"'Come, follow me,' Jesus said." Matthew 4:18
An uncommonly incredible, insightful, strange, and mysterious person approached a small group of young fishermen working in their family fishing business and challenged them to make a life-changing decision. He seemed to come from nowhere, and they were in wonder at this Man's teachings as well as the miracle of the fish caught as recorded by Luke.
They knew all about fishing. Their substance and living depended on fishing. It provided a much-needed and vital food to their region-fish-which they caught with nets suspended from the back of their boats. The floats and weights spread the nets out to enable them to catch as many fish as possible as they rowed in the Sea of Galilee. This was done in much the same way as fishing boats operate today. The fish were then dried, and either cured with salt or pickled to preserve them, then sold. These men were in a business that perhaps provided them with a much higher standard of living than many other people around them. So, why would they desire to leave that good and stable life and venture into the unknown?
Are we willing to Follow Me? If not, how will we become Fishers of Men?
We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. Hebrews 2:1
Jesus gives us a call to step out with Him in faith. Come, follow me was extended to the disciples, and their response was evident as they left their boats and followed. The call was then presented for them to step out with their faith. "I will make you fishers of men" to others was offered without irresistible pressure, yet with passion and conviction. This was not a call that came out of the blue either, as Jesus had already spent time with them. They were already connected to Jesus; they knew Him, and they were aware of His call and the responsibilities of it as they heard Him teach them. Then, by faith, after a connection was made, they responded to Jesus. This is a model that we can do, too. That call was one unprecedented in their culture and understanding. Normally, a student would seek out a teacher, a Rabbi. A Rabbi would never seek students, as it was a matter of pride. Jesus broke the pride and arrogance barrier to model that we are to seek disciples, not just wait for them to come to us. This call also tells us that before we can teach others to fish, we have to know the fish and know how to fish. In so doing, we can connect with people and model Jesus, challenging one another to leave our comfort zones and enter the realm of faith, worship, service, and outreach for Christ.
Jesus went throughout the region of Galilee, entering the synagogues and proclaiming that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. However, public preaching was not His main goal or reason for doing so. Above any other activity, Jesus' main goal for His interrelating with humanity was "discipling." Jesus publicly taught the need for repentance. He further taught and challenged His disciples, both personally and systematically, that Christianity does not end at repentance and conversion; it begins there. His primary goal was to mold His disciples in a deeper sense of faith and reason, so Jesus went directly and personally to call those whom He wanted to work for Him. He took those who lived "normal" lives. He did not go to the universities or synagogues, but literally to the "man on the street." Afterward, He sent them out. Then, Jesus ended His time on earth with an imperative command for them to go and make more disciples. This is also our call!
Jesus said, "Follow Me." Jesus did not mean that they should just physically and aimlessly follow Him on the road like a puppy following a child. Rather, He meant for them to follow Him in His Way. They were set apart, challenged to know and grow in the faith, and taught their call and mission. Just as they had worked at catching fish, now they would be catching men. The word "disciple" literally means "apprentice," someone who pledges to be a "learner," to live as one believes, to do what He has taught. And, this is not just for a time or season, but for all times and all seasons as long as we are sojourners in this life on earth. It involves our accepting His call to follow, then actually living and obeying that call as continual learners and partakers. It means being real and consistent in what we say we believe. It is about living our lives in truth so we reproduce the clarity of that truth to others around us. For this to happen, we have to be willing to learn, to grow beyond our perceived barriers, and remove what is in the way of our growth. It does not stop at our conversion; that is where it begins. Discipleship is a life-long journey of growth and the practicing of His Word and precepts in all areas of life!
