A Manual For Discipleship

Disciples - Be Blessed

 

Thus far in our study of the gospel of Matthew as a Manual For Discipleship, we have seen that disciples are frequently chosen from what might be described as the dregs of life. Jesus often uses people who have previously led sinful lives but who have repented and turned their lives over to Him. Once a person turns their lives over to Jesus, Jesus becomes the preeminent Person in their lives (1:1-17; 28:18-20). We have also seen that the life of a disciple begins and continues with Jesus in the enabling and power of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who reveals the need for Jesus in a person’s life. It is the Spirit who communicates the call of Jesus to discipleship to a person. It is the Spirit who reveals the substance of God’s word to a disciple. It is the Spirit who makes the presence of Jesus known to a disciple. It is the Spirit who prepares and empowers a disciple for service (1:18-25; 3:1-17). We saw in chapter 2 and in the first eleven verses of chapter four that just as the devil has opposed Jesus from His miraculous incarnating birth throughout His earthly ministry, so too the disciple can expect to be attacked and tempted by the devil (2:1-23; 4:1-11).

 

A Message Specifically For Disciples

 

Matthew 5:1 – “And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him.”  [1]

In chapter five of the gospel of Matthew we come to what is popularly referred to as “The Sermon on the Mount.” And the first part of this well known sermon by Jesus is referred to as “The Beatitudes” (5:1-12).  Nine times in these first twelve verses of chapter five, Jesus uses the term “blessed.” The term “blessed” may be understood to mean, “Oh how happy!” (“Beatitudes” comes from the Latin translation of the term beatus which is the Latin word for the English “blessed.”) The opening verse to chapter five seems to indicate that Jesus separates himself from the “multitudes” and prepares to deliver a message that is meant specifically for “disciples.” There may have been part of the multitude within earshot of what Jesus was about to teach, but there can be no doubt that Jesus is focusing on the disciples as the target group for His teaching.

 

Since this teaching of Jesus is directed specifically to “disciples” (5:1), we can surmise that the teaching that follows is particularly true for a disciple. This is important to note. It is only those who have answered the call to discipleship that can truly relate to and step into by faith, the promises of blessing Jesus teaches about in this passage. The only way you can make sense of the Beatitudes is to view them from the point of discipleship.  A person out of the multitude or an unbeliever may consider these words but they won’t fully grasp there meaning unless they are a disciple. The unbeliever and uncommitted will have a hard time understanding the things that Jesus says bring blessing to the disciple.  The disciple on the other hand will take great joy and comfort in the blessings promised by Jesus to the one who answers the call to discipleship

 

The first twelve verses of Matthew 5 are introductory words of Jesus to the larger teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus begins by identifying the nature and heart of a true disciple as well as the path a disciple takes that leads to blessing. These opening verses tell us who is a true disciple according to Jesus and what brings (or should bring) happiness and fulfillment to the disciple of Jesus Christ.

 

What Is A Disciple?

 

The Beatitudes are a teaching of Jesus on The Making of a Disciple. This series of nine “blessed” statements by Jesus shows the steps or stages of becoming a disciple. Therefore the Beatitudes are important because they are an introduction not only into this great teaching referred to as the Sermon on the Mount, but they represent the pathway to discipleship. In the opening verses before we even get to the Beatitudes we see the first evidence of what a disciple is.

 

Disciples Come to Jesus

 

Matthew 5:1c- “, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him.”  [2]

At the end of verse one here it says, “His disciples came to Him.” The first characteristic of a disciple is that a disciple comes to Jesus. We have already seen this in our previous studies but here we see it in action. The disciple is one who has responded by faith in Christ to “repent” as Jesus said:

  • Matthew 4:17 – “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  [3]

Repentance

To repent means to turn from your life of sin where you are the lord and king. This turn is done by admitting one’s sinfulness and that one needs a Savior, Jesus Christ. Repentance is depending on Christ in faith. The person turns from sin  to God in Christ and receives forgiveness for their sin and is indwelled by the Holy Spirit (regeneration.) This work of salvation done by God in a person is the prerequisite for discipleship. The merely religious who have yet to invite Christ into their lives and receive the Holy Spirit are not eligible for discipleship. The disciples of the gospels are a special case in that the Spirit is not given as it is in our present time until after Jesus resurrection (John 20:22).

The Spirit In Them

A disciple must have the Spirit in them to be a disciple. Verses in support of this are as follows:

  • John 14:16-17 - “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—17 “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.”  [4]
  • John 20:22 – “And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  [5]
  • Romans 8:5-11 – “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.10 And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” [6]
  • Titus 3:5 – “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,”  [7]

The Spirit Upon Them

As we have seen in our previous studies the disciple does not continue on in their own strength serving the Lord but is empowered by the Holy Spirit who comes upon them, or overflows them. Jesus said:

  • Acts 1:8 - “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  [8]

In the opening verses of the beatitudes we will see how a person comes to be a disciple. The Beatitudes therefore are a teaching by Jesus on The Making of a Disciple. The disciple answers and obeys that still small voice from the Spirit within to come to Jesus.

Disciples Come To Jesus To Be Taught

Matthew 5:1-2 – “. . . His disciples came to Him.2 Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:”  [9]

For what reason does the disciple come to Jesus. A disciple comes to Jesus to be taught. A disciple is one taught by Jesus. The disciple does not merely “listen” to the teachings of Jesus or attend places where such teachings are given, but a disciple appropriates and applies in the Spirit the teachings of Jesus, the word of God.

Disciples Obey God’s Word

Before we jump to conclusions about who is a disciple we need to understand that what is implied is that not only is a disciple taught by Jesus, but the disciple applies in the Spirit to their lives that which they have been taught. A disciple lives out in the Spirit the teachings of Jesus. A disciple obeys Jesus. Later in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus will make this clear when He says:

  • Matthew 7:21-27 - “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.22 “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’23 “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ 24 “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock:25 “and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.26 “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand:27 “and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”  [10]

 James, the half brother of Jesus, passed this truth on when he emphasized this in his epistle when he wrote:

  • James 1:22-24 – “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror;24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.”  [11]

The word “disciple” is translated from the Greek term MATHETES (Strong’s # 3101) which literally means, “a learner; a pupil.” Vine’s Expository Dictionary states the that MATHETES  means, “a learner” (from manthano, “to learn,” from a root math—, indicating thought accompanied by endeavor).” [12]Thought accompanied by endeavor,” there is the distinctive quality of a disciple; a disciple applies to life that which they are taught by Jesus in the Spirit. A disciple walks the talk.

