Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Apostles v Disciples

Peter was a disciple; Paul was an apostle.  Peter became an apostle, later, but we remember him as a disciple.  John was a disciple.  John Mark was an apostle.  Timothy was an apostle.

As much as we love Paul, John Mark, Timothy, and many others, we're not a culture looking for apostleship.  Our books, our sermons, our small groups, our studies are about one thing: discipleship.  Always disciples.  Always striving to be disciples, to learn what it is to be a disciple.  Then the lingering questions of all the good that men like Paul did, all the beautiful words they've written, all the hearts they've touched, and we want to do that, too.  Somewhere, our line blurs between apostles and disciples until we're buried in kind of a mix of both that is sadly, somehow, neither.

Disciple sounds better, doesn't it?  I mean, nobody wants to be an apostle fo Jesus.  It doesn't have the same ring to it.  And I've never heard a sermon on how to be a better apostle.

No, we're craving discipleship.  Yet content in our confusion to settle for the lives of apostles.

Before we go further, here's the difference: an apostle is one who teaches about Jesus, as Paul and Timothy and John Mark and many others traveled throughout the New Testament speaking about Jesus.  A disciple, on the other hand, is one that has walked with Him.  That's why Matthew, John, Judas, Bartholomew get the distinction "disciple."  They were there; they walked with Him.

That's why we want to be disciples, and rightfully so.  That's why our churches focus on fostering discipleship - we want to be, and need to be, more than people who know about Jesus.  We want to be, and need to be, people who walk with Him.

It lends an authenticity when we turn around and talk about Him.  It's no longer a great story we heard somewhere, pieces we picked up here and there in the ladies' room or the grocery store or the park.  (Sidebar: a couple of weeks ago, I was walking through the Wal-Mart and passed two older ladies who had stopped to chat.  I walked by just slowly enough to hear "Yes, but you know what?  He's coming back."  "Oh, I know.  He is coming back."  "Yes He is and we just have to..."  I was unaware people still talked like this.)  Anyway, when we venture into discipleship, what we're doing is interjecting ourselves into the story.  We're insisting that we be there.  That we touch His hands and know what that feels like.  That we hear His voice and could pick Him out of a crowd.  That we know what He's like in the way that only actually meeting the Man and daring to hang around Him for a bit can teach us.

Yet it's fairly simple to live more like a Paul, more like an apostle.  Talking, teaching, about a Jesus we sort of kind of one time met but not really in the flesh, in some kind of other way that we knew and understood but would be kind of difficult and crazy to explain, and then we started reading about Him and found out all this intriguing kind of stuff about love and sacrifice, promise and heaven, and so on.  I'm not saying there's not a place for a Paul, but given the choice - apostleship just lacks something.  

It's why we don't preach on becoming an apostle.  Nobody wants to be an apostle.

We want to be, and need to be, disciples.  That tells God's story in a different way.

It doesn't seem as efficient.  It's not like gathering a small group and teaching everyone at once.  Discipleship is quieter, a little slower.  The men and women that gathered around Jesus didn't come all at once; they built slowly.  From the rumors of apostles' stories - people who had encountered Jesus but hadn't spent much more than a few minutes with Him.  From the criticism of the Pharisees, who directed the religious community and had a lot to say about this Man.  But most importantly, from the spectacle of the disciples.

It had to have been a spectacle.  Like the paparazzi following a Justin Bieber around.  All of these people, willing to give everything just to walk with this Jesus, just to hear Him and know His voice, to touch Him and feel His hands, to wash His feet and mend His tunic and pour Him a glass of water.  One Man, spouting the kinds of truth Jesus spoke, is powerful.  But a posse - a band of brothers going everywhere together, rolling into towns on the hillside as one - that's a whole different statement.  They weren't trying to be a spectacle; they were doing what their hearts inspired them to do.  It just sort of became something to look at.  People pay attention when they see a group that can't be disbanded, that has no interest in leaving anytime soon, that hasn't a thought to giving up and going another way because they believe in something in the middle so strongly.

That, in turn, changes our apostleship.  That is, it changes the way we talk about Him.  When the world notices a discipleship that has no heart but to walk with Jesus, they start asking questions.  Because our world wants to know.  Not about Jesus; but Jesus Himself.  What does He sound like?  What is it like to be so close you can hear His voice?  How cool is it when you get to shake hands with Him?  Or a holy kiss?  How big are His sandals?  (Why do we always want to know the weirdest stuff about people?  Honestly.)  Can you really see Heaven looking in His eyes?  They want to know everything about Him, questions they don't want us to answer by rumor or by story removed, but by personal experience.

That's why our apostleship is sometimes so difficult, why it seems our best words about Jesus fall on deaf ears.  Because it's not built on a foundation of discipleship.  We are too often content to fall back on a story of a sort of almost God-Man we kind of met somewhere without really meeting Him but we know He changed our lives, and we've read more good things about Him and...there's just something missing.

It's the authenticity of discipleship.  Of our being a people who don't just talk about Jesus; we walk with Him. We know Him intimately because we're there.  We insist on being there.  That's why we strive to be disciples.  We want to be there.

A bunch of us choosing discipleship over apostleship?  Choosing walking with Him over shouting His name to a world half-listening?  Yeah, that might make a spectacle.  We wouldn't mean to, but it would.  People would be watching...and wanting to know everything about Him.

Are you striving for discipleship or have you been content to be an apostle?  How could it change the way you're living to find Jesus and join Him on the journey instead of being content with a half-image of a God you almost sort of met one day but might never quite put accurate words on?

No comments:

Post a Comment