The Seven Marks of a Disciple:

An Incomparable Love for Jesus

Scripture: Matthew 10:32-39

Introduction

Debbie and I were married in June of 1970, less than 200 kilometres from here in Fort Fairfield, Maine. Like today, it was a sweltering hot day, and we shook hands with people for what seemed like an eternity. I even found myself doing the famous "pastoral handshake" of gently pulling people along while you shake their hands. You see, I was anxious to get away with Debbie. The wedding was over, the wedding night had arrived, and we were going to Nova Scotia for the honeymoon!

I didn't go to my Mom and say, "Mom, I really feel bad. I've been living in your house for twenty-one years, and I just realized I'm not going to be sleeping at home tonight."

I didn't care I wasn't going to sleep in my own bed. Anybody could sleep in that bed for all I cared! Give it to one of the relatives, sell it, burn it, do anything you want with it. It didn't matter to me. All that mattered was being with Debbie.

Had you evaluated my life that day, you might have said, "You must not like your family very much." Oh, I loved them with all my heart, but my love for Debbie was so strong everything else seemed second, third, or even fourth class in comparison.

Debbie and I stood on our wedding day and forsaking all others we pledged ourselves exclusively to each other. We made each other the highest earthly priority in our lives. I was forsaking my family for Debbie.

Today, no one in the world means as much to me as Debbie, our three children, and our new grandson, Jorian. My family is the definition of my life apart from my personal relationship with the Lord.

This summer we are on a journey exploring what it means to be a disciple. The very first mark of a disciple is an incomparable love for Jesus Christ. We are to make our love for Him our first priority, to love Him so devotedly that our other relationships dim in comparison.

He said if we are to be His disciples we must love Him above all others, more than anyone or anything else. Our love for Him must be supreme. He gave us this instruction very clearly in Matthew 10:37: "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me."

I don't think it's accidental that Jesus chose family relationships to illustrate the kind of love He expects from His disciples. Normally, unless there is a major dysfunction, family relationships are the deepest and closest love relationships we have. And yet Jesus commanded us to love Him more.

What hinders us from loving Him more than we love others? In this passage Jesus reminds us of some sources where we may find obstacles to loving Him supremely.

1. The family can be a source of opposition.
Ironically, our family may be a source of obstacle to our love for Jesus. When you came to know Jesus Christ, maybe the rest of your family didn't understand it, and to this point they haven't been sympathetic.

When we examine our text, we see that Jesus warned us about such a possibility. He said: (Matthew 10:34-36 NLT) Don't imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! No, I came to bring a sword. I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. Your enemies will be right in your own household!

On the night of Jesus' birth the angels announced (Luke 2:14) Peace on earth, goodwill toward men. What He is saying here seems to be diametrically opposed to that. I did not come to bring peace. No, I came to bring a sword.

You may be thinking, "What on earth is Jesus saying?" He came to split up families rather than to reconcile them?" This definitely deserves a closer look before we get carried away.

Sometimes those most unsympathetic to our commitment to Christ are those with whom we live. They may not understand what it means to know Christ personally. They may unwittingly be jealous of the time we choose to commit to the Lord and His work. They may have self-imposed guilt feelings that we never intended them to have. They may think we now have a "holier than thou" attitude, even if we don't.

When I sensed that obedience to Christ in my life was a matter of preparing to be a minister, I told my mother of my intentions. Though I was expecting her encouragement and support, I was met with mild opposition. I remember her rationale at the time. She said, "Oh, Dougie, you don't want to be a pastor. There's no money in it. Churches can't afford to pay ministers much. Churches have a lot problems. They give ministers a hard time." Rather than being encouraged by her, I felt opposition to this decision I was making to obey Christ.

Now, I must say, from my mother's perspective I don't feel for a moment that she was opposing Christ. I think it was only natural for her to be concerned about me wanting to be a minister. After all, I was not even remotely close to being what her idea of a minister was. She could see all my immaturity and irresponsibility. All the years I was growing up, she was the one who had to pick up after me and had to keep on my case about my complacency and indifference. In her mind ministers were sensitive, wise, caring and compassionate - and I appeared to be anything but that.

But from my perspective, I felt like my commitment to Christ was being challenged. In a sense, a sword was drawn. Would I obey Christ or follow my mother's wishes? Incidently, it did not take long for my mother to do complete about face. Less than a year later, I heard her talking on the telephone to a friend and telling her with pride about her son who was preparing to be a minister. God had enabled her to see the potential. Throughout Mom's life she was always my greatest supporter.

