Introduction: Discipleship and Foundational Teachings
Apostolic Ministry and Discipleship
Discipleship: The Work of God or the Business of the Father
In order to provide the necessary context for Foundational Teachings, we have looked in detail at how God builds up His people according to the pattern that was passed on to us by Jesus Christ, which is His discipleship. In the last session, we examined the prophecy in Isa. 8 and 9. Now we can clearly see that discipleship is the governing order and hidden plan of God. This time we will look at the teachings of the Lord and the early apostles about discipleship and apostolic ministry.
Today’s topic is: Discipleship is the Work of God or the Father’s Business.
Previously, we visited the story of Jesus interacting with the Samaritan woman by Jacob’s well. Let’s look at it again to see how the Lord viewed His work and tried to show it to His disciples.
John 4:31-38 NIV
31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”
32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”
33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”
34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”
Food, or bread, is made from the harvest of the wheat crop. The Lord said that his food, was the wage or portion He received for His labor in the work of God. In that case we may ask, who is the field? Those people who would come to him to learn to worship God in spirit and in truth. Who are the sowers and reapers? Jesus and His chosen ones who He would teach to labor with Him. It was with this understanding that the Lord taught others the “economy” of His Kingdom. In his teachings, Jesus used many parables related to farming (Matthew 13), or managing a vineyard (Luke 20:9-19).
Amos foresaw Jesus’ Day and prophesied that after He restored the fallen tent of David, there would be a great harvest of God’s spiritual people who would restore the ruins.
Amos 9:13-15 NIV
13 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman
and the planter by the one treading grapes.
New wine will drip from the mountains
and flow from all the hills.
14 I will bring back my exiled people Israel;
they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them.
They will plant vineyards and drink their wine;
they will make gardens and eat their fruit.
15 I will plant Israel in their own land,
never again to be uprooted
from the land I have given them,”
says the Lord your God.
He used two kinds of crops to signify the harvest of God: wheat (barley) and grapes. They would produce the bread and wine to be used as the offerings in the house of God. The land is the spiritual Promise Land of God, where our Lord was born from above, and is intended to be God’s eternal inheritance for all those who believe in His Name.
Mic 5:2-4 NIV
2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.”
3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned
until the time when she who is in labor gives birth
and the rest of his brothers return
to join the Israelites.
4 He will stand and shepherd his flock
in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
will reach to the ends of the earth.
The meaning of Bethlehem, in Hebrew, is “house of bread”; the meaning of Ephrathah is: “land of fruitfulness”, like a vineyard. This city is Hebron, where the spies, who were sent by Moses to scout out the Promise Land, carried back a cluster of grapes. Like this city, which was ruined in Ruth’s time, this spiritual inheritance (city) will be restored back to the people of God after we are redeemed by Christ and have entered His Kingdom.
When this harvest is complete, the Lord will feast with us as in the day of the Feast of Tabernacles. We will dwell with Him forever. David foresaw this and said:
Psm 23:5-6 NIV
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
We know that the food of the Passover meal and Communion are bread and wine, which symbolize the body and the blood of Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus intended for His disciples to labor with Him for a particular kind of fruit or harvest, that being the multiplication and increase of His life in and through all His disciples. The bread and the wine are His spiritual food or His Teachings, the Word of God and the administration of them.
Matt 26:26-29 NIV
26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
27 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
Paul clearly knew this when he was teaching others:
1 Cor 3:5-11 NIV
5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Peter explained it this way:
1 Pet 1:22-2:3 NIV
22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For,
“All men are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
25 but the word of the Lord stands forever.”
And this is the word that was preached to you.
2 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Believers are to grow in Christ by partaking of the Lord’s life as their spiritual food, just like a tiny seed will grow into a tree with many fruits, and as a baby will mature into a man of full stature.
We can see now, both from the Old Testament and the New, that God uses these two analogies to illustrate the work or “labor” He has entrusted to His chosen people. One is to prosper in a land blessed with fruitful farms and vineyards; another is to build a mighty temple upon the rock on the highest mountain.
God blessed Adam and Eve in this way from the beginning. Only because of their disbelief in His Goodness and Power, they were cast out from the Garden to labor with sweat and sorrow in a cursed land full of thistles and briers. But Christ, through His discipleship, has restored us back to the work of God, or the Business of the Father. Now we are residents in a spiritual land.
Discipleship is to teach others Godly Love
Let’s look at this further in the Lord’s teachings during the Passover or the Last Supper:
John 13:10-17 NIV
10 Jesus answered (to Peter), “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him (Judas), and that was why he said not every one was clean.
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
John 14:19-24 NIV
19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”
22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”
23 Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home (abode or dwelling place) with him. 24 He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
He explained that His teachings would cleanse the disciples and set them apart as holy. Jesus then continued to show them that His teachings would enable them to attend the Father’s business as He had been doing.
After he taught them that His disciples are to bear fruit by abiding in Him like a branch abiding in the vine, He said:
John 15:8-17 NIV
8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
The words the Lord chose to use to describe Himself and the disciples are very revealing to His calling for them. Let’s look at them more closely:
The Greek word for “disciple” is “mathetes”, one who is a learner or a pupil. The word “teacher” or “master” in Greek is “didaskalos”. It is the title the disciples used for Jesus. In calling Him this way, they naturally assumed a lower position before Him as a pupil and a servant. The picture of Elijah and Elisha would certainly remind them of the way they were to serve and learn from Jesus.
