Webster defines “Disciple” as one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another. “Mathetes” , is its Greek equivalent. In the 4th century B.C., the Greek philosopher Plato, introduced the viewpoint that separated the physical realm from the spiritual. In 335 B.C., Aristotle, his disciple who founded the school “Lyceum,” in Athens, took it a step further. Here, the academic world systematized the Platonic viewpoint and made it transferable. The school birthed doctors, lawyers and teachers, who passionately began to infiltrate their respective realms of influence with this Platonic worldview.
Years later, Rome conquered Greece. However, the Platonic logic continued to penetrate into the Roman culture, insomuch that, some historians did not shy away from using the term, Greco-Roman world. How influencing the power of discipleship!
It was in this context that Jesus enters into the scene and introduces a new teaching, unlike the existing Jewish or Aristotelian models, which only brought about fractions within segments of the socio-economic strata. Judaism was accessible only to the Jews, leaving everyone else (Gentiles) without hope and Aristotelean philosophy only to intellectuals. Jesus came, neither to promote philosophy nor religious fervor. He addressed something much deeper; one that came from the heart, based on “Love.” “For God so ‘loved’ the world…. (John 3:16).” As a result, bringing unity by breaking down barriers of separation (Ephesians 2:14).
Jesus invested three and half years into twelve men, a tax-collector, some fishermen, and others – to whom He commissioned prior to His ascension, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations… (Matthew 28:19).” However, they were not ignorant on how to accomplish this task. Primarily, because Jesus had already modeled the process in them, which was a replication of the one between Him and the Father. “I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them (John 17:26).” Moreover, He had given them the new commandment to love one another, just as He had loved them (John 13:34). And it’s the love we have for one other which is the only tangible evidence to the world of being, His true disciples (John 13:35).
History is clear that the early Church grew almost four-hundred fold during the first three decades after Pentecost, and continued to do so remarkably well for three centuries thereafter (Coleman, Robert E., The Master Plan of Discipleship (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 2001), 30). The reason for this was that a major emphasis was placed on Discipleship. Early church fathers like Ignatius, Bishop at the church of Antioch in Syria, Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna and Ireneaus, Bishop of Lyons, heavily emphasized discipleship (Wilkins, Michael J., Following the Master, A Biblical Theology of Discipleship (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992); Hull, Bill, The Complete Book of Discipleship (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006)). After this period began a gradual decline, which can be attributed to the lack of effective discipleship, and one doubts if the church is really focused on her obligation to raise up true disciples any longer!
Let’s face it! Somehow, the church has lost the understanding of “Discipleship.” The measurement of growth is quantitative, rather than qualitative. We are eager to lead people to salvation but not disciple them. Salvation in its truest form always leads to discipleship. And discipleship is the “way of life.”
Friends, the love of God has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). What marvelous love the Father has shown us in allowing us to be called “His Children” – and that is not merely what we are referred to as, but indeed are (1 John 3:1). May the world know by our love that we are “disciples” of Jesus Christ.