Merriam-Webster.com gives this definition:
1. a : one bound by indenture to serve another for a prescribed period
with a view to learning an art or trade b : one who is learning by practical experience under skilled workers a trade, art, or calling
This word, “apprentice”, is perhaps a better word today than “disciple” to explain the relationship between Jesus and his followers – either the twelve he personally trained in Israel or those who profess to know him today. While the Apostle Paul regularly described himself as the “servant” or “bond-slave” of Jesus – as in the first definition, the relationship between Jesus and his followers is something like the second definition.
Jesus’ disciples are not people who just learn a lot of information.
Jesus’ disciples are people who learn to be like he is.
At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus took his closest followers and began teaching them what it meant to be his apprentices. But he didn’t focus on facts they should know or specific things they should do.
Rather, he described a certain kind of people. In his opening statements in the Sermon on the Mount, referred to as the Beatitudes because a blessing is pronounced with each quality, Jesus said that the people in his kingdom would be humble, eager for the right, pure in their motives, merciful toward others, and peace makers – among other qualities.
The entire sermon moves us away from outward measureable standards of right and wrong actions – things like “an eye for an eye” – and directs us toward inner qualities and actions motivated by those qualities – things like “love your enemies,” or “don’t judge others.”
Jesus taught his followers – his apprentices – to be a certain kind of people. And, of course, that’s the kind of person he was. He modeled that character in everything he did.
When we think of “Christians,” we tend to think of people who do certain things. Perhaps we think of folks who go to church, or dress a particular way, or who don’t drink alcohol or curse. And those things may be true. But no one is a Christian because of what he does or doesn’t do. Or because of what he knows. Or where he goes. A person is a Christian if he has set out to become like Jesus.
Apprentices must begin somewhere. An apprentice pianist may only know a one-finger version of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” But an apprentice continues the journey and works at the skill. An apprentice pianist may never be able to perform a Rachmaninoff concerto with a symphony.
But an apprentice will continually work to hone his skill and develop his abilities. When he stops learning and growing, he is no longer an apprentice.
An apprentice plumber may begin by carrying the tool box. But he won’t be content until he masters the trade.
An apprentice to Jesus may only wish he could control his temper or maybe learn to tolerate his neighbor. But he will never be content to stop growing and developing in Godliness until he has become the kind of person that Jesus is. An apprentice knows that anyone can dress like a plumber and look like a plumber. But an apprentice knows in his heart and conscience that a real plumber is the one who is determined to actually learn the trade from a master.
But an apprentice is an apprentice right from the start – with no skills, no knowledge, no ability – because he has determined to become like his teacher.
Have you determined to become like Jesus?
Jesus’ goal for his apprentices is not simply that they copy his behavior. His goal is that they become the kind of people who naturally do the things that he would do. The kind of people he describes in that first sermon to his followers. People who – from the inside out – develop his kind of heart, which produces his kind of character, which results in his kind of work.
I’ve signed on. I’m an apprentice. Will you be his apprentice, too?
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a hillside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he opened his mouth and began to teach them… Matthew 5:1,2