Disciples Obey Jesus Teachings With The Right Heart Attitude

 But if we were to stop there in our definition of a disciple we would fall short of what a disciple truly is. You see a disciple is not merely someone who hears the teaching of Jesus and then endeavors to apply it or live it, a disciple goes to the next level and endeavor’s to apply Christ’s teaching in the Spirit with the proper attitude of heart. Heart attitude is the main focus of the beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount.

 

The right attitude of heart is what separates the disciple from the legalistic do-gooder. Unlike the legalistic person who lives by a set of rules of dos and don’ts, the disciple is permeated through and through by the Spirit and has had spiritual heart surgery so that their hearts are right with God. In truth, the disciple may not even do the right thing at times, but their hearts are always rightly motivated nonetheless. What the disciple does is done in love. As we look through the progression of the beatitudes we will see the development of love in the disciple.

 

The Beatitudes – Jesus’ Definition of a Disciple

 

The Beatitudes of Jesus are a definition of what a disciple is, the making of a disciple. As such, the Beatitudes are the attitudes a disciple has, they represent the heart of a disciple. Some of the things Jesus refers to as “blessed” don’t seem so blessed to those who aren’t interested in becoming a disciple. But to those who are interested in becoming a disciple of Jesus who is useable to their loving Master and Lord, they are very much “blessed” because they represent the pathway to loving service of their loving Lord. That is the heart of what it means to be a disciple.

 

To understand the beatitudes you have to look at them not only from the perspective of a disciple, but as a whole, as steps in the process of the making of a disciple. Each time Jesus says, “blessed,” it is as though he is encouraging the person to continue through each step of the process of becoming a disciple because at the end, at the finish line, is the “great . . . reward in heaven,” of fulfillment and true happiness, of blessedness.

 

Furthermore, we have already seen in our study of temptation (Matthew 4:1-11), that the disciple experiences an inner battle against the sin nature or the flesh. The beatitudes of Jesus cut against the flesh nature of the disciple. As we examine the Beatitudes of Jesus, we will come heart to heart with Him. The beatitudes shine the light of the Lord, the supreme Disciple-Maker, on the heart of the prospective disciple. As we look at these precious words of the supreme Disciple-Maker, we should be asking ourselves prayerfully, does this describe me?

 

Let’s turn now to Jesus’ definition of a disciple.

 

Step One – Poverty of spirit.

 

Matthew 5:3 - “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” [13]

The person who comes to God must come on their knees. And this is especially true of the disciple. No one comes to God proudly, and if they endeavor to do so, they are coming with the wrong attitude of heart. Poverty of spirit is the opposite of pride. To be “poor in spirit,” is to be humbled by the presence, in the presence, of God.

The kingdom of heaven,” is God’s rule in you. A day will come when Jesus sets up a physical kingdom on earth (Revelation 20). But here and now God’s kingdom comes as Christ rules in the hearts of people. Christ’s rule in a person is a blessed state that only those who realize their spiritual poverty, their spiritual bankruptcy, are able to enter.  The only way to gain access to the kingdom of heaven is to come on your knees, when a person realizes that they are blessed.

When Isaiah recounted his experience of coming into the presence of God it shows how he experienced his utter poverty of spirit. Isaiah was inspired to write:

  • Isaiah 6:1-5 – “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.2 Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.3 And one cried to another and said: 1 “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!”4 And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.5 So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.”  [14] (Emphasis added.)

“Woe is me, for I am undone!” That is the cry of one who is poor in spirit. To be poor in spirit is to realize your utter sinfulness before a holy God.

One day early in their experience with Jesus the disciples were out fishing. Now fishing was something they thought they knew something about. They had fished all day without catching anything and now had come to shore where they were washing their nets. Jesus walked over to them and told them to push on out a little ways from the land. Peter was likely thinking that this preacher didn’t know what He was talking about, but to appease Him, he obeyed. The account in Luke was as follows:

  • Luke 5:1-11 – “So it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret,2 and saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets.3 Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat.4 When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”5 But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.”6 And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking.7 So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken;10 and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.”11 So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him.”  [15]

“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” These are the words of the poor in spirit. Again, to be poor in spirit is to realize your utter sinfulness before a holy God.

To be poor in spirit is to be put in your place.  Poverty of spirit is evidence of a true encounter with God in Christ. A person may look at those around them and surmise that, “I’m not such a bad person.” That’s a wrong perception. A wooly lamb looks white and clean up against a green grass background, but put that wooly lamb up against a crystal white snowy background and you begin to see all the dirty knots in it’s wool. A pig who looks at his fellow pigs in the pig trough and says, ‘I’m not so dirty compared to those guys.” The problem with comparing yourself with other people is that they are not God’s standard for gaining access to His kingdom, Jesus is (John 16:8-11). Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me” (John 14:6). We may measure up quite well compared to other people, but that isn’t God’s standard, Jesus is. Anyone out there as good, as perfect, as loving, as sinless and serving as Jesus? No, I didn’t think so. When you come into the presence of God, the depth of your sinfulness is exposed. That realization of your utter sinfulness is what it means to be “poor in spirit.”

There is a dangerous and deadly reinterpretation of the gospel of Christ being thrown around in our day. The “new” gospel or way of interpreting the gospel is diametrically opposed to the concept of poverty of spirit in that it states that salvation is going from low self-esteem to high self-esteem. Nothing, but nothing could be further from the truth. The first step in salvation and discipleship is to go from high self-esteem (self-exaltation; self-centeredness, et.al) to low self-esteem, or in reality God-esteem. God esteem or the esteeming of God is the only esteem a child of God should ever have.

