(Note: I’m taking a break from writing original material for The Daily Word for the next month. I’ll be posting vintage TDW on the Sermon on the Mount during this time. ~ George)
Are you a student of Jesus?
In the Book of Acts, Luke uses a variety of terms to designate Christ’s followers, including “believers” (5.14), “brothers” (6.3, 10.23), “Christians” (11.26, 26.28) “the church of the Lord” (20.28), and “saints” (Acts 9.13, 32, 41), among others. But one of the earliest and most common terms of self-designation was “disciple” (6.1, 2, 7). Christians were then and are now nothing if they are not disciples of Jesus Christ.
But what precisely is a disciple? Webster’s Dictionary defines a disciple this way: “One who receives instruction from another; a scholar; a learner; especially, a follower who has learned to believe in the truth of the doctrine of his teacher; an adherent in doctrine; as, the disciples of Plato; the disciples of our Savior.”* A disciple, in other words, is a student.
According to Matthew 5.1, 2, “when [Jesus] saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teaching them, saying….” These two verses paint a picture of a truly Christian education: Jesus is the Teacher. All people are (or can be) his students. Any little spot on earth will suffice as his classroom. And the sermon is our textbook. The only question is whether we will attend the school of Christ.
Unfortunately, Webster’s dictionary might mislead us into thinking that the school of Christ is a place of information exchange. Notice how it defines a disciple as “an adherent in doctrine.” Such a definition is fine as far as it goes, only it does not go far enough. Jesus is not merely interested in informing our minds with doctrine—although he does precisely that. He is most interested in transforming our hearts through his teaching. And that is why, it seems to me, his teaching methodology utilizes so many forms of speech. Jesus uses overstatement (Matt. 5.29, 30), hyperbole (7.3–5), simile (6.29), metaphor (5.13, 14), proverb (6.21, 34), paradox (5.5, 6.17–18, 7.15), questions (7.9–10), and poetic parallelism (5.39–40), among other forms of speech.
Consider Matthew 5.29: “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” Jesus could have said, “Lust is wrong and results in judgment.” That is the information content of this verse. But Christ’s specificity (“right eye”) and call for drastic action (“gouge it out”) and pithy proverb (“It is better…”) better communicate the nature and severity of the problem. By using overstatemen, Christ prepares us emotionally for our need of transformation.
The other day, I came across this passage in Dallas Willard’s excellent book, The Divine Conspiracy:
“You are somebody’s disciple. You learned how to live from somebody else. There are no exceptions to this rule, for human beings are just the kind of creatures that have to learn and keep learning from others how to live. Aristotle remarked that we owe more to our teachers than to our parents, for though our parents gave us life, our teachers taught us the good life.”
So, once again, are you a student of Jesus? He teaches for transformation. And if you listen, you will discover the good life, the life that God truly blesses.