A friend came up to me once with an excited look on his face. He’d bought himself a new Bible. Of course I'd seen many before but this one was different, special even. Why? Well he opened it up and showed me the Gospels. The words of Jesus were in Red. These ‘Red Letter Bibles’ have an association attached to them; their readers are committed to taking the words of Jesus extra seriously. They are in red after all. I do think the words are Jesus are special, life-transforming even. If you have one of these Bibles I think that’s great. However as I thought about this more, I began to think, why the words of Jesus and not his actions as well?. After all at the very centre of our Christian life and faith is the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross- a cosmic changing action, with very few words spoken.
In reality the Gospels are about the words and deeds of Jesus.
We are told in Matthews Gospel that, ‘Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.’ (9.35) So often Jesus’ teachings are followed by actions- a loving hand of welcome, healing, miracles, forgiveness of sins, hospitality and more. Even a brief look at the way Jesus trains his disciples demonstrates that it is both words and deeds that are important. Mike Breen defines a disciple as
‘Someone who is learning to be like Jesus and do the things that he did.’
Through the scriptures we learn God’s ways and this changes our hearts and lives from the inside out.
When we think about Christian discipleship maybe different pictures come to mind: someone who knows the Bible, someone who prays, someone who is kind- all of these are part of discipleship.
The word for Disciple in the New Testament is the Greek word ‘manthano’. The first thing to note is that it’s a verb: an active doing word. Disciples are not passive. Secondly, the closest describing word we have in English is an ‘apprentice.’
We are to be apprentices of Jesus. We are to be equally people of The Book and people who act in Jesus’ name. An apprentice plumber wouldn’t get very far if she simply kept her head in the plumbing manual. Equally she needs to know her manual inside out, to be able to be an effective plumber. As apprentices of Jesus we are to be people of the Scriptures, who are then prepared to live out what we learn.
The good news is that we don’t get to do this alone. Jesus’ heart for community is a welcoming, accepting, transforming space where we get to walk together. Jesus never sent his disciples out alone- always in twos or more. The early church were known as a distinct and radically loving community and this gained them favour within the wider city and added to their number… daily! Church needs to be more and more a place of community, where we have the opportunity to know and be known by others.