Discipleship begins with poverty of spirit, humility, a humble heart attitude. There is no swagger in the walk or heart of a disciple. How about you, are you poor in spirit? Or do you think you are too good, or too bad to be a disciple of Jesus? Come on your knees before the Lord and He will bless you.

Step Two – Pained Over Sin

Matthew 5:4 – “Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.”  [16]

Having come into the presence of Jesus by the Spirit and having as a result, come also to the realization of your utter sinfulness, the next step is to experience the pain, grief or mourning over the sin that has been revealed in you. The grief or mourning over sin that is referred to here is not a mere shedding of tears. Esau shed a lot of tears after he realized what he had done by selling his birthright for a bowl of stew. But what he lacked was repentance as the writer of Hebrews states:

  • Hebrews 12:16-17 – “lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright.17 For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.”  [17]

The tears God is looking for are not the ones of those who cry because they have lost something or because they have been caught red-handed doing something wrong. The tears God seeks in the prospective disciple are ones that flow from a heart broken over the realization that sin and offense have been committed against the God of love. This spiritual remorse over sin is conveyed by Paul in 2 Corinthians where it states:

  • 2 Corinthians 7:10 – “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.”  [18]

Worldly tears flow from a selfish awareness of personal loss. Spiritual sorrow flows from a heart that is sincerely sorry and committed to change so the same offense does not reoccur. This later sorrow will meet with the comforting response of Christ. Comfort for the one sorrowing over their sin comes through confessing their sin to the Lord and finding forgiveness and cleansing. The apostle John pointed this out when he was inspired to write:

  • 1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  [19]

The disciple who mourns over their utter sinfulness is on the blessed track of finding comfort in the Savior Jesus Christ. How about you, are you sincerely grief stricken by sin in your life? Are you sorry enough to repent, to commit yourself to the Lord and seek His help so that you will not repeat your sin? There is blessed comfort in the arms of Jesus our Savior (Acts 9:29-31; Romans 15:4; 2 Corinthians 1:3; 7:6).

Step Three – Not Proud, But Meek, Dependent Upon God

Matthew 5:5 – “Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.”  [20]

The term “meek” is translated from the Greek term PRAUS (Strong’s #4239). The term PRAUS  literally means, “mildness of disposition, gentleness of spirit, meekness.” It is described in the Enhanced Strong’s Concordance in the following way:

“Meekness toward God is that disposition of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting. In the OT, the meek are those wholly relying on God rather than their own strength to defend them against injustice. Thus, meekness toward evil people means knowing God is permitting the injuries they inflict, that He is using them to purify His elect, and that He will deliver His elect in His time. (Is. 41:17, Lu. 18:1-8) Gentleness or meekness is the opposite of self-assertiveness and self-interest. It stems from trust in God’s goodness and control over the situation. The gentle person is not occupied with self at all. This is a work of the Holy Spirit, not of the human will. (Gal. 5:23).” [21]

“The meek,” therefore, appears to refer to those who have turned their self over to God. The person who has realized their spiritual poverty, come to mourn over their spiritual bankruptcy, when accepted by God through faith in Christ, comes to God submissively. This is a perfect description of a disciple’s heart attitude. As we will see later in the beatitudes, the disciple may face persecution, but because they are meek, they will count even the difficulties that God allows in their life as blessed realizing and trusting that they are being used by God to achieve a greater good in His overall plan. The meek disciple is blessed because he or she knows that whatever God allows to happen to them, God is working a greater good and portion of His overall plan.

Paul realized this when he was inspired to write:

  • Romans 8:28 – “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” [22]

The disciple who is meek, trusting in God no matter what, that disciple will inherit or be victorious in the earth because nothing this world throws at him will deter him or her.

A good example of a meek heart is found in the life of the Old Testament figure Joseph. Joseph was a gifted youth whose brothers sold him into slavery because they were jealous of him. Once in slavery he was wrongly accused and imprisoned. Throughout all the hardship that came Joseph’s way, he was able, in God’s strength, to rise above it. In fact God used his circumstances to save his entire family as well as the seed of Israel. How did he do this? With the meekness of heart that uttered the words:

  • Genesis 45:3-8 – “Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph; does my father still live?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed in his presence.4 And Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come near to me.” So they came near. Then he said: “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt.5 “But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.6 “For these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting.7 “And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.8 “So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.”  [23]
  • Genesis 50:20 -  “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”  [24]

Another aspect of meekness is that, meekness is not weakness but strength or self  under control.  It has been said that the best way to describe what it means to be meek is to hyphenate the word so that it reads, “ME-EK,” implying that meekness is self under control. The only way such control can be attained and lived out is in the power of the Spirit who comes into the heart and life of the one who has repented and accepted Jesus as their Savior and Lord.

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he teaches on the life in the Spirit and how depending upon the Spirit in faith leads to fruit born in life. If the disciple walks in and follows after the Spirit he or she will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh and will bear spiritual fruit one of which is “self-control.” Paul writes:

  • Galatians 5:16 – “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”  [25]
  • Galatians 5:22-23a – “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,23 gentleness, self-control.”  [26] (Emphasis added.)

Therefore, those who have realized their depth of sin, come to a godly sorrow over it and repented, have been born again of the Spirit and now are walking in the Spirit, these will “inherit the earth,” or live victoriously here on earth.

How about you, are you trusting in God no matter what comes your way? Is your flesh under control? Are you walking in the Spirit?

