus had a great impact throughout western Asia Minor, which impact, they were in danger of losing. The Christians in key urban centers as Ephesus must keep this in mind. What they do will often affect the existence of the church through a region, if not an entire nation.

Ephesus had been given the greater privilege of having the apostle Paul teach and work in the city for three years (At 20:31).   Therefore, the Christians in this city had the greater responsibly to maintain the flame of their lamp because they had the greater privilege of the personal ministry of a Christ-sent apostle.   This may be the reason why we know more about the work of the early Christians in this urban center than we do of any of the other cities that are addressed in Revelation 2 & 3.

 A.  Ephesus was a commercial and religious center.

Ephesus (meaning “desirable”) was a seaport city that was located on the Cayster River. The city was the largest port city of all Asia Minor, and thus roads directed trade to and through its port. It was a gateway port to the Mediterranean basin. It was also the gateway to western Asia Minor for political, religious and commercial influences. By the time Paul stepped foot in the city in Acts 19, the city was at lest one thousand years old. Some have estimated that the population at the time of Paul’s first visit was over 250,000. Since the city was a seaport city, it was the center of trading from inland Asia Minor, which made the city very wealthy and important to Mediterranean commerce.

What was unique about Ephesus is that it housed the great temple of the local god Diana (Greek, Artemis). This temple was once considered one of the seven wonders of the world. From the time of the beginning of idol worship in the city, there were actually five temple structures that had been destroyed and rebuilt on the site where the temple of Diana stood at the time Paul was in Ephesus. The fourth temple that was built on the site burned the night Alexander the Great was born in October 365 B.C. Construction was started on the fifth temple in 350 B.C.   It took 220 years to complete this temple. This temple was about 25,000 square meters in size upon completion. It was eventually burned in A.D. 263. After the destruction of this temple, there was never again a temple built on the site.

Housed within the temple at the time Paul was in Ephesus was a large stone that some historians believe was a meteorite.   Because it appeared to be multi-breasted, it became the idol of Diana, the goddess of fertility. The people were so fanatical about this idol, and the religion it represented, that when they recognized, upon his arrival at the temple, that Paul was a Jew, “all with one voice for about the time of two hours cried out, ‘Great is Artemis [Diana] of the Ephesians’” (At 19:34).

Because of the location of the city of Ephesus, the temple of Diana became a banking center where the people entrusted their money to the priests. By the time of Paul’s arrival, it was not only a center of worship, but a treasure house for the people, and a museum for many of the best pieces of art in the region.   The temple was the heart and soul of the people of Ephesus. The fanaticism that was expressed against Paul upon his arrival in Ephesus in Acts 19 can be understood because of the people’s zeal for the idol worship that was associated with the temple of Diana. The message that Paul preached was against everything the temple represented among the Ephesians. The message of his preaching not only attacked the idol worship of the culture, it also attacked the idol business that was associated with the temple.

In the messages written to the seven churches, it is possible that Jesus used the influence of the cities as a metaphorical prophesy concerning the future decline of the influence of the disciples in the regions of the cities. Ephesus, for example, would have been an example to define the religious, commercial and cultural influence of the city throughout the region of Ephesus. The other cities, in a similar way, were also influential in their regions. But the disciples’ positive influence for the truth was declining. The flames of their lamps were flickering. In some cases, they were reverting to the behavior of idol worship from which they were originally converted.

When the influence of Ephesus began to wane, so did the influence of the church throughout the region of Ephesus. When the disciples saw the demise of the influence of the church throughout their region, they would remember what Jesus said about the removal of their lamp. When the influence of all the seven cities eventually came to an end, so did the influence of the church in the region of the cities. The lampstand was taken away as the cities, and the church in the cities, disappeared from history. The lamps of the churches eventually ran out of oil, and subsequently, flickered out.

 B.  Ephesus was formerly a focal point of Asian evangelism.

By the time Paul arrived in Ephesus, idol worship had been commercialized. Idols of the religion of Diana were on sale at great profit (At 19:24). When a great conversion resulted from Paul’s preaching of the gospel, the people burned thousands of religious books that were worth a great deal of money (At 19:19). The people did not seek to synchronize their spiritualistic religious beliefs with the truth. On the contrary, they sought to eradicate pagan beliefs from their minds. Some historians believe that by the time of Paul’s third mission trip to Ephesus, the worship of Diana was waning. The great conversion of idol worshipers through the preaching of the gospel certainly continued the demise of this religion.   For this reason, the idol business was in serious trouble. And when men have commercialized religion, we can expect trouble when the truth endangers their profit.

It is certain that the preaching of the gospel to the city of Ephesus came long before Paul’s arrival. There were surely Jewish citizens who returned before and after the Passover/Pentecost feast of Jerusalem in A.D. 30. Upon their return to Ephesus, they would have shared what they heard being preached throughout Palestine by both John and Jesus (At 2:9; See Is 2:1-4). This may explain the existence of a small group of about twelve disciples whom Paul found in the city who knew only the baptism of John (At 19:1-7). Since John’s preaching took place six months before Jesus began His ministry, and before the Passover/Pentecost feast of Acts 1,2 took place in A.D. 30, then we could assume that these disciples Paul found had been meeting for approximately twenty-five years in their house before he showed up in Acts 19:1-7. Maybe such faithfulness will give us some idea of the religious soul of the Ephesians.   They took their faith seriously.

As far as our knowledge of the formal establishment of the disciples in Ephesus, Acts places Paul, Aquila and Priscilla in the city after the trio left Corinth. Paul left Aquilla and Priscilla in the city, while he went on to Jerusalem (At 18:18-21). Apollos also preached in the city and was initially contacted by Aquila and Priscilla when he was preaching in the Jewish synagogue of Ephesus (At 18:24-26). He too only knew the baptism of John.

The presence of these two Christians, Aquila and Priscilla, in the synagogue does indicate that they as Jewish Christians continued their outreach to the Jews. Their meeting in the synagogue illustrates that Christians should not shun the opportunity to be anywhere with any religious person who might want to hear.   We do know that Aquila and Priscilla, with other disciples, maintained a low profile while they met in the Ephesus synagogue, for when Paul came, and was more distinct in his message, “some [Jews] were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude” (At 19:9).

What Aquila and Priscilla were doing was waiting for any opportunity to speak privately with anyone who came along, and such they did with Apollos (At 18:26). Instead of creating opposition publicly, Aquila and Priscilla worked privately. Paul, however, went public and specific. As a result, the unbelieving Jews of the synagogue desired that it was time for the Christians to move on. So Paul “departed from them and separated the disciples [from the synagogue of Jews], reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus” (At 19:9). From his ministry of teaching in the school of Tyrannus, “all those who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus” (At 19:10). It was a classic example of God using opposition to move the evangelist on to a more fruitful ministry. This may have been when the disciples began to meet in homes throughout the city.

After the mass conversion that took place during Paul’s two-year stay in Ephesus, he traveled on, eventually ending up in a Roman prison around A.D. 61,62. From prison he wrote to the disciples in Ephesus. He made some significant statements in the text of Ephesians 3:14-19 in reference to their personal relationships with one another. He wrote that he prayed that the Father would grant them strength in order that they be “rooted and grounded in love” (Ep 3:17). He prayed that they might “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Ep 3:19). It seems from these exhortations in the letter that at the time he wrote to the Ephesian disciples, they were possibly having some trouble in reference to implementing the “love of Christ” in their lives. They were possibly falling from the love of Christ that would motivate them to reach out to the unbelievers as they did in the beginning in Acts 19. By the time of the exhortations of Revelation, they had lost their “first love.” It seems that they maintained their love of one another, but lost the love that motivated works, specifically evangelistic works.

When we define what the “first love” was, it is necessary to reflect on what Paul wrote in the Ephesian letter. Bible students have differed on what the “first love” was. When comparing the Ephesians’ initial response to the gospel in Acts 19, and the exhorations in the Ephesian letter, there are two possibilities. First, the term “first love” may have been a relational love of the disciples for one another. Or second, it could refer to the love that was expressed by Paul in Galatians 5:6:   “… in Jesus” it is faith working through love.” This statement was made in the context of some of the Galatians disciples who were seeking to be legalistically justified before God through their meritorious works of law. Such works could not justify one before God, and thus, legal works are useless in reference to our salvation (Gl 2:16). It is our opinion that the Ephesians had lost their works that were motivated by faith and love, and thus were continuing their legal works whereby they, as some in Galatia, were seeking to take pride in their works in order to be justified before God.

Since Jesus exhorted them to do the first works (Rv 2:5), then they had to restore the first love in order to do the works that came from love, not legal religiosity to merit their salvation or validate themselves as the people of God. One of the first works was fervent evangelistic outreach, the works that were manifested in those first years of the existence of the church in Ephesus.

In the context of Revelation 2:1 in which the statement was made that they had lost their first love, the exhortation would define the loss of this first love to be somewhat different from the love that Christians are to have for one another. The phrase “first love” seems to refer more to evangelistic outreach, than love among the disciples. They had the “first love” when they first became disciples during the Acts 19 event.   When Paul wrote the Ephesian letter in A.D. 61,62, they seemed to have continued in their love for one another, for Paul said nothing in the Ephesian letter about their losing their love for one another. Neither did he say anything about losing their “first love.” But by the time of the exhortation of Revelation, the “first love” was gone.   So by the time Jesus addressed them, we also wonder how they were actually doing concerning their love for one another. When disciples begin to lose their love for one another, then we know that their love for the lost is flickering out. There is no desire to be evangelistic when Christians do not love one another. No one of an unloving fellowship of disciples has the desire to being converts into an unloving fellowship.

 C.  Ephesus is admonished by Jesus.

Jesus is the One who is delivering the messages to the seven churches. There is a metaphorical description of Him in the address to each church. His address to each city church is sent through the medium of an “angel,” which Greek word can also be translated “messenger.”

In the introductory message to the Ephesus Christians, Jesus is pictured as the One who has ownership (“hold”) of the disciples in all the seven city regions. And as the One to whom Christians belong, He is among His people.   The fact that Jesus is among His people assumes that no man should seek to rise up and take the place of Jesus in His ministry among His people. There is no need for presumptuous men as Diotrephes to set aside the headship of Jesus in order to become the center of reference and controlling power for the disciples of Jesus. Jesus is the only needed head (Cl 1:18; Ep 1:22,23). Paul had warned the Ephesians that some elders would be so arrogant as to walk among the disciples, calling disciples after themselves (At 20:29,30). But Jesus’ reminder here is that He only is the One who walks among His disciples.

It is significant to note that Jesus did not send a message to the elders of any of the churches, nor to some apostle, or prominent preacher. As the head of His universal body with all authority (Mt 28:18), the picture that is painted with words in each introduction is that He is addressing the members of His body directly. There were no authorities on earth through whom He had to go in order to reach the members of His body. There is no need of a pope or some authority or synod of men on earth who should direct the affairs of God’s people. Jesus is capable of leading His people through the instructions of His written word alone. Since all authority resides with Jesus (Mt 28:18), who is the head of His universal body, then no universal institutional authority on earth is needed to take the place of Jesus’ direct authority of His body through His word. If any authorities would set themselves up on earth to rule the affairs of the body of Jesus, then the “all” authority of Jesus would be minimized.   Authorities on earth always seek to set aside the authority of Jesus over His body through His word.

 1.  They worked and labored: Jesus’ first statements to these disciples was, “I know your works and your labor and your patience (Rv 2:2). They were still an active group of disciples throughout the region of Ephesus.   Jesus did not want them to think that their labors were in vain, nor unnoticed. He knows the work of every active disciple, and thus He seeks to commend His people on the basis of their work (2 Co 5:10). The Holy Spirit had earlier written to them, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works …” (Ep 2:10).   They certainly continued that about which the Spirit reminded them through the Ephesian letter. However, if they could have been saved on the basis of their work, then there would be no problem. But in the context of reminding them that they were His workmanship, the Spirit also stated, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ep 2:8). Could it have been that they were legally trusting in their works, and thus, had forgotten that no amount of works could save them? Churches that are motivated by legal performance alone, and not grace, soon run out of steam. As will be noticed later, disciples can work themselves into spiritual death (Rv 3:1). At least the flame of these disciples was flickering, even though they were working.

 2.  They resisted moral and doctrinal error: Morally, the Ephesians were zealous to walk according to the standard of the word of God. They did not “bear those who are evil” (Rv 2:2). Neither could they bear those who professed to be messengers (Gr.: “apostles”) of the church, but were liars (Rv 2:2). There were those coming through their area who said that they had been sent out by other Christians, and thus were seeking to validate themselves as church-sent apostles. But the Ephesian disciples tested these self-proclaimed apostles and found that they were only masquerading themselves as church-sent apostles (See 2 Co 11:13-15; 1 Jn 4:1,6).

