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Before ascending to heaven, Jesus gave instructions to his disciples to “make disciples of all nations” in Matthew 28:18-20. That small group obeyed Jesus and today there are followers of Jesus all over the world. Every Christian should be a disciple and should be making disciples. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul the apostle told the Corinthians, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” This is the essence of Christian discipleship. We follow men and women who are leading us to Jesus. When we become more mature Christians, we lead others to follow Jesus, as we ourselves follow Him. Christianity is like a long chain, and each of us are links leading to Jesus. No one can become a Christian and grow into maturity without a more mature Christian guiding and positively influencing them. We all have direct and indirect discipleship relationships with more mature believers. In turn, those people learned from others. Eventually, we can all trace our spiritual lineage back to Jesus Christ.
What are the characteristics of a good disciple?
This lesson lists four important characteristics of a good disciple. These characteristics are important to remember for two reasons: 1. We will know how to be good disciples ourselves. If we have these characteristics, we will receive maximum benefits from discipleship. 2. We will know how to identify people with potential for discipleship. Because we have limited amounts of time, we should be careful to invest ourselves in people who have the characteristics of good disciples. Also, it is important to understand that charisma (popularity), skill, and knowledge are not essential characteristics of disciples. Moses was not very charismatic, and was not a good speaker. Peter was not very educated. And David was the youngest of his family and from the smallest clan in Israel. This lesson describes what essential characteristics are for excellent disciples.
Faithful people make good disciples. They can be trusted with important information and tasks. A good example of a faithful person is Timothy, who was a disciple of Paul the Apostle. Acts 16:1-3 He came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
Timothy showed that he was faithful when Paul sent him to churches as a representative. For example, see how Paul describes Timothy to the Philippians: Philippians 2:19-24 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.3I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon. From these verses, we can see that Timothy served with Paul as a son with his father. Paul and Timothy felt such an affinity and loyalty toward one another that they could describe each other and father and son. Timothy shared the same interests as Paul (and with Jesus Christ) in that he cared deeply about the Philippians. Paul could trust Timothy to faithfully represent himself and also the interests of Jesus among the Philippians, or wherever else Paul sent Timothy. Late in life, soon before Paul was about to be executed, he wrote a letter to Timothy urging him to pass on the doctrine and mandate to spread the gospel. Paul instructed Timothy to entrust the message and gospel calling to reliable (faithful) men who were also qualified by their life example to teach others. 2 Timothy 2:1-2 You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. Faithfulness is an essential characteristic of a disciple. Faithful, reliable, and loyal people can be trusted with the precious gospel message.
Disciples must also be available. This means they put their discipleship calling first in life. Matthew 8 describes one man who said he would follow Jesus after he buried his father (or, after his father grew old and passed away). Jesus answered plainly that following Him must be a priority in a disciple’s life. Matthew 8:18-22 When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." Another disciple said to him, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead."
Availability is not a matter of busyness, but a matter of priorities. Busy people can be available. God doesn’t just call people who have nothing else to do. When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, James and John, and Matthew, they were all busy doing work, but immediately stopped what they were doing to follow Jesus. Available people will hear the voice of God and respond immediately. If we are available in this way, we will not make excuses but will look for a way to accomplish what God has called us to do. Matthew 4:18-22 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. Matthew 9:9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. As disciples, we should not put other things ahead of following Jesus. When choosing people to disciple, we should look for people who are available and ready to respond to God’s challenge.
Disciples also need to be teachable people. If they are unwilling to learn from others, they cannot grow. Being teachable does not mean being gullible. It means that we receive information with eagerness, but check to see if it aligns with the Word of God. For example, the Bereans in Acts 17 received the gospel message from Paul, but also examined the Old Testament scriptures to see if what Paul said was true. Disciples should listen to their leaders with an open mind and examine everything according to the Bible. In disputable matters, where it is unclear what the Bible says, disciples should give the benefit of the doubt to their leaders, who are accountable to God for their spiritual growth. Acts 17:10-11 As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Disciples should also learn from the examples of godly people. Although everyone has sin in their lives, we should watch our leaders and imitate the good aspects of their lives. Hebrews 13:7
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.
Discipleship is an essential aspect of Christian life. Every Christian is a disciple of more mature Christians, either directly or indirectly. We are all disciples, or followers, of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus gave us the command to make disciples of all nations, each of Christian also has the responsibility to make disciples. In order to be the best disciples possible, and to identify the right people to invest our time in, we should understand the three key characteristics of disciples.
1. Why is faithfulness essential for a disciple? What will happen if a disciple is not faithful? What about availability and being teachable? 2. What does it mean to be available? Can you be available even when you are very busy? 3. If we are teachable, does it mean that we agree with everything our leaders say? How do we know whether what our leaders say is right or not?
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