Our Call To Discipleship
teacher's guide Lesson 7

Lesson Seven

The Willingness to See and Learn the Unknown

Text: Matthew 18

The focus of this lesson: stress the essential connection between discipleship and humility.

In America, among the most difficult challenges confronting the person who chooses to be Jesus' disciple is this awareness: "I do not know anything. I need to be taught everything. To develop understanding, I must accept my ignorance." Characteristically, Americans individually and collectively think they know many things and understand most everything. Rarely will you meet an American (a) who will say, "I do not know" [most feel it is better to fake knowledge than to confess ignorance] or (b) who will not have an opinion on most anything.

Though it is not a conscious thing with most of us, Americans sterotypically are regarded as arrogant by other peoples. Americans hold high opinions of themselves. We want the best and want to be the best. We do not like to lose. We do not like to be "number two" in anything. We despise ignorance. Thus, being Jesus' disciple is counter to our inner perception of ourselves. Nowhere is our arrogance more visible than in our knowledge. We hate for anyone to find fault with our knowledge. In our opinion, few things are worse than ignorance. It is completely unacceptable to declare sincerely, "I do not know anything" [when that declaration is not an expression of low self-esteem or low self-image]. Yet, the beginning of discipleship is an awareness of ignorance and the desire to allow Jesus to destroy it.

Discipleship begins with this awareness: "I do not know. I must not hold an inflexible opinion that Jesus cannot redirect. He is my teacher." That attitude forms a challenge for most Americans who would be Jesus' disciples. It is not typical for most of us to declare ignorance [unless we seek to evade responsibility]. It is not typical for us to acknowledge that we totally need to be retaught in order to learn a new set of values.

The basic attitude of a disciple is simple: "Nothing in my mind, my emotions, my behavior, or my life style is 'off limits' to Jesus Christ. He can change me in any way I need to be changed. It is okay for Jesus to redirect my thinking. It is okay for Jesus to remold a conviction. It is okay for Jesus to change my emotions. It is okay for Jesus to destroy a behavior and replace it with a completely different behavior. It is okay for Jesus to redefine the purposes of my life." Being a disciple of being open to being retaught in every area of existence.

Matthew 18:1 states the disciples came to Jesus to ask a question. Jesus used their question to give them several insights. In context, the disciples were the twelve. Perspective: they asked Jesus their question because they perceived his means for determining greatness in the kingdom of heaven [kingdom of God] was different from the ones used to determine greatness in earthly kingdoms.

The critical understanding: the disciples asked this question because they realized Jesus' positon regarding greatness was completely unlike the position held in their world.

Jesus' answer included several attitudes. (1) The primary quality of greatness in the kingdom of heaven is humility. (2) The human humility God values refuses to destroy even the least insignificant disciple. (3) A disciple makes enormous personal sacrifices to prevent his or her own stumbling. (4) God does not wish any disciple to perish. (5) If a brother does evil, make every effort to recover him. (6) "I will be with even two or three who are gathered in my name."

Each attitude Jesus listed directly related to greatness in God's kingdom. Humility directly relates to the way you preceive yourself and the way you preceive other people.

As always, begin your understanding of Jesus' statements to the twelve by understanding the context. The twelve clearly understood that the Herod family did not function on a foundation of humility. In their various positions, power [not humility] determined greatness. These men clearly understood in Roman positions power [not humility] determined greatness. These men clearly understood in Jewish leadership [the Jerusalem Sanhedrin, the high priesthood] power [not humility] determined greatness. The certain way to lose greatness in earthly leadership was to be humble! The humble were trampled! The humble were abused, used, and exploited! How could God's kingdom be the greatest kingdom, but its great ones be humble people?

It is important to understand the context of the situation. Always remember this: Jesus never spoke in a vaccum, and no scripture was ever written in a vaccum. Jesus' teachings and scripture were given to address situations the hearers and readers faced right then. It made "sense" to them in the context of their lives and world. To grasp the meaning of a statement, we must begin by trying to understand the situations of those who first received the statement.

Jesus' answer challenged the twelve because they used power. Remember in Matthew 10:1 Jesus gave these men the power to cast out unclean spirits, to heal every kind of sickness, and to heal every kind of disease? These twelve men did the impossible! They used incredible power to do it! Yet, Jesus said their greatness was not verified by their use of incredible power. Rather, their greatness would be expressed through their humility. Humans value power! God values humility!

It is difficult [and demanding!] to grasp humility's significance and importance when the person is accustomed to occupying a position of power. It is easy [some would say natural] to measure ourselves in terms of the power we use. It is difficult to be genuinely humble.

Consider Jesus. Was his conception a matter of humble servitude or a declaration of power? Was his birth a humble event or powerful event? In his ministry, (a) did he declare, "Let my power exalt me! Kneel before me!" Or, (b) was his ministry based on serving others? Did his arrest cloak him in humility or power? Did his crucifixion reveal his lowliness or his power?