The Ephesian disciples had certainly remembered the exhortation of Paul when he met with the presbyters of the church from Asia a few years before on his third mission journey. During that visit, Paul warned all the churches that men would arise and call the disciples after themselves (See At 20:28-31). It seems that it was not long after Paul’s admonition that the false apostles were circulating among the assemblies of the disciples.

It is significant in our times to notice the existence of these self-proclaimed apostles as those who were also among the early churches. In this context, Jesus calls these self-proclaimed apostles liars in that they said that they were sent out by other disciples. But they had not been sent out by others, but by themselves.   Since the Greek word apostolos means “one who is sent,” then no man can send himself, and then claim to be an apostle. Apostles are sent by someone else (See At 18:27; 2 Co 8:23; Ph 2:25).   Even Paul was cautious about claiming to be an apostle of Christ. He thus validated his apostleship by reminding the Corinthians that he had been personally called and personally sent out directly by Jesus (1 Co 15:9,10; 2 Co 10). He did not send himself.

When the self-sent apostles who came to Ephesus were tested with the word of God, the conclusion was that no other group of Christians had sent them because faithful Christians would not have sent out one who was teaching error. It is easy for a self-sent apostle to teach all sorts of error if he does not know his Bible. If he does not know the Bible, then he often sets himself up as his own authority. But when a church-sent apostle is tested by the word of God by a group of disciples (1 Jn 4:1), then it is less likely that such a person will be going about teaching error. Paul reminded the Corinthian disciples of self-sent false apostles who were circulating among the disciples. He wrote of such self-sent apostles, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Co 11:13).

It is easy for a self-proclaimed apostle to send himself in order to live off the church. This was the problem. And because it was a problem in the first century, Paul supported himself when he went forth as a Christ-sent apostle (At 18:1-3; 20:33-25). But to claim that one is sent out by the church when he has sent himself, is to be a liar. According to this text, all self-proclaimed apostles would be liars, for they have been sent out by no one other than themselves. If they claimed to have been personally called by Jesus, as Paul, then they need to be reminded that Paul said he was an apostle who was born out of the time when Christ-sent apostles were personally called by Jesus (1 Co 15:8). Because of this untimely birth as an apostle, Paul said that he was not as the original twelve (1 Co 15:9).   So where would this put all the modern-day self-proclaimed apostles? They would certainly not be as the untimely born Paul. And if they have not been sent out by the disciples, then neither are they “ones sent” (apostles).

Those who seek to go forth individually on their own, are encouraged to do so. But one should not claim to be sent out by the church if the church has not sent him.   If one claims to be sent by the church when he was not, then he is masquerading as a church-sent apostle.   They are as those in Corinth who were self-proclaimed apostles, for they were wanting to be somebody they were not.

 3.  They lost their first love: Contrary to many disciples in various regions of the world, Jesus commended the Ephesian disciples, for they had “labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary” (Rv 2:3). The Christians in Ephesus stood against that which was evil, hating the licentious evil taught by the cult of Nicolaitans (Rv 2:6). They were active and doctrinally able to test with the word of God those who came by and said that they were apostles sent out by other disciples (See 1 Co 12:10). They had not grown weary in their vigor to be cautious about maintaining their works.   But something serious had gone wrong.

In verse 4 Jesus stated, “… you have left your first love.”   In order to understand that to which Paul refers in his use of the phrase “first love,” it might be good to reflect on the time when he wrote to them a personal letter from Rome in A.D. 61,62. In the letter he wrote,

Therefore, I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers (Ep 1:15,16).

It would seem unlikely that they had lost their love for one another and all the saints from the time of the writing of this statement in A.D. 61,62 to the time Jesus made the judgment of Revelation 2.   In fact, Paul commended them in the letter for their reputation for loving one another and all the saints.   Even if Revelation were written about thirty years later in A.D. 96, it seems unlikely that they would have fallen out of love with one another.

The “first love” that they had lost, was not a reference to their love for one another, but the love that is defined in verse 5 in Jesus’ call for their repentance. Jesus exhorted, “… remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the first works ….” When we recall the tremendous evangelistic conversion and explosion in Ephesus that was recorded in Acts 19, the “first love” would certainly have been their love for the lost, which love motivated them to work to save the lost.   If they did not restore this love, then they, as an influence for our Lord in Ephesus, would flicker out of existence. This would be certain since the lampstand was about to be removed. Since the lampstand would refer to their light of influence throughout the city, then when it was snuffed out, the affect of the Ephesian disciples in Ephesus would be gone. In this case, the usefulness of the body in Ephesus as a light to the lost would have terminated long before the disciples stopped their assemblies and legal works.

When disciples lose their local evangelistic outreach to the lost, they start believing that their mission is to themselves.   This seemed to be the case in Ephesus with all the labor among themselves for which Jesus earlier commended them. But once the zeal to locally preach the gospel fades away among introverted disciples that are active among themselves, they will continue to meet in order to validate their existence, but their preaching of the gospel to the lost is long gone. Dead churches often have exciting assemblies for themselves, but there are no new converts among them who have recently obeyed the gospel. Active churches, as the Ephesian church, give the pretense of being alive, but they are dead if they have no local evangelistic outreach to the lost.

These disciples were dead because they lost the love that motivated them in the beginning when they were first converted.   The statement “unless you repent” means that it was not well with these disciples (Rv 2:5). Though they were an active people among themselves, they were in need of repentance to restore their first love of reaching out to others. They needed to change their direction of focus. Jesus’ exhortation leads us to believe that churches that are active with themselves, but are not preaching the gospel to the lost, are in need of repentance.

 D.  Ephesus is given hope.

If they repented of their introversion, then there was hope for the future. “To him who overcomes I will give to eat of the tree of life that is in the paradise of God” (Rv 2:7). The word “overcome” would certainly be the right word to use in reference to repenting of losing our first love. Once the culture of apathy is established among the disciples in any area, it is a struggle to overcome the sin. It is a struggle to love again as one did when he first became a Christian.   Restoring lost zeal is difficult, but not impossible. And from reading what Jesus said to these disciples, if we would be saved, and thus eat of the tree of life, restoring our first love is not an option.

The metaphor “tree of life” in this context finds its original meaning in Genesis 3:22. It was a literal tree, and the source of eternal existence (Gn 3:22-24).   Reference in the context of Revelation is to the eternal life that one has if he continues as a repentant disciple who restores his first love. Those who are obedient until death will be able to have access to the tree of life (Rv 22:2,14,19). The Ephesian disciples were given the opportunity to repent from the walk of death in order to again be restored to eternal life, which life they lost when they lost their first love. This promise is a reaffirmation of 1 John 1:7:

But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

Apathetic churches can overcome. It is difficult, but this statement of promise means that they can. The Ephesian church started in Acts 19, which would have been in the early or middle 50s. When Paul wrote the letter of Ephesians in A.D. 61,62, he commended them for their love for one another and all the saints. By the time Revelation was written, however, they seemed to have continued in their love among themselves, but they had lost their love for lost souls. It does not take long for a church to die, especially when the members become consumed with good works for themselves.

Early numerical growth of disciples in any area is usually in the first ten years after the beginning of the church.   After the initial spark of growth, the first converts settle down as they get older, and then reach a plateau of existence. They will continue on this plateau, baptizing some to replace those who fall away, die away, or just go away. But once the plateau of non-growth is established, and apathy sets in, those who come into the fellowship of disciples soon adopt the same culture of indifference. The church is thus doomed to slide eventually down the back side of the growth scale, and go into oblivion. Such was the case with the Christians in Ephesus. They were on the back side of the plateau. The lampstand of influence was eventually extracted, and the disciples in Ephesus were no longer of any use for the mission of Jesus. Such seems to be the history of too many churches.   They grow, plateau, and then within thirty to forty years, they are dead, if not gone.

Those disciples who realize that they are caught in the sin of evangelistic indifference need to remember the promise: “To him who overcomes [his indifference] I will give to eat of the tree of life that is in the paradise of God” (Rv 2:7). The hope is that one can regenerate his enthusiasm for the lost. The “first love” can be reborn.   We can overcome.

Jesus began this first message to the seven churches with an exhortation to listen to His warnings and instructions. They must heed His call for repentance. If those in Ephesus refused to hear, then puff.   The flickering flame would be snuffed out.

 

[Schedule for next lecture:  March 14]

 

Introduction

The Seven Flickering Flames Of Asia

 We could probably have been sitting with some of the disciples in any one of the assemblies of the houses throughout the region of Ephesus. Or possibly, we may have been among the Christians in Smyrna or Sardis. At least in the Lord’s message to the disciples in these cities, there is a message for each one of us. The message to the seven churches of Asia cuts to the heart of all our presumptuous religiosity we might harbor. It does this in order that we repent and restore Jesus to our daily living. One of the primary lessons that we learn from a study of the seven messages to the Christians in the cities is what Jesus expects of Christians who claim to be His disciples.

 Date: The visions of Revelation probably occurred just before A.D. 70. This would make their revelation less than forty years after the joyous day of Pentecost in A.D. 30.   Some would say that the visions were recorded the latter part of the first century. But we would disagree with this long held assumption. We would believe against all tradition in order to affirm that all the New Testament letters were written before the consummation of national Israel in A.D. 70. It is traditionally assumed that the letter of Revelation was written around A.D. 96. But this late date does not seem to harmonize with God’s work to terminate national Israel in A.D. 70. And then, we would also question why the Holy Spirit would wait so long to cap the New Testament at the end of the first century. We will argue for the conclusion that all revelation through Scripture, plus the work of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, were finalized by the time God used the Roman Empire to turn the final page of His work through national Israel to bring the Redeemer into the world. A.D. 70 was, according to Daniel, the consummation of national Israel.

What is significant about the early date for the addresses to the seven churches is that apostasy can come very quickly.   Only one decade is enough time to slide into apostasy from Christ and into the situation that we witness among some of the disciples of western Asia Minor. If Revelation were written at the conclusion of the first century, then we could add another twenty or so years to the spiritual condition of the disciples that Jesus addresses in Revelation 2 & 3. However, such a short time is hardly worth discussion in reference to apostasy that can occur in one generation. What is important to remember is that from the beginning of a beautiful story in Acts 19, to the proclamation of the judgments in Revelation concerning the spiritual fall of some among the seven churches of Asia, we have a frightening short period of time. It is so short, that within the lifetime of the average disciple, the aged can look back in their lives and see if they have fallen.

It does not take generations to go into apostasy.   One generation will do. And in the case of the seven churches of Asia, it seems that only one generation was sufficient to move so far away from Jesus that special visions had to come directly from Jesus to John, and then to the seven churches, in order to sort out some problems. At least, the visions were meant to inform the recipients of the message that they were in serious trouble of having their lampstand of influence extracted from the cities in which the disciples were located.

Roman Theocracy: As students of the political history, we must not forget that religion and government were often combined in ancient nations.   Theocratic leaders ruled the people by demanding allegiance to the king or Caesar as they would give allegiance to their gods. Rome capitalized on this as narcissistic Caesars began to arise in the Empire.   Nero was one of the first, demanding that people believe that he was some deity. The people were to call him “lord,” not as a manner of respect, but as one who would be reverenced as a god.

The sentiment that was to be expressed to the Caesar, was not simply patriotism to a head of state, but worship of a god on earth. If allegiance to Caesar as lord was not expressed, then the denial of such was viewed as insurrection against the state. And so, Christians who believed that there was only one Lord, were in trouble.

With the beginning in Nero, there were about 150 years of different levels of Caesarian claim to deity that prevailed throughout the Roman Empire. During this period, Christians suffered the persecution of a theocratic state that demanded both political and religious loyalty. Christians were headed into this era of persecution at the time Jesus gave His messages to the seven churches. Therefore, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, through the messages and visions of Revelation, prepared Christians for the trials that were coming, which trials had already begun under Nero.

As we study through the historical background of the seven churches, one can see in the community of the churches, that there was a great deal of intimidation by the community. This religious intimidation to conform to the religious ways of the community would grow. The book of Revelation was written by John for the purpose of giving encouragement to these Christians of the tribulations that would shortly come to pass.

Leaders: If the visions of this book occurred before A.D. 70, then Paul’s Miletus meeting in Acts 20 posses the opportunity for some speculation to better understand the timeline from his meeting in Acts to Jesus’ messages to the seven churches in Revelation.

