A few weeks ago in our opening Sabbath worship we read the following paragraphs:
'...Have you ever noticed what followers of Jesus were called in the book of Acts? In our time we typically call ourselves Christians or believers. But something has changed dramatically since Jesus' time. Followers of Jesus were referred to as Christians only twice and as believers once in the entire book of Acts. But they are referred to as disciples many times. In fact the word disciple is used thirty-one times in Acts.
I believe this change is significant. Today we want to know if a person is a believer or a Christian. Our emphasis is on belief. In the early church the word was disciple, and their emphasis was on following. They patterned their lives after Jesus. They wanted to imitate His life, to walk in His steps, to live as He lived. We have a tendency to reduce Christianity to a system of beliefs. We stress theology and correct doctrine. The early disciples talked about suffering with Him and dying for His name. Theology is important, and what you believe about God is foundational to your Christian walk. But God never intended for theology to be an end in itself.' Charting a Course in Your Youth by Gary Miller, page 73
'The pagan and religious cultures surrounding the early church were looking for answers. They had listened to endless debate and philosophy. There were arguments explaining the superiority of one religion or philosophy over another. But why did Christianity alarm religious and government leaders and sweep across the Roman Empire so rapidly? “These people are turning the world upside down!” protested the authorities of the day. What was so different about Christianity?
I think the first answer to this question is simply the resurrection. Christianity had life! But there is something else about those early disciples we would be wise to take note of. They were men and women of action. They were willing to follow Jesus, regardless! Many of them lost their families, their friends, and their finances. They were willing to live radically different lives, and the world sat up and took notice.
Today we wonder why we have no power. We don't understand why our attempts at evangelism yield so few sincere converts. But I believe we, like the early disciples, live in a world that is waiting – looking for men and women who are so dedicated and consecrated to the teachings of Jesus that they are willing to live them out. The world is looking for disciples, not just believers.' Ibid, page 76
This prompted us to study about disciples deeper. What were the characteristics of the early disciples, those that turned the world upside down?
Firstly, what is the definition of a disciple? The dictionary says a disciple is 'a follower, learner, student, pupil, of a teacher, leader of philosophy; taught and instructed.' Disciples are people who believe in a certain person or thing, and then act upon it – live out their faith. They are those that talk the talk and walk the walk.
We went through every reference in the Bible concerning disciples, and wrote down some of the points they showed us about the early disciples – mostly those mentioned in Acts.
...knew the Bible
...had the law and testimony
...heard and were obedient
...were not legalistic
...asked when they didn't understand, and persisted in knowing the truth
...were not afraid to obey even when it meant going against the flow and being criticized
...followed Jesus and went with Him everywhere
...were devoted and loyal to their Master, and concerned for His welfare
...willingly helped their Master, not even stopping with the dirty work
...were not above, but as, their Master
...were rebuked and instructed
...went to Jesus in times of trouble; He was their 'go to'
...were still human and not perfect
...didn't know everything, and they doubted and forgot
...had access to God's power, and marveled and were amazed at His doings
...were noticeably different from everyone else
...were joyful, and compassionate
...were persecuted, but multiplied
...were called to the marriage feast
So are we disciples, or just believers? Do we know and obey the Bible? Do we follow Jesus to the uttermost, not stopping at anything? Do we go to our Master in times of trouble, when we need help? We have access to God's power too – do we use it? Do we rejoice? Are we happy? Can others see that we are different? Are we multiplying?
We are called to the marriage feast, too. 'And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.' (John 2:2) Will we answer the call?