No one had greater power than did Jesus. No one surpassed Jesus in humililty. In Jesus, instead of the use of power exalting, humility served.

At the moment of Jesus' resurrection, who was Lord of lords? Right now, who is Lord of lords? In the final judgment, who will be Lord of lords? How long will your influence for good endure? In a hundred years will you be remembered? Jesus has been Savior for 2000 years! God continues to use his humility to make him Savior!

People [including Christians] seriously question humility's ability to open opportunity's doors for God to exalt. Common epectations in being exalted are too "now" focused. Remember, God did not exalted Jesus to the role of Lord of lords prior to his death.

God used humility to create an eternal Savior. The power to exalt is God's. His promise: "I will exalt the humble." Not even death could prevent God from exalting Jesus.

The power lies in God, not in us. All we can do is allow God to use us. Even when God sent His own son to this world, God achieved His purposes through that son by the means of humility. Even when God through Jesus gave the twelve disciples incredible power, God achieved His purposes through them by the means of humility. If God is to achieve his purposes through us, it will be by the means of humility.

We have so much desire to "make things happen" or to "make a permanent difference" that we too easily deceive ourselves into believing that "we" possess the power to do either or both of those things. We do not have the power to make permanent differences. We have the power [if we learn to rely on God's strength] to surrender. Power is not within our range of choices. Surrender is. God declares the highway to His purposes is the road of humility.

Jesus' disciple refuses to be the cause of stumbling. To cause someone we regard as insignificant to leave God is worse than dying. So horrible are behaviors that cause someone to leave God that a disciple would rather mutilate himself/herself than to cause that departure. Self-mutilation has fewer consequences than causing someone to leave God!

Any person who is Jesus' disciple wants no one to leave God because of him or her, but wants anyone to come closer to God because of him or her. No one is too insignificant to receive concern and caring. No matter how insignificant a person is to us, he or she matters to God. The disciple's attitude: "Numerous ungodly influences from evil may cause people to leave God, but may I never assist evil in that task!"

Why? God highly values the recovery of anyone lost to Him. That is why He sent Jesus. That is why He forgives. That is why He uses grace and mercy to sustain. God made and makes an enormous investment in recovery! Human repentance is the foundation of recovery. Repentance depends on humility. God was the shepherd who sought to recover a single lost sheep. God rejoiced more over a single recovery than over ninety-nine who were secured.

We need constantly to remind ourselves of the enormous investment God made and makes in granting forgiveness to the lost. Those reminders must include a disciple's constant need for God's forgiveness!

Though just one of one hundred was lost, that was unacceptable to the shepherd. He went! He searched! He found! He carried! He rejoiced! Had he not searched, certain death awaited the lost sheep.

God in grace and compassion expressed Himself in Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. Jesus in grace and compassion had disciples for the purpose of revealing to them God's priorities, attitudes, and values. God sent Jesus to reveal His yearning for human recovery. Jesus died to reveal God's yearning for human recovery. Jesus sent his disciples to declare God's yearning for human recovery. A disciple, in God's grace and compassion, goes to the brother [or sister] who sins seeking recovery. Jesus' disciple always will use the approach of a humble heart, never the approach of control through power.

Everything God does in disciples' lives from compassion/forgiveness to re-creation/ transformation is recovery centered.

Humility's approach will not always succeed. Not all respect God's grace and compassion. Not all are moved by Jesus' humble self-sacrifice. God seeks those who want opportunity for recovery. These people have confidence in Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. They express that confidence in repentance. They commit themselves to God's recovery through the new birth. They humble themselves before God. Because they belong to God, they humbly serve others. They are on the road to greatness in God's kingdom because God will exalt them.

Only those who accept God's commitment to their recovery respond to God's desire and efforts. Those who respond realize they have nothing to brag about. God created their opportunity and offered it to them. They merely accepted what God offered. Humbly they surrender, obey, and serve from the motivation of gratitude, not the motivation of deservedness.

These people may never be huge in number, but they will never be forsaken by God.

God does not focus on numbers. The shepherd searched for one. Jesus is found with even two or three who gratefully realize what God did [does] through him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In a disciple, how does humility before God express itself in humility toward people? Consider the attitudes stated in 2 Timothy 2:24-26.

    The person who is humble before God is humble in his or her treatment of and association with all humans, for all humans were made in God's image. Note James' reasoning in James 3:9, 10. Disciples even approach those who resent or defy God with the realization that these people reject God, not them. Those people must redirect themselves. The power does not lie in the disciple who loves God. It lies in God. A disciple is never God, therefore he or she always approaches others with humility. Consider Galatians 6:1.

  2. Contrast power's control to humility's concern.

    Power's basic concern is control. "Do what I tell you to do. Your understanding is insignificant. Do not think. Do not seek understanding. Just accept what I teach you." Humility's basic concern is faith. "Think. Understand. Believe. Act because of your faith."

Link to Student Guide Lesson 7

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

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