What brings this subject to mind is our continuing national
fascination with the just-completed Olympic games and grows out
of that wonderful biblical imagery used so regularly by the
apostle Paul comparing the Christian life to athletics. Running,
wrestling, boxing...with a crown of glory at the end to the
winner. How does one attain the victory, and particularly in
such August company? DISCIPLINE!
Now take that DISCIPLINE root and move to its etymological
cousin DISCIPLESHIP. That is a word that is bandied around a lot
these days. Churches all over the country are very much into
"discipleship" programs, and that's GOOD. Jesus' Great Commission
to the church was MAKE DISCIPLES (Matt. 28:19).
There is a problem with that though. And part of the
problem is the fact that there are several definitions for the
term DISCIPLE. In the context of the church, people might quote
Jesus to provide a definition: "If any want to become my
followers (or be my disciple), let them deny themselves and take
up their cross and follow me." Or they might say "a disciple is
one who has turned his or her heart over to Jesus Christ."
That's FINE...as far as it goes. It means discipleship is
defined in terms of worship and of sacrificial service: doing
acts of mercy, patiently enduring persecution, and so on. But if
we get back to the original meaning of the word...MATHETES...a
disciple is first and foremost A LEARNER. Discipleship is not
only an act of the heart, but also an act of the HEAD.
Perhaps we can get a clearer picture of what is involved in
the process by taking a look at someone who wanted to be a
disciple...a MATHETES...but did not make it - the "rich young
ruler" we read about in our lesson a moment ago. Most often,
when we consider this passage, we think only in terms of what to
do about money...and that is a valid consideration. But I think
there is something deeper here. The story provides us a model
for Christian discipleship...learners, a model for Christian
teachers of those learners, and finally, a model for FAILURE.
Look what goes on. Jesus and some of his followers (the
twelve and who knows how many more) were walking along the road.
Suddenly, a young man came running up. He had heard about this
remarkable teacher from Nazareth; he had been told of the
miracles; he had seen how people were marveling at such wise
teachings...and he wanted to know more. He was EAGER; he had to
be to move so fast in all that Galilean dust.
Is EAGERNESS a good trait for a disciple? Most certainly.
We talk about "eager beavers" and think in very positive terms of
those who are so anxious to get the job done that they plunge
enthusiastically into whatever task lies before them. What a
valuable trait that can be for Christian disciples, Christian
LEARNERS! Eagerly, we gather together to study God's Word to
learn what we ought to do. Then we look around the world or a
look in our own backyard and see so much that we KNOW God would
have us change, and EAGERLY we set ourselves to the project.
That is a good model.
ENTHUSIASM came up in that description almost without
trying. I suppose it is possible to be eager to get something
over with and thus to do whatever the job is without any
enthusiasm. But eager probably is not the word we would choose
to describe something like that; "anxious" would be more like it.
The young man showed enthusiasm in just the way he made his
entrance. He RAN UP to Jesus, ready for just about anything the
Master had to say. Enthusiasm is GOOD for a learner.
If you want to test that out, think back to the most boring
class you had in school. We have all had at least one. Think
how much enthusiasm you brought to that class as the weeks wore
on...NONE probably. Now think how much you learned from that
class. It probably parallels the amount of enthusiasm you
brought to each session. You learned little or nothing.
The same is true in the church. Needless to say, the chief
educational arm of the church is the Sunday School. Most of us
learned a tremendous amount of what we know about the Bible from
our early Sunday School training. We heard great stories of
famous heros...Moses in the bulrushes, David & Goliath, Samson &
Delilah. We learned our first memory verses. And best of all,
we learned about Jesus. And we enjoyed it; we actually had
fun...pictures and flannel graphs and coloring books. We looked
forward to Sunday School with childish enthusiasm. And because
we had that enthusiasm, that FUN, we learned things that have
stayed with us for our entire lives.
But then we began to grow up...teenagers. Sunday School was
NOT so eagerly looked forward to anymore. From my own
experience, I can say that the boys were interested in sports and
girls and cars and girls and money and girls and...well, you get
the idea. The girls? Not much different, I suspect. Sunday
School rarely dealt with things we really cared about, so we
spent a lot of time cutting up. Our teachers probably resented
us because we were hard to handle and we resented them for being
colossal BORES. No wonder we had no enthusiasm for it.
For many people, as they became adults and Sunday School was
no longer something they went to because their parents made them
go, they opted against it. It would be more enjoyable to get an
extra hour's sleep than to sit through what they remembered as
exceedingly boring. For many folks, Sunday School was a dead
issue until it came time for them to bring their OWN little ones.
Then the cycle repeated itself. Because eagerness and enthusiasm
had been lost, so was the opportunity for learning.
That was not the case with the young man on the road though.
He brought eagerness and enthusiasm with him. But more than
that, he brought CONVICTION...conviction that as smart as he was,
as confident as he was, as wealthy as he was, this man Jesus was
one who was special and one who could teach him something. "Good
Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
That is not particularly startling. Anyone who is convinced
that there is something they wish to learn from another will take
the time to seek that individual out. In all my years in school
(and there were a lot of them), I noticed that the most
interesting teachers always seemed to have students dogging their
steps. There would be little gatherings around the teacher's
desk after class or conversations walking across the campus.
Students had the conviction that extra time spent with this or
that teacher would be time well spent.
It is the same with Christians. That is one of the reasons
we come to God's House in the first place. We KNOW there is
something special here for us so we set aside the time to seek it
"Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" asks
the potential learner. Now we come to some lessons for you who
are teachers. How does this teacher respond to the question?
"Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone."
Here was a teacher with tremendous competence...who did not have
a big head about it. Jesus saw the enthusiasm which the young
fellow brought and began to channel it in the proper direction
from the very first moment.
Too often, latter day teachers would not make such a
distinction. It would be SO EASY to just be pleased with someone
addressing us as GOOD that we would never think of correcting
them. And that in spite of the fact that the BEST teachers know
how really inadequate to the task they are.
One of the great preachers of the last century (I don't
remember which) used to pray, "Lord, don't make me a great
PREACHER; make me a great MESSENGER." Good Christian educators
will make sure that students have their eyes focused upon God and
not on themselves.
Notice what else happens. Jesus dealt with the issue that
was concerning the man. He did not say that that would be
covered in the lesson series a month from now or a year from now.
He did not say that there was something else that was being
taught right now, so just bear with the program. The teacher met
the student where the student needed to be met, not the other way
That was one of the problems with Sunday School for so many
people as teenagers. The students wanted to hear how the Gospel
related to sports and girls and cars and girls and money and
girls and would ask hard questions about it, but the agenda for
the class just never got around to those answers. If someone is
willing to be a learner, the teacher should be willing to deal
with the issues that are proving troublesome.
One more thing should be pointed out. If Jesus is our model
of a Christian teacher in this story, we should note that his
teaching was BIBLICAL. The first thing he did in response to the
young man's question was to quote scripture. "You know the
commandments: 'You shall not murder; You shall not commit
adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness;
You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'" Jesus had
a SOURCE BOOK, an AUTHORITY to which he could appeal that held
But a biblical foundation is not enough for a teacher,
unfortunately. There has to be an element of tender compassion
and concern...even love...for any real communication to take
place. The Gospel writer made a point of noting that
characteristic in Jesus. The Lord saw that young man in his
eagerness, enthusiasm and conviction; he dealt with the needs
that were expressed with the scripture as foundation. Then we
read, "Jesus, looking at him, loved him..."
I think of one of my seminary profs...Charlie Sigel...the
one whom every student regarded as the toughest on campus. He
expected excellence in performance, gave PLENTY of outside work,
and was never easy on grades. But his classes were always full
and people finished his courses saying that they learned more
from him than anyone else. Why? Because he was a brilliant
scholar? That was a part of it. Because he demanded so much?
That was a part of it too. But I think the real reason that he
was (and still is) so loved is that no teacher made more of an
effort to help students GET the material. If he had to sit up
till midnight to aid someone in understanding a particularly
difficult point, he would do it without batting an eye...and he
did it with concern and love. To do well in his class required a
commitment to learning, but because he loved us, we were glad to
Speaking of commitment, that is one more thing we learn from
Christ's model in Mark 10. He was not content to simply share a
few choice morsels of truth with the young seeker; he led the man
to the point where he had to fish or cut bait...the point of
commitment. The task of the teacher was not simply to provide an
intellectual exercise; it was to lead to a changed life. "You
lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the
poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow
Christian teachers must lead people to the point of
commitment or else their teaching falls short. One of the
biggest indictments that can be made against the educational
ministry of the church is that lives are not changed by it.
Sometimes it is the teacher's fault, looking at people as vessels
to be filled rather than clay to be molded; or information is
presented without any call for a response in daily action. But
more often, the fault lies with the student; the words of life
are given, but no effort is made to appropriate them as a part of
And that is the final model we find in this story: a model
for failure. Everything looked good right up to the end. The
student was eager and enthusiastic with the conviction that this
was a worthwhile teacher; the teacher had his priorities
straight, was willing to meet the needs expressed by the student
with both scripture and love, and then called for commitment...a
marvelous picture of the way things SHOULD work in the teaching
ministry of the church. What finally made it fall apart was when
the student refused to go on any further. He had learned all he
wanted to learn.
Make no mistake; that young man's heart was in the right
place. He had a need; he was anxious to meet it; and he was
willing to go to Jesus as the only one who could meet that need.
But, as we said, true discipleship demands a commitment of both
heart and HEAD. This fellow's HEAD was not up to it; what he
learned was too uncomfortable. He could never commit to that.
And that is why he failed.
What kind of commitment to learning do you have? Is it the
kind that the rich young ruler had, the kind that wants to know
nothing more than that what you are doing is sufficient, the kind
that wants only some personal affirmation? Or is it the kind
that responds to a commitment to keep on learning even though it
is going to take effort and even though what you learn might not
be just what you want to hear? The decision is up to you, just
as it was up to the young man on that Judean road that day so
The discipline of discipleship...LEARNING. "Lord, I want to
be a Christian ina my heart, ina my heart"...and ina my HEAD too.