The Mark of a Disciple
BY STUART BRISCOEHow can I tell if I am coming across as a disciple of Jesus Christ? How will people latch on to the idea that I am His disciple?
The answer is found in verses 34 and 35 of John 13, where the Lord says, "A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another."
People will know that we are disciples of Christ by the way we love and minister to one another.
Note that the Lord Jesus doesn't just give the command to love one another. He also includes this important phrase: "As I have loved you." In so doing, He has given us a model to follow. We are to look at the way Christ behaved and learn from it the way He expects us to behave. So, let me identify for you a few ways in which the Lord Jesus loved his disciples.
With humble serviceLet's look first at John 13:1: "It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love."
How? Verses 2 and following: "The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his
waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet."
The normal custom of that day, you see, demanded that when we got there, somebody would remove our sandals and wash our feet. This was slaves' work or women's work. But neither slaves nor women were there, and the disciples were not about to wash each other's feet. So, Jesus did it, and in that practical way demonstrated His love for His disciples.
How did Jesus love His disciples? When some feet needed washing, He washed them. The Lord Jesus said, "I did not come to be served. I came to serve."
Upside down. Unfortunately, we tend to get that thing the wrong way around. Over and over again, we hear people getting upset with their churches because their needs are not met. They complain that there are not enough programs to satisfy them.
When we are upset with our church or with others because they have not met our needs, we are demonstrating our own intrinsic selfishness. Instead, in the community of believers we should be looking for needs and reaching out to meet them. By so doing, we not only demonstrate a servant spirit, we also show that we have the kind of love that Jesus had for His disciples.
If you're wondering how people are ever going to guess you're a disciple of the Lord Jesus, it's really very easy. When some feet need washing, wash them. Nothing mystical, nothing more down to earth.
With continuing patienceTurn now to John 21. We read in verse 20: "Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, 'Lord, who is going to betray you?')"
The point here is that there is a disciple whom in a special way the Lord Jesus loved. We assume that this is John. How did Jesus show His love for John? Through His infinite patience with him.
Jesus sometimes gave His disciples nicknames and He gave John and his brother James the name of Boanerges. It means Sons of Thunder. Why? Perhaps because their behavior reminded Christ of the storm and thunder that would from time to time disturb the placid and tranquil Galilee.
Impulsive. One day, Jesus and His disciples went into a Samaritan village. The people there did not welcome Him "because He was heading for Jerusalem" (Luke 9:53). Seeing that, John suggested that fire be called down from heaven and zap them. Boanerges was living up to his name.
Another day, John saw a man driving out demons in Christ's name and he didn't like it. He told him to stop. "Don't you ever do it again, because we are the only ones to do it." Actually, Jesus says, "whoever is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:40). Despite John's thunderous behavior, though, the Lord stuck with him.
Still another day, John's mother came along and asked Jesus to give her two sons special honors in the Kingdom of God. Now, most boys would say "Now, Mother!", but not John. He said, "Amen, it couldn't happen to a nicer fellow."
The amazing thing is that Jesus puts up with this character for over three years. He loved John; He was patient with him. So, if you really want to show somebody that you love them the way Jesus has loved you, try sticking with them through thick and thin. Don't be a quitter. Be patient. Love in humility.
With sacrificial forgivenessIn Galatians 2:20, the Apostle Paul said that "the Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me". How did the Son of God love Paul? Paul would say, "He loved me by the most unbelievably forgiving sacrifice."
To forgive somebody who has done something to you is to arrive at a point where you will no longer hold them responsible for it. The longer I spend as a pastor, the more I realize that underlying most of our problems is an unforgiving spirit. Because of what they did, look what has happened to me now. We harbor the resentment. It is burrowed deep within our souls. The reminders come, the remembrances come, and the same old thing comes boiling up.
Paul's conversion. But look at the example shown by our Lord Jesus. Paul had been persecuting Christians. Taking that personally, the Lord stopped and asked him one day, "Why have you persecuted me?" He then proceeded to save him. "I will no longer hold you responsible. You are forgiven." And so, Paul wrote: "The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me."
Think for a moment what it would be like to be part of a group of people who serve humbly, who are patient with each other, and who are prepared to forgive each other, no longer holding each other responsible for the rotten things they did. What kind of community would it be? It would be a community of Christ's disciples. It would be winsome and attractive. It would be God-glorifying.
With understandingNext, we read in John 11:5,6: "Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was for two more days."
Martha is one of those quiet, generous spirits who just love to be in the background and serve, letting everybody else take the credit. She is in the kitchen while Mary is out there studying and learning.
One day her brother Lazarus was seriously ill and Jesus was told about it. Instead of proving that He was a great healer of the sick, Jesus wanted to prove then that He was the resurrection and the life. He therefore waited until the sick one had become a dead one before He went to them.
Natural act. Martha met Him on the way and said, "If you had been here, my brother would not have died." If you had been there 1900 years ago, you would probably have done the same thing. You would have gotten all upset with Jesus because He didn't do what you thought He should have done.
But wonderfully, Jesus loved Martha. He understands her. And if there is one thing we have to learn about loving people as disciples, it is simply this: we need to take time out to understand why people behave the way they do. Once we understand their circumstances and their feelings, we can better accept the way they are, instead of reacting to it. That's what love does.
So, beloved, let's be patient and understanding; let's serve and forgive one another. The nice thing about disciples who prove their discipleship is that they live it right where everybody lives. And as they live it, people watch them and say I don't know what it is about you, but it's a great thing you have. You know what it is. It's loving the way Christ loved and loves you.
Putting Love in PracticeHow do we love the way Christ loves? Some people will say that you love by obeying His commandments. His commandment was, "Love one another" and so you love by being obedient. Because God commands me to love you, I am going to love you even if it kills me. That's one approach.
Other people will say that love is a part of the fruit of the spirit. And fruit doesn't squeeze itself out of the tree. It just comes. If we are led by the Spirit, love will flow out of us automatically.
Notice that these are two very different approaches to the same truth. Both can be proved from Scripture. So, we don't have to settle for one or the other. And we need not get bogged down by doctrinal arguments.
Complementary. Some of us, instead of saying I want to be obedient if it kills me, need to learn to rest in the power of the Spirit as they live in obedience. And some of us, instead of expecting everybody to do what he is supposed to do, should strive to be obedient as a way of working out our fruit of the Spirit.
Let's take seriously this business about being a disciple. We know how Christ loved us and so we know exactly what it means to love as He has loved us. So now, let's ask ourselves: What do I need to do? Do I need to address some relationships on the basis of being obedient to God? Or do I in a new way need to start relying on the Holy Spirit to empower me to love in such a way that I cannot do on my own?
As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples. o
Rev. D. Stuart Briscoe is pastor of Elmbrook Church, 777 South Barker Road, Waukesha, WI 53186.
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