Our Call To Discipleship
teacher's guide Lesson 5

Lesson Five

Conditions of Discipleship:
The Disciple-Unbeliever Relationship

Text: Matthew 5:43-48

The basic point of this lesson: following Jesus as his disciple definitely includes the way disciples look at, consider, and relate to people who are not disciples, including people who despise disciples.

He or she who is a Christian is Jesus' disciple. Jesus' disciples are Christians. Discipleship is not a form of "super Christianity." Discipleship is not a superior type of Christianity. The challenge: those who regard themselves to be Christians must realize discipleship belongs in Christianity. For a person to be a Christian, he or she must be Jesus' disciple. Christianity and discipleship cannot be separated.

Make your class fully aware of this fact: discipleship is central to existing as a Christian. A person in Christ is not given the choice of being a Christian but not being Jesus' disciple. Discipleship must not be viewed as some exceptional form of spiritual existence. A person must not think to himself or herself, or suggest to others, "I choose to be a Christian, but not to be a disciple." Being a "Christ-like one" [the basic meaning of Christian] involves being a disciple [following Jesus].

Subtly, perhaps even unconsciously, believers have substituted the concept of church membership for the concept of discipleship. Many consider attendance to worship assemblies [especially on Sundays] as proof that "I am a Christian." Their concept seems to be, "If I am at the right place on Sunday in an assembly that does the right things, I prove I am a Christian." That concept too often regards discipleship as irrelevant. What is done "in church" [i.e. in the assembly] makes a person's attitudes and behavior Monday through Saturday irrelevant.

It is too easy to focus discipleship on complying with congregational positions in regard to matters considered key issues. It is too easy to take the focus of discipleship away from following Jesus. While ideally there should be no difference between the concepts of the church and following Jesus, commonly differences exist.

The point is not "do not be a part of the church." The point is be Jesus' disciple everyday as you live for God and worship God. Discipleship is much more than "attending church." Worship is an important part of discipleship, but it is only a part of discipleship.

Too often many think that "faithfulness to the church" means "assembly attendance" and "church membership." God intends the church to be a community of Christians, nothing more and nothing less. That is what the church aspired to be in the beginning. Every disciple should be an involved part of the community that is committed to following Jesus. It is right to be concerned about proper worship. It is equally right to be concerned about the way we live and think every day of our earthly lives. Christianity [discipleship] is a "whole life commitment" that involves every relationship, every aspect of physical existence seven days a week, not just a part-time commitment that involves assemblies occurring one to four hours on Sundays.

Consider the previous emphasis of this study. (1) It defined discipleship from Jesus' concepts. (2) It noted a basic flaw often found in today's Christian concepts of discipleship. (3) It notes three basic relationships that are the foundation of discipleship behavior: (a) the Jesus-disciple relationship [the primary relationship]; (b) the disciple-disciple relationship; and (c) [this lesson] the disciple-unbeliever relationship.

Note the tripod of discipleship relationships that form a steady foundation for discipleship behavior: (a) following Christ; (b) respect and appreciation for other disciples; and (c) respect and concern for those who do not believe Jesus is the Christ.

Matthew 5:43-48. Being Jesus' disciple by committing to the bond existing between Jesus and his disciple is extremely demanding. This challenging demand is created by the need for the person's repentance to redirect his or her life. God supplies more than enough grace, mercy, forgiveness, redemption, and justification to meet the demand. The question at issue is the person's willingness to repent, not God's ability to forgive and sustain.

Each relationship in the tripod of relationships presents unique challenges and demands. Were the source of strength not from God, a disciple could not mature in those relationships. God through Christ does not expect or demand flawless, ideal behavior. He expects growth toward flawless, ideal behavior. He expects genuine commitment to spiritual maturing.

As declared in the last lesson, commitment to disciple-disciple relationships is equally challenging. The attitude and behavior challenges in relationships between disciples are not typical of relationships in society.

Discipleship's third demanding commitment is found in a disciple's attitudes and behavior toward those who are not Jesus' disciples.

Jesus taught Matthew 5, 6, and 7 to disciples (Matthew 5:1, 2). These three chapters were the message on one occasion. The lessons in this message include many contrasts that compared prevailing concepts of godliness to Jesus' concepts of godliness. The above text is one of those contrasts.

The Matthew 5:43-48 scripture is just one contrast in a series of contrasts. The beatitudes picture the basic qualities of a righteous person from God's perspective (Matthew 5:3-12). God's concept of righteousness expressed in human behavior must exceed common emphases in first century Palestine (Matthew 5:20). One's attitude toward those who are not godly is included in God's qualities of righteous human behavior.

