Tim Johnson, editor
March 16, 2003
What does it mean to be a disciple?
Our English word disciple comes from a Greek word that refers to a person who directs their mind to something and is engaged in learning. It speaks to the submissive relationship of the student to the teacher. A "disciple" is a learner who voluntarily follows the teaching of a "master." The master instructs and the disciple responds by conforming his life to what the master has taught. Masters teach, disciples learn. Masters lead, disciples follow.
I know of no scripture that better defines what it means to be a disciple than Luke 5:1-11. Within this simple story we see the essence of the disciple's attitude and action.
Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon's, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat. When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." Simon answered and said, "Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets. When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon saw that, he fell down at Jesus' feet, saying, "Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, "Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men." When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him (Luke 5:1-11).
Those who would become the disciples of Jesus had been out fishing all night in the Lake of Gennesaret (also known as the Sea of Galilee). Simon, James and John had nothing to show for a long night of hard work. They came back to shore tired, needing to clean their nets before enjoying a well-deserved rest. Along came Jesus who would soon become their "master." Needing a "pulpit" from which to teach the people, Jesus requested that Simon put his boat back into the water.
After His sermon was over, Jesus told Simon to row to the deepest part of the lake and let down his nets. To a seasoned Galilean fisherman like Simon, this would have made no sense. In the Lake of Gennesaret fish were caught during the night when the surface waters had cooled. Fish simply were not caught during the day because they migrate to the cooler waters near the bottom of the lake. Yet, Jesus told them to let down their nets for a catch. Look again at Simon's response: "Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets."
That is the essence of what it means to be a disciple. The master spoke and the disciple followed. Simon knew that fish were not caught during day. Besides that, he had fished all night and caught nothing. From all that Simon knew, this command made no sense. Yet, he did as the master said. Simon trusted the teaching of Jesus more than he trusted his own experience and knowledge. He had a greater commitment to the will of the master than he did to his own will. The master said, "let down your nets for a catch," so the disciple let down his nets.
With boats nearly sunk by the bulging load of freshly caught fish, Simon, James and John rowed back to shore. This trio of disciples docked their boats, forsook all and followed Jesus. At the call of the master, these disciples left behind their means of livelihood to begin fishing for men. Later, Jesus would teach that anyone who wanted to become His disciple would have to do exactly what this noble trio did. "And He was saying to them all, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me'" (Luke 9:23).
For the genuine disciple there is nothing more important than following Jesus. The person, who truly comes to learn from and follow Jesus, counts nothing as more significant than becoming like Jesus, his Master. Whatever Jesus says do, the disciple does, without question or argument. The disciple is constantly asking himself questions such as, "How would Jesus act in this situation?," "What would Jesus say?," or "How can I act or react so as to best reflect what was taught by Jesus?".
One should not commit himself to being a disciple of Jesus without first counting the cost. In Luke 14:25-33, Jesus compares men committing themselves to becoming disciples to a man who intends to build a tower. Before building, he counts the cost to determine if he has sufficient resources to complete the tower. Likewise, if a king considers going to war, he first counts the cost of battle to determine if he has sufficient resources and man-power to defeat the enemy. In the same way, before a man becomes a disciple of Jesus he should count the cost of discipleship. Is he prepared to put Jesus before any earthly relationship? Is he prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to be a faithful disciple? Is he prepared to "let down his nets," at the command of Jesus when human reason says to do otherwise? Is he prepared to forsake all in order to be a disciple of Jesus?
Being a disciple of Jesus involves the surrender of one's own will to make room for the will of Jesus. Man cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). He cannot follow and serve his own will while at the same time following the will of Jesus.
The disciple will obey Jesus rather than please self. Obedience is an attitude of submission to Jesus and compliance with His will in all things. Every part of life is made to conform to God's will, not his own. Obedience is a test of discipleship. In Luke 6:46 it is asked, "But why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and do not the things that I say?" If we truly love the Lord, then we will obey His will. If we are a disciple, we will follow the teaching and instructions of our Master-Teacher.
The obedience of the disciple must be seen in all aspects of his life. Jesus teaches that we take up our cross "daily" and follow Him (Luke 9:23). Discipleship is not a "Sunday-only" thing or a "church-only" thing. The disciple follows the teaching of Jesus and mimics the heart of Jesus at work, at school, at home and in the community. Discipleship is not so much something we are, as it is something we do. It is a manner of life.
Disciples follow their Master-Teacher even if their family or the world opposes them. As part of a discussion on discipleship, Jesus said, "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me" (Matthew 10:37). The disciple chooses to obey God rather then men (Acts 5:29). People of the world may make fun of the disciple and even slander the disciple. However, disciples resist the pressure of the world because they find contentment and joy from living as Jesus commanded.
Is discipleship worth the price one is called upon to pay? Where will Jesus lead His disciple? Jesus desires to lead His followers to His Father's home in heaven. By following Jesus, the disciple can successfully travel the "straight and narrow" path that leads to life eternal in the bliss of God's heavenly home. The alternative? Those who do not choose to follow Jesus will find themselves in outer darkness, where there is eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25:30).
-- By John A. Smith,