By bearing much fruit, the disciples would prove that they had learned from Him. That is, they would bear the fruit of His nature and were to pass on His teachings to others, to teach them how to love as He had loved them. In other place, the Lord said that the world would know them as His disciples by the way they loved one another. Those who love God would be drawn to them and hear His teachings from them; while the world would hate them and persecute them because of this kind of love. In essence, Jesus was sent to them to show them the way of love in God.
The Greek word for “servant” is “doulos”, a slave or a bondservant as compared to a freeman, or one who is an attendant or assistant. The word “Master” or “Lord” is “kurios”, one who owns slaves or enjoys a high and honorable office or position. In those days, the distinction of classes between a master and a slave, or between a lord and a subordinate was noticeably unequal. Basically, the one in the latter position had to obey without protest or question anything the former would command him to do. He had no right to himself.
However, the Lord would overturn this wicked way of relationship between mankind. His way is upside down to this foolish way of honor and privileges. In His Kingdom, the one who serves is more honorable, and the one who is to lead, or shepherd, is to lay down his life for those entrusted to his care. Surely, the disciples had not fully grasped this new way of life in that moment, not mention being ready to practice it. Some of them were quite upset with John and James when their mother asked Jesus for a better place for them in His Kingdom, even after Jesus told all of them explicitly that He would go up to Jerusalem and suffer death.
Indeed, He conferred to them a revolution to the culture of the day. Shortly before the Last Supper He said:
Matt 23:5-12 NIV
5 “Everything they (Pharisees, the false leadership) do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’
8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
During the Last Supper, this is recorded:
Luk 22:24-30 NIV
24 Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28 You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
Another word or title the Lord gave the disciples was “friends”. In Greek, it is “philos”, means one as a close companion. A special usage is “one of the bridegroom’s friends who on his behalf asked for the hand of the bride and rendered him various services in closing the marriage and celebrating the nuptials.” (Enhance Strong Lexicon).
This is also the word John the Baptist used to describe himself.
John 3:27-30 NIV
27 To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.
In essence, by pointing others to Jesus, even his own disciples, John was rejoicing, for he knew the Lord really was the Son of God and His teachings were from heaven and would give them eternal life. Paul spoke in this way of his own labors when he was combating false teachings in discipling others in this way:
2 Cor 11:2 NASB95
2 For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.
He wanted them to have pure devotion to Christ through his teachings.
“Philos” is a noun, the verb is “phileo”, which means to “love” someone affectionately or to “kiss” someone. In the last session, we examined Jesus’ conversation with Peter after His resurrection. He asked Peter, “do you love me?” three times, two of which He used the word “phileo”, which means affectionate, friendly or brotherly love.
Later, James, the brother of Jesus, used the word “philos” to describe the honorable place Abraham enjoyed before God.
James 2:23 NIV
23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.
In the years to come, when Peter, James, John and other disciples of the Lord would share the story of the last Supper and they would remember the depth of the Love of God through the Lord who lived among them, who ate and drank with them, imagine what would be vibrating in their hearts. It would be the most sublime praise and adoration to Him, for they knew He indeed was Love, “full of grace and truth”. He saw all their flaws and sins, yet chose not to remember, trusting their hearts would respond perfectly to the Love of the Father and would eventually rise from the cave of humanity and be immersed into God’s light and become one with Him. They would be transformed thoroughly as sons of God and be just like Him, holy and perfect before God.
By calling them “friends”, He explained that He had made known to them the “Business of the Father” to “go and bear fruit”. He had passed onto them everything He learned from the Father. He held nothing back: in love, He would lay down His life for them; in wisdom, He had taught them everything; in co-laboring, He promised them the Holy Spirit and Power from on high and He will be with them always, “even till the end of the age”.
Let’s mention a key point before we end this session: As the lamb of God and the sent one, or the High Priest of the New Covenant, in the Passover Meal, Jesus offered bread and wine to the disciples. In the spiritual reality of the Kingdom of God, the disciples were actually partaking of His life and were affirmed or appointed into His Work. Just like Moses sanctified Aaron and his sons in order for them to be anointed into service in the tabernacle of the Lord, so here, the Lord sanctified them as His priests, waiting to be anointed by the Holy Spirit, which came on the day of Pentecost. With great confidence and clarity, they would later claim that they were serving God in the Heavenly Temple as a kingdom of Priests or sons of God, offering others to Him as spiritual sacrifices.
How did they do this? It was through their labor or work in discipling others with the Teachings that were passed onto them by the Lord.
We will continue this discussion in the next few sessions.
Lord Jesus, we thank You for Your love and the teachings You gave to us. Indeed, we were once lost, but now You have found us and rescued us. Lord, may we ever be mindful of the work that You long to finish, in our lives and through our lives.
Send us, Lord, so that we can bear much fruit; empower us, so that we can become a light unto the world, as you commanded us to be, that your love might flow through us to whoever comes into our path, especially those who are Your disciples and Your family.
We love You Father and thank You for sending us Your precious Son, Jesus, in whose Name we pray. Amen