In this final article, we will look at some of the more practical aspects of discipleship. In our first study, we noted that in the New Testament there are three words that the Holy Spirit has chosen in order to convey the thought of "following", and it is to the last of these (dioko Strong, 1377) that we now turn our attention. It is the word that describes a hunter pursuing his prey with a view to overtaking it, and is used of certain godly characteristics or attitudes that the believer is commanded to develop. This would indicate to us that these things do not come naturally - they have to be pursued, overtaken. These things that we are to track down and make our own (there are ten in total) can be divided into two groups: those that refer to my inward life, and those that deal with my relationships with others. How wonderful to know that the follower of Christ is not given ten commandments to obey (as the Children of Israel were), but rather ten Christ-like features with which to beautify his or her life for God.
Let us consider the first group - those that concern my personal life as a Christian.
1. "Follow after righteousness" (1 Tim 6.11; see also 2 Tim 2.22). Is my life marked by righteousness in all that I do? Our Lord was able to look on men who were His enemies and challenge them to produce one evidence of sin in his life - would my life be able to stand up to the scrutiny of my fellow men?
2. "Follow after godliness" (1 Tim 6.11). Does my behaviour reflect the character of God? As God looks into my heart, does He see there something of His own likeness? We must also remember that in these days when very few have any knowledge of the teachings of Scripture, it may be that the only idea they have of God is the behaviour of those who bear the name of Christ. One of the greatest condemnations of the nation of Israel was that the name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles because of them (Rom 2.24). God forbid that I should leave this sort of testimony behind me!
3. "Follow after faith" (1 Tim 6.11; see also 2 Tim 2.22). The whole life of a believer is to be marked by faith: it was by faith that we were saved (Eph 2.8), and faith ought to characterise us in everything we do. Faith is simply taking God at His word - do I live like this, whether it be in relation to my obedience to His commands, or my enjoyment of His promises, or even the seriousness with which I take His warnings against sin?
4. "Follow after meekness" (1 Tim 6.11). It is important to understand that meekness is not the same as weakness - the Lord Jesus was meek (Mt 11.29) but He was never weak. Meekness is humility of heart that expresses itself in gentleness of action. It has sometimes been described as power under control, and is one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5.23). In a world that is so often brash and aggressive, the saint is to stand in contrast to all that is around.
5. "Follow holiness" (Heb 12.14). Holiness is the measure of my dedication to God. One who is totally holy is one who is devoted completely to God. In the world we see men and women who have devoted themselves to their careers, their hobbies, and so on. The Christian is to be devoted to God - to be influenced, motivated and energised by God alone. It is of interest that God reveals Himself1 only to those who are devoted to Him (cf Jer 29.13) - am I?
The second group of features that the child of God is to follow relates to my attitude to other people.
1. "Follow after the things which make for peace" (Rom 14.19; see also 2 Tim 2.22; Heb 12.14). We live in a world that is so often marked by strife and restlessness; sadly, this can sometimes be true of assemblies as well. Godly believers, however, will obey the injunction of Scripture and make it their aim to bring peace wherever possible. Of course, this verse does not imply that we sacrifice truth in an attempt to foster an uneasy compromise, but rather that we strive "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph 4.3). One very practical way in which this can be achieved is by refusing to engage in gossip or talebearing: "where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth" (Prov 26.20). If our conversations were to centre around wholesome, profitable, Scriptural subjects there would be little difficulty in keeping the peace!
2. "Follow after things wherewith one may edify another" (Rom 14.19). Do I take an active interest in the edification of my brethren and sisters? Note that Scripture says that this is something we are to actively pursue, not just to hope for. When people spend time in my company, are they edified by it, or is there little spiritual profit to show from the time? Do I pay attention to the spiritual needs of my other believers, with a view to being of some spiritual assistance to them? Needless to say, if I am to be of use to others, I must first be in a right condition of heart myself.
3. "Follow after charity" (1 Cor 14.1; see also 1 Tim 6.11; 2 Tim 2.22). The word for charity here is the word agape (Strong, 26), which refers to an act of will (not an emotion) - it is "an earnest and anxious desire for the well-being of the one loved".2
Again, this is an attitude of heart that needs to be cultivated, especially when it comes to my dealings with "the unthankful" (Lk 6.35 - note that the context here is love for my enemies. This does not mean that I have to like, or be fond of, my enemies, but rather that I am to make a determined effort to seek their good3).
4. "Ever follow that which is good" (1 Thess 5.15). It is so easy, in a world marked by defilement, to become caught up in defiling things ourselves. The antidote to this, however, is given in this verse; we are to occupy our minds with good things. I will make little or no spiritual progress if my mind is constantly occupied with the immoral goings-on of the latest TV soap-opera, or if I read more secular newspapers and magazines than Scripture, or spend more time watching videos than going to meetings. Spiritual progress does not come automatically; it must be pursued with vigour and determination. However, the Apostle in this verse guards against our thinking that goodness is merely an attitude of mind - it is to be practically expressed "to all men". Am I marked by practical goodness to all men? As a follower of Christ I ought to be!
5. "Follow after patience" (1 Tim 6.11). Patience can be considered in a number of different ways. I ought to be longsuffering in my dealings with others - this (like many of the things we are considering) is one feature of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5.22). Also, I ought to be patient in the sense of waiting for things I want. The world today is driven by the principle of instant gratification, but our Lord Jesus was marked by patience in all His ways (even in His current waiting for the day of His exaltation -Ps 110.1; 2 Thess 3.5), and "it is enough for the disciple that he be as his master" (Mt 10.25). Furthermore, it is perhaps well to remind ourselves that these virtues before us are not things that develop overnight; we have need of patience even in our longings to produce spiritual fruit. A premature move on the part of a hunter may scare away the very quarry he seeks to capture. We must be marked by "patient continuance in well doing" (Rom 2.7).
May God grant that we may be daily more motivated to follow the blessed Man who has gone before us, and that in the analysis of eternity it may be said of us, as it was of Caleb (Num 14.24), "my servant hath followed me fully".
1 I take it that that is the meaning of this verse - there is no thought here that we must reach some standard of holiness or else miss out on heaven.
2 International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (1996 edition), vol 3, p1932.
3 A more detailed treatment of this topic can be found in Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis.