Discipleship 101: Bench the bar

October 25, 2022

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No, this video isn't about weight training. But my weight training story definitely applies to being a disciple of Jesus. How do we grow and mature as followers of Christ? It's not mysterious, and has so much to do with how we relate to the people around us every day and what we're looking forward to.

Transcription

Hey friends, Josh here. When I was in college, I had a friend who invited me to the gym with him for weight training. I was a skinny little point guard in high school basketball and had never really lifted weights before. So I said, why not? Might be fun to get in shape and get away from staring at a computer screen for a while. So we go and we start off with a chest workout, specifically the bench press. And so I lay back on the bench with the bar above my head, and as I grab the bar, I ask my friend “hey Mike, how much weight should I start with?” Now if you’re familiar with the bench press, you’ll know that the bar weights 45 pounds, or 20 kilograms. And I thought “well hey, I’ve never done this before, but surely it can’t be that hard, right?” I just saw my friend do a “warm up set” of 10 reps with a plate on each side of the bar, that’s a 45 pound weight on each side. But much to my surprise, my friend said “we’re not going to put any weight on”. And I was a little shocked and embarrassed, I mean, surely a young healthy 18 year old kid should be able to push at least more than just the 45 pound bar, right? And my friend had just made it look so easy with his warm up set of 135 pounds. But as I began to unrack the bar and hold it above my chest, I realized how wrong I was. The bar began to wobble above me as I struggled to control the movement of my arms. This was a completely foreign experience, and no matter how much my mind thought that I could handle it, my muscles showed that I couldn’t. Without my friend as a spotter to grab the bar, I surely would have hurt myself. And once I was able to get it under control, my friend guided me through the steps, helped me focus and breathe, and finally to complete an initial set of 10 reps. I remember having a number of different feelings after I re-racked the bar and stood up from the bench. I was relieved that it was over, embarrassed that I was a lot weaker than I thought I was, and determined to get stronger. It was about a year later after consistent hard work that I was able to bench a set of 10 with a plate on each side - 135 pounds total.

Now I tell that story because I think it has a lot of application to being a disciple of Jesus. I have folks asking me all the time, “Josh, how do I grow as a disciple? How do I stop sinning? How can I be more pleasing and obedient to Jesus?” And I think our modern Western culture affects how we understand growth and maturity - we assume there’s a shortcut like there is for so many other things in our day and age. Like if you’re hungry, just go get fast food. If you have a headache, just take some pain relievers. If you have a question about anything, you can just ask Google or Siri. But when it comes to growing and maturing as a disciple, there are no shortcuts. You can’t go to one conference or read one book and have it all figured out. I want to talk about how we grow as a disciple, but first I want to take a bit to explain what it actually means to be a disciple. Because to be a follower of Jesus means much more than just saying a prayer and believing something true abut Jesus. For the Jewish people at the time of Jesus, a disciple was essentially a student of a teacher, called a rabbi. To put it simply, Jewish rabbis read and interpreted their scriptures, called the Tanakh. They then taught their students how to understand what Moses and the prophets wrote, and they modeled a lifestyle in accordance with that understanding. The expectation in a continuing discipleship relationship was that the rabbi’s students would seek to grow in both the knowledge and the manner of life of the rabbi.

So to be a disciple of Jesus means two things: first, that we grow in his understanding and interpretation of the Law and the Prophets, and second, that we imitate his manner of life as the appropriate response to God’s reliability and trustworthiness to do what he’s promised. So we learn from him, we obey him, and we imitate him. Now there’s no better place to see these realities converge than in the life and teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. And if you’re familiar with his teachings, Jesus says some pretty radical things - at least to our modern ears. His audience was Jewish people in the first century, so there are lots of things that don’t initially make a lot of sense to us Westerners 2000 years later. For them, he was calling them away from the baseless hatred that filled the people of Israel at the time, and how this was contrary to the Torah as given to them at Sinai. Even though first century Jews are the primary audience of the Sermon on the Mount, we shouldn’t dismiss his words as ancient and inapplicable to us because they are describing to us what God himself is like. More on that in a bit. I mentioned in my previous video that I called “this is the hardest thing about being a disciple of Jesus”, the Lord’s call to discipleship is a call to follow him with the expectation that it could cost us everything. That obeying him and following his teachings and manner of life could result in the loss of our own life. And if we don’t consider this, if we don’t count the cost, then we won’t have the ability to continue being his disciple - especially when the heat gets turned up and the pressure mounts. More on that in a bit too.

