Our Call To Discipleship
teacher's guide Lesson 4

Lesson Four

Conditions of Discipleship:
The Disciple-Disciple Relationship

Texts: Matthew 20:25-28; 23:1-12; Luke 22:24-30; John 13:1-17

Much too often serious Christians conclude the disciple relationship is basically about the relationship between a disciple and Jesus. Certainly, that relationship is the primary relationship. However, Jesus' concept of discipleship includes more than a relationship with him. Jesus' concept also includes relationships among the disciples. Disciples cannot honor the Lord and disregard each other. He or she who loves Jesus loves those who follow Jesus.

The second condition of discipleship focuses on Jesus disciples' relationships with each other. Disciples who follow Jesus establish and maintain positive relationships with other disciples who follow Jesus as God's Christ and Son (see 1 John 1:7). The relationships maintained among Jesus' disciples differ from typical relationships among people who are not Jesus' disciples. These differences are to be obvious in their interactions.

Following Jesus as a disciple is demanding. Allowing Jesus to teach us how to look at life, others, and this physical world is an enormous, continuing challenge. Developing godly attitudes toward and godly relationships with others who are disciples doubles the demand.

Commonly, Jesus' disciples struggle to understand and accept these "new and different" attitudes toward others who are disciples. This challenging struggle often is as demanding as is a disciple's understanding that relationship with Jesus is that of a slave to his master.

Typically the struggle is based on the "new and different" way of looking at people. The first Christians consciously existed as a community of caring people in societies that often exploited people who cared. One of the key elements that enabled those Christians to endure society's rejection was found in the care and support they gave each other.

Why are relationships among disciples a challenging struggle? (a) It is a totally different way of viewing existence in this world. (b) It is a totally different way of viewing others who place faith and trust in Jesus Christ. (3) It commonly is a radical contrast to the way people treat others in society's different levels. These differences frequently make discipleship demanding.

Disciples valued devotion to Jesus. Commitment to Jesus was [is] so valued by disciples that it could and did forge bonds that reached across social lines. A faith movement that began with 120 people (see Acts 1:15) became a worldwide faith movement in less than one generation. Believers were living demonstrations of the fact that faith in the crucified, resurrected Jesus radically restructured relationships among disciples.

In order to focus on the nature of these relationships between disciples, note some emphases in today's texts.

Matthew 20:25-28. The context increases the potency of these emphases. James and John's mother [they were two of the twelve] personally petitioned Jesus to place those two sons in the two most significant positions in what she [and they] perceived would be his new administration. In their thinking, Jesus would go to Jerusalem, become king, and the twelve would become his staff. Though Jesus told them that he was going to Jerusalem to die by execution, Jesus' statement did not "fit" their expectations (for the twelve's perspectives on Jesus' death and the ways those perspectives affected their expectations regarding the kingdom, see Matthew 16:20-22; 17:9-13, 22-23; Mark 9:9,10, 31,32; Luke 19:11; Acts 1:6). This woman's request was a major irritation to the other ten! Each of the ten wanted what she requested for her sons!

It is probable that this incident reflects a continuing, genuine rivalry that existed among the twelve. Kingdoms, as they knew and experienced them, were about power and control--whether the Roman empire's, Herod the Great's, Herod Antipas', or the Jerusalem Sanhedrin. All their "real life" kingdom models used three basic criteria for determining "important people": position, power, and control. Thus it was quite natural for them to think of themselves [as the twelve] in God's kingdom in terms of position, power, and control.

Note these emphases in Jesus' statement. [Remember the ten are upset with James and John for their mother's request. Relationships among them are strained!] (1) "You are quite familiar with the focus of the government that now controls us as a people and controls the Mediterranean world. The focus of that government is control through power. Personal importance in control by power governments is demonstrated through authoritative positions. (2) God's government does not exercise power through control. The Roman empire and its appointed extensions stand in distinct contrast to God's kingdom. In God's kingdom the focus is not on power, or control. In other kingdoms importance is determined by the superiority and power of a person's position. As important as you twelve are, your concept of God's kingdom is totally distorted if you conclude your importance is demonstrated by positions of controlling power. (3) The focus of this world's kingdoms is control. The focus of God's kingdom is service. If it is your goal to achieve greatness in God's kingdom, commit yourself to serving others. In God's kingdom, greatness is achieved by being a slave to others, not by being the master of others. [Remember it is God's kingdom. God, not humans, determines that kingdom's priorities.] (4) Though I [Jesus] occupy the highest position in God's kingdom as its Lord, I came to serve and be the ransom for others" [the price to release them for freedom].

Why were the ten so irritated with the request that favored James and John? The request "favored" James and John! How dare they have their mother request something all of them wanted! How dare James and John seek to place themselves above the other ten!

In Jesus' contrast, note two things. (1) Note the contrast is between leadership in gentile kingdoms and leadership in God's kingdom. Gentile leaders focus on "rule" [power], "lord" [position], and "exercising authority" [control]. In the context of the times, the gentile kingdoms affecting their lives were the Roman Empire and the rule of Herod Antipas. (2) Note the contrast in leadership style is between power, position, and control of gentile rulers and serving others as God's leaders.

