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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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' 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 5
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