Step Four – Spiritually Alive Pursuers of God

Matthew 5:6 – “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.” [27]

Those who are fully surrendered to God and meekly trusting Him no matter what are also those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Hunger and thirst are signs of life, in this case, spiritual life! Only the dead show no signs of hunger or thirst whether it be regarding physical or spiritual life. Therefore, this step shows evidence of spiritual life in the life of the believer and disciple,  they are blessed with spiritual life. This spiritual life comes from God and cannot be bought or attained through any effort or work of our own. See in the following verses that spiritual life comes only through the grace of the life-giving Triune God:

  • Psalm 36:9 – “For with You is the fountain of life; In Your light we see light.”  [28]
  • Ezekiel 37:14 - “I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it,” says the Lord.’ ” [29]
  • John 5:21-24 - “For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will.22 “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son,23 “that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. 24 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.”  [30]
  • John 14:6 – “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  [31]
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17 – “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”  [32]
  • James 1:18 – “Of His own will He brought us forth [Greek APOKUEO – Strong’s 616:  “to give birth” ;gave us spiritual life] by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.”  [33] (See also John 3:3-8; Acts 26:18; Romans 6:4; 1 John 3:9; Galatians 2:20)

Spiritual life is evidenced by a desire to know God and continue in a personal relationship with Him. Disciples are pursuers of God and His righteous ways, His righteous word. Now you might say, “Well, don’t religious people pursue God and isn’t that a sign of spiritual life?”  Not necessarily; the difference between a pursuit of God that flows from religious motivations and one that flows from spiritual life is that the religious person pursues God to attain eternal life through their works, the spiritual person pursues God because spiritual life has already been put in them. The religious rely on their own efforts and works (which can never satisfy or attain eternal life  - Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5); the spiritual rely on God’s grace and are motivated by the love present by the Spirit to motivate them (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). The religious pursue as seekers of what they do not have; the spiritual pursue God because they want to deepen what they already have. The religious pursue God to make themselves righteous before Him (an impossibility – Isaiah 61:10; 64:6); the spiritual have been made righteous through faith in Christ and so pursue God to continue the personal saving relationship with Him in the Spirit (2 Corinthians 5:16-21).

As far as the nature of this pursuit of God or “hunger and thirst,” the grammatical form of the Greek terms “hunger and thirst,” (Present Tense verbs) implies not a single point of hunger but an ongoing continual hunger. True happiness for the disciple will result from a constant and ongoing hunger and thirst for “righteousness,” or right living in the sight of God. This implies a spiritual vitality and insatiable desire to know more about God and experience all He has for the disciple.

Jesus promised that those who hungered and thirsted for His righteous would experience the blessing of being “filled” by Him. What kind of filling can the disciple expect? Jesus elaborated on what He meant when He made the following promise to those who have such ongoing spiritual hunger:

  • John 7:37-39 – “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.38 “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”39 But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”  [34]

Peter exhorted his readers to have this type of hunger and thirst when he was inspired to write:

  • 1 Peter 2:2 – “as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby,”  [35]

Have you ever seen a baby that was hungry? A baby who is hungry won’t take “no,” for an answer; they want to be fed and they want to be fed now! We should not take form this that we should be demanding in any way toward God, but we should have the same sense of desire, necessity, and priority when it comes to our spiritual appetite.

When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, do you remember what He said in one of His responses? Jesus said:

  • Matthew 4:4 – “But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ”   [36]

In the Old Testament God gave Joshua some important instructions before he went in to occupy the Promised Land. We need to take these words to heart:

  • Joshua 1:8 - “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”  [37]

And later that great book of Psalms begins with the words:

  • Psalm 1:1-6 – “Blessed is the man 1 Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night.3 He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper.4 The ungodly are not so, But are like the chaff which the wind drives away.5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the ungodly shall perish.”  [38]

How about you, how’s your spiritual appetite? Are you starving because you have failed to drink from Jesus fountain of the Spirit? Have you been neglecting a regular meal in the word of God? Ask God to give you a hunger and thirst for Him and His word and you will be on the road to spiritual fulfillment and happiness. Jesus promises to fill you. Disciple, devour God’s word and you will be blessed (2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16-17).

Step Five – Empathetic People of Mercy

Matthew 5:7 – “Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.”  [39]

If justice is when one gets what one deserves, then Mercy is not getting what one deserves. God is merciful with us in that we do not get the judgment that we deserve for our sins, but through faith in Christ we are offered forgiveness, mercy. There is a blessedness in being merciful.

Mercy is not the natural inclination of people. If they find themselves in a position of power or advantage over another they are likely to take that advantage and press it to its fullest extent. You might say, “Oh, I’m not like that, I’d let people off the hook if in such a situation.” Maybe, if the offense was inconsequential. But what if someone greatly offended you, or hurt you, or did some irreparable or heinous damage to you? Would you be inclined to show mercy then? Is there a limit to what act you would show mercy to? With God there is no limit, all offenders can find mercy at the cross of Christ through faith in Christ. Read what the Bible says about God’s mercy:

  • Psalm 51:1 – “Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.”  [40]
  • Lamentations 3:22-23 – “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not.23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.”  [41]
  • Titus 3:5 – “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,”  [42]
  • 1 Peter 1:3-4 – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,”  [43]

Mercy can only flow from a heart of love. A disciple must have a heart of mercy. But as mentioned above, this cuts against our nature. Our natural inclination is to get revenge when someone wrongs us. We want our pound of flesh. But the disciple, who has been born again of the Spirit, has God’s love poured out into him or her. As Paul writes:

  • Romans 5:5 – “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”  [44] (Emphasis added.)

You see, only the disciple who has seen his or her own spiritual poverty, come to mourn over it, adopted a meek trust in God and is thirsty for all God has for them, only such a person can truly understand and show mercy.  The Complete Biblical Library states that the term translated “mercy’ here (i.e. Greek ELEOS) means, “total identification with the other person’s situation.”  Only the disciple who has come to grips with his or her own sinfulness can empathize with the sin in others. The disciple can be merciful because they have experienced God’s loving mercy.

The key here is love. A person can’t or won’t identify with another mercifully unless truly motivated by love. Without love one doesn’t care to empathize. This leads us to the truth which is that Love is the essential ingredient of the disciple. And that love can only come form God.

Love - The Essential Ingredient of a Disciple

 

What is the only acceptable motivation for that done by all believers? Love, love is the essential ingredient! Paul wrote that whatever a person does without a loving motivation is worthless. You can speak in tongues, prophecy, have great knowledge, have great faith, you can give all your goods to the poor and even be martyred, but if you aren’t motivated by God’s love it all counts for nothing. Read what Paul said:

 

  • 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 – “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  [45]

In Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians he reiterated the necessity of God’s love as a motivating force in all that the Christian does by saying:

  • 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 – “For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died;15 and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.”  [46]

While Jesus does not use the word “love” in the Beatitudes, certainly the compelling love referred to by the apostle Paul under-girds the message of Jesus. How about you, are you merciful toward those who wrong you? Are you willing to forgive and forget?

