Why is discipleship important? What is the purpose of discipleship? Matthew answers both questions in his gospel. Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry He taught on the significance and seriousness of discipleship. It was clear that Christ desired faithful followers; the same is true today. Our Lord needs committed individuals who are willing to give up their lives for Him.
The word “disciple” is used more than 70x in Matthew’s gospel account. According to Strong’s Concordance, it means “to be a learner, a pupil.” The word “disciple” (mathētès) means to be a learner, a follower of Christ who learns the doctrines of Scripture and the lifestyle required. To follow Christ means to emulate His life. This involves following in the footsteps of Jesus.
In chapter 4, Matthew gives an account of Jesus calling His first disciples. As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Peter and Andrew, casting a net into the sea. And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:18,19 NASB). In verse 21, the Lord spotted two other brothers, James and John, mending their nets. He called them, and they immediately followed Him without delay. They did not hesitate or ask why. These disciples instantly obeyed His command to follow Him. Their minds were made up, they were willing to forsake it all for Christ. They left behind their homes, families, and business to follow Christ. These were not boys, these were men who made a conscious, sacrificial decision to follow the Lord.
When Christ called these common fishermen answered, and they were ready to render a life of service to Him. One author stated, “The meaning evidently of Matthew 4:18 – 22 is that they were to gain souls for the kingdom of heaven from the sea of the world” (Boles 113). When it comes to discipleship, Christ will call an individual wherever they are for the purpose of His kingdom. Peter, Andrew, James, and John displayed the proper characteristics of discipleship in Matthew 4:18 – 22. There was nothing easy about what these men did. They exhibited what discipleship is supposed to look like: costly.
In Matthew 5:13 – 16, Jesus taught that discipleship requires being salt and light. In this passage He urges His disciples to influence the world for Him. As Crain explained, “He wanted them to live in such a way that they would make the most impact on the world around Him” (Crain 157). Salt was used in ancient times as a fertilizer for growth; so, when Jesus used the metaphor of salt, He was inspiring His disciples to be a helpful influence in the world. He needed His disciples to be fertilizer by helping Him to spread the good news about the kingdom of heaven. He also warns them about losing their saving influence. Jesus said, “If the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, expect to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men” (Matthew 5:13). A disciple of Christ should not lose their Christian influence; if they do, they become useless to Christ and His kingdom.
Jesus in the same context continued to teach that discipleship requires being light (Matthew 5:14 – 16). “Light” represents purity, truth, and righteousness. The disciple’s role in life is to be a light in a dark world. Jesus Himself is “the Light of the world” (John 8:12), and He needed His disciples to display this truth about Him. Jesus in verse 15 beautifully illustrated how a disciple's influence should not be hidden. No one should ever light a lamp and cover it with a basket. Instead, the light should be on a lampstand illuminating the entire house. After stating the principle and giving the illustration, He then stated the purpose for letting our light shine: “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Discipleship involves making Christ appealing to the world. Men should see the good works of a disciple and magnify the name of the Lord. As Christians, everything we do must point to Christ and His kingdom. Being a disciple of Christ in a whole that is full of darkness can be discouraging, but Christ teaches that our light must help people see the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Matthew, in his gospel, continues to point out what discipleship entails.
The words spoken by Jesus in Matthew 8:20,22 can be summarized as: discipleship demands that Christ comes first. Jesus encountered two individuals whose desire was to follow Him. In His discussion with the scribe and the disciple, Jesus tested their commitment. At the end of each conversation, He informed them both that discipleship involves being fully devoted to Him and His cause. Jesus did not lower His standards for discipleship. Nothing or no one should take the place of following Christ. Jesus must take precedence overall. When the words “Follow Me” appears in the text, Jesus is declaring that every individual must leave everything behind and make Him and the kingdom their number 1 priority after demanding allegiance. In the next chapter, Jesus informed His disciples about the harvest being plentiful, but the laborers are few.
In Matthew 9:37 – 39 Jesus explains that true discipleship involves work. In the context of the passage, the workers are to proclaim the good news and bring souls into the kingdom, and the harvest is the world. Boles mentioned in his commentary, “The more bountiful the harvest, the greater number of laborers needed; this was true while Jesus was on earth; it is equally true today” (Boles 219). Jesus explains to His disciples that there is spiritual work that needs to be done, but the workers are few. It is the disciple’s duty to pray and go into the field to gather souls for Christ. Many shy away from the field because they believe that people don’t care to know about Christ and his church. That is not always the case, men and women around the world are ripe for knowledge, ready to read, receive and respond to the gospel message. There is no room in the kingdom for lazy disciples, everyone who wears the name of Christ must be willing and ready to work.
As we conclude, remember, there is no room in the kingdom of God for faithless, fickle, and false disciples. The Lord desires faithful disciples. He wants disciples that are prepared to make sacrifices. He is looking for those who are willing to be salt and light. He needs disciples that are going to put Him first, and work. The question that needs to be asked by all Christians, is simple: What kind of disciple have I been?
Boles, Leo H. A Commentary on The Gospel According to Matthew. Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1936. Print.
New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995. Print.
Strong, James. The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. New York: Abingdon, 1958.