Defining Discipleship

give on Sunday, May 2, 2010:c

Opening Scripture: Luke 6:12-16               from the NIV

12 One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.  13 When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles14 Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, 15 Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

Mini-lesson: “The Apostles”                      Pastor Susan

I realized this week that I could not name all the apostles.  Way back in my own early Sunday School days, I know we had to memorize certain Bible facts, but I cannot remember if a list of apostles was one of them.

The definition of apostle also seemed confusing to me this week.  There are times when we discuss the various people who were following Jesus; and it seems we flip flop the term apostle and disciple like synonyms (words with the same meaning).

The problem led me off on a chase to find the list of apostles:  Simon known as Peter, his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

The names get confusing because they were common names.  I expect it would be difficult to create a list of any twelve individuals without having duplication.  Today’s common names are different, and each generation seems to have the popular names repeated.  Why in high school there were three Susan’s in my class alone!

Still, knowing the names helps us understand the difference in the Bible stories, in the authorship of the books in the New Testament, and in the historical events which occurred.  Today, you are a group of disciples who are invited to the table with Jesus . . .  (communion) . . .

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Scripture continues: John 13:31-35               from the NIV

Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial

31 When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him.  32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer.  You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Sermon:  Defining Discipleship

Did you catch the 13th verse in Luke 6?  I boldfaced it for emphasis because it answered a question for me:  What is the difference between ‘apostle’ and ‘disciple’? Did you notice the boldface in the scripture from John?  There it is:  discipleship.  This time the words seem to be talking directly to us sitting in this very sanctuary:

“. . . you are my disciples, if you love one another.’  (the NIV)

Those few words seem to place the responsibility of Jesus directly upon my shoulders.  If I believe in God, the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit, then I have been given my assignment—love one another.

In that one verse, when Peter is being admonished that even he will deny Jesus, Jesus gives each Apostle an assignment and at the same time gives anyone who believes in him is given the same assignment:  Love one another.

Just what is discipleship then?  It was that verse, Luke 13, that clarified a confusing point for me.  Over and over the terms ‘disciple’ and ‘apostle’ are used as the New Testament records the story of Jesus and his followers.  Lately it had been bothering me why two different terms were used in so many ways without much difference.  I needed an answer.

Turning to the HarperCollins’ Bible Dictionary, I looked for understanding.  Finally I began to get it.  Apostle refers to individuals who were following an individual and then designated as a spokesperson, an envoy, or a messenger for that individual.  Disciple is a term referring to simply all the followers of an individual.  All of us who believe in Christ as God’s son who died for our sins are disciples.  Out of the disciples, those with the spiritual gifts to serve as spokespersons, envoys, or messengers in one manner or another are apostles.

The key verse in understanding that is Luke 6:13:

“. . . he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles . . .”  (the NIV)

The different translations do not change the meaning of that verse either:

  • The King James:  “. . .He called unto him his disciples; and of them he chose twelve, whom also he names apostles . . .”
  • The New KJV:  “He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles: . . .’
  • The New Standard Bible:  “. . . He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles. . .”
  • The New Living Translation:  “. . . he called together all of his disciples and chose twelve of them to be apostles.”
  • The Message:   “. . . he summoned his disciples; from them he selected twelve he designated as apostles.”

Normally when looking at different translations, the words change enough that understanding comes from the subtle differences in word choice.  But the common meanings and the almost identical sentence structure leave no room for discussion.  The twelve Jesus chose had special qualities or spiritual gifts needed to serve as the primary authorities on the New Covenant and how to live under it despite the challenges of the cultures, the times, and the future.

How does that apply to life 2.000 years later?  Easy.  We are each disciples who follow the leadership of John Wesley’s grace-filled, servant-minded approach to being disciples of Christ.  We choose this denomination because we believe that we are born into God’s family with prevenient grace.  As Methodists, we know that our discipleship comes with an assignment—to love one another in any manner we possibly can at all the different times that we can.

Look at the verses of John 13 again, especially 34-35:

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (the NIV)

The assignment is given to us in that last meeting Jesus had with his Apostles after the crucifixion.  Jesus had already physically died on the cross, but he was back with the Apostles, in that locked, upper room.  He was really there and he told them they had work to do.  In context, the audience was the twelve who were chosen as the next leaders, the next spokesmen, the next envoy for God.  As they took Jesus’ message out of that upper room, they were to make new disciples.

The assignment is the same regardless of the translation:

  • The KJV:  “By this (the New Commandment) shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
  • The New KJV:  “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
  • The New Standard Version:  “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
  • The New Living Translation:  “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
  • The Message:  “This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”

Not one of these translations from Luke nor from John leaves any room for doubt.  We have those with spiritual gifts for carrying on the message of Jesus’ New Covenant and how we are to live that commandment.  John Wesley knew the task and even though he struggled with his personal understanding, he used the gifts he had to define discipleship.  This is the theology, the belief in God, that the United Methodist Church outlines on the website:

Theology is not just about God.  It is also about us.  We live out of our understanding of who we are in relationship to God, to one another, and to the world.  The Christian faith is grounded in the love and grace of God, experienced through Jesus Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  The Christian life is our response to God’s love and grace.

The church calls our response to God Christian discipleship.  Discipleship focuses on actively following in the footsteps of Jesus.  As Christian disciples, we are not passive spectators but energetic participants in God’s activity in the world.  Because of what God has done for us, we offer our lives back to God.  We order our lives in ways that embody Christ’s ministry in our families, workplaces, communities, and the world.   (accessed May 1, 2010: http://www.umc.org)

Are we disciples?  We believe, so we are disciples.

Are we in discipleship?  We are loving one another, aren’t we?  We are serving one another, aren’t we?  We are seeking more understanding, aren’t we?  We are worshiping God, aren’t we?  We are giving, aren’t we?  Then we must be in discipleship, aren’t we?

Discipleship is our responsibility if we believe in God.  We must do our best to continue to grow in our faith.  We must do our best to make sure we are using our gifts to love one another.  We must do our best to stay in relationship with God through worship, reading the scriptures, and prayer.  It takes discipline to be a disciple.  It takes action to move into discipleship.

Dear God,

The story of Jesus inspires us.  Reading the words and finding truth in them cleasr up confusion cluttering our minds.  May the words of today’s lesson help us to stay in communion with you.  May we step out as disciples, but help us share our love with others so they may discover your grace and your glory, too.  –Amen

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