Discipleship Means Relationship

Chaplain Horace Wellons, MDiv, CTCA/Southwestern Regional Medical Center

"“If anyone come to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be My disciple. For which of you intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it, lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple." - Luke 14:26-33 (NKJV)

The most common Hebrew term translated “to teach” is the verb lamad. In nearly fifty passages, it’s rendered “teach,” while in other contexts, it’s often translated “learn.” The basic meaning of lamad is “get accustomed to,” or “train.” The training or teaching often involves specific content or a particular subject, such as song (Deut. 31:19), warfare (Isa. 2:4), commandments (Deut. 4:5) or a foreign language (Dan. 1:4).

Early in the historical development of lamad, the term seems to have conveyed the idea of “to practice” or “to discipline.”1 Psalm 119:73 says; "Your hands have made me and fashioned me; give me understanding, that I may learn your commandments." (NKJV). The word ‘learn’ in this verse means study. Proverbs 30:2-3 says: “Surely I am more stupid than any man, and do not have the understanding of a man. I neither learned wisdom nor have knowledge of the Holy One (NKJV).” The word ‘learned’ in this verse also means study. Isaiah 8:16 says: “Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples (NKJV).”

I provide this preliminary to help you understand what discipleship is all about.

I remember when I was a young infantry officer in training (ROTC) stationed at Ft. Bragg, NC. On this particular day, I was in command of B Company, 2nd Platoon, while we were training with an armor unit (tanks). As the officer in charge, my every move was watched by the men of the 15th Special Forces Group (The Green Barets) and the 505th Infantry-82nd Airborne Division. I was given orders to lead my unit through miles of heavy woods, gather information on the enemy unit (without being detected), and return to the meeting point with the information requested.

As we moved though the woods, the trainers moved with us. We approached a road that we needed to cross. When I gave the order to move across the road one squad at a time, I could see my trainers not only watching my every move but listening to my every command as well. The trainers’ job was to work with me, direct me along the way, and correct me when needed. The end result was that we reached our destination, gathered the requested information and returned safely -- a successful mission.

That’s how the Holy Spirit works with every believer. He walks with us, directs us, instructs us and protects us. We, the believers, never have to face the enemy (Satan) alone.

Discipline is required of everyone involved in training, studying, and teaching. A classroom setting with a teacher and students is another example of discipleship, but not the only example. While the example of my military training at Ft. Bragg is just one discipleship setting in my life, I can also think of one on a more personal level.

Years ago, I decided to study Chinese martial arts. My teacher was Chinese, and he took this training seriously. Growing up in China, he began his training at an early age (six years old). At the time I met him, he was in his 50s.

This man brought years of hard study with his teaching, and he desired to pass that teaching on to me. One time, I didn’t have the money to pay for the coming months of training. My teacher told me, “Don’t worry about it; just come.” For the next few months, he allowed me to train for free and didn’t concern himself with collecting money. It wasn’t the money he cared about; it was my learning.

For the next few years, he taught me Kung-Fu. He walked with me in learning the techniques, movements, concepts, ways of thinking, as well as the physical training involved. Believe it or not, at the conclusion of the training, one is called his ‘disciple.’ My teacher’s relationship with his students went far past the training studio. We fellowshipped with his family, ate his cooking, visited his home and held picnics on the beach. He only had nine students.

In the Bible, discipleship can’t only be seen with Jesus and His twelve followers, but also with Elijah and Elisha. Elisha was seeking to receive the same empowerment Elijah had in order to carry on Elijah’s prophetic ministry. The energizing spirit or power that enabled Elijah to prophesy was the Holy Spirit.2

In 2 Kings, there’s an interesting Old Testament parallel to the book of Acts. Elijah went into heaven, while Elisha sought the promise of empowerment to carry on his master’s ministry. And he received it. In a similar way, when Jesus ascended, the disciples awaited the promise, and the Holy Spirit descended to empower them to carry on the work that their Lord began.3 In both examples, we see that a relationship developed. The disciple is not there merely to learn from the teacher, but to share his whole life with him without reservation.4 Discipleship is entering into a lifetime relationship with Jesus Christ.

Of all the examples and Scriptures we just learned, we see that the one thing that connects them all together can be found in Psalm 25: 9 which says: “ The humble He guides in justice, and the humble He teaches His way (NKJV).” Humility is an attribute of a student. I believe that humility is basic to discipleship. That is why Jesus said, “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:33 NKJV).”

As a student (disciple) of Jesus, we will encounter hardships, but the Teacher Himself will direct and re-direct us as needed. He will never leave you or forsake you.

1Marvin R. Wilson, Our Father Abraham-Jewish Roots Of The Christian Faith (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 297.

2Jack W. Hayford, Spirit Filled Life Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991), 529. 

3Hayford, 529.

4David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Bible Dictionary: Volume 2 (New York: Doubleday Publishing, 1992), 208.

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