A Life Long Apprenticeship in and with Him
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith." Romans 1:16-17
A famous American TV show, starring one of America's flamboyant billionaires, is called "The Apprentice" and is very popular because people dream of a chance to work for such a man. And, perhaps we like to watch the betrayals and the cunning manipulative behaviors, too (please do not try this at home!). The audience observes opportunities, riches, power, and prestige as sixteen people from a pool of thousands of applicants rally to scheme and connive with one another to achieve the position of being this billionaire, Donald Trump's apprentice in one of his companies. The "contestants" or job applicants perform a series of projects in teams to see who has the right stuff for such a coveted position. This makes good entertainment and a glimpse into our human nature. But, what interests me in this TV show is how passionate and driven the "contestants" are to have this job. I wonder if we as Christians realize we already have the ultimate "apprenticeship" with the Lord God and Creator of the universe who is vastly more famous, powerful, and rich than any mere billionaire. Do we have the drive and passion to pursue our apprenticeship in Christ? Our apprenticeship is for a lifetime; the TV show's opportunity is for one year.
Being a disciple encompasses more than just asking Christ in, and goes far beyond baptism. It means we are to take the risk of getting dirty, and slide into life for Him with passion and diligence. Our conversion, our acceptance of Christ as Savior, and our election are only the beginning, merely the entrance into faith and the Christian life. It is not the only aspect of being a Christian. It would be like joining a club, but never venturing into the club or, having a car and keeping it in the garage so it never gets dirty or used. Or, it might be like getting Donald Trump's coveted apprentice job and never going to it. The problem is, life does get us dirty. And, even if you never drive the car, as time goes on, it will become used as in a used car. So, we have to follow Christ by driving what He has taught, allowing ourselves to get dirty. Yes, we will get dirty; life is dirty. We have to take the risk and not be afraid to get busy for Him. We are even to enjoy the dirt, the willingness to be real for Him toward others. Becoming a Christian is becoming the door through which, as we walk in faith, our public profession and testimony of our faith are found. It does not stop there. It starts there!
So, what does the average Christian do about discipleship? According to my experiences, not much. In fact, few of the one-thousand-plus churches that I surveyed for my doctoral dissertation on Why Churches Fail had any kind of discipleship program. In most good churches, people are encouraged to accept Christ or make a profession of faith. Then, they are congratulated, put on the membership roll, and then quickly forgotten. Sadly, the Church has forsaken discipleship, even the so-called good churches. They either leave their members to figure out these spiritual growth things on their own, or they teach such simple things that people are rarely challenged to grow. Through these experiences, many give up on Christianity, while others become confused, calloused, or complacent, and some are swept away by false doctrines and cults because they do not know the difference. The call to follow has been blocked by other programs and the busyness of our secular and church lives!
Watching or Following?
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you-unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. 2 Corinthians 13:5
A disciple is someone who follows another's teaching and adheres to it. It is a commitment and a process as one takes the time to undertake the learning, and develops a yearning to imitate Jesus. Follow me, as a call to discipleship, is also reciprocal; that is, when one learns, he or she makes the commitment to train someone else. That is what Jesus meant by, I will make you fishers of men. It is not just catching them and then either throwing them back or storing them (fish were processed and sold for the betterment and use of the community); rather, we are called to care for and cultivate the fish, which are the people. They are trained and placed so they, too, can catch, train, and place others-and so on! Discipleship is the primary, earthly application of the Church as a whole, and the Christian as an individual. It is our duty, it is our priority, and it is the one thing Christ directly and imperatively commanded us to do (Matthew 28:19-20). In so doing, we will become like Him in character and share His outlook and concerns.
Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men…
Are you doing that? Most Christians just stand at the shore of life watching the fish. We make little effort to catch them for our Lord, while we rationalize why we should stay put. I am amazed at all the excuses I have heard, and have even given myself over the years, for not following Him and why it is not necessary to become fishers of men. We can theologize and rationalize for not doing what He has called us to do. But, I believe it is our fear that takes us over, and not the love we have in Christ. Yes, it is scary. The waters can be deep, they can be rough, and we will get wet. But, we have the incredible comfort that Jesus gives us not only the call, but also the ability and resources by which to follow Him. He gives us the rod and the reel; He even provides the bait of His Holy Spirit. All we are called to do is cast out the line with our faith, with our love, with our character, with our determination, and with our trust and eyes upon our Lord.
© 1999, 2007, Richard J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, www.churchleadership.org