We begin with Paul in Troas where he arrived in the company of Sopater, Arisarchus and Secundus (At 20:4). It is significant to notice that with them was also Gaius who was from Derbe and Timothy from the Derbe/Lystra area of Cilicia. But what is more interesting is that Tychicus and Trophimus are mentioned as being from Asia, possibly the region of the seven churches. The date of the Troas meeting was around A.D. 59, only a few short years before Jesus’ revelation of the spiritual condition of the seven churches of Asia as it is explained in His address to the churches in the area.

From Troas, Paul and his companions headed south.   He sent his companions on the Assos, where he determined to be reunited with them after he himself had walked alone the distance from Troas to Assos (At 20:15). From Assos the team sailed together to Mitylene, and then the next day on to Chios. The next day they arrived at Samos, and then went on to the small town of Miletus (At 20:15).

In Acts 20:16 the travel log of Luke becomes interesting. Luke records that Paul did not want to spend time in Asia (At 20:16).   Luke does not say that Paul did not want to spend time in Ephesus. When Paul stayed two years in Ephesus on a previous journey, “all Asia” from Ephesus heard the word (At 10:9,10). Therefore, we would assume that “all Asia” at least refers to the area of the cities of the seven churches of Revelation, for all the cities were but a short distance from Ephesus. And speaking from our own personal experience, if it was known that Paul was coming, the disciples of “all Asia” would want to come and listen to him, for he was the “walking Bible.” Surely the word had gotten out that Paul was coming. When those who are hungering for the word of God hear that a teacher is coming through, you can assume the response. We have conducted seminars where brethren have walked up to five days, day and night, in order to attend.

Now consider the geographical location of the seven churches from Miletus, “for from Miletus he [Paul] sent to Ephesus and called the presbyters of the church” (At 20:17). Must we assume that these were only the presbyters of the city of Ephesus, or can we assume that the presbyters from the rest of the cities in the region had first assembled in Ephesus in anticipation of Paul’s arrival? Luke states “Now when they [the presbyters] came to him …” (At 20:18), the meeting began. Now consider this. (This is something that may be difficult for us as automobile-bound brethren to understand.)   The average person in the “non-automobile world” walked 25-30 kilometers a day. This means that Ephesus was about a day’s walk from Miletus. Smyrna was about a two-day walk. Pergamum about three days, or the leaders could have come from this port city by ship. Thyatira was about a four-day walk or about two days by ship. The furthermost cities of Philadelphia, Laodicea and Colosse were no more than a three-day walk from Miletus. There were other minor towns in the area, including Magnesia, Cibyra and Apamea that were only a short distance from Miletus.

Since Paul did not want to become involved in having to say “no” to countless requests to come to their city, he asked that the meeting (seminar) be held in Miletus. If advance word had been sent ahead, then we would assume that all the presbyters gathered to the homes of the brethren in Ephesus, and then waited for word of Paul’s arrival.

After all the presbyters who had assembled in Ephesus eventually arrived in Miletus, Paul introduced his message to them by reminding them, “You know, from the first day that I came to Asia …” (At 20:18). And from that first day he spent three years with the church of Asia (At 20:31).   Could it be that we have wrongly assumed that only the presbyters of the city of Ephesus were in this meeting?   Was this an exclusive meeting where everyone else of the other nearby cities of Asia were excluded? Such seems highly unlikely. If the word got out to the other churches of Asia that Paul was coming by, we find it hard to believe that all who heard did not set out immediately for Ephesus. In fact, it would seem that Paul would have been quite snobbish if he had not let the presbyters of the other cities know that he was coming through.

Since Paul wanted to speak to the leaders of the church in the region of Asia, we would assume that the presbyters of the region initially gathered in Ephesus, and then waited for the messenger to come and tell them where the meeting was going to be.

We make this assumption based on the fact of the reality of the events that transpired. But also, we make our assumption in view of what Paul said in his message, specifically the statements in Acts 20:29,30. Since the meeting took place around A.D. 59, and the visions of Revelation took place less than ten years later, the “grievous wolves” had already started to enter in among the seven churches of Asia.   The Nicolaitans and Balaamites, and followers of Jezebel, were already arising among the disciples. They were drawing away disciples after themselves.   And the sad thing about the warning was that Paul said that from your own selves will men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (At 20:30).   This was what was actually happening among some of the seven churches even as Paul spoke. And it is for this reason that we believe that Paul wanted a last word with all of them before going on to Jerusalem for his last visit.

It may have been that the reason Jesus had to make the judgmental addresses to the seven churches was because the leaders of some of the churches had gone after the perverse teachings of the Nicolaitans, Balaamites and Jezebel. It is a sad day in the history of the church when the leadership of the church forgets the commandments of the Lord, and then seeks to control religious groups to follow them and not the Lord. Every self-proclaimed prophet should sit up and take notice of these warnings of Jesus.   If one claims “this is my church,” then he is a leader of an apostasy, and subsequently, will reap the condemnation that Jesus gives in His messages to the seven churches.

Ekklesia: Now in moving into the visions of judgment, there is at least one paramount historical fact that must be understood about the disciples in these seven city regions. When the statement is made, “To the angel of the church of …”, we must not make the unfortunate mistake of thinking that there was only one assembly of the disciples in any particular city on 1st Street and Main. Because the word “church” (ekklesia) is used in the singular does not mean that there was only one assembly of the saints in each of the seven cities. If there were only one assembly in each of the seven cities, then we would have to conclude that in the years of the existence of the church in these cities, there was only minimal growth of the church. This would certainly be contrary to the nature of the early growth of the church in other areas. So we will not involve ourselves in such thinking, assuming that in the seven cities, as in all cities where the early church was located, the saints were meeting in the homes of the disciples throughout the region of the cities.   This conclusion would be necessary because of the example of the growth of the church in Ephesus (At 19). There were simply no purpose-built church buildings in the early centuries of the existence of the church.

We must also keep in mind that there were no “city limits” of the first century cities. “City limits” is a modern-day border of demarcation in reference to the governance and public services of a city. Our understanding of the word “city” in the New Testament would best be interpreted to mean “city region.” There were, therefore, disciples living in all the regions around Ephesus, or Corinth, or Philadelphia. And in reference to the meeting of the saints in the homes of the disciples, then there were house assemblies throughout each of the seven city regions.

When the word ekklesia (church) is used, therefore, reference is to the people of the city region, not to the assemblies on Sunday. Once we identify the church as the people, and not as the assembly of the people, then we are on our way to understanding correctly the organic function of the body of Christ throughout the first century world. This is especially true when we seek to understand the address of Jesus to the church (people) in each of the seven city regions. The problems that Jesus addressed were with the people, not with the assemblies. And because the people (the church) were scattered throughout a particular city region, then the address was to “the church (disciples) of ….” The exhortations of Revelation 2 & 3 were to people, not the assemblies of the people.

The fact that the disciples were scattered throughout these seven city regions helps us to understand better the messenger’s use of the world ekklesia (“church”) in reference to God’s people.   Most important of all, we understand that the use of the word in this context is in reference to people, not assemblies. Therefore, the corporate assemblies of God’s people do not identify the existence of God’s people in any geographical region.

Add to this the content of the messages.   Jesus was not seeking to correct some dysfunctions in the assemblies of the saints. In fact, nothing is said about assemblies in any of the seven messages. All the exhortations of the messages focused on beliefs and behavior. And the fact that the exhortations were addressed to the collective of the disciples in each city region, affirms that no group of disciples within any of the city regions had a right to separate themselves from the rest of the disciples in that region. There were no autonomous assemblies of the disciples within any of the seven city regions. There were several assemblies of disciples who were meeting in numerous houses throughout the cities, but no one assembly in any house declared their independence from any other assembly of disciples in reference to the church (singular) of a particular city. There were no autonomous groups of disciples within any city who declared their autonomy from any other group.

The fact that Jesus did not address any divisive behavior among the disciples in any city, assumes that the practice of autonomous assemblies had not yet developed among the disciples at this time in the history of the church. The church was still functioning as one universal body.

Here is something for which to watch in these messages to all the Christians in any one particular city. In Pergamum, for example, there were “those who hold the teaching of Balaam” and “the teaching of the Nicolaitans” (Rv 2:14,15).   Does this mean that if there was only one autonomous assembly within Pergamum, then the call for repentance on the part of “those” who taught these teachings was directed only to those of one assembly? Because the members were meeting in several houses throughout the cities, did this mean that the shepherds, regardless of where they sat on Sunday, had the responsibility to deal with the teaching of the Balaamites and Nicolaitans wherever they sat on Sunday morning? According to the responsibilities of the shepherds of the cities (At 20:28), we would certainly believe that they did not neglect their responsibility to teach the word of God to everyone in each of the seven cities. Any member or shepherd within a city had the responsibility to correct the teaching of the Balaamites and Nicolaitans. If one sat on Sunday morning in an assembly where there were no Balaamites or Nicolaitans, then this did not relieve him of the responsibility of exhorting with the word of God these false teachers, wherever they were in the city. Now when we consider this historical setting, we should review our beliefs concerning assembly autonomy.   Those who seek to start and maintain their own independent and exclusive assembly should think on these things.   We need to remember that whenever one is baptized into Christ, God adds that person to His people. Where this baptized believer shows up on Sunday morning does not determine whether God has added him to His people (At 2:47).

Seven Cities: No one has any idea as to why Jesus personally addressed the Christians only in these seven particular cities. Some have supposed that this was a regular “mail route” of the early Roman Empire. However, it could have been that Jesus simply picked out seven representative cities of disciples that represented the falling away from the truth that was indicative of many other churches in the first century, or at least would occur throughout the centuries to come. It seems that the address of Revelation 2 & 3 is the follow up of Paul’s prophecy to the elders of Asia, that “from your own selves will men arise, speaking perverse things …” (At 20:30). If this assumption is true, then we would determine our definition of the “perverse things” by at least studying through the messages to the seven city regions. When we study the “perverse things” of these disciples, we may find ourselves either condoning “perverse things” or behaving perversely. This will especially be evident when we come to the sin of lukewarmness that is specifically targeted in the message to the disciples in Laodicea.

Teaching: Many good teachers have taught on the moral and doctrinal character of the seven churches of Asia. Within Jesus’ messages to these churches one will often find himself somewhere in one of the messages. We must not think, therefore, that the moral and doctrinal points of these messages that were revealed to the seven churches over two thousand years ago are not relevant for us today. These messages are significant for all disciples for all time, for we must believe that the Holy Spirit included this material in the New Testament in order to both discourage apostasy, but at the same time encourage the faithful with a promise of eternal life. Since the messages were directed to those who had been Christians for some time, it was difficult to call to repentance those who have lived in a religious culture of sin for so long. This is the reason why the lampstand would inevitably be removed from some of these areas.   Too many had lived for too long after the behavior of what was too far from true discipleship.

Of course, there are those who simply ignore the warnings, hoping for the “closing prayer” so that they can write off the relevance of the messages. Regardless of our lack of appreciation for these messages, we will assure you of one thing as we study through the sins of the seven flickering flames. We will often find ourselves somewhere among these disciples. And when we find ourselves facing direct judgment from Jesus, we will have to make a decision as to whether we will be His disciple, or run out the back door of the church house.

Call for repentance: But there is hope. Advance calls for repentance gave the disciples in the seven cities an opportunity to repent. If repentance came, then preservation of the influence of the body of Christ within the city regions would continue. The general pattern that Jesus followed in making His call for repentance began with a personal address that included a metaphorical description of who He was in reference to His universal body. This was followed by an initial commendation, and then, condemnation and judgment if they continued in their wayward ways. In order to generate repentance, exhortations were made that were followed by warnings. As a last admonition to repent, Jesus made promises what they would enjoy if they repented.

Throughout each message, there is hope of preservation.   But if there were no repentance, then the influence of Christ in the city regions would be terminated.   However, though their Christianity would have digressed to formal religiosity, there would be no positive influence for Christ to the unbelievers. And when this happens, the church ceases to exist, regardless of assemblies. Since a loving life-style identifies the existence of the church in any region (Jn 13:34,35), then when loving behavior for Jesus ceases, then the church of Christ has terminated in a particular region.

We must keep this very important point in mind as we study through the messages. Jesus is not talking about repenting and restoring some ritualistic assembly. He is talking about repenting of sin that destroys one’s witness that he is a disciple of Jesus. The sins (“perverse things”) that were happening among the seven areas of disciples was not some erroneous system or ritual of assembly, but error in reference to moral behavior and beliefs. If some of the disciples among the cities did not repent of these things, then their influence for Jesus would be snuffed out.   The flickering flame would be gone.

