Read an Excerpt
What Matters Most
Four Absolute Necessities in Following Christ
By Tony Evans
Moody PublishersCopyright © 1997 Anthony T. Evans
All rights reserved.
WHAT MATTERS TO JESUS
If you want to find out what mattered most to someone, read his last words. Usually, whatever a person considers to be most important is on his mind when he comes to his last days on earth. That's why we pay so much attention to last words, especially those of people important to us.
As those who seek to be obedient followers of Jesus Christ, we need to know what matters most to Him so it can matter most to us. Thankfully, we don't have to wonder about it. After His resurrection from the dead, and just before His ascension back into heaven, Jesus told His disciples—and us—what was uppermost on His mind. His last words on earth are recorded for us in Matthew 28:18–20.
Notice verse 19: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations." There it is, the mission of the church, stated in clear and concise terms: to disciple the people of God so that they affect the world for Christ. If Christ's mandate for the church is to make disciples, then His will for us as individual believers is that we would become disciples.
The way we achieve Christ's will for us is what we're going to talk about in the four sections that follow these introductory chapters, what I'm calling four absolute necessities in following Christ: worship, fellowship, Scripture, and evangelism. These are the essential elements in becoming a mature, fully functioning disciple of Jesus Christ.
To be a disciple of Christ means that we become like Him. That's why Jesus said in Matthew 10:25, "It is enough for the disciple that he become as his teacher." So becoming a disciple is where we ought to be heading in our Christian lives. This is the goal toward which we are to aim. In this chapter I want you to see what discipleship is, because before we can begin the process we have to see and understand the goal we're aiming for.
Let me say right off that being a disciple, getting down to the essentials of the Christian life, is a lot different than just going to church once or twice a week. To get excited because the preacher moved you and the choir inspired you is nice, but it's not enough.
To be part of the family of God is to enter a whole new world. It's a whole new orientation to life. Unless we understand what that means and what it involves, we will never arrive at God's intended will for His people.
The goal and the cornerstone of our activity, that which brings God the most glory, is for us to become disciples. God's goal is not salvation; that's just the introduction to God's goal. His desire is that those who are saved become disciples.
It is not enough simply to say, "I'm on my way to heaven." The issue is, are you becoming like the One who is taking you to heaven? That's discipleship, and that's what Christ wants from us.
Let me give a working definition for discipleship that will undergird everything we talk about in this book: "Discipleship is that developmental process of the local church that progressively brings Christians from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity so that they are then able to reproduce the process with someone else."
Notice that this brings discipleship around full circle. Disciples are to turn around and make other disciples. Ultimately, that's how we fulfill the mandate of Matthew 28:18–20.
THE CONCEPT OF DISCIPLESHIP
Discipleship was not a new idea in New Testament times. It was a well-established concept in the Greek world in the centuries before Christ. The word disciple itself means "learner, student," and the Greeks had disciples in the realm of philosophy.
Plato, often called the "father of philosophy," developed a system of thought that dealt with issues of epistemology, or how we gain knowledge, and issues related to the meaning of life. Plato discipled his student Aristotle, who took what he had learned and built "gymnasiums," or academies.
In the ancient world, gymnasiums were not arenas for sporting events. They were training centers to teach students Plato's thought and the system developed by Aristotle, known as Aristotelian logic. The students thus trained were "gymnatized," which is the verb form of the Greek word for gymnasium.
So successful was this discipling process that it allowed the Greeks to influence the whole Greco-Roman world. This process was called "Hellenization," in which people who were not Greek began to adopt Greek thinking, language, and culture. That was all part of this concept of discipleship.
The New Testament picked up this concept and put it in a spiritual context so we would know what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Discipleship involves an apprenticeship in which the apprentice or student is brought toward a particular goal.
The Right Information
Since a disciple is basically a student, one aspect of discipleship is information. In order to become a disciple, you must acquire and master a body of knowledge. So teaching is always part of discipleship. It's one of the four necessities we are going to study.
Jesus was the master Teacher, of course. He taught His twelve disciples the ABC's of what it means to follow Him. In God's Word we have the body of knowledge God wants us to know.