What does Jesus mean when He says, “shall obtain mercy”? Is Jesus speaking about something that is worked for? Is this works righteousness? If so it contradicts God’s gracious plan of salvation. The grammatical structure of the Greek term mercy, (Greek ELEEO – Strongs’ # 1653) is in the Passive Voice which implies the person is receiving the action. In what sense does the merciful receive mercy? The definition of the word is to, “have compassion (pity on), have (obtain, receive, shew) mercy (on).” [47] The one who shows mercy does not receive mercy as if a works transaction takes place that earns mercy form God. This would contradict God’s gracious plan of salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5). But  the mercy received by the one who shows mercy, is the blessed understanding and experience of the Christ-like attribute of mercy. The disciple who is merciful is blessed because they learn the Christ-like heart attitude of being merciful. This is a blessing to the disciple because the disciple’s heart desire is to become more and more like Jesus.

The Disciple Is Not Saved By Their Love

We need to add here that unless a person has been born again of the Spirit no work or act of love will justify them before God. The disciple can only start in the process of discipleship by receiving the free gift of salvation by God’s grace through faith alone in Christ alone. We are not saved by our love; we are saved by grace through faith. God is the one who puts the love in us and that can only happen if we are saved by His grace. The apostle Paul clarifies this when he writes:

  • Ephesians 2:8-10 – “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”  [48]
  • Titus 3:4-6 – “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared,5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior,”  [49]

The following true story of John Stanescu of Romania in the 1960s illustrates mercy flowing from God’s love in the life of a disciple:

The Russian colonel entered the cell carrying the cane used for beating prisoners. As director of the slave labor camp, he had been informed that someone had dared to preach the Gospel. ‘Who is the culprit?’ he demanded. When no one responded, he said, ‘Well, then all will be flogged.’

He started at one end of the cell. Soon the air was filled with the usual yelling and tears. When he came to Stanescu, he said, ‘Not yet ready? Strip this minute!’

As he stood up, the Romanian deacon John Stanescu replied, ‘There is a God in heaven, and He will judge you.’ With this, John’s fate was sealed. Everyone knew he would surely be beaten to death. There was a sudden hush.

At that moment, a guard saying, ‘colonel Albon, you are called urgently to the office. Some high-ranking generals have come from the Ministry.’

            The colonel left, saying to Stanescu, ‘We will see each other again soon.’

However, things did not turn out as the colonel had planned. Communists hate and often jail each other for no reason, and the generals had come that day to arrest the colonel! After an hour, Colonel Albon was back in the cell, this time as a prisoner.

Many inmates jumped at him to lynch him. But Stanescu jumped to his defense, shielding the defeated enemy with his own body. He received many blows himself as he protected the torturer from the flogged prisoners. Stanescu was a real priest, a royal priest.

A Christian prisoner later asked him, ‘Where did you get the power to do this/”

He replied, ‘I love Jesus ardently. I always have Him before my eyes. I also see Him in my enemy. It is Jesus who keeps then from doing even worse things.

‘The grace of God brings about His blessings in the spiritual and material realms. As His children, we do not have to be buffeted about by all the torments that afflict the world. Even when trouble comes, the sunlight of God is shining, and there is peace within us.’”[50]

Maybe if we kept Jesus and His love always before our eyes, we would be able to be merciful to the unmerciful.

Step Six – Pure in Heart

Matthew 5:8 – “Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.”  [51]

Only God can purify a heart. And the means God uses to purify our hearts is often manifested in situations where we are given opportunity to show people mercy. It is by showing others mercy that we come to truly understand the heart of God who showed us mercy. Showing others mercy purifies the disciple’s heart from their flesh and helps him or her “see God,” in a deeper, clearer way. Therefore, the consideration of the pure in heart flows naturally from that of the merciful. Showing mercy to others as an act of dependence upon the Spirit and a turning away form our natural fleshly inclination is used by God to bring about spiritual maturity in the life of the disciple. Those who trust God in this way truly come to “see God.” To show mercy is Christ-like, God-like, and leads to the disciple’s heart purification in the Spirit.

As we have said above, mercy cannot be shown apart from the love of God present and at work by the Spirit in the heart of the disciple. The link between showing mercy and purity of heart is echoed by Peter in his first epistle. In the first epistle of Peter, Peter is inspired to write:

  • 1 Peter 1:22 – “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart,”  [52]

Love and mercy go hand in hand and are a product of “obeying the truth through the Spirit.” This is something worked into the disciple by the Spirit and cannot be worked out in the disciple’s own strength. God who is merciful reveals Himself to the disciple who shows mercy and is purified of heart in the process. That this is done in faith trusting in God is pointed out in the following verses:

  • Acts 15:8-9 - “So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us,9 “and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.”  [53]

As the disciple trusts in God meekly in all circumstances, showing mercy to others, God cleanses and purifies the heart from the flesh. The heart is like a car windshield covered with the wintery debris of salt and dirt from the road, it needs to be washed clean so you can see through it. God is the one who washed the heart of self so that you can see Him clearly. Meekly trusting in God is the way to the heart cleansing of God. Trust in God, by faith in the Spirit, and you will be clean and you will see God.

Step Seven – Peacemakers

Matthew 5:9 – “Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.”  [54]

When God’s love is working in a disciple’s heart peace is the result. When God’s peace is experienced along with His love, the disciple cannot but seek to share it. Therefore, the disciple becomes a “peacemaker.” This “peacemaker” is not just someone who breaks up fights or is diplomatic. That is what the world views the peacemaker to be. But the peacemaker Jesus is referring to is much more than that.

What is a peacemaker? A peacemaker is one who shares the peace available through faith in Christ. Paul spoke of this peace when he was inspired to write:

  • Romans 5:1-2 – “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”  [55]

The disciple who has progressed through these steps or stages is brought to the place of reproduction. Jesus called the disciples to, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” The peacemaker is the disciple who is now sharing his or her faith and leading others into the blessedness of discipleship.