So what are some of the things Jesus teaches and how does he expect his disciples to live? Maybe what comes to mind for many of you is the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, 6, and 7. In Matthew 5 , for example, Jesus says a number of things that just sound so absurd to us. For example, he says:

1. It matters how you respond relationally when you are slapped by evil people
2. It matters how you respond when people falsely take you to court to take your things
3. It matters how you respond when there’s is government overreach that leads you to forced labor (this is what Jesus means when he says “if someone compels you to walk one mile, go with him two. The context for a first century Jew being forced to walk a mile is the Roman government and their demands on the people.
4. Another thing he says is that it matters how you respond when you have needy friends and family
5. And still yet more, it matters how you respond when you have enemies that persecute you

And so what does he say his disciples are supposed to do in those kinds of situations? Well, when you’re slapped by evil people, turn the other cheek and let them slap that too. When someone wrongly takes you to court, give more than what you’re sued for. When a power compels you to work for them, submit to the overreach. And don’t deny friends and family who are needy.

Those are Jesus’ words, friends. This is what he’s teaching. If we’re being honest, those things seem so unreasonable and offensive to us.

By just reading those words, we can see that the beginning of discipleship doesn’t really have anything to do with learning how to preach the gospel in a Muslim nation or getting martyred on the mission field. The beginning of discipleship is about benching the bar. Maybe we have a lot of zeal and say “yes, I’ll go to the mission field and die for Jesus!” but there’s no way we’re going to be able to bench press two plates, 225 pounds successfully if we struggle with our form on a 45 pound bar. If we have no strength to resist temptation to retaliate when it comes to relational issues and false accusation and having our things stolen, we’re fooling ourselves if we think we’ll have strength to give up everything when the heat gets turned up and we’re asked to renounce Jesus at the threat of death.

I talk with a lot of young people who tell me things like “I get angry at my roommates when they don’t clean their dishes.” Or “I don’t like how my coworkers make fun of me for going to church on Sundays”. And I tell them: “Do their dishes for them and don’t go out of the way to tell them that you did.” Many of them look at me like I have seven heads and 10 horns. But I say “you’re benching the bar, bro. Responding with humility, serving in secret, not seeking recognition, not retaliating when you’re wronged… that’s discipleship 101. That’s what it means to obey Jesus. Just keep doing that and it will get easier. And when it comes time to add weight, you’ll have the form down, you’ll know what do when someone really mistreats you or you have a lot of money stolen, or major false accusations are brought against you, or maybe your life is threatened because of your faith in Jesus.”

And I say to them when we ask the Lord “help me to grow, help me to love you more”, we’re asking him to help us obey him and be more like him. So what is he going to do? He’s probably not going to start by giving you a one-way ticket on a plane to a terrorist state the Middle East. He’s going to bring people across your path that will bring out your impatience. He’s going to give you opportunities for sacrificial generosity and to serve people without recognition. He’s going to give you opportunities to “go low” - to humble yourself before people in a way that grids up against your flesh and your desire to be seen and known.” This is what it means to follow Jesus and be his disciple. And as we do these things, we grow and we mature.

So why does Jesus teach these things? What’s the basis for the seemingly offensive things he says? Well, it’s what follows in Matthew 5:44-48. Jesus says:

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven… verse 48 he says: You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

In other words, the basis for Jesus’ teachings is: this is what God is like, and this is what the age to come will be like. I say much more about this in my other video: “Fight sin with a clear vision of the future”. We have to remember that our view of the future determines how we live in the present. What it’s going to be like in the age to come is what motivates behavior, thoughts, and lifestyle today. So how is our life today lining up with how we were created to live in the beginning and how we are destined to live when Jesus returns? Because a real day of judgment and reckoning is coming and because unrighteousness won’t exist in the age to come. This is why Jesus exhorts his followers with the seemingly unreasonable things he does - because this manner of life is God’s standard and he will be faithful and just to punish the wicked and reward the righteous in accordance with that standard on a soon and coming day.

So I’ll leave you with that today. Ask the Lord for opportunities to bench the bar. To exercise simple obedience, especially when no one is looking. And fill your mind with what the scriptures say about the future. As I’ve said before, eschatology drives discipleship. This isn’t complex friends, but it’s hard. Just stick with it, day by day by day. May the Lord give us grace to be his disciples and persevere until the end.

Amen. Drop a like on this video and leave a comment below if it was encouraging, and subscribe for more to come. God bless, shalom.

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