Hey friends, Josh here. In my last video that I titled “Discipleship 101: bench the bar”, I discussed a little bit about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. We know from history that for Jews in the first century who were followers or disciples of a rabbi, they were students - they sought to grow in their rabbi’s understanding and interpretation of the Law and the Prophets, and secondly, they were imitators of the rabbi’s way of life. So to be a disciple of Jesus means that as his followers, we learn from him, we obey him, and we imitate him. I talked about how the best place to see this clearly is in the record we have of his life and teachings in the Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and then of course, secondarily in the record of his disciples in the book of Acts - what they said and how they lived. I talked about a few of the teachings of Jesus that we see in the well-known Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5. Jesus taught his followers to do some seemingly offensive and unreasonable things. He said that when you’re slapped by evil people, you should turn the other cheek and let them slap that too. Or when someone wrongly takes you to court, give more than what you’re sued for. Or when a governmental power compels you to work for them, submit to the overreach. Or when you have friends and family who are needy, don’t turn away from helping them.
Jesus’ words show us that to be a disciple doesn’t require that we have to go preach the gospel in a Muslim nation and get martyred for it. The beginning of discipleship is about benching the bar, to use the analogy from my last video. 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 hundreds of 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 really are 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.
Today I want to talk about another important aspect of being a disciple of Jesus, and again, this is basic discipleship, the 101 level of what it means to follow Jesus. Jesus and the apostles have a lot to say about this particular thing, and I think it’s something that we affirm quickly, like we say “yeah yeah of course, oh yeah definitely”, but when it comes down to actually walking it out, we usually find it’s a lot easier said than done. I just want to read a few verses here, and these are Jesus’ words:
Matthew 6:1-3: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And in just the next few verses after that in Matthew 6, Jesus says:
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Later on in Matthew’s gospel Jesus is describing the Pharisees, and in Matthew 23:5-7 he says this:
They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.
So what is it that Jesus is teaching here? First century Jews would have been very familiar with the Pharisees and their manner of life. In many ways, Jesus’ interpretation of the Law and the Prophets was similar to theirs. That’s a topic for another video though. But here, Jesus is saying that to be his disciple, you need to live before the eyes of God, not the eyes of man, like the Pharisees do. They like to be esteemed and praised by others. Jesus said in John 12:43 that they loved praise from man more than they loved praise from God.
And that’s the heart of the issue right there. To be Jesus’ disciples means that we must orient our lives around seeking praise from God rather than praise from man. And the way we do that is simple - we serve in secret. We pray and fast and give in secret. We go out of our way to not be known for our good deeds or generosity, knowing our propensity to love the praise that comes from others more than the praise that comes from God.
As the Proverbs say so often, this is the way of wisdom - to walk in the fear of the Lord, and we walk in the fear of the Lord when we know that he sees in secret. Nothing is hidden from him, the Psalms declare that he knows the secrets of our heart.
As the rest of the scriptures make abundantly clear as well, being a disciple of Jesus involves more than just doing good deeds in secret - we have to pay attention to *everything* we do in secret. To live a duplicitous life - to have a secret life of anger or immorality or drunkenness or any other kind of sin and then to live before others as if we’re an obedient disciple is deeply offensive to God. Our commitment must be genuine - from the heart, not just a show on the outside.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians saying “we make it our aim to be well pleasing to God”. Humans will be mad, glad, or sad, but God’s opinion of our lives is the one that matters in the end. And of course, we must have the end in mind. As I’ve said often in my other videos, we can see from the writings of Jesus’ apostles that eschatology drives discipleship. Our view of the future determines how we live in the present. When we know that a real day of judgment is coming where God will expose the secrets of the heart, where the standard of Jesus’ life will be the standard by which every man and woman is evaluated, when we understand that he’s going to reward what is done in secret, we’re then motivated by the Spirit to imitate Jesus’ manner of life. As he said in Matthew 20 verse 28, the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve. As Paul wrote in Philippians 2, the mindset that we ought to have is the same as Jesus - that he didn’t consider equality with God as something to be used for his own advantage and so he made himself of no reputation and took on the form of a servant.
So to be a disciple of Jesus means more than just going to church, dropping some money in the offering plate, listening to worship music, and having a quiet time. Those things are good, but Jesus’ words ought to pierce us more deeply with conviction about how we spend our time and money and especially what we do when no one is looking. A simple prayer of mine that I’ve prayed for years is “God, help me to love and obey you, especially when no one is looking.”
I have young people ask me all the time - “Josh, how do I know God’s will for my life? I want to make the right choice, should I take this job or that job? Should I marry this one or that one? Should I sell all my stuff and move overseas and do missions in Africa?” And I tell them “God’s will for your life is to look like Jesus, especially when no one is looking. You pick the job, you pick the husband or wife, you pick the location. In wherever or whoever is involved, you’re going to have the same opportunities to obey Jesus’ teachings and imitate Jesus’ manner of life. That’s what matters to him the most.”
Friends, this is discipleship 101. Among all the culture wars and end-times charts and theological debates, we can’t lose sight of Jesus’ teachings on what it means to actually be his disciple.
So if we truly call ourselves disciples of Jesus, we must aim for hiddenness. Aim for living before God in secret. Aim for being well pleasing to him and being obedient especially when no one is looking. Go out of your way to not be seen by men, and remember that a day of judgment and justice is coming when God will render to each one according to what they’ve done - especially what they’ve done in secret when no one else sees but God. Seek for the praise that will come from God on that day, and settle it in your heart that it’s actually better if no one else but God sees or knows how you’ve obeyed him.
I hope this is encouraging. If it is, hit that like button and leave a comment below, and share this video with your friends. God bless, and I’ll see you on the next one.