Matthew 23:1-12. Again, Jesus revealed an enormous contrast. The last contrast was between the concepts of importance in kingdoms of non-Jewish people and God's kingdom. This contrast was between the concepts of importance in Jewish leadership and God's kingdom. The scribes and Pharisees occupied positions of authority and importance in Israel's theocratic rule. They loved positions of superiority. They loved being "God's voice." They loved to be in control. They loved for others to see and honor them as special.

Again, note the contrast. This time the contrast is between leadership among the Jewish people and leadership in God's kingdom. In a theocratic society [a society that declares God is its ultimate ruler/leader] great importance was [is] placed on intimately knowing God's word (scribes) and "properly" interpreting God's word [Pharisees]. The common result was a love of power, a love of honor [position], and a love of control ["we sit on Moses' seat"--see John 9:28].

After Jesus listed prominent ways that revealed their love of positions and control, he made the contrast. The twelve were to be each other's brothers. They were to dedicate themselves to serving rather than controlling. God appreciates and values true humility. He is unimpressed with posturing or positions.

God knows the heart. He knows a person's motivations. He knows if humility is genuine or pretended. In God's kingdom, those who lead are humble, not committed to demonstrating or defending "my" power, position, or right to exercise control.

Luke 22:24-30. Luke records after Jesus took the Lord's supper with them, the twelve began to argue among themselves about who of them was the greatest. Jesus said to them (1) this world's kingdoms determine importance by position, but God's kingdom does not. Neither should they. At that time there was a "pecking order" to determine importance. It commonly focused on who had the most significant level of control. In that "pecking order" the younger served the older, and the one sitting at the table was served by those of lesser significance. (2) In God's kingdom there is a complete role reversal. God gave Jesus the kingdom, and Jesus gave the twelve seats at his kingdom's table. Yet, Jesus served them. (3) They would occupy twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel, but they would judge Israel in the same way he judged: through servant leadership, not position.

Even on the last night of Jesus' physical life, the twelve still did not understand Jesus' concept of discipleship or leadership. They were still vying for position and prestige. They still looked at leadership in God's kingdom as they looked at leadership in any other kingdom. The focus was more on "who we shall be" rather than "how we shall serve."

Jesus embodied a new form of leadership. Though the kingdom was his [given to him by God--not taken by personal conquest], though he was Lord in and over that kingdom, service to others was the foundation of his position as Lord. As Lord he continued to serve. As with him, their having thrones would result in higher forms of service.

For the entire period that they were Jesus' twelve disciples during his earthly ministry, Jesus was the example of servant leadership. James and John wanted to destroy a Samaritan village by calling fire down upon it (Luke 9:54)--not Jesus! It was John who forbid the person who cast out demons in Jesus' name "because he does not follow along with us" (Luke 9:49)--not Jesus! The Lord of power served. The disciples who received the gift of power wanted to control. In Jesus they observed the ultimate in servant leadership, but they were not changed by what they observed.

John 13:1-17. John stressed another occurrence after the supper. [This incident fits well with Luke's notation that the twelve argued about who was the greatest after the supper.] None of the twelve condescended to wash feet when they arrived. That was a lowly, dirty, debasing task. Kneeling before someone to wash his dirty feet screams inferiority!

There should be little or no difficulty in understanding why these men obsessed with personal position would fail to wash the other's feet.

Yet, Jesus got up, took off his clothing that could get wet, tied a towel around his waist, put water in a basin, and washed [and dried] their feet. Jesus' act mortified Simon Peter to the point of refusing Jesus' act! How inappropriate that his Lord wash his feet! Note his old attitude and concept of importance declared by position.

Personal opinion: when Jesus washed those feet, the silence was deafening! What an example of servant leadership!

Then Jesus made his point in an unforgettable manner. "Do you realize what I did? [Oh, the silence of shame!] You properly call me Teacher and Lord. If as Teacher and Lord I can humble myself to wash your feet, surely you can humble yourselves to wash each others' feet. Never forget you are not more important than I am. It is not enough to know the importance of humility. The blessings of humility come through the acts of humility."

Being a disciple includes humble service to other disciples. A disciple is not greater than his teacher. A slave is not greater than his master. In God's kingdom the avenue to greatness is service, not position.

Discipleship includes more than following Jesus. It also includes how disciples treat disciples.

Discussion Question: Why should this be an essential understanding in discipleship today?

Consider this: too often in the church, leadership is expressed in power, control, and position. That is true among some elders. That is true among some deacons. That is true among some preachers. That is true among some ministry leaders.

Look at the problems that commonly arise in congregations among Christians. In the church, the most common problems are Christian-to-Christian problems. Consider how many of those problems would be resolved in a godly manner if Christians understood that discipleship includes how disciples treat each other.

Link to Student Guide Lesson 4

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

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