[Schedule for next lecture:  March 12]

 

Chapter 11: Discipleship

THE COURAGEOUS DISCIPLE

So by this time in your journey through this subject, there might be some apprehension about being a disciple of Jesus. Because of the complacency of the “Christianity” with which we are often associated, the norm may now be a lethargic behavior of those who pretend to be disciples of Jesus. But one’s discovery of true discipleship is always scary. We are never what we want to be.   But do not fear, one only needs a word of encouragement to lay his hand to the plow of being the type of disciple that is pleasing to the One we all seek to follow.

One of those passages that one should put on his refrigerator is Psalm 46:1-3:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth is removed and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea, though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling.

Courage is the answer to fear, for fear is the basis of a great deal of unhappiness. Fearful people never fully realize their ambitions. Fear is often the result of what we do not know. When Jesus came walking to the disciples on water, they did not know that it was Him. “Now when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out for fear(Mt 14:26). In response to taking ownership of his responsibility to produce, the one talent man relied on fear as an excuse. “And I was afraid and went and hid your talent in the earth” (Mt 25:25). Fear will endanger our discipleship to the point that if fear is allowed to control our behavior, then we have disqualified ourselves from eternal glory.   Revelation 21:8 still states, “But the cowardly and unbeliever … will have their part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone ….”

The answer to fear is courage. Courage is based on faith, and thus fear is a manifestation of a lack of faith. The courageous Christian has nothing to fear but God. “And do not fear those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Mt 10:28). It is not that we are fearless of things of this world.   It is that those of faith have learned how to master their fears. It is the challenge of the disciple to control his fears in view of a world that would move the focus of our faith to those things that are of this world.

 I.  Old Testament courage.

We must look to those who have gone on before us.   They are witnesses of true faith, and now they surround us in order to see how we will endure the race of life (Hb 12:1,2). In fleeing the murderous desires of King Saul, David penned the words, “Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.   Your rod and Your staff they comfort me” (Ps 23:4). If that is not enough, then we must be encouraged by the life and death experiences of those who truly walked by faith. Every disciple of Jesus must read through the following testimony of Old Testament men and women of faith who never had Christ in their lives.   They walked by faith without knowing that Jesus Christ would eventually come into the world to give us hope of eternal life after death.

For the time would fail me to tell [of those] who through faith stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword. From weakness they were made strong, became valiant in war and turned to flight foreign armies …. And others were tortured … had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, also of bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned. They were sawn asunder. They were tempted. They were slain with the sword …. They wandered in deserts …. (See Hb 11:32-40).

Had enough? The men and women of faith before Christ stood by their faith and that which was right. They did not turn from God because of the harshness of what this world had to offer them. They were faithfuls, as William Penn wrote, “Right is right even if everyone is against it; and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.” And for the faithful righteous of the Old Testament, they stood their ground against all that could possibly turn one from God. And what is amazing about these people is not one person who struggled and died had any knowledge of Jesus. We often wonder today how many people would be hanging around if there were no such thing as Christianity, but only faith in God.

 II.  New Testament courage:

 It is true that persecution is to faith as wind is to fire. It blows the little fires out, but fans the big ones on. John was right when he stated, “And this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith” (1 Jn 5:4).

Nero was Caesar of Rome between A.D. 54 and 68.   He had a personal vendetta against those who would not submit to him as lord. He lived a life of vanity and pomp. On one occasion he decided to amuse himself, so he burned a part of Rome to make some real estate available for his own desires. He then blamed the fire on the Christians, many of whom were arrested, and subsequently suffered the vengeance of Rome for the fire. But it was during this reign of terror of Nero that Paul was arrested, and eventually beheaded. But would Paul for fear refuse to preach Jesus in Rome?   Not a chance. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul encouraged his readers by saying, “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s [Nero’s] household (Ph 4:22). We have often wondered what Nero would have done if he knew that even some of his own household were baptized believers.

The exhortation of the Holy Spirit through His word is to be of good cheer in times of fear (Mt 14:27). “Watch! Stand fast in the faith. Behave like men. Be strong” (1 Co 16:13).   “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ep 6:10). “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tm 1:7). “If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this name” (1 Pt 4:16). Is that enough encouragement?

Solomon wrote, “The wicked man flees when no man pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion” (Pv 28:1). Solomon was also right when he wrote, “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever puts his trust in the Lord will be safe” (Pv 29:25). Disciples of Jesus must at least be as strong as those who walked by faith in the Old Testament. And because we have the added advantage of Jesus, then we can conquer all fear. We are not speaking in ideals on this point.   Paul is proof. He wrote from prison, “At my first defense no one stood with me, but all men forsook me. May it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me …” (2 Tm 4:16,17).   And when the Lord stands by us, what will happen is what happened in Paul’s life. And I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion (2 Tm 4:17). He was not only delivered from death on more than one occasion, but his entire life was a deliverance from all peril (Read 2 Co 11:16-33). Paul knew that the poet was correct, who centuries later, wrote,

 The curling waves with awful roar,

A gallant bark assailed,

And pallid fear’s distracting power,

O’er all on board prevailed;

Save one, the captain’s darling child,

Who steadfast viewed the storm.

And fearless, with composure smiled,

At danger’s threatening form.

“And fear’st thou not,” a seaman cried,

“While terrors overwhelm?”

“Why should I fear?’ the boy replied,

“My father’s at the helm.”

 Maybe it should be in our lives when faced with daunting foes, as the courage of General Ferdinand Fock at the battle of Marne, who was the head of the “Iron Division.” He reported back to command, “My center is giving; my left wing is retreating; the situation is excellent; I am attacking.” When called before the Deity of Worms by the Catholic Church to withdraw his heretical beliefs against some teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, Martin Luther boldly stated:

Unless I am convinced by Scripture or by right reason, for I trust neither in popes nor in councils since they have often erred and contradicted themselves—unless I am thus convinced, I am bound by the texts of my Bible, my conscience is captive to the Word of God, I neither can nor will recant anything, since it is neither right nor safe to act against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.

One reformer in those dark days of Reformation against the tyranny of religion was denounced with the statement, “All the world is against you.” His bold reply was, “Then I am against all the world.” To such we would add:

 Here we are, and here we stand,

Dear Lord please lend a hand.

We’ll walk across the stormy seas,

That thou in us might be pleased.

 Someone correctly stated, “Our strength is shown in the things we stand for, our weakness in the things we fall for.”   Carlyle wrote, “The courage we desire and prize is not the courage to die decently, but to live manfully.” At the end of our lives, it should be written on our tombstones that which was written on a monument in the memorials of Westminster Abbey in honor of Lord Lawrence,

 He feared man so little

Because he feared God so much.

 

 

Chapter 10: Discipleship

THE STRUGGLING DISCIPLE

 Growth in discipleship is as a widening river that makes its way to the ocean of maturity. It feeds from small tributaries of substance as it meanders around curves and bends, over rocks and down waterfalls. But when it reaches the ocean, it can be, as the Amazon River of Brazil, over 250 kilometers across when it finally empties all its substance into the Atlantic Ocean.   McGuffy’s Reader gave the story of an old clock that ticked away every day until it started counting all the ticks it had to make: 120 a minute, 7,200 an hour, 172,800 a day, and in exhaustion of thought, it figured that it had to make 63,072,000 ticks to complete the year.   So the old clock in mental exhaustion just quit. But then it began to consider that it would make just one tick. After that another was made, then another, and another, until it finally found itself ticking again one tick at a time.

Alcoholics Anonymous teaches the concept, “Don’t try to stop drinking forever, merely say, ‘I will not drink today.’” If in looking back in our lives, we compound past problems with present turmoil, we will simply stop ticking. Jesus knew this when He said to His disciples, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:62). Looking back is dangerous to discipleship. A Sunday school teacher once taught her class about Lot’s wife who turned to look back at the burning of her former home. The teacher told the class that she then turned into a pillar of salt.   One young boy threw up his hand and said, “Teacher, my mother turned back last week and she turned into a telephone pole.” Someone once correctly said,

 I have no yesterdays,

Time took them away;

Tomorrow may not be —

But, I have today!

 When Jesus called people to discipleship, He knew He was calling them to struggle in the present over their baggage of the past.   He thus did not paint a verbal picture of a comfortable journey as the world who hated Him would eventually pour out their hate on them. “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (Jn   15:18). And we would ask, as the disciples of Jesus surely thought to ask Him, “If we are to live in the world, why must the world hate us as Your disciples?”   The answer is simple:

If you were of the world, the world would love its own. But because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you (Jn15:19; see 17:14).

So Jesus reminded the disciples that the hate would not be directed to them personally, but in fact, it would be a hate directed against the Father. “He who hates Me hates My Father also” (Jn 15:23). Jesus comforted the disciples: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (Jn 15:18).

Because true discipleship involves living contrary to the way of the world, the life of the disciple is a living sermon of rebuke of the ways of the world. As a disciple of Jesus, the persecution that would come our way, therefore, will find its innocent victims. Jesus quoted the prophetic psalmist, “They hated Me without a cause” (Jn 15:25).

The irony of all this hate that was unleashed upon Jesus and His disciples lies in the fact that almost all the hate of Jesus and His disciples then, and our’s now, originates from religious people, especially misguided religious leaders. When these leaders dragged Stephen outside the gates of Jerusalem, “They gnashed at him with their teeth” (At 7:54). They did stone Stephen, even as they tried to stone Jesus (Jn 8:59).   They could not stone Jesus during His ministry, but He allowed them to crucify Him when His ministry was finished.   When religious leaders seek to stone their opposition, then one knows that those who have stones in their hands are religiously misguided. Stones often reveal who is either teaching error, or behaving their erroneous teaching for the sake of pomp or purse.

When it is time to carry one’s cross, it is time to lay our hands to the plow and not look back. It is time to look only for flying stones. Jesus knew this when He turned and said to the multitudes who were following Him, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Mt 10:37). But discipleship would go far beyond loving Jesus more than one’s relatives. “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me” (Mt 10:38). Discipleship would go even further. “He who finds his life will lose it. And he who loses his life for My sake will find it (Mt 10:39).   Some will progress in their discipleship by leaving father and mother in order to follow Jesus into all the world.   Some will even commit themselves to be Jesus’ disciples by enduring the hardships of this life. But when the first gun shots are heard, then how many will scurry home in fear for their lives? We know of one disciple who did not, and thus, his life reminds all of us of the commitment that is needed to be a disciple unto death. Paul said to the Caesarean brethren, “What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus (At 21:13). And so he did, not in Jerusalem, but in Rome at the edge of an executioners sword, so we are told through tradition.

The fact of discipleship is that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tm 3:12).   This is not news to those who truly understood this from the beginning of their walk with Jesus. They knew, as Peter instructed, “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example [of suffering] that you should follow in His steps” (1 Pt 2:21). Before one commits himself to discipleship, he must look straight in the eyes of Jesus, as “He turned and said to them …” (Lk 14:25). Then listen: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother …. And whoever does not bear his own cross …. So likewise, whoever of you who does not forsake all that he has, cannot be My disciple (Lk 14:26-33). Scary words! Emerson was right: “Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.” So Jesus would say to us,

 Do not fear those things that you will suffer. Behold, the devil will cast some of you into prison so that you may be tested. And you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life (Rv 2:10).

So “seeing we are also surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [faithful believers], let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hb 12:1). We run the race of the disciple in order to obtain the prize (1 Co 9:24).   But in order to stay in this race, we are “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Hb 12:2). We would remain faithful in the race, for we understand what Solomon meant in the words, “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning” (Ec 7:8). And, “A desire accomplished is sweet to the soul …” (Pv 13:19). So it really comes down to one thing when determining whether we would become the type of disciple that Jesus expects of us. It is as someone said, “Many people have the right aim, but not enough courage to pull the trigger.”

Chapter 9: Discipleship

THE LIGHTHOUSE DISCIPLE

Have you ever asked yourself the question as to how much light you shine for Jesus? The only way to determine the intensity of your light is to start reading the New Testament. We must compare our “little gospel light” with those who were intensely evangelistic.   Any other standard by which you would judge the light of your discipleship is misguided and twisted.   One would certainly not judge his discipleship by the lives of other disciples, for other disciples are asking the same question of themselves. We must keep in mind that the discipleship of men as Paul was recorded by the Holy Spirit for our comparisons. Remember, “Be imitators of me even as I also am of Christ” (1 Co 11:1)? We must not compare ourselves with ourselves as some arrogant disciples did in Corinth (2 Co 10:12). It was to these that Paul mandated that they follow him in his sacrificial life as a disciple. Today, we must go to the source, straight to the dictionary on discipleship. And in doing this, we come up with some distorted disciples in the first century, for the Holy Spirit also wanted us to see how others become lukewarm and twisted, thinking all the time that they were faithful. It might be good to review some of these disciples in order to guard ourselves from becoming the same. The Holy Spirit had the life-styles of these disciples recorded in order that we avoid being sidetracked to a religiosity that we have created after our own imagination, or the misguided behavior of those who claim to be “Christian,” but are not.

