Discipleship–this is a word we hear on the daily in Christian culture. We have become familiarized with it, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that we know how it is supposed to look. And some may not even know if it’s a Biblical model or a new movement of the church. Wherever you fall in your reasoning for searching the web for an answer rest assured, discipleship is an ancient practice found in the Bible.
Where is Discipleship mentioned in the Bible? There many various illustrations of discipleship all throughout the Bible and they are found in both the Old and New Testament. One example is Moses and Joshua in the Old Testament and another, New Testament example is found in the narrative of Jesus’ three years of ministry. Jesus is the greatest illustration we have and is where we have gotten the recipe for discipleship today.
The examples mentioned above are just two of so many other stories that show how discipleship was practiced by both the early church fathers as well as from before Israel ever became a nation.
So we’ll examine scriptures in both the New and Old Testament to better understand what the Biblical model.
The Purpose of Discipleship
Before we dive into scripture, it is important to at least have a brief understanding of where discipleship originated and why it was and is practiced.
Discipleship comes from the word “disciple,” and the literal definition means one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another.
From this definition, we come to understand what it meant to take on a disciple. In the past, teachers/rabbis would take young men whom they thought had the aptitude to understand and further their message.
When these men would become their disciple, they would then live life together. Eating, praying, learning, teaching, everything. And the main idea was that the young men would learn by observing how their mentor lived their life and interacted with their family, as well as how they worshiped and lived for the lord.
But the ultimate goal was for their disciples to carry on their message and ideas to the next generation.
Now that you have a basic idea of what discipleship is, let’s look at Biblical illustrations of it.
Old Testament Examples
A lot of times in America, we grow up learning or hearing the stories of the Old Testament in Sunday school, stories like Jonah and the Whale, David and Goliath, Queen Esther, Moses splitting the Red Sea. But once we grow up, we don’t really take the time to study the Old Testament.
But it is important to not neglect the Old Testament; there are 39 books chock full of history, principles, and prophecy, that cannot be overlooked.
Just one example of this is the model for discipleship and this is first found in the story of Moses.
Moses and Joshua
Moses was the man who split the Red Sea and led the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity. The Lord spoke to him and appointed him as a prophet to speak the word of the Lord to the people while they were journeying to their promised land.
The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.Exodus 33:11
During his life and leadership, he had a young aide named Joshua. And an aide is simply a fancy way of saying ‘assistant’ or ‘helper.’ Joshua was Moses’ eventual successor, and it is clear that Moses and Joshua spent a lot of time together.
Joshua went up the mountain with Moses to receive the law while everyone else remained; Moses’ aid learned the proper way to live and lead, and thus was groomed for taking his place and carrying on his mission.
Eli and Samuel
Next, are the prophets, Eli and Samuel.
Eli was the prophet in Israel at the time of Samuel’s birth. After he was born his mother dedicated him to the temple because the Lord had blessed her with a son in her barrenness.
The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.1 Samuel 3:1
Samuel grew up in the temple being mentored by Eli until the day that Eli died, after his death Samuel then succeeded him and became Israel’s prophet.
But again, we see the mentorship taking place through living daily together, eating together, teaching, praying, etc.
Elijah and Elisha
On to two other prophets–Elijah and Elisha.
Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.1 Kings 19:16
We see above that God instructed Elijah to anoint Elisha as his successor. Though he did this, Elisha didn’t immediately take the mantel, he was mentored/discipled first.
So Elisha…. set out to follow Elijah and became his servant1 Kings 19:21
Elisha followed and learned from Elijah up to the point of Elijah being carried off to heaven in a chariot of fire.
New Testament Examples
Now that we have taken a look at the Old Testament, let’s jump into some other stories and examples in the New Testament.
Jesus’ story is one that most people here in the US are familiar with, and his earthly ministry gives us the greatest example of discipleship in the whole Bible.
First, Jesus called twelve men to follow Him. They dropped everything they were doing and committed their lives to following and learning His ways.
As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.Matthew 4:18-20
After Jesus died on the cross and ascended into heaven, the disciples took what He taught them and passed it on to all those they possibly could, and the New Testament is a result of that.
Paul and Titus
One last example is from the Apostle Paul. Paul, who is known for a great many things, we especially known for his missionary journeys, during his journey’s he had companions travel with him to help bring the Gospel to the lost.
To Titus, my true son in our common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.Titus 1:4
These companions were often his disciples and people he converted along the way. In many accounts they followed Paul and learned under him, then he would appoint them over churches.
Again, this illustrates the model and significance of mentorship/discipleship in the Christians life.
What Their Examples Teach Us
It’s significant to me that discipleship has been consistently practiced throughout history by the followers of God. This points to it both being important and effective.
Next, if Jesus did it, we should certainly do it.
And lastly, all of these examples show us that true discipleship is no small thing that you can go into with a non-committal attitude. Discipleship means dedication to cultivating a fruitful relationship that will produce a crop a hundred times over.
Now that it’s clear where discipleship is mentioned and that it is a major practice of the Bible, I encourage you to take part in it, whether you’re being discipled, or discipling another.