The prevailing religious view was simple regarding how Israelites treated those who were not Israelites [or who collaborated with people who were Israel's enemies]: seek the good [the best interest] of persons who have concern for your well being, but hate the persons who were your enemies.

Jesus called this to their attention: Israel's first century attitude toward those who were a threat to them was basically everyone's attitude toward those who were a threat.

Jesus' contrast was astounding: seek the best interest of those who are not Israelites [and their collaborators] even if they are your enemies. "How earnestly should we seek their best interest?" Seek it so earnestly that you even pray for your abusers. A disciple solicits God's blessing on those who currently harm him or her!

If we follow Jesus, he will not lead us toward the common status quo or toward thinking/concepts endorsed by both the godly and the ungodly. Often discipleship moves toward attitudes, concepts, and behavior that the majority of people consider abnormal.

Why? From the perspective of most who are not disciples, this thought is totally ridiculous! What rationale justifies such bizarre attitudes and behavior? Jesus gave three reasons for this attitude and behavior.

Jesus' three reasons provide excellent insights into his perspectives as God's son. These perspectives must become our perspectives if we are to be Jesus' disciples. To be Jesus' disciple is to learn a different way to think. Jesus changes the thought process of those who follow him (as examples, see Romans 12:2 and Ephesians 4:23. Note the context of each statement concerns the conversion process.)

Reason one: it enables the disciple to live as God's child. The specific statement: an enabling of disciples to be "sons of their Father" [God]. What was the significance of the expression "sons of the Father"? The goal of a good son who was the child of a good father was to reflect the father in his behavior. Jesus' illustration was no mystery to those who heard it. God lets the sun shine on the crops of His enemies as well as His children. God lets the rain provide water for growing the food of those with godly behavior and of those with ungodly behavior. God is kind and merciful to those who oppose Him and to those who belong to Him. Those in God's family seek to be as kind and merciful as God is because by choice they belong to God.

The person who chooses to be a disciple [Christian] wants to belong to God. The number one objective in his or her life is to grow toward God's thinking and characteristics. The goal goes beyond doing what is good. The goal is nothing less than doing what is godly.

Reason two: the standard of "being good to those who are good to you" was the standard of those regarded as extremely ungodly. Even Israelites who collected taxes for Herod Agrippa's Roman-empowered regime lived by that standard, and Israel considered them traitors. Even people who were not Israelites spoke kindly to people who were kind to them. If disciples isolated themselves and expressed kindness only among themselves to each other, such behavior was no different to the behavior of people who were not disciples.

As examples, Jesus used types of people that his audience unquestioningly classified as unconcerned about God or His ways. Paraphrased, Jesus said, "Your standard is the common standard of people you consider to be godless people. If your standard only requires you to be kind to those who are kind to you, how is that commitment any different than the commitments of people you regard to be godless people?" Jesus' disciples positively challenge people to consider different perspectives and different forms of behavior through being examples of those perspectives and that behavior. "Consider what I say about the resurrected Jesus because you see his power and place in my life."

Reason three: God Himself is the # 1 standard for spiritual maturity. The issue is, "Where am I spiritually in comparison to God?" The issue is not, "Where am I in comparison to other disciples?" Are you evaluating your mercy? Look at God. Are you evaluating your kindness? Look at God. Are you evaluating your forgiveness? Look at God. God is what He challenges you to become. He is the highest standard.

God Himself is the Christian's [disciple's] highest spiritual standard.


  1. Discuss how Christians can substitute "church membership" or "church attendance" for discipleship.

    To begin this discussion, refer to the thoughts in paragraph two. If the church is Christ's, a disciple should never be torn between a church position and Jesus' attitude/behavior. When a person follows Jesus, the ideal is for his or her attitudes and behavior to reflect the congregation's core concerns.

  2. What are the three demanding relationship challenges in discipleship?

    The Jesus-disciple relationship; the disciple-disciple relationship; the disciple-unbeliever relationship.

  3. When Jesus lived, what was Israel's prevailing view about the treatment of people who were not Israelites? [Remember that most of those who exercised civil authority over them received their power and position from those who were not Israelites.]

    Be kind to people who are kind to you. Be an enemy to people who are an enemy to you.

  4. For what three reasons did Jesus say his disciples would treat enemies kindly?

    Such behavior enabled them to be "sons of God."

    Such behavior exceeded the standard of godless people.

    Such behavior followed God's example, and God Himself was their #1 spiritual standard.

Link to Student Guide Lesson 5

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

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