The Right Skills
But knowledge alone does not make you a disciple. You also have to know how to take that information and do something with it. Discipleship involves developing your skills. That's why Jesus would teach His disciples, then take them out into situations where they could apply what they were learning.
All of us know brilliant people who have lots of "book sense," but very little common sense. We wonder how these people can be so smart and yet not be able to function well in the situations of daily life.
That's not what a disciple is supposed to be like. A disciple marries the right information with the skill needed to put it into practice. How important is it that we get this picture?
Well, suppose you need open-heart surgery. The doctor comes into your room the night before the operation and introduces himself. You shake his hand and say, "Doc, this is a serious thing. How many of these have you done before?"
"You're my first one," he answers.
You reply, "Excuse me?"
"You'll be my first open-heart surgery."
"Doc, pull up a chair. We need to talk. How do you know you can do this?"
"Well, I went to four years of college and to medical school, and I made all A's. In fact, I graduated at the top of my class. I know the parts of the body, and I know the surgical instruments I need to use. You have nothing to worry about."
You are going to say, "Passing tests does not make you a surgeon. I want someone in there who has done this before."
So does every other patient! That's why a medical student does an internship and residency. He has to come alongside someone who has been in surgery before, who knows what to do when complications arise and things happen that aren't covered in the textbook. That new doctor's knowledge is very important, but it's not enough. He needs to be shown how to do the operation.
That's discipleship. It occurs when a person brings another person or persons along in such a way that the discipler imparts the right information while modeling the right skill.
This is why you cannot be discipled simply by showing up at church on Sunday morning. Worship is an essential component of following Christ, as we will see. But like knowledge, it's not the whole picture. Discipleship demands someone walking beside you.
We have an example of disciple-making right in our communities: the drug pushers. These guys are slick. They will take a young boy and mold him, giving him the body of information necessary to make a quick dollar, letting him walk beside them as they deal, and then sending him on his own to do what they did.
See, the issue is not whether you are going to be discipled. The issue is, by whom will you be discipled? All of us have people and influences in our lives that shape who we are and what we do. Discipleship demands skills derived from a body of information modeled before you.
I want to make four key observations about the process of becoming a disciple, based on the definition I gave above.
A PROCESS OF SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT
The first thing you need to know about becoming a disciple is that discipleship is a process of spiritual development. I have already quoted Matthew 10:25, but let me give it to you again in context with verse 24: "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become as his teacher, and the slave as his master."
Matthew 10 is a crucial passage on discipleship, and we'll come back to it again. When Jesus said disciples are to become like their teacher, He was making clear that this business of being a disciple is a process.
You do not wake up the day after you are converted and discover that you are a spiritual giant, a fully mature disciple. Spiritual maturity takes time.
This concept reminds me of the story about the farmer who brought his family to the big city for the first time. They were particularly awed by the mall. As the wife toured the stores, the farmer took his son into a bank located in the mall. He saw a very elderly lady enter a room, then a few seconds later a beautiful young woman left the same room. The man looked down at his son and said, "Boy, run and get your mother fast." Unfortunately we cannot be transformed into disciples in just a few minutes—or a few years, for that matter. It takes time.
But the New Testament does not give us a step-by-step timetable for becoming disciples, nor does it have a list of formal, legalistic steps to be followed.
There's a very good reason for this. Although the process of discipleship involves certain basic necessities that are common to all believers, our spiritual experiences are unique to us. So is our rate of spiritual growth. Thus Paul admonishes us to work out our own salvation in fear and trembling.
Therefore, although you cannot control the fact that it takes time to become a disciple, you have a lot to say about how quickly you become a disciple. There are people who have been saved for twenty-five years who are less spiritually developed than people who have been saved five years.
The problem with older believers like this is that although they have had more time than the new believers, they have not grown as they should. Discipleship has to do with spiritual development, not how long you've been a Christian. You can know Christ for years but never develop properly as a disciple.
The Process of Discipleship
Jesus points this out in a picturesque way in Matthew 11:28–30: "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light."