Disciple, do you know how to share the gospel? Do you have a plan? I don’t believe that canned evangelism is always the best or only way to share the gospel, but there is something to be said for being ready to share the gospel. The gospel can be summed up simply in that “all fall short of the glory of God, all have sinned (Romans 3:23); “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a);  “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our  Lord” (Romans 6:23b); God showed us sinners how much He loves us by sending His only Son Jesus to die on the cross for us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8); all a person needs to do to be saved is call on the name of the Lord (Romans 10:13); believing or trusting in heart that Jesus died for our sins and raised from the dead and confess Him as your Lord with your mouth (Romans 10:8-9); Lastly, once you have put your faith in Christ, surrender your life entirely to Him (Romans 12:1-2). This is often referred to as the Roman Road to salvation since it is based on a series of verses in the book of Romans.

Another clear and concise way to share the gospel with the lost is to use three words, Admit, Agree, and Accept. For someone to be saved from their sin they must first Admit they are sinners. The Bible teaches that all fall short of God’s glorious standard to enter heaven (Romans 3:23); if you have broken one of God’s laws at any time in your life, you are guilty and unworthy to enter heaven (Galatians 3:10; James 2:10; Romans 3; 6:23). Once a person admits their utter sinfulness they need to Agree that Jesus is the way to deal with their sin problem. God sent His only Son to provide a way to be forgiven and freed from the bondage of sin (John 3:16) and He is the only acceptable means to deal with sin as far as God is concerned (Matthew 26:39-46; John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Once the sinner has admitted their sinfulness and that Jesus is the way to deal with this sin, the glorious good news of the gospel is presented which is that they need to Accept by faith the gift of salvation provided by God. You cannot work off your sin or compensate for it in any self-effort; you simply must receive what God has done for you through Christ on the cross (John 1:12; Romans 5:1-2; Ephesians 2:1-9; Titus 3:4-5).

There are other ways to share the gospel and if you prayerfully depend upon the Spirit to guide you when the opportunity arises, He will speak through you with just the right words. Remember, we are not called to convert anyone, we are simply called to share the gospel, and God does the converting. Not everyone who we share with will accept the gospel; some indeed will find it offensive. But the Bible warns us of this (Galatians 5:11) and simply tells us to be ready to share with people. Peter put it well when he was inspired to write:

  • 1 Peter 3:14-16 – “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.”15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;16 having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.”  [56]

A fruitful disciple is a faithful disciple.

The life of a disciple as peacemaker is very practical. The disciple shares the gospel in word but he or she also shares it by the life they live. Paul is inspired to write:

  • Romans 12:18-21 – “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.20 Therefore 1 “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  [57]
  • 2 Corinthians 3:2-3 – “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men;3 clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.”  [58]

The Living Bible paraphrase of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians bring the practical nature of living the gospel out when it states:

  • 2 Corinthians 3:2-3 – “The only letter I need is you yourselves! By looking at the good change in your hearts, everyone can see that we have done a good work among you. 3 They can see that you are a letter from Christ, written by us. It is not a letter written with pen and ink, but by the Spirit of the living God; not one carved on stone, but in human hearts.”  [59]

As we have already learned, (see comments on Matthew 4:12-25) the method of Jesus for discipleship involves preaching the gospel or sharing the salvation message of forgiveness of sin by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. The preaching of the gospel is followed by teaching the word of God and has a heart of compassion for the lost and hurting. This last part is what Paul is expressing in Romans 12. By sharing the gospel and being agents of God’s peace (see Philippians 4:6-7) we come to be known as “sons of God,” or ambassadors of the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).

Step Eight – Persecuted Cross Bearers

Matthew 5:10-12 – “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.11 “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.12 “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  [60]

You would think that disciples who are bringing a message of peace would be met with open arms. But that is not always the case. While some people do come seeking truth and a personal relationship with God, others rebel against the conviction of the Spirit and persecute the messenger. Jesus was nearly thrown off a cliff in His own hometown of Nazareth for sharing the message of peace (Luke 4:16-30). John the Baptist was arrested (Matthew 4:12) and eventually beheaded (Matthew 14:3-12). The apostle Paul went so far as to guarantee persecution for the disciple when he was inspired to write:

  • 2 Timothy 3:12 – “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” [61]

If being a disciple often meets with such hardship and persecution, how can Jesus say, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven”?   There are five reasons a disciple can be blessed through persecution.

First, Persecution helps the disciple keep their priorities straight. Persecution keeps the disciple from getting too comfortable in the world and keeping their eyes expectantly on heavenly rewards.  The KJV Bible Commentary makes the following comments on verse twelve of Matthew 5:

“Great is your reward in heaven focuses attention upon the eternal, spiritual destiny of all things. If God is as real as He claims, if the Bible is true, if heaven is to be gained, then there is no temporary earthly trouble or persecution that can thwart the child of God from the eternal glory that lies ahead. In Romans 8:18, Paul proclaimed, “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”  [62]

The sufferings of this life make the prospects of heavenly reward that much sweeter. The persecution experienced by the disciple just makes them long the more for heaven. In fact the disciple who is persecuted can rejoice and be exceedingly glad because they join in the club of those who have been persecuted for righteousness sake throughout history.

Paul wrote of the right attitude and how the disciple needs to guard against getting entangled in earthly things. Paul states:

  • Philippians 3:17-21 – “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.18 For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things.20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,21 who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.”  [63]
  • 2 Timothy 2:3-10 – “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.4 No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.5 And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.6 The hard-working farmer must be first to partake of the crops.7 Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things.8 Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel,9 for which I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not chained.10 Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”  [64]

In 1956 missionary Jim Elliot was speared and killed by headhunters in Ecuador. Before he departed for this dangerous missionary journey, he was quoted as saying:

            He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

Some would say Jim Elliot was a fool for even risking his life the way he did, let alone giving his life for people who eventually killed him. But the disciple knows better. Jim Elliot was blessed.

