Our Call To Discipleship
teacher's guide Lesson 11

Lesson Eleven

Discipleship: A Lifestyle

Texts: Matthew 5:21-48 and 13

The objective of this lesson: deepen the students' understanding of the fact that one basic purpose of discipleship is to allow Jesus to change our daily behavior. Discipleship is not merely a matter of knowing. It is a matter of changing behavior as he or she continues to learn how to live.

An insightful reading of (a serious look at) the gospel accounts of Jesus' ministry allow a fact to be quite obvious. Many of Jesus' lessons to his disciples and to the multitudes centered on changes in lifestyles. Take any of the four gospels. Note Jesus' lessons. Note that they frequently center on one of two discussions. One was a change in the way people lived life. The other was the nature of God's kingdom.

Each gospel has a continuing, obvious emphasis on the fact that Jesus taught people godly behavior. For the sake of example, the teacher might take a gospel and illustrate how often Jesus' teachings focused on behavior.

Let's properly link the two together, beginning with God's kingdom. Jesus' revelations concerning God's kingdom differed from first century Israel's expectations. Jesus confronted an enormous challenge in his ministry. It centered in changing Israel's kingdom expectations. For a change in Israel's expectations to occur, a change in their understanding must occur. The typical Israelite of the first century expected God's kingdom to (1) be a physical nation, (2) be based on lineage and heritage [Israelites would be the foundation of God's kingdom because they physically descended from the correct person and they possessed the right teachings/ traditions], (3) be a king/subject system that would in some manner restore the glorious times of King David, and (4) be a restoration/purification of their understanding of proper worship of the living God, Jehovah.

It is quite important for the students to understand this fact: Jesus' statements about God's kingdom were radically different from Israel's expectations. Remind your students that what we "see and hear" commonly is determined by what we expect. Commonly when people hear a word or words to which specific expectations are attached, we consistently think in terms of our expectations. It is extremely difficult to change people's expectations once those expectations have been formed. When people's expectations are challenged, it is simple for them to misunderstand the challenger and his (or her) motives. Many first century Israelites thought they had a clear, accurate understanding of God's kingdom. The fact that Jesus challenged those understandings was not appreciated by many.

If you wish to consider a specific attempt made by Jesus to refocus first century Israel's kingdom expectations, read Matthew 13. Note the parables are kingdom parables. Note the primary lesson in each parable: (1) being a part of the kingdom would depend on the heart response of the person, not lineage or heritage; (2) proper lineage/location was not proof that a person belonged in God's kingdom [the tares and the wheat grew in the same field; the issue was who "sowed" the person]; (3) the kingdom would have a tiny beginning; (4) even though it began small, it would grow though influence; (5) to some, the kingdom would be an accidental discovery of a great treasure; (6) to some, the kingdom would be something of great value to be searched for and when found obtained with great sacrifice; and (7) the kingdom in its earthly form would contain wicked people as well as godly people--the Lord knows the difference and will make the difference obvious at judgment.

Match the parables to the statements in the paragraph above. [The theme statements follow the order in which the parables occur.] Remember that you want to give overall summaries of the basic point of the parable rather than having a study of the parable itself.

If you are a bible student, these teachings may seem so common place that they are hardly noteworthy. To the Jewish person in the multitude or a disciple, these kingdom thoughts were radically different from anything they heard or were taught.

Because those themes are familiar to many serious Bible students, it is easy for us to miss the fact that those themes were quite unfamiliar to Jesus' audience.

How then does the nature of the kingdom and personal behavior connect? To see the connection, first clearly see Jesus' emphasis on a change in behavior. As an example of this contrast, consider Matthew 5:21-48 in Jesus' sermon on the mount. (1) A disciple will not abuse or mistreat others. He or she will be kind in a devotion to healing instead of holding grudges. (2) He or she will not allow physical desires/needs to create conflicts between him or her and God's purposes. He or she will allow devotion to God to guide them in keeping promises and commitments rather than justifying the "do as I please" mentality. (3) He or she will keep his or her word rather than justifying deceit. (4) He or she will allow God to teach them how to be kind in stressful situations rather than being vengeful. (5) He or she will let God's behavior teach them how to love those who hate them.

To see the connection between common expectations associated with God's kingdom and personal behavior, it is first important to see Jesus' emphasis on godly behavior. From the beatitudes at the first of the sermon to the parable of the houses and flood at the end of the sermon, much of the emphasis in the sermon defines godly conduct, godly attitudes, and godly motives all of which were to be reflected in godly behavior. Make this fact quite evident to the students. Perhaps you can help them see the overall flow of the sermon's focus on godly behavior by using a series of examples from the sermon.

Continue to read the rest of the sermon (Matthew 6, 7) and note Jesus' stress on the relationship between devotion to God and changes in personal behavior.

As has been suggested, the emphasis on a change in behavior is seen throughout the sermon.

How then is an understanding of God's kingdom connected to personal behavior? When we understand God's kingdom achieves God's purposes through the heart response of the individual, we also must understand that this heart response to God transforms the behavior of the person.

Understanding the nature of God's kingdom naturally emphasized the importance of godly behavior in a disciple's life. It is impossible to separate the two.