 I.  “Candle disciples”:

 Ever blown out the candles on a birthday cake?   Candles are easy to blow out, even when there is a group of them on top of a cake. They are easy to extinguish, because they are frail lights that give off little light by themselves.

There are a great deal of halfhearted disciples who give little light, and when times get tough, they are easily blown out by the trials of life. Remember this judgment of Jesus that He pronounced on the disciples in Laodicea?

I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth (Rv 3:15,16).

In some disciples, Jesus is certainly present.   But they follow Jesus only as it is convenient to their life-styles. And then in some, He is prominent. But He is usually preeminent in only a few Christians. The problem about being a lukewarm disciple is that when tough times come, there is not enough spiritual steam to take one up the hill. In the parable of the Sower, we must not forget the seed that was sown in stony places (Mt 13:1-23). One cannot miss the meaning of Jesus’ interpretation of His own parable.

But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy.   However, he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away (Mt 13:20,21).

 II.  “Kerosene lamp disciples”:

Some might refer to this type of lamp as a hurricane lamp. This is the type of lamp that has a glass enclosure in which the flame burns. The problem with the lamp is that the glass becomes obscured by smoke, and eventually the lamp gives off little light. The glass must continually be cleaned for the lamp to accomplish its purpose.

Those to whom the Hebrew writer wrote were “kerosene lamp” disciples. They had burned for a lengthy time, but by the time of the writing of Hebrews, they were “smoked up.” The Holy Spirit thus said of them, “About whom we have many things to say, and hard to explain, seeing you have become dull of hearing (Hb 5:11). One becomes dull of hearing the word of God when his mind is turned to something else. His discipleship becomes religiously habitual. This is the curse of a legalistic system of theology. The adherents to such a theology simply accomplish their legal checks on what they are supposed to do, and then mentally check out.

When one becomes dull of hearing, he turns God off and follows after his own religiosity. He actually ceases to be a disciple, for discipleship means “to follow.”   No true disciple will become dull of following if he continually seeks to clean his soul with the word of God.   However, Paul wrote of some disciples who would turn away from the word of God.

Now the Spirit clearly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons … (1 Tm 4:1).

These are as dogs returning to their own vomit of sin, and pigs, after they have been washed, returning to wallowing in the mire of degradation (See 2 Pt 2:20-22). Peter identified these disciples.

 For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning (2 Pt 2:20).

There is only one prevention from returning to the dirt of sin. Peter explained, “… as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word so that you may grow up to salvation” (1 Pt 2:2). We have found that those who are not zealous Bible students are continually allowing their light to grow dim because “the glass is dirty.” If there is no growth through the study of the word of God, then our glass is becoming dirty with our own religious smoke.   Therefore, the Holy Spirit exhorts every disciple to “grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pt 3:18).

 III.  “Gas lamp disciples”:

Much of Africa still lights up the night with a gas lamp. It burns for a period of time, and then needs to be pumped up again. Throughout its use for a period of time there is the necessity of pumping it up in order that it continually gives light.

Some Christians are like this. They need someone else to pump them up continually with enthusiasm before they will shine. There is no consistency in their lives as a light for the gospel. Though everyone needs to be pumped up with enthusiasm periodically, we must be on guard with ourselves that we do not need to be continually encouraged in order to be a witness for Christ. If we do, then we are probably thinking mostly of ourselves and not of those who really need encouragement. “Gas lamp disciples” have not assumed their responsibility to pump up others. Since they are always low on “spiritual pressure,” they have nothing to offer to others.

Enthusiasm certainly inspires enthusiasm.   We want to be around the truly optimistic individual who thrives with an optimistic and enthusiastic spirit. We want to be around such a person in order to have our own batteries recharged. If we are the type of person who inspires others, then the spirit of Christ is truly working in our hearts. The small pamphlet, Attitudes Unlimited, was once distributed among businessmen in America. It was circulated in order to identify and encourage successful leadership. In one issue the statement was made,

As we examine the lives of those who have risen to great heights in their chosen fields of endeavor, we find a very definite indication that success is actually due less to one’s ability than to the enthusiastic drive behind the objective.

And when we think of the objective that was set before the early disciples, we can understand Acts 5:42:

And daily in the temple and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

Paul was such a person. He was willing, with whatever thorn in the flesh hindered him, to accomplish the God-given destiny that was set before him.

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 at Rome (Rm 1:14,15).

Determination will result in goals accomplished. The accomplishment of our goals depends more on our earnest determination than on our skills. The truly successful person is not the one who has the most gifts, but the one who exercises the most enthusiasm in his life to use his gift.

Have you ever said of some energetic Christian, “He is sure ‘pumped up’ on Jesus”? Now how do you suppose he became “pumped up” on Jesus? It is true that when one finally realizes that Jesus is the Son of God, and then goes to the cross with Him, into the tomb of water, and finally out of the water of baptism, he is usually burning with zeal.   But we have also noticed that some new disciples just run out of steam. They do so because they failed to implement in their lives the principle that Jesus taught in John 13:17. Jesus said to His disciples after He had just washed their feet, If you know these things, happy are you if you do them.” “Know” without “do” equals lukewarmness … spewed out … death (Rv 3:15,16). Those who are “pumped up” on Jesus are that way because they went to work as a disciple while they were still dripping wet from the waters of baptism. They were truly baptized “into Christ,” wherein there is work to be done. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we should walk in them” (Ep 2:10). If one does not do the work of a disciple, then he is not a disciple, for disciples find a towel and start looking for dirty feet. We can always find a “pumped up” disciple by the dirty towel that is in his hand.

 IV.  “Stop light disciples”:

What driver is there who is not occasionally irritated with stop lights (robots). Once the traffic gets rolling, then the light turns to yellow, and then red. The entire flow of traffic must come to a stop at the command of a stop light.

Every disciple will encounter “stop light” resistance throughout his or her life. Stop lights usually come through those who turn aside from the truth of God’s word. Paul identified two of these “stop light” characters in 2 Timothy 3:8: “Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth ….” As Moses had men stand in the way of his ministry, so it will be with every disciple who seeks to carry out the will of the Lord in his life. Such resistance may come from a spouse, a friend, or those who are simply “on and off” as disciples.   Some will simply oppose one’s efforts to do good as Alexander opposed Paul in Ephesus. “Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil. May the Lord reward him according to his works” (2 Tm 4:14).

Some “stop light” people are deceptive in their efforts to discourage others. Ever hear the statement, “Let me play the devil’s advocate on this point”? We need no devils among us who hinder the work of God. Others will say, “I have some constructive criticism.” What they really want to do is throw up a red light in order to discourage. It is like a woman who came out of a store and saw a car rolling down a hill. The door of the car was open, so she jumped in and hit the brakes. A gentleman came up from behind the car, and she said to him, “Well, I sure got it stopped.” The gentleman replied, “I know. I was trying to push it to get it started.” To such people who would act in such a way in reference to the work of God in the lives of others, we would repeat what Paul said to the Thessalonian disciples: “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Th 5:19).

 V.  “Blinker light disciples”:

These would be those disciples who are on and off in their work for Jesus. These disciples can always be identified by their attendance with the disciples.   They are there and then gone, or there spasmodically. When the appointed assembly of the saints comes around, the church cannot depend on their presence because they may not be present. The “on and off” Christian has a problem with commitment to the family of God. He sometimes has a problem with living the disciplined life as a Christian. One unbeliever once said, “I think I would have become a Christian if I had not met so many people who said they were Christians.”

If our lives reflect a lack of commitment and consistency as a disciple of Jesus, then our behavior actually turns people away from Christ. No disciple who truly understands what Jesus did on the cross is an “on and off” disciple.   Someone once said, “Live as if Christ died yesterday, was resurrected this morning, and is coming tomorrow.”   We must be a consistent light for Jesus.

Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven (Mt 5:16).

Notice that the passage says “so shine.” “So shine” means that there must be some quality to the light, which light must also be consistent before the world. It is not light that is placed under a basket on one day, and then on a lampstand the next day (Mt 5:14,15). It is consistent light. Blinker disciples do more harm than good for the kingdom because the world sees them as “halfhearted” disciples who pretend to follow Jesus.

 VI.  “Lighthouse disciples”:

What someone said about the disciple who shines forth the light of Jesus in his life, was true: “A Christian should be a breathing prayer, a living poem, a visible spirit, and a human lighthouse.”   This is the light that should so shine that others can see the glory of God through our spirit. Truthful was the poet who wrote the old poem, “The Gospel According to You.”

 There’s a gospel according to Matthew;

To Mark and to Luke and to John too,

There’s another that many are reading,

The gospel according to you.

 Everyday you are writing your gospel;

In this life you may never know who,

May be helped or hindered by reading,

The gospel according to you.

Many read not the words of the Bible;

I will tell you what most of them do,

They are reading the book you are writing,

The gospel according to you.

 There’s power in the minister’s preaching;

But the thing that may be most telling,

Is the gospel according to you.

 This was the life-style of the Thessalonian disciples, for less than six months after they were converted to Jesus, it was written of them:

For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has spread abroad, so that we do not need to speak anything (1 Th 1:8).

No better example could have been given to every disciple than the preceding testimony. And no better advice could have been given than what someone once said below:

Leave footprints of righteousness on the sands of time where you live so that other generations may have the lamp of truth by plain example.

Here are some questions to ask yourself: Does your school teacher know that you are a Christian? Do those with whom you work know that you are a Christian? Do all your relatives know that you are a Christian?   And if you had to go to heaven on the testimony of those who know you, would you make it? The Reader’s Digest once repeated the quote, “If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” It is simply not what we profess that makes us a disciple of Jesus, but what we practice.   Faith will bring us to Christ.   Life will prove our endurance for Christ. And once we have been proved and tested, death will bring a crown from Christ.

Chapter 8: Discipleship

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.

 I.  Solomon:

 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?

 II.  Ezra:

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.

 III.  Jesus:

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.

 IV.  Paul:

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).

 V.  Us:

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.

Chapter 7: Discipleship

THE GOAL-MINDED DISCIPLE

In all the struggles one has to be a disciple of Jesus, this one area is the most difficult of all. When Paul wrote, “And be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rm 12:2), he was mandating something through which he had also struggled (Rm 12:2). “Renewing our minds” is not easy. But when we go on a journey with Saul and end up with Paul, we are encouraged by the fact that this journey can be made by everyone. The extremes between Saul and Paul is evidence of the fact that God expects the journey of transformation to be made in the life of every disciple. It may be that God chose Saul in order to prove that it is humanly possible to renew one’s mind, regardless of how far our mind may be from the mind of Christ.   We seem to be able to identify with the struggles of Paul in this area while we consider Jesus the ideal. But our minds can change for Jesus, for we must change in order that we be His disciples.

One of the most difficult aspects of our thinking that must be changed in order to be a disciple is how we view the future.   If we allow our thinking of how we viewed the world in the past to distort our view of the world in our future, then the past becomes a curse to our future. If we are encumbered with our past worldly baggage in dealing with the present, then our thinking and behavior in the present will be stifled.   It is our goal to stop stumbling over past baggage by kicking the baggage out of our way to spiritual growth.   “Renewing our minds,” therefore, is not an option in discipleship behavior. It is a mandated necessity. Baggage of the past must be discarded for the sake of the future.

When Paul wrote Romans 12:2 he was not giving a suggestion. He was telling us to get on with putting away the old way of looking at the world, and getting on with changing our thinking. If our thinking concerning the things of the world does not begin changing at the time we obeyed the gospel, then we never understood the mind of Christ in order to obey the gospel.

One of the most effective tools for mind changing in our “mental toolbox” is the tool of goal setting. We can be thankful to God that He put this shiny tool in our mental toolbox in order that we not live in the despair of the past, and thus, destroy our walk with Jesus in the present. Therefore, in times of discouragement, we must use the mental tool of goal setting in order to get ourselves out of the pits in order to fly as eagles.

Genesis 11:6 is a precious evaluation of the mental ability that God invested in man:

Behold, they are one people and they all have one language. And this they begin to do. And now, nothing will be impossible for them that they have imagined to do.