Second, persecution and hardship is a tool of God to crucify the flesh of the disciple.  In  2 Corinthians 12 we see the context of Paul’s learning the sufficiency of God’s grace is that he comes to turn away from self-dependence and self-service and turn to the sufficiency of God’s grace. Paul also writes:

  • 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 – “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  [65]

The disciple is blessed in persecution in that it provides an opportunity for him or her to not fall into the trap of self-exaltation, (“lest I should be exalted) as well as experience the reality of the sufficiency of God’s grace and power, (“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect [complete; mature] in weakness”). In short, persecution is the means by which a disciple can turn from self-reliance, self-service, self-preservation, and self-glorification and turn to God in Christ.

Peter echoes this blessed truth when he is inspired to write:

  • 1 Peter 4:1-3,7-8 – “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,2 that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.3 For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. . . . 7 But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers.8 And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”  [66]

Trials, persecutions, hardships all serve as an opportunity to choose self-preservation or self-crucifixion. The blessedness comes by being, “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20).

Third, persecutions and trials equip the disciple with an understanding of God’s grace and comfort to pass on to others. Such understanding can only be learned in the trenches by experience. The apostle Paul wrote:

  • 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.6 Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.7 And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation.”  [67]

The disciple who has experienced the grace of God in difficult times speaks with authority because what they speak of they know to be true. Those who have experienced God’s comfort first hand speak with an assurance and certainty that surpasses theoretical head knowledge. Who would you rather speak to about what a war was like, a person who has read books about the war, or a soldier who lived through it? You would most likely want to speak to the veteran who has first hand experience. Books are good and can supplement what we know, but experience and practice are essential. Truth must be tested and validated. Trials and hardships are the furnace of testing for the disciple. It is blessed to be able to help others by way of the experience one has lived. 

Persecution deepens and broadens the spiritual life of the disciple and prepares them for ministry. Suffering opens the door for the disciple to experience first hand the comfort of God. Experience is very important. Someone has said:

            A man with an argument is no match for a man with an experience. [68]

It is one thing to have knowledge stored up in one’s head, it is quite another to have that knowledge based on and confirmed by experience. Suffering and persecution and the comfort of God experienced as a result, move the disciple from theory to experiential fact. The person who has head knowledge thinks what they know is true; the person who has experienced God’s truth first hand, knows that it is true. Because of persecution and hardship, the disciple can speak with greater authority as the Spirit leads.

Fourth, the disciple is blessed through persecution in that the experience provides an opportunity to know God and His gracious comfort.  The apostle Paul was a good example of this. He experienced numerous trials and persecutions. Read what Paul wrote in this regard:

  • 2 Corinthians 4:8-18 – “We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.11 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.12 So then death is working in us, but life in you.13 And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak,14 knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you.15 For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God. 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”  [69]
  • 2 Corinthians 11:22-33 – “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I.23 Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often.24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep;26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?30 If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity.31 The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.32 In Damascus the governor, under Aretas the king, was guarding the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desiring to arrest me;33 but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands.”  [70]

It is on the heels of Paul’s listing the various hardships and persecutions he experienced that he goes on to say:

  • 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 – “And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  [71]

These hard times gave opportunity to Paul to know by experience the sufficiency of God’s grace. That is a blessed invaluable and indispensable treasure to the disciple. At the end of his earthly ministry, after Paul had experienced all of these hardships he wrote to young pastor Timothy:

  • 2 Timothy 1:12 – “For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.”  [72]

Do you think Paul knew the sufficiency of God’s grace more or less because of the trials and sufferings he experienced? He knew God better of course, as a result of the trials he experienced.  C.S. Lewis made an insightful statement when he said:

You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. [73]

 This leads us into our fifth and last point of blessedness of persecution.

Fifth, Persecution provides the disciple with an opportunity to know Jesus in the depth of the  fellowship of His sufferings.  Later in the gospel of Matthew Jesus will speak of bearing the cross. He says:

  • Matthew 16:24-26 – “Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.25 “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.26 “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”  [74]

Taking up the cross is to fulfill the purpose for which God has called you, no matter what, even unto death. How many of us in our comfortable cultural surroundings are sidetracked by mild quips and remarks by those around us? How many are beaten down by a mere look from another or being excluded from the world’s activities in some way? I wonder what Jesus thinks about these “persecutions”? Does He even think they are persecutions, or does he just look on with sadness as His “disciples” become fat like Christian couch potatoes? Persecution and suffering gets the disciple into tiptop spiritual shape! How you react to persecution reveals how you are bearing the cross Christ has assigned to you. Look for example at those in the early church who were “beaten” really beaten by persecutors, how did they react? In Acts it states:

  • Acts 5:27-33,38-42 – “And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them,28 saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!”29 But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.30 “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree.31 “Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.32 “And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” 33 When they heard this, they were furious and plotted to kill them. . . . 38 “And now I [Gamaliel] say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing;39 “but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.”40 And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.41 So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”  [75]

Why did they, how could they rejoice, “that they had been counted worthy to suffer shame for His name”? Paul speaks of such a heart attitude when he writes from prison to the Philippians and says:

  • Philippians 3:7-11 – “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”  [76]

We may read about the sufferings of Jesus and know them in theory, but when we experience first hand persecution, the bones of theory are clothed with the reality of what suffering is. The heart of a disciple is to know Jesus in as deeply and intimate and real a way as possible. Persecution allows the disciple to come to know Jesus “in the fellowship of His sufferings.” Persecution lets the disciple know that part of Jesus which went to the cross. Persecution helps the disciple to be able to say with Paul:

  • Galatians 2:20 - “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”  [77]

That is what bearing the cross is all about, denying yourself and following Jesus and coming to know Him more and more each day, especially in times of persecution.