Jesus warned us that this kind of painful split might occur. When we love Him with a supreme love, a love that's greater than any other love we know, that love may slice like a sword through our families, our relationships, dividing us from those who don't sympathize with our devotion to Jesus.

He didn't want us to be blind-sided. He was saying that even those who are closest to us can become the opposition, attempting to block what God wants to continue in us for His purposes and glory.

Opposition from family members isn't the only obstacle we may face as we learn to love Jesus above all others.

2. Misperceptions can be a source of opposition.
The opinion leaders of Jesus' day had trouble understanding His true identity, and even attributed His work to the Devil. (Matthew 12:23-24) All the people were astonished and said, "Could this be the Son of David?" But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons."

We face the same sort of misperceptions today. The thought- shapers of our society tend to dismiss the claims of Christ and the biblical record that attests to His true identity as the Saviour of the world. These misperceptions can result in verbal attacks, put-downs, and campaigns of ridicule aimed at Christians. Christianity is often the butt of many media jokes. Facing this kind of opposition can be very intimidating - if we allow it to be.

Jesus challenged us to remember that intimidation comes with the territory. He knew that one day all misperceptions, all distortions of the truth, would be revealed for what they are. Knowing that, Jesus could afford to deal with His detractors patiently--and so should we. He didn't need to take on the media or thought-shapers, and neither do we.

3. Persecution can be a source of opposition.
A final obstacle to our love for Christ is persecution. Our commitment to Christ as His disciples, may cause us to be persecuted at school, on the job, or by our neighbours. Jesus encourages us to not fear persecution. (Matthew 10:28) Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Nothing happens to us that God does not sovereignly control. Jesus said: (Matthew 10:30-31) Are not two sparrows sold for a cent! And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows.

One of the most powerful obstacles that keeps us from following Jesus Christ as committed disciples is fear. But Jesus reassures us by saying that God values even the tiniest sparrow so how much more He values us! And not one sparrow falls, not one disciple stumbles, apart from God's knowledge or will.

He is conscious of what happens to us, and He cares about us. Even the very hairs of our heads are numbered. (That's easier on some of us than others!) When we grasp this concept, that God places an enormously high value on us and that everything that happens to us occurs within His will, we have to believe that God's in control.

So don't be afraid. Don't hesitate to commit yourself to Jesus because you're afraid of what people think or what they will do. Don't fear what lies ahead. God is in control. Nothing takes Him by surprise; therefore we are never out of His control or care. What He wills is what is best.

Jesus' way of encouraging us to follow Him without fear is to remind us of the future scene before the throne of God. He says, (Matthew 10:32-33) Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.

Jesus reminds us that if we will take a stand for Him before others, He will take the stand on our behalf before the Father in heaven. But it also carries a warning. If we deny our relationship with Jesus, He will do likewise before the throne of God. Both the blessing and the warning in this passage give us courage so that fear of others may not frustrate our commitment to discipleship.

Conclusion

Do you remember when you first fell in love and you wanted that person to know how you felt? How did you show your love for that person? Perhaps you spent a lot of time thinking about him or her--daydreaming of this person.

When you first fell in love, you wanted to spend time with that person, engaging in thoughtful intimacy. You wanted to do things for him or her. You probably spent a lot of money buying gifts, but no price was too steep for the one you loved.

Now let's use our imaginations. Picture yourself having lunch with the Lord today. Just imagine as you sit across from Him at that table, He slides a piece of paper toward you. He looks into your eyes and says, "I know you love Me more than anybody else in your life. I know this because of your actions and your attitudes. I've made a list of all the ways you show that I am special to you."

Your eyes fall to the slip of paper He's pushing toward you. And now I ask you: What's on the list? How does Jesus know you've made Him your highest priority? Could He write that you had spent time with Him? That you did little things to please Him? That you spent your money buying gifts for Him? That you shared a special intimacy with Him? That you go out of your way to show your love for Him?

To love Jesus the way He expects, we have to put our love for Him front and centre in our lives. We have to do more than say we love Him; we have to show it. How do you show your love for Jesus?

Our love for Jesus should be so great that nothing else can compare; it is in a class all its own. We are to love Jesus with a supreme and incomparable love. Jesus calls us to be His disciples, to love Him with a supreme and incomparable love.

I pray that we all understand what Jesus is asking of us. And if you haven't already done so, I hope you're ready to make your love for Him your first priority.