In the English language, the word “disciple” can be used as both a noun and a verb. When used as a noun, the word refers to “one who embraces and assists in spreading the teachings of another.” In the realm of Christianity, the term suggests “a personal follower of Jesus Christ during his life, especially one of the twelve Apostles.” Used as a verb, to disciple someone means to “guide (someone) in becoming a follower of Jesus Christ or another leader.” And so, it follows that suitable synonyms for the word “disciple” are: follower, pupil, adherent, student, apprentice, and learner.
The word “disciple” is very closely related to the word “discipline” which can be defined as “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior.” Therefore, it could be said that a disciple is a disciplined pupil or adherent. The prophet Mormon, in the Book of Mormon (Another Testament of Jesus Christ), declared to the people, “Behold, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been called of him to declare his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life” (3 Nephi 5:13.)
However, a disciple is more than a learner or a pupil, but rather he is one who strives to imitate his teacher. In the case of His disciples, Christ Himself was their Teacher, and He taught them, “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you” (Philippians 4:9.) The Apostle Paul in speaking to the church at Corinth exhorted the people, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1.) “ And in the Book of Mormon, in 3 Nephi 27:21-22, the Master teaches the people, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do; therefore, if ye do these things blessed are ye, for ye shall be lifted up at the last day.”
A Disciple in the Jewish Culture of Jesus’ Time
In the Jewish culture of Jesus’ time, a rabbinical student, or a disciple of a rabbi, would leave his home and family and take up residence with his teacher. While in the home of his teacher, the pupil served his teacher in humility and respected him as one who had absolute authority. The pupil was not only expected to learn all that his teacher knew, but to become like him in disposition and devoutness. In return, the rabbi provided food and shelter, and received the blessings of seeing the knowledge which he had imparted to his pupil, transmitted through his disciple to future generations.
And so, the question that perhaps begs an answer is, “What is required to become a true disciple?”
Be ye therefore perfect. . . .
The word perfect may be defined as “that which is correct to the last detail.” And so, when many people think of something or someone as being perfect, they envision that something or someone as not having any flaws or imperfections.
When applying this definition of “perfect” to our own lives, we must admit that we are indeed found wanting. For, if we are honest with ourselves, none of us are perfect. We are all a continual work in progress, striving for perfection, but having not yet obtained it.
Perhaps it is this misunderstanding of the word “perfect” in the spiritual sense, such as “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), that causes some to give up even before trying because they realize how far short of the perfection of the Father they fall.
Job, a true servant of the Lord, was a man who was “perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil” (Job 1:1). When Abram was ninety-nine years of age, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect” (Genesis 17:1). “Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9).
But, how is it possible to be “perfect” when Scriptures clearly teach us:
There is none righteous, no, not one (Romans 3:10), For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)? This is a truth that we cannot deny and John is very clear on this subject when he says in 1 John 1:8-10, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
What does it mean to be perfect? Is this perfection something that we have no hope of obtaining? The Greek word “perfect” as found in Matthew 5:48 is telios. According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, it means “brought to its end, finished, wanting nothing necessary to completeness, perfect, full-grown, adult, mature.” The following are a few examples of how the word “perfect” is referenced in the context of the New Testament:
- Beyond keeping the Ten Commandments, perfection is having love and concern for the poor by attending to their needs. – Matthew 19:16-22.
- Perfection is being a daily living sacrifice of service, and not being conformed to this world, but transformed by the Holy Spirit to act upon the perfect will of the Almighty. – Romans 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16.
- The purpose of the ministry is for the perfecting of the saints, that we will be united in the one true faith, complete in the knowledge of the Messiah, a perfect man like He is perfect, no more children tossed about. – Ephesians 4:11-16; Colossians 1:27-29.
- Those who are becoming perfect have the Creator’s mind – a mind of humility and service to one another. – Philippians 2:2-5, 19, 20; Philippians 3:15. Epaphroditus, or Epaphras, is an example of perfect service to the
brethren. – Philippians 2:25-30; Colossians 4:12-13.
- Unless we have advanced beyond the basic doctrines and beyond the milk of the word, and are able to teach others, we are not mature believers. – Hebrews 5:9 to 6:6. Notice the words translated “of full age” in Hebrews 5:14. The Greek word is telios. We who have been schooled for so many years in the truth ought now to be teachers, skilled in living and practicing the Word and able to teach others.
- Patiently overcoming trials and temptations results in perfection. – James 1:2-8,12; I Peter 5:10.
- Perfection comes from the Father who is perfect. – James 1:17- 18.
- The spiritual law is a perfect law of liberty. Those who obey it are perfect. – James 1:23-25, 2:22.
Perfection is not an illusory goal; it is our daily way of life. Our every effort is directed toward becoming perfect even as our Father in Heaven is perfect. The Savior is the captain of our salvation, made perfect through suffering and obedience. Once we take our eyes off our Savior, perfection all at once seems to be out of the realm of reality. Indeed without Him, perfection is impossible, but because of Him and all that He has done for us through His vicarious atonement, we can be perfected in Him.
Love is the Key
In a teaching moment, a question is posed to our Great Exemplar by a Pharisee, a lawyer by trade, as to which was the greatest commandment in the law. Without hesitation the Master replies, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:34-40).
Love in its truest sense is not a passive word, but rather it is a word of action. True love is more than occasionally telling someone that you love them. True love springs into action and demonstrates its sincerity through acts of kindness, generosity, and service. The reward of true love is the satisfaction of knowing that someone’s life has been made a little better because of the thoughtfulness and considerations that have been extended to them. If we say that we love others – our neighbor – and that we love God, then we would treat our neighbor as we would want to be treated and we would revere our Father in Heaven.
Consider the words of the Lord to Moses as recorded in Leviticus 19 where we read,
Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour: I am the Lord. Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:16-18.)
In Deuteronomy we read the following words of Moses to his people,
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Deuteronomy 6:5-7.)
Thomas S. Monson, President and Prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently referred to as the Mormon Church by the media and others) has said,
As we look heavenward, we inevitably learn of our responsibility to reach outward. To find real happiness, we must seek for it in a focus outside ourselves. No one has learned the meaning of living until he has surrendered his ego to the service of his fellow man. Service to others is akin to duty, the fulfillment of which brings true joy. We do not live alone—in our city, our nation, or our world. There is no dividing line between our prosperity and our neighbor’s wretchedness. ‘Love thy neighbor’ is more than a divine truth. It is a pattern for perfection” (Thomas S. Monson, The Joy of Service, New Era, October 2009, 4.)
The scriptures teach us, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also” (1 John 4:20, 21.) Said the Master, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35.)
Keith L. Brown
Keith L. Brown is a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, having been born and raised Baptist. He was studying to be a Baptist minister at the time of his conversion to the LDS faith. He was baptized on 10 March 1998 in Reykjavik, Iceland while serving on active duty in the United States Navy in Keflavic, Iceland. He currently serves as the First Assistant to the High Priest Group for the Annapolis, Maryland Ward. He is a 30-year honorably retired United States Navy Veteran.