In the historical context of this statement, the people were not fulfilling the Lord’s command that the world’s population spread throughout the world in order to populate the world. The people stayed together because they were of one language. The building of the tower of Babel gave them one goal in life. What is revealed in this statement by God is that men have been gifted by God with a mental ability to plan and execute, to the point that “nothing will be impossible” that they have imagined to do. This is the ability that God invested in man.

Now keep the preceding in mind when reading Paul’s statement of Romans 8:37: But in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Now this is power! We have the natural power to unite and do great things. But add to this power the love of God that is in us. Those of the world have the natural ability to build great cities, fly to the moon, and organize strong governments. Now add to the natural God-given power the power of God that works in Christians, and we begin to imagine that within a group of disciples there is tremendous power that can be unleashed to the glory of God.

God did not forget how He created the mind of men.   When it came to calling unique individuals to accomplish the task of world evangelism, He chose goal-oriented people who would stay the course until the job was done. He needed those who would be able to stand alone against all social opposition (Matthew, the tax collector). He needed those who had the thirst for freedom in order to preach the gospel of freedom to the world (Simon, the Zealot—Jewish insurrectionist).   He needed those with self-initiative to boldly go where no man would go (James and John, the sons of thunder).   He needed those who would just speak out what needed to be said (Peter, the impetuous braveheart). And He needed those who were determined to accomplish their course regardless of all the obstacles that Satan could throw in their path, those who had no inhibitions about standing before any man on any occasion (Paul, the leader against all obstacles).

In His call of Paul, Jesus informed Ananias that Paul was “a chosen vessel to Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (At 9:15). Jesus knew that once the mind of Paul was triggered with the right mission, the mission would happen. Jesus sees this in each one of us. By the renewing of our minds, we can pull the trigger, and see “Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us” (Ep 3:20). Once one pulls that mental trigger for Jesus, he can expect awesome things to start happening in his life to the glory of God.

 I.  Establish goals for God.

In the life of every new disciple, the renewing of one’s mind must begin with the establishment of goals. Goals give vigor to one’s life. Jesus saw this in the mind of Paul before he was called on the Damascus road. When studying this aspect of Paul’s life, it is simply exhilarating to see what the mind of a human being can do with the ambition of one who seeks to do the work of God in his life.

Paul wrote to the disciples in Rome that they would be only one stop on his way to Spain. “Whenever I make my journey into Spain, I hope to see you in my journey and to be supported on my way there by you …” (Rm 15:24,28). With the financial support of the “Department of Corrections of the Roman Empire,” Paul accomplished his goal as far as a Roman prison, from where he wrote back to the Philippian disciples,

Brethren, I count not myself to have laid hold. But one thing I do, forgetting those things that are behind and reaching forward to those things that are before. I press toward the mark [goal] of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Ph 3:13,14).

 There are so many exciting things in this statement.   Every disciple should take notice: (1) In order to fulfill one’s mission for Jesus, he must not let the past detour him. He must not let the past be an excuse for not moving forward. He must not let the past encumber his planning of goals for the future.   (2) In order to fulfill our mission in renewing our mind in order to accomplish goals for God, we must simply keep on striving for the future. Christianity is not about bemoaning one’s misfortunes of the past, but about rejoicing over those “exceedingly abundant” things that God has for us in the future.   (3) Regardless of being in prison, one must, as Paul, press toward the accomplishment of one’s destiny.   Neither lamenting the past, nor idleness in the present, are an option. Every disciple of Jesus must press on.

One of the greatest emotional powers that is yet to be unleashed in the lives of some disciples, is the power of discovering one’s personal destiny for Jesus. Paul’s destiny was given to him directly by Jesus (See At 9:15). We, on the other hand, need the close fellowship of other disciples in order that we discover our destiny for God. What Paul wanted for the Philippians was that they too be of his mind.   “Let us, therefore, as many as are perfect, have this mind (Ph 3:15). Paul was not unique as a human being. The statement “have this mind” is the Holy Spirit saying that every disciple can do what Paul did in his life, once we have discovered our destiny for God. It is the way God made us so that nothing will be impossible for us if we determine to get busy for God.

At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus began to change the thinking of His disciples. He first sought to capture their imagination in reference to the task that He would set for them. “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, for they are white already for harvest (Jn 4:35). The fields (people) were there. The harvest (souls from preaching) would happen. Now they just needed to start thinking about getting the job done. It took over three years for Jesus to change the thinking of the disciples. But they changed, and then got on with the task of accomplishing the mission of their Master.

The sense of urgency to give every soul the opportunity to hear the good news of the cross was what moved Paul. Wherever Paul went, he was looking for somewhere else to go.

Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia, and after they came to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia. But the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them (At 16:6,7).

Get the picture. Paul was so determined to go wherever to preach the gospel that it took divine intervention to detour him to places God wanted him to go. What eventually happened—which thing Paul did not understand at the time in Acts 16—was that later in his travels he would go to Ephesus and teach in the school of Tyrannus. And from this two-year stay in Ephesus, all those who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (At 19:10). So those of Bithynia of Asia, as well as all Asia, eventually heard the word of the gospel through the labors of Paul. In Acts 16 Paul did not know God would eventually lead him to preach the gospel to Asia through other men in Acts 19. Paul’s goal for God for Asia was fulfilled, but not in the way that Paul initially dreamed in Acts 16.

The lesson from this account of Paul’s ministry is that for one to fulfill his destiny, he must be perceptive to God’s leading. And if one’s initial plans are detoured, it may be the work of God, not Satan. God may be redirecting us to a more productive mission.

 II.  God gives power to goals.

The Holy Spirit made a statement in Romans 8:31 that a disciple must never forget. If God is for us, who can be against us?” If as a disciple one tries to start thinking about who can be against him, then he has not yet figured out the mind of Christ.   When one starts thinking that the whole world is against him, then he needs to start lifting up his eyes and see that God has put the whole world before him. It is then that he must straighten up and say, I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (Ph 4:13). Those who rely on their own strength will certainly cheat themselves of God’s power working through them. They will not be able to “do all things,” or at least when they finish their task, they will not be able to fully give credit to God for working in them.

When one starts depending on his own strength, then he cannot do all those things God intends for him to do. It is for this reason that the mind of Christ is what Christ said of His own ministry: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work (Jn 4:34). When we start doing the will of the One after whom we claim to be a disciple, then the world opens up. Victories start coming our way. We are headed to mountain tops.

When we start allowing the will of the Father to be done in our lives, then His work on earth will be accomplished through us.   This is exactly what Paul meant when in his latter life he wrote, “I have finished my course” (2 Tm 4:7).   He had finished his destiny for Jesus.   Every disciple must be able to say this at the end of his life. But in order to say this, one must be assured that he is allowing the will of the Father to be done in his life. Jesus gave Paul his earthly destiny (At 9:15). Because he was given his earthly destiny directly from Jesus, he stayed the course of his destiny in order to complete his mission. As a result, he could lay his head down in death knowing that he had accomplished the course for which he was called to do. He completed his business for God.

We can do the same as long as we allow God’s power to work in us in order to accomplish His will. Victory is ours as long as we stay in the battle. The Holy Spirit writes, “But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Co 15:57).   The medium through which we accomplish the victory is our faith that Christ is truly working in our lives to bring about His ministry of reaping the white harvest. Remember this encouraging statement: For whoever is born from God overcomes the world. And this the victory that overcomes the world, our faith (1 Jn 5:4). This is a statement of fact, not hope. If one is born of God, then he will overcome all that the world has to throw at him. After about six months as new disciples who had been converted out of pagan idolatry, Paul gave witness to what can happen when a group of disciples have one mind and goal to accomplish great things for God. As we read the following testimony concerning the Thessalonian disciples, think about what God can do through one within six months after conversion to Christ.

For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has spread abroad, so that we do not need to speak anything (1 Th 1:8).

Discouraged? Then we need to remember that it is God working in us as we allow His will to be ours.   When we remember that He seeks to work in us, then our mind begins to be transformed. When the world launches its discouragement against us, we need to raise an Ebenezer in our lives and move on. Such happened in the history of Israel when the Philistines were determined to destroy Israel. But Samuel stood before the discouraged Israelites, and after having raised a great stone, made the statement, “Thus far the Lord has helped us” (1 Sm 7:12).

We are where we are as His disciples because of the help of the One after whom we call ourselves. What would make us think that we will not be where we have determined to go for Him without His continued help? So we “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Ph 3:14). We will not be of those “who draw back to destruction, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul” (Hb 10:39). We will “fight the good fight of the faith” and lay hold on eternal life (1 Tm 6:12). This is the mind of Christ. This is the transformed mind that will take us through any discouragement of this world.   And because we know that He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 Jn 4:4), then we can be determined that we will accomplish our destiny.

The victory has already been given to the Christian. We just need to claim it and continue in the battle. The beautiful thing about the psychology of Christianity is that it not only turns the world upside down, it reverses the sequence of battle and victory. In the world, battle first happens, and then victory. With Christianity, victory is first given, and then the battle ensues.   It is great to engage in the battle with the enemy when you know that you have already won the victory.

Chapter 6: Discipleship

THE SUBMISSIVE DISCIPLE

The first verse of the old Gregorian chant stated the point:

 When I survey the wondrous cross

On which the Prince of glory died,

My richest gain I could but loss

And pour contempt on all my pride.

 When one truly experiences the Jesus of the cross, there is always revival. In throwing ourselves prostrate before the cross, spiritual revival springs into life.   It will continue until our last breath leaves our body.

There is no force more powerful to change our characters than to comprehend our Creator dying through crucifixion on a cross.   If in the business of our activity-oriented lives we forget this, we are doomed to harbor attitudes that are simply contrary to those that are necessary for eternal dwelling. Therefore, we must call ourselves to the cross. And as we weep there with sorrow and thanksgiving, we must begin a revival in our spirit to the humility that moved Jesus to go there for us.

 I.  A humility revival through wilderness wandering:

David wrote, “My soul will make its boast in the Lord. The humble will hear of it and be glad” (Ps 34:2). The time would come in Israel after David’s death that the nation would exalt itself against God. God knew that the children of Abraham would eventually become a proud people. And being proud, they needed to be shown the way to humility.   Before Moses left the nation, God, through him, explained to the nation why they had to walk forty years in the wilderness before being given the promised land:

And you will remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and to prove you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He humbled you and allowed you to hunger (Dt 8:2,3).

 If God’s work with Israel in the wilderness is an indication of how He works with us individually today, then He will allow the proud to walk in the wilderness until they learn humility.   One of the first questions that one should ask himself when he finds himself in the wilderness is if his pride got him there. It may be that God has allowed one to walk in the wilderness in order to develop one’s character for dwelling with the contrite in eternal heaven. If after his time in the wilderness, we would ask King Nebuchadnezzar how he got there. He would be the first to confess that pride led him to eating grass in order to survive his time in the wilderness (Dn 4:25,32).

Moses said that God allowed Israel to walk in the wilderness for forty years in order to know “whether you would keep His commandments” (Dt 8:2). It may be easy to keep the commandments of God when everything is going great. But when one enters a wilderness, it is then that we determine if we are truly disciples. For this reason, during His ministry, Jesus cried out to the multitudes, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mt 11:15; 13:9,43; see 7:26).   Jesus was crying out for those Israelites of faith who would be willing to follow Him out of the wilderness of Jewish religiosity and into the truth of the gospel. It would be only the humble who would heed His call. Therefore, it would be only the humble who would enter into the kingdom through their obedience to the commandments of Jesus.

Remember this statement of Jesus: “If you continue in My word, then you are truly My disciples” (Jn 8:31). If one would be a disciple of Jesus, then it is imperative that he humbly and obediently hear the commandments of Jesus and continue therein. If one finds himself in a wilderness of struggle, it may be that God has allowed one to be there for the same reason that He allowed Israel to walk for forty years in the desert sands of the Sinai Peninsula. If we would conclude that God is thus working on our pride in order that we humbly submit to His commandments, then we can understand what the Hebrew writer stated:

My son, do not despise the disciplining of the Lord, nor faint when you are rebuked by Him. For whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and scourges every son whom He receives (Hb 12:5,6).

Remember, our trip through the wilderness may be a confirmation that God loves us. And because He loves us, He will allow us to struggle through the wilderness. But as God did with Israel, we must always remember that He will not forsake us in the wilderness, neither will He leave us there.

