At the very basic level, a disciple is simple a learner. Around the first century, the term disciple took on a little more technical meaning referring to someone who followed the teaching and way of life of a particular teacher. For example, there were disciples of Socrates, disciples of Plato, disciples of Aristotle, disciples of John the Baptist, disciples of Pythagoras, etc. Anyone who learned from and lived by the teachings of a person was considered a disciple of that person.
Of course, for Christians, we are not concerned with being a disciple of just anyone. We want to be disciples of Jesus Christ. This means that we want to follow the teachings and way of life that were presented by him. When we talk about making disciples, we mean helping people following Jesus Christ. We do not want people to follow us, unless in doing so they are also learning to be disciples of Jesus. But, even when they follow us, we want them to understand that Jesus is their true master, not us. Our goal is for these people to stop following us and to begin following Jesus on their own.
Since Jesus is their master – and not us – our goal includes helping them to understand what Jesus desires of them, not what Jesus desires of us. Jesus may give me certain gifts, talents, resources, opportunities, and passions that he does not give to other disciples. I must not put myself in the place of Jesus and attempt to direct one of his disciples to live in the way that Jesus is calling me to live. Certainly, there will be some similarities in the way of life of any disciple of Jesus Christ, and this is where we can be most helpful to one another.
We can teach and demonstrate to one another what it means to love others in general, but we cannot tell each other exactly how Jesus desires for us to love others. We can help one another understand what it means to build up the church for works of service, but we cannot take the place of the master is ordering his disciples to edify others in specific ways. Thus, there are ways that we can help people follow Jesus, but we must not take the place of Jesus ourselves.
Of course, there are many ways that we can help each other follow the teachings and way of life of Jesus. For example, we can help each other read and understand Scripture. We can help each other learn to pray. We can encourage one another to show love and generosity and concern for others. In all of these, though, we must remember that our goal is following Jesus, not in completing specific activities. It is easy to get so caught up in activities that we forget that the purpose of those endeavors is following Jesus.
But, is it really important for us to help one another follow Jesus Christ? Apparently it was so important to Jesus that it was one of his final instructions to his original disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)
Are you helping people follow Jesus? How is Jesus using you to help others follow him?