The Ways of God

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 5 - The Way of True Discipleship

Reading: Matt. 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11.

We see in these passages of Scripture the beginning of discipleship so far as the Lord was concerned. The first time that the word is used and mention is made of the Lord having disciples was at Cana in Galilee at the end of the turning of the water into wine. From then onwards, at different places in the country and at different times, the word 'disciple' is used of them, and we see in these passages the calling of such, and therefore the beginning of discipleship. 'Disciples' simply means 'learners', those who are to learn, and that by association with the Teacher.

Now, in the records of the calling of the disciples, or in their relation­ship with the Lord, there seems to be a gap at one point. Simon, Andrew, and John went after the Lord and were completely captivated by