II.  A humility revival through humble service.

When Paul met with the Ephesian elders for the last time, he said to them, “You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility …” (At 20:18,19). Humble people seek to serve, but proud people seek to be served. The proud sometimes pass off their responsibility to serve with the practice of “delegating responsibility.” It is true that good leaders know how to delegate responsibility, but they only delegate that which they cannot personally handle themselves. It was for this reason that Paul instructed Timothy to instruct the rich that they not try to pay their way out of personal humble service.

 Charge those who are rich in this world that they not be high-minded …. Teach that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to share … (1 Tm 6:17,18).

No disciple can buy his way out of personal involvement in serving others. It was in service to others, especially evangelists, that Gaius was identified by the Holy Spirit as one who was doing well (See 3 Jn). He not only financially supported the evangelists who were traveling on their way to preach the gospel, he was also receiving them into his home. Paying for an evangelist’s hotel bill is not receiving the evangelist into one’s home.

1 Peter 5:5 says to be clothed with humility.” The meaning of the Greek word in this text is to “tie on.” In other words, the humble tie on an apron in order to serve the needs of others. If one is too proud to tie on an apron and get his hands dirty by walking in the wilderness of struggle with and for others, then he has need of humility.   There are no leaders among slaves who sit, watch and command from boardrooms.

We would not be as Belshazzar, the last king of Babylon when the kingdom fell to the Medo-Persians. He knew what was right, but he did not put into action through obedience that which he knew he should do. Therefore, it was said of him, “And you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this (Dn 5:22).

The character of Belshazzar was, “… you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven” (Dn 5:23). Jesus admonished the religious leaders of Israel with the same judgment that was brought down upon Belshazzar. In judgment of His generation of religious leaders, Jesus said of them, “And whoever will exalt himself will be humbled.   And he who will humble himself will be exalted” (Mt 23:12). This was Jesus’ call for repentance from the religious leaders of His day. These would be good words for every young preacher to remember.

Immediately after Jesus made this introductory statement, He started into a condemnation of the character of the scribes and Pharisees.   “Woe to you,” He continued to say in judgment of their arrogant character and behavior. There is a religious community today wherein are a host of those who have lifted themselves up. They have puffed themselves up to be political leaders who would parade themselves on behalf of One who counted not being on an equality with God something to be grasped. We can always know when a preacher does not have the mind of Christ by how he would proudly present himself before the people. Pompous leaders can never represent the Prince who had not even a fox hole in which to dwell.

We sometimes forget that God desires those who will walk humbly with Him with a contrite heart (Mc 6:8). He commands that we put on a heart of humility (Cl 3:12).   We must remember that we are the disciples of the one who humbled Himself to wash the feet of those whom He had created (Jn 13:4,5), and then died for His creation (Ph 2:5-8). We follow no person who would claim to be a leader for Jesus who does not have a dirty towel in his hands.

If we find ourselves in the wilderness of God’s discipline, we must do as King Rehoboam of Judah. “And when he [Rehoboam] humbled himself, the wrath of the Lord turned from him so that He would not completely destroy him” (2 Ch 12:12).   If one would seek to get out of the wilderness of discipline, then he must search for “Humble Street.” As Rehoboam, Hezekiah also became somewhat arrogant as the king of Judah. His pride was about to bring down the nation of Israel. Thankfully, he came to his senses.

“Hezekiah humbled himself from the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the Lord did not come upon them in the days of Hezekiah (2 Ch 32:26; see 12:12).

We must not forget that “by humility and the fear of the Lord are riches and honor and life” (Pv 22:4). The fear of the word of the Lord will always result in humility. It is for this reason that those who walk in pride usually have little concern for the word of God. Even wicked Ahab had enough sense to fear the pronouncement of God’s word upon his prideful behavior. God pronounced that he would not escape punishment for this behavior (1 Kg 21:21-26).

Now it came to pass when Ahab heard those words [of Elijah], that he tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his body. And he fasted and lay in sackcloth, and went about depressed (1 Kg 21:27).

There was still enough fear of the Lord in Ahab to bring him to his knees. The Lord said to Elijah who had delivered the judgment of the Lord to Ahab,

 “Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he humbles himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days.   But in his son’s days I will bring the evil on his house” (1 Kg 21:29).

It may be that in the wilderness of the discipline of the Lord we humble ourselves. But we must keep in mind that we may still have to reap the consequences of our own sin while living in arrogance. “Be not deceived. God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap (Gl 6:7). Wilderness walking does not mean that we will not reap from our past wild ways.   However, while we reap the harvest of wild seeds that we have sown, we can be assured that we can endure the reaping with a heart of humility. Reaping from wild seeds sown sometimes is a constant reminder never to return to the sowing of any more wild seeds.

Chapter 5: Discipleship

THE VICTORIOUS DISCIPLE

 In our struggle to be a disciple of Jesus, one of the most scary passages in the entire Bible is this: Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus (Ph 2:5). The Holy Spirit then proceeds to explain what this “mind” was that was in Christ Jesus. He was before the incarnation “equal with God” (Ph 2:6). But “He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Ph 2:8). It is the extremity of His will to do the will of the Father that amazes us. It was so extreme that, as God incarnate, He was willing to humiliate Himself on our behalf. If we would be His disciples, therefore, it seems that He has placed the “humility bar” so high that we could never achieve what He would expect of us. And this is where there is good news. “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ep 2:8). If one who is seeking to have the mind of Christ within, does not understand the grace of God that was poured out from the cross, then he will live in endless anxiety concerning his salvation. When it comes to having the mind of Christ, we must have a strong appreciation for the grace of God.

The greatest struggle of the disciple is humility, for such a character seems to work against our innate desire to be somebody and to do things our way. We see such among so many religious leaders throughout the religious world today.   Every effort seems to be used to set one’s self apart to be someone who is somewhat. Fine suits are purchased. Gold chains are worn. Polished new shoes are paraded before the people. Collars are turned around and robes put on. The religious world is cluttered with pompous preachers, priests and popes who would parade themselves over and apart from the people. Many have forgotten that the bigger one makes himself before the people, the less God can use him as a servant of the people.   David Livingstone once wrote, “God had an only son, and He was a missionary and a physician. A poor, poor imitation of Him I am, or wish to be.”   It is the spirit of both the missionary and the physician to focus on others. There are few missionaries or physicians who come from the class of pompous preachers who masquerade themselves as servants of the people.   We have too many “boardroom leaders” among us whose fingers suffer from paper cuts by handing out dictates from behind boardroom doors. If one seeks to be the director of slaves, then he must always stay humble by remembering that little men who try to wear big hats are always blinded.

We must not forget that the blessings for humble character development are not placed on shelves one above another, and the greater we think we are, the more we think we can reach. On the contrary, the blessings are on descending shelves one below another. And the lower we get the more blessings we can access. There are no smooth-handed leaders among the disciples. All our leaders’ hands have callouses. We must not make the mistake of thinking that humility comes by thinking low of ourselves. Humility comes by being honest with ourselves, and thus thinking truthfully about who we are. The humble disciples among us are discovered in the fields of toil, not in boardrooms.

We would not be as the man who was given the badge for being the most humble man in the world, and then having it taken away from him when he wore it. We would seek to allow God to “put us in our place.” He did such with His only Son when He placed Him on a cross. This is what He also did with Israel when they exalted themselves to the point that they left Him. Isaiah spoke of the humiliation that they would experience in captivity. But once they were humbled, he spoke of their exaltation. God promised,

I dwell in the high and holy place with him also who is of a contrite and humble spirit in order to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite ones (Is 57:15).

Our desire to take the initiative on the road to humility is inspired by what both James and Peter wrote concerning the proud.   James warned the proud, God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Js 4:6). And then Peter defines the quest of every disciple who would seek to have the “mind of Christ”:

… all of you be submissive to one another and be clothed with humility, for God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God so that He may exalt you at the proper time … (1 Pt 5:5,6).

What Peter seems to be saying is that the road to the grace of God is named “Humility Street.”   No proud person can access the grace of God if he seeks to go down “Pride Street.” The reason the proud can never access grace, is that grace can be accepted only by those who know they can never make it on their own.   When we seek to exalt ourselves, we cannot reach the grace of God. And without the grace of God we cannot dwell with Him in eternity, for only those of a contrite spirit will be there with the One who did not count Himself be equal with God a thing to maintain, but He humbled Himself even to the point of finding His predestined place on the cross for our benefit. It was on that old rugged cross where victory was found.   Jesus became victorious over death in order to lead His disciples to be victorious over life. And thus, “this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith” (1 Jn 5:4).

Chapter 4: Discipleship

THE PATIENT DISCIPLE

 The control of our tongue is governed by the amount of patience one has with people. The less patience one has with his neighbor, the more harsh he will be with his tongue. Therefore, if we work on our patience, we will be working on our ability to relate with others through the control of our speech. The use of our tongue will either drive others away, or draw friends close.

Someone once said that patience is “the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears.” But in reality, a chronic lack of patience is a form of despair, and despair leads one to be impatient with others. The impatient person is simply depressed about the environment in which he lives, or the circumstances he is facing in his life.   He is often discouraged about life, and thus takes out on others his inward frustrations. If one is narcissistic in his impatience, then he is seeking to project upon others his inability to cope with his social environment.   He reasons that if the world is about himself, then certainly the rest of the world is out of order because it is not measuring up to his desires. Things are not going his way. Narcissistic church leaders always sink into bitterness when people reject their leadership. Such was the case of Simon the sorcerer when the people turned from him to Peter and John (See At 8:12,18,22,23).

We have found that people are very patient in some areas of life, and very impatient in one or more other areas.   One can be patient in the transactions of his daily business at the office, but in the vehicle going home from work he turns into an impatient monster. His impatience manifests a personality disorder. He is seeking to control the traffic as he may have controlled his office staff. The impatient person, therefore, must look inward in order to determine if his problem is a problem with control issues. Regardless of the cause of impatience, disciples cannot function in their relationships with others unless they exercise patience.

 I.  In search of patience:

It is interesting that Christians seem to be those who realize their impatient behavior first, and thus, seek to correct their impatience in all areas of life in order to enjoy the fellowship and friendship of others. This desire is only natural because in their struggles to be a disciple of Jesus, they see no impatience in the One they seek to follow.

Sometimes we disguise impatience with self-initiative.   But there is a difference between taking the initiative and being impatient. We would define self-initiative as the ability to respond to a need or goal for which one patiently strives. If one is not patient in his response to opportunity, then he will find himself chasing dreams that are never fulfilled. If one does not take the initiative to do the work of the disciple, then he will fall into the sin of lukewarmness (Rv 3:15,16).

It is for this reason that the Christian has a completely different world view concerning the environment in which he lives.   Those who are worldly see the world as an opportunity for self gratification. To these people obstacles to success are seen as “bad luck,” and thus, occasions for frustration. The Christian, however, views the tribulation of the world as a means for character development for eternal dwelling. This teleology is in the words of the Holy Spirit in Romans 5.   “… we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation works patience, and patience, experience, and experience, hope” (Rm 5:3,4). We cannot get much better than this in viewing the world around us.   Obstacles are an opportunity for development in patience.

James moves this building of a world view one step further. Because the Christian accepts tribulation as the builder of a patient character, James graduates us to the next level of the fulfilled life. “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the trying of your faith produces patience (Js 1:2,3).   When the Christian falls into “various trials,” he concludes that these “tribulations” will produce patience in his character. He can thus count it with joy that his character is being prepared for eternal dwelling through the struggles he must endure. It is for this reason that the patience that is produced by “various trials” is working to prepare us for eternal dwelling. The trials work for our benefit. So James added, But let patience have its perfect work so that you may be perfect and entire, lacking nothing (Js 1:4).

The tribulations (trials) of this world are working the Christian to heaven. And since we will be there for eternity, each one of us is praying that we will be patient enough with people so that other saints will not consider us an eternal thorn in the flesh in heaven because of our impatience. No one wants to be around an impatient person. So certainly, none of us would want to be in eternity in the presence of an impatience disciple in heaven. We can endure all social environments of this world, knowing that our character is being fine-tuned for eternal dwelling.

 II.  Areas of intense focus:

 Because each person is impatient in different areas of life, then each one of us must target in our character those areas where we are the most impatient. As we do this, we must work on our general demeanor to be more patient. If one has a difficult time determining which areas of impatience on which to focus, then ask a close friend. Husbands can ask their wives. We are certain that wives are often a good judge of those areas where their husbands suffer from impatience. When James said to confess our faults to one another, he at least meant that it was time to confess up to those areas where we are the most impatient (Js 5:16).