The word learn is the verb form of the word for "disciple." Jesus is saying, "Come and be discipled by Me." This is a wonderful invitation to the process of discipleship.
Jesus also paints a vivid picture of what the process looks like when He speaks of His "yoke." You have probably seen a horse, a mule, or an ox harnessed around the neck and shoulders in order to pull a wagon or a plow. The yoke is put on for three basic reasons.
One reason for wearing a yoke is to bring the animal under submission, under the control of the one sitting on the wagon or the plow and holding the reins. A yoke makes control possible. In discipleship, Christ is seeking our submission. He wants to bring us under His control.
The yoke also speaks of work to be done. It implies responsibility. God saved you to bring upon you the right kind of responsibility.
In other words, when a person yokes something, he does it purposefully. There is something he wants to accomplish. God saved you because He has something He wants your life to accomplish. But you can only fulfill the responsibility when you are yoked together with Christ, under His control.
Finally, the yoke speaks of companionship. When Jesus says, "Take My yoke upon you," He makes clear He is in the yoke too.
It was a common thing in the ancient world, and still is today in some communities, to train a young ox or mule by yoking it with an older, more experienced animal. That way, the young one comes alongside the experienced one to learn how to pull. When the farmer does this, he usually adjusts the yoke so that most of the weight falls on the experienced animal until the younger one gets the hang of it.
When I was a young teenager, my father used to take me with him when he went to preach. He would preach on street corners and give me a fistful of tracts to hand out. Or he would go to a prison to preach and take me with him for the ride.
As far as I was concerned, when it was over, that was it. I didn't realize then that God would later place a call on my life that would necessitate the experiences I had going along with my dad.
When I was in college, I preached on street corners. I preached in prisons. I was the preacher then, but the groundwork of experience was laid for me by my father, who did the work but took me along to show me how it's done.
Jesus says in Matthew 11:28, "If you come unto Me and are weary and heavy-laden, I will give you rest. I will bear the yoke with you, and I will pull the weight" (author's paraphrase).
A Different Level
I said earlier that not every Christian is necessarily a disciple. You can see the difference in verses 28–29. In verse 28, Jesus says, "I will give you rest." But in verse 29, He says, "If you take My yoke, you will find rest" (author's paraphrase). What's the difference? Verse 28 is a position. Verse 29 is an experience.
Whenever the Bible talks about rest, it means the enjoyment of God's provision. In other words, as a believer you have God's rest. But you may not be experiencing that rest in your daily life because you have not accepted the yoke. You have peace with God, but you may not be enjoying the peace of God. The same can be said of joy, power, and a lot of other blessings.
It's not that these things aren't available to us. The problem is that we are not yoked to the One who can give them to us. The yoke implies a different level of commitment.
Matthew 11:28 is an invitation to salvation. Verse 29 is an invitation to the fellowship of discipleship.
A PROGRESSIVE MOVEMENT TOWARD MATURITY
If discipleship is a process of spiritual development, what's the goal toward which we are to develop? It's spiritual maturity: becoming a full-grown, well-developed disciple of Jesus Christ.
Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth, "I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:1). The biblical term for a mature Christian is "spiritual." Paul expected the Corinthians to be maturing in the faith, but instead they were still acting like spiritual babies.
What's interesting is that Paul had gone to Corinth and led these people to Christ about A.D. 50. He wrote 1 Corinthians about A.D. 55. He was saying, "You should be spiritual by now, but you have not used your time well for spiritual development."
A Formula for Growth
This passage points up a very simple formula or guideline for spiritual growth: rate multiplied by time equals distance. That is, the rate at which you grow in your spiritual life in the time you have been allotted determines the distance you will travel down the road of discipleship toward spiritual maturity.
A newborn Christian who dives into the Word and the things of God rather than spending his or her time on other things may burst from the starting blocks and arrive at spiritual maturity faster than a person who has been saved for ten years but is still struggling with the ABC's of the faith. It's your pace that makes the difference.
Excerpted from What Matters Most by Tony Evans. Copyright © 1997 Anthony T. Evans. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.