Richard Wurmbrand, recently deceased head of The Voice of the Martyrs ministry, knows what it is to experience God’s grace in suffering. He was imprisoned for his faith for more than 14 years in Romania during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. Wurmbrand made the following comment about persecution:

Éven the best of Christians are troubled by the question, ‘Why does an almighty God send, or at least allow, suffering?’ When you are nagged by thoughts like this, say to yourself, ‘I am still in elementary school. When I graduate from the university of Christian life, I will understand His ways better and doubts will cease.’” [78]

 

Conclusion

In the book Jesus Freaks, the account is given of the death of Andrew, one of the original disciples of Jesus. The Romans in Greece martyred Andrew in 66 A.D. The circumstances of his death are given as follows from this book:

 

“Andrew boldly looked the governor in the eye. ‘It is good for you, the judge of men, to first know your Judge who dwells in heaven,’ he said, his voice ringing with the force of truth.  ‘After you know Him, then worship Him, removing from your mind false gods and blind idols.’

 

Christians all over the empire were being executed in obedience to a decree from the Roman Senate. Peter had been crucified a year earlier, and before this year would end, six more of the original disciples, including Andrew, would be executed. Of the twelve, only John would remain on earth.

 

Andrew had voluntarily come to face Aegaeas, the governor, to persuade him not to persecute the many Christians Andrew had brought to the faith in the city of Patras.

 

Andrew’s words angered the [governor]. ‘Are you the same Andrew who has overthrown the temple of the gods and persuades men to be of that superstitious sect which Rome has now commanded to be abolished?’

 

Andrew answered, ‘The princes of the Romans do not understand the truth. The Son of God, coming from heaven into the world for man’s sake, has taught and declared how those idols, whom you so honor as gods, are not gods, but rather cruel devils, enemies to mankind. They teach the people to do things that are so offensive to God that He turns away. In serving the devil, people fall into all kinds of wickedness, and after they die, nothing remains for them but their evil deeds.’

 

‘Enough!’ the governor commanded. ‘Do no teach such things anymore or you will be fastened to the cross with all speed.’

 

Andrew answered, ‘If I were afraid of the death of the cross, I would not have preached about the majesty, honor, and glory of the cross.’

 

The governor then pronounced sentence, ‘this man is starting a new sect and taking away the religion of the Roman gods. I hereby sentence him to death by crucifixion.’

 

As Andrew was brought toward the place of execution, he saw, from afar off, the cross prepared for him. Instead of the fear that might be expected, fervent love for Jesus rose up in his heart. He cried out, ‘O cross, most welcome and long looked for! With a willing mind, I joyfully come to you, being the disciple of Him who hung on you.’ As he neared the cross he said, ‘The nearer I come to the cross, the nearer I come to God; and the farther I am from the cross, the farther I remain from God.’ [Emphasis added.]

 

For three days, the apostle hung on the cross. As long as he could move his tongue, he instructed all who stood nearby, encouraging them, ‘Remain steadfast in the word and doctrine which you have received, instructing one another, that you may dwell with god in eternity, and receive the fruit of His promises.’

 

After three days, the Christians asked the governor to take Andrew down from the cross and release him to them. But Andrew, hearing their plans, cried out, ‘O Lord Jesus Christ! Don’t let Your servant, who hangs here on the cross for Your name’s sake, be released to dwell again among men! Please receive me, O my Lord, my God! You I have known, you I have loved, to You I cling, You I desire to see, and in You I am what I am.’

 

Having spoken these words, he committed his spirit into the hands of his heavenly Father.” [79]

 

What is Jesus’ definition of a disciple? How does the Supreme Disciple-Maker describe the disciple, the blessed disciple that is all Jesus would have him or her to be? Such a disciple has first realized their own spiritual poverty before God. Then the disciple sincerely mourns or grieves over their spiritual bankruptcy. These two stages work a meek heart attitude into the disciple that is willing to trust Jesus in any and all situations. The meek seeker of God hungers and thirsts for spiritual nourishment, which leads them into a maturity of walk with the Lord that is characterized by mercifulness. Mercy flows from the Spirit’s love operating in the disciple and the disciple who learns to be merciful is purified in heart by God. Such learned and received gifts from God cannot be kept to one’s self; the loving mercy of God working in a disciple compels them to share the peace of Christ with others no matter what, even in the face of persecution. In fact, so glorious and blessed is the effect on the disciple who has experienced these beatific things that they are able to even “rejoice and be exceeding glad” in the midst of persecution for persecution gives opportunity to keep our priorities straight, crucify our flesh, be assured and equipped to minister God’s comfort to others, to come to really know the sufficiency of God’s grace and to enter a deeper walk with Jesus as we are acquainted with the fellowship of His sufferings. That is the disciple Jesus envisions you to be. How did you make out? How much of what Jesus said is present in you? Jesus is willing to take you where you are and bless you with discipleship. Are you open to His call? Will you answer it? Disciple be blessed!

 



[1]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[2]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[3]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[4]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[5]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[6]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[7]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[8]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[9]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[10]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[11]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[12]W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger and William White, Vine’s complete expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1996.

[13]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[14]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[15]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[16]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[17]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[18]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[19]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[20]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[21]Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1995.

[22]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[23]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[24]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[25]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[26]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[27]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[28]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[29]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[30]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[31]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[32]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[33]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[34]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[35]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[36]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[37]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[38]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[39]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[40]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[41]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[42]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[43]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[44]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[45]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[46]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[47]James Strong, New Strong’s dictionary of Hebrew and Greek words [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1996.

[48]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[49]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[50] Jesus Freaks, (Tulsa, OK: Albury Publishing) 1999. pgs. 196-197

[51]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[52]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[53]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[54]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[55]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[56]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[57]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[58]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[59]The Living Bible, (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1997.

[60]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[61]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[62]Jerry Falwell, executive editor; Edward E. Hinson and Michael Kroll Woodrow, general editors, KJV Bible commentary [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1994.

[63]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[64]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[65]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[66]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[67]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[68] Dc Talk and The Voice of the Martyrs,(Tulsa, OK: Albury Publishing) 1999. p. 216

[69]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[70]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[71]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[72]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[73] C.S. Lewis as quoted in Jesus Freaks, Ibid. p. 60.

[74]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[75]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[76]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[77]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

[78] Richard Wurmbrand, quoted in Jesus Freaks, Ibid. p. 255

[79] Jesus Freaks, Ibid. pgs. 149-151