The clear message: how a person lives must reflect his or her devotion to God in his or her daily behavior. While most American Christians quickly would declare that being a part of God's kingdom is not founded upon nationality [one's genealogy or lineage does not guarantee his or her place in God's kingdom], too many American Christians are guilty of declaring relationship with God is based on "church membership."

Proper knowledge of Jesus' teachings and God's purposes must be reflected in our daily behavior. Just as a first century Israelite could not put his or her spiritual confidence in the fact that he or she was a citizen of Israel, neither can a person today put his or her confidence in the fact of today's concept of "church membership."

The point is not that the church as a community of Christians devoted to God is unimportant. The point is not that a person can "believe anything he or she wishes as long as his or her behavior is under control and appropriate."

The objective of this lesson is NOT to suggest that being a part of Christ's church is unimportant.

This is the point: spiritual confidence must be placed in the role of Jesus Christ and the promises of God. Our confidence must be evidenced in our behavior. We must live and act consistently with our devotion to God. Our beliefs must be reflected in our behavior. Just as a first century Israelite must not allow the basis of spiritual confidence to be founded on nationality, neither can today's Christian base spiritual confidence on church membership.

The objective of this lesson is to oppose the incorrect concept that proper "church membership" makes a Christian's daily behavior irrelevant and unimportant. Godly "church membership" does not neutralize ungodly behavior. Ungodly behavior that is justified rather than repented of destroys the meaning and purpose of "church membership."

The basic issue is not "am I on the church roll," or "am I in the church directory," or "am I on the church mailing list," or "can I attend a church assembly without fear," or "have I been disfellowshiped?" The basic issue is this: is my devotion to God evidenced in my behavior in all circumstances seven days a week?" "Yes, I am a part of the church, but does my behavior evidence my godliness?" "Yes, I am on the church mailing list, but does my behavior evidence my godliness?" "Yes, I am a member in good standing with the congregation, but does my behavior evidence my godliness?"

Christians often get upset if a family member is left out of a church directory. It is almost as if being in the directory "officially" makes him or her a "member of the church" and sanctifies his or her life. No listing anywhere by the church on earth makes godlessness in behavior or spiritual unconcern in personal life insignificant.

Discipleship is about living for God because I know God. It is about allowing knowledge of God to change behavior. Discipleship is not about inactivity. It is not about knowledge with little or no intent of doing. It is not about affirming correct knowledge while justifying ungodly behavior.

A disciple lives for God because he or she wants to live for God. Maturity in knowledge and personal growth in understanding results in changes in feelings, attitudes, and behaviors because of one's desire to be God's person. It is not a matter of external constraint. It is a matter of internal desire.

Disciples follow Jesus to learn how to live. What they learn is reflected in their relationships (definitely reflected in treatment of family members), in their commitments, in their values, in their standards, in their consciences, and in their heart responses. The disciple continually asks Jesus, "Teach me how to think. Teach me godly feelings and attitudes. Teach me how to act. Teach me how to live."

A disciple understands that he or she does not know and cannot know of himself or herself what godly feelings are, what godly values are, what godly standards are, or what godly behaviors are. He or she is open to Jesus' guidance and teaching because he or she knows that is the only way he or she can learn how to live.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What lessons does Matthew 13 teach about God's kingdom?

    (1) Godliness is the result of heart response to God, not a matter of ancestry.

    (2) God's kingdom is not determined by a location (remember location was very important to Israel in the Old Testament--read Deuteronomy 12:5, 11, 13, 14). Note both the tares [which early in their existence look like wheat] and the wheat were in the same field. The difference was found in what they were and who put them in the field.

    (3) God's kingdom would begin small but grow to be huge.

    (4) The primary means of growth in God's kingdom would be through influence.

    (5) Some would accidentally find the great treasure of God's kingdom.

    (6) Some would understand the great value of God's kingdom and search for that kingdom. When they found it, they would make any sacrifice necessary to obtain it.

    (7) In the earthly form of God's kingdom, there will be wicked people in it. They do not deceive God. The judgment's separation will make evident who and what they are.

  2. What lessons does Matthew 5:21-48 teach about godly behavior?

    (1) A disciple in godly kindness will be devoted to healing, not holding grudges.

    (2) A disciple will not allow his or her physical needs or desires to work against God's purposes.

    (3) A disciple will honor and keep his or her word.

    (4) A disciple is devoted to kindness, not vengeance.

    (5) A disciple will let God's behavior teach him or her how to love enemies and be kind to those who oppose him or her.

  3. How do the two connect?

    An understanding of the nature of God's kingdom should result in an understanding of God's purposes in my life. As a disciple, my behavior cannot be a chosen, deliberate contradiction to the nature of God's purposes in His kingdom (His rule).

  4. Discuss this statement: "Discipleship focuses on behavior produced by the knowledge given by Jesus, not just knowing what Jesus said."

    Emphasize that Jesus' disciple learns for the purpose of doing (serving).

Link to Student Guide Lesson 11

Copyright © 2003
David Chadwell & West-Ark Church of Christ

previous page | table of contents | next lesson