It is one work of the fellowship of the family of God to help one another prepare for eternal dwelling with one another.   One of the reasons why “church” often fails the people is that “church” becomes something that is relegated to a legal system of ritualistic assemblies, while the attendees have no social contact with one another. When Paul said, “Let all things be done for edification” (1 Co 14:26), he meant more than bringing order to chaotic assemblies. When Christians come together in assembly, the assembly should be of such a nature that each member can work in the development of the character of each member. This is the foundation for the statement: “And let us consider one another to stir up love …” (Hb 10:24). The purpose of the assembly of the disciples is to produce an environment of contact and edification. If there is no contact, then there can be no true edification through interpersonal communication. One of the dangers of the “social media” today is that there are too many Christians who are substituting social media for personal social contact. Facebook is depriving people of face-to-face contact in assembly wherein disciples can exhort one another to stir up love and good works (See Hb 10:24,25).

There are three general areas where dedicated members of the family of God must focus in reference to becoming more patient with one another. These are areas where disciples of Jesus function in their social (assembly) contact with one another in order to develop their personalities.

 1.  Patience for deliverance: It is not fun to struggle through tribulations and trials, especially if we try to struggle alone. And because it is not fun, we would just as soon the trials pass as soon as possible.   James was dealing with some disciples who were struggling through their trials. They were possibly complaining somewhat because of the trials they were having to endure. On the background of a social environment that was not being kind to his readers, James gives some very helpful instructions in James 5:7-11.

Now before we look at the passage, it is imperative that this passage be understood in its historical context. James uses the phrase “coming of the Lord” in the passage. When this phrase is used in the Bible, Bible interpreters seem to jump up and down that the Bible is always speaking about the final coming of the Lord. It is true that the phrase “coming of the Lord” is used in reference to the final coming of Jesus to deliver us from the tribulations of this present world. But this is the exception to the interpretation of the phrase. This is certainly not what the meaning of the phrase is in the context of James 5.

James was writing to Jewish Christians, and these Christians were living in the trying times of hardships immediately prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Notice the context. James said to the rich persecutors of the poor, “Come now you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you” (Js 5:1). James certainly was not speaking of “miseries” that would come upon the rich Jewish persecutors that would come over two thousands years after he wrote this note of encouragement to his immediate readers.   If he did have the final coming of the Lord in mind, then he would have been deceiving the first readers into believing that Jesus was coming in His final coming within their lifetimes.   But we are sure that the Holy Spirit, through James, did not deceive these persecuted disciples into believing that Jesus was soon coming to relieve them of their persecution.

The context of James 5 is the deliverance of the just Christians who were being unjustly treated by the rich in their economic environment. And since James was writing “to the twelves tribes who are in the Dispersion,” then we rightly conclude that he was writing to those Jewish disciples of the Jewish dispersion who had obeyed the gospel. The obedient Jews were being unjustly treated by the rich Jews.

James was making a prophecy of the deliverance of the obedient, which prophecy would be fulfilled in their lifetime. When the Roman armies cracked down on Jewish insurrection throughout the world from A.D. 67 to the final outcome of the crackdown in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, then the righteous were delivered from the persecution of Judaism. The rich oppressing Jews lost everything, and thus, their persecution of the just was terminated. So James wrote to the righteous,

Therefore, be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth.   And he has long patience for it, until he receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near (Js 5:7,8).

As previously stated, James did not deceive these early readers into believing that they had to wait until the final coming of Jesus at the end of time in order to be delivered from their tribulations. Their deliverance was “near.”   And since it was near in their lifetime, then when we are personally enduring tribulations, we too, as James’ immediate readers, do not have to wait for our deliverance from tribulation until the final coming of Jesus.

The deliverance from our personal tribulation can also be “near.” Jesus can come “in time” in order to deliver us. This is not the final coming of Jesus in person, but a coming of Jesus in time to deliver us from persecution. James was simply using the judgment language of the Old Testament to refer to the “in time” coming of the Lord to deliver His people out of tribulation (See Is 19:1; Jr 4:12,13; Ez 30:3; Dn 7:13,14).

“In time” Christians need to know that they can be delivered from their “in time” trials by Jesus who can come “in time” for their deliverance. This is the clear and explicit message of James to his brothers and sisters, who were at the time of his writing, suffering trials and tribulations from the hands of those who were unjustly treating them. James’ readers needed help right then, not two thousand years later.   And when we are suffering from the oppression of trials and tribulations, we too need to find comfort in the fact that Jesus can deliver us immediately. Our prayers for deliverance can happen immediately. We do not have to wait over two thousand years for an answer.

Our tribulation will produce the work of developing patience, but there will come deliverance. If James promised that his readers would soon be delivered from their immediate trials, then when we are on our knees in prayer, we must be confident that we too can be delivered from our immediate trials. We can thus do as Paul stated, “glory in tribulation” (Rm 5:3). Now read Romans 8:24,25 again.

For we are saved by hope, but hope that is seen is not hope, for what a man sees, why does he still hope for it? But if we hope for what we do not see, then with perseverance [patience] wait for it.

 If we could paraphrase what Paul was saying it would be, “Just hang in there!” If we hang in there, we will imitate those faithful Old Testament people of God who waited for the coming of the Messiah.

And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end, so that you not be sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises (Hb 6:11,12).

The simple message of the Hebrew writer is that we must not become discouraged in times of tribulation. We must not allow tribulation to discourage us into inactivity.   We must continue to work as disciples of Jesus until we are delivered, whenever that deliverance will come.   Jesus promised, “In your endurance you will gain your souls” (Lk 21:19). Just remember the words of John in the book of Revelation.

He who leads into captivity will go into captivity. He who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints (Rv 13:10).

 2.   Patient with people:   Shakespeare wrote, “How poor are they who have not patience. What wound did ever heal but by degrees.” Winston Churchill once said to an impatient general, “Sir, you do not posses your emotions. They possess you.”

When discussing patience, it is almost always our impatience with people that affects our relationships with others.   We struggle in our relationships with one another because we struggle with one another’s differences. Two Irishmen had just reached the top of a long hill on a tandem bicycle. The one on the front seat said over his shoulder to the one on the back seat, “Pat, that was one stiff climb.” Pat replied, “It sure was. If I hadn’t kept my foot on the brake we would have rolled backwards down the hill.”

The goal that is set before all of us is what Paul wrote to Titus, “… an overseer must … not be quick-tempered …” (Ti 1:7). He added that Titus “teach that the older men be … self-controlled … in patience” (Ti 2:2). To succeed in this struggle over our impatience, we must exercise ourselves in self-discipline in order to be forbearing of others (1 Tm 3:2,3). This is not just an option to discipleship behavior. According to what Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:14, it is a mandate of character. “Now we exhort you, brethren … be patient toward all men.”

3.  Patient for the reward of our labors: Thomas Edison was asked how he could justify about 1,000 unsuccessful experiments on a particular project. He simply replied, “Why? Now we know 1,000 ways it won’t work.” We must always keep in mind the old Chinese proverb, “Nothing is so full of victory as patience.” This was Paul. In prison he wrote,

Brethren, I count not myself to have laid hold. But one thing I do, forgetting those things that are behind and reaching forward to those things that are before. I press toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Ph 3:13,14).

We can be patient for the reward of our labors if we keep our minds focused on the reward. In a Reader’s Digest article entitled, “The Power of Patience,” Norman Vincent Peale wrote in the April 1972 issue:

Why can’t people make better use of patience in their lives? Mainly, I think, because it has three great enemies: discouragement, that white surrender flag that makes people give up too easily; frustration, generating anger that clouds your judgment and wrecks your timing; and the tendency to over react under stress, hit the panic button, lose your cool.

Patience for reward should be the character of the disciple. God worked from the time of creation to bring the cross into the existence of earth history a little over two thousand years ago. He patiently endured until the fullness of time in order to accomplish His plan of redemption (Gl 4:4). We seek to be godly after this patience, for such was in the mind of the Holy Spirit when He wrote,

Therefore, seeing we are also surrounded by so great a cloud of [faithful Old Testament] witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance [patience] the race that is set before us (Hb 12:1).

 III.  The cause of impatience:

 No one can become patient unless he focuses squarely on those things in his life with which he has little patience. Our focus must be on those areas of the human spirit that lead one to be impatient with circumstances and people.

1.   Lack of mercy: Remember the statement that was said to a surrounding crowd of unmerciful and self-righteous judges who were about to stone to death a woman caught in adultery? “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to cast a stone at her” (Jn 8:7). Goethe said, “Tolerance comes with age; I see no fault committed that I myself could not have committed at some time or other.”   We must never forget what James said in James 2:13: “For judgment will be without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. And mercy rejoices over judgment.” This was the theme of Jesus’ parable concerning the unmerciful and unforgiving servant. A certain king brought his servants before him and exercised mercy through the forgiveness of their debt. One servant was forgiven ten thousand talents. But this servant was himself unforgiving, and thus, he went out to extract a debt of a few denarii from one who owed him. His debtor pleaded with him, “Have patience with me and I will pay you” (Mt 18:29).   But there was no mercy from the oppressing servant, for he took the debtor “and cast him into prison until he should pay the debt” (Mt 18:30).

We wonder how many people we have cast into our mental prison of exclusion from our presence. Because they owed us so little in comparison to what God has forgiven us, we have cast them forth from our presence because of an offending word.   They are out there in our “mental prison,” banished from our presence until they pay us with an “I am sorry.”   The arrogance of our way is revealed in our self-righteous comfort that we will somehow be rewarded by One who forgave us all (See Mt 18:21-35). Some people have very little mercy for others, but a lot of mercy on themselves in reference to their debt to God. They have forgotten what Jesus taught those who would be His disciples: “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Mt 6:12).

 2.  Too much anxiety:   Blessed Mary, the mother of Jesus, was normal. When she discovered that her Twelve-Year-Old was not in the presence of the returning caravan of relatives from Jerusalem, she and Joseph headed back to Jerusalem. After three days of anxiety, they finally found Jesus where all twelve-year-old young people should be, that is, in the temple talking about the Bible. In exasperation Mary said to Jesus, “Behold, Your father and I have anxiously sought You” (Lk 2:48). Whether it calmed their nerves or relieved their frustration with Jesus, we will never know. Nevertheless, their Twelve-Year-Old calmly replied, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Lk 2:49). And how can an anxious mother be angry at that?

We know what Jesus said later in life during His ministry. “… do not be worried about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, what you will put on” (Mt 6:25). That is easier said than done. Nevertheless, this is the struggle of the disciple. Jesus concluded and exhortation an anxiety in Matthew 6 by saying, “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Mt 6:34). In order to deal with our impatience, we must work on our worry about tomorrow. Our impatience reveals our inability to trust in God today for tomorrow’s blessing.

Now in this context, Jesus would say to us pointedly, “And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his life’s span?” (Lk 12:25). If there is nothing within our power to change that which is in the future, then Jesus is simply saying, “Chill out.” It is still true that a person is about as big as that which annoys him.   And if the present and future is not under our control, then we must relax. One might argue that this is impossible. But growth in the discipleship of the early Christians proves the contrary. In fact, while in a Roman prison facing death, one disciple wrote,

Do not be anxious for anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Ph 4:6,7).

When we are anxious in everything, then we need some peace from God in everything. We need the “peace of God that keeps our hearts and minds.” And since we all seek for peace of mind, then all the struggle that it takes to get to that peace is worth it. The story is told of a young Chinese student who in frustration about his difficulty in learning a particular point, threw down his books and ran from his teacher. He later encountered an old woman patiently rubbing an iron bar on a stone. He asked the old woman, “What are you doing?”   She quietly responded, “Making a needle.”

Paul had written to Timothy, “But you, O man of God … follow after patience …” (1 Tm 6:11). And Timothy had surely got the message and preached such to those disciples in Ephesus with whom he worked. Jesus later addressed the disciples in Ephesus with the words, I know … your patience. And you have perseverance and patience. You have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary (Rv 2:2,3).

The Ephesian disciples evidently listened to the teaching of Paul that came to them through Timothy. In another situation, there were some disciples who had not yet learned what the Ephesian disciples had learned. The Hebrew writer exhorted, “For you have need of endurance [patience], so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (Hb 10:36). The first step on the road to patience is made when we confess that we have need of patience. We will determine to stay on this road in this life when we thirst for the reward that comes to patient disciples. One is considered patient, not because he is patient in all areas of life, but because he stays on the road of struggling for patience longer than others. Jesus would encourage all of us in reference to our patience, “But what you have already, hold fast until I come” (Rv 2:25). Just remember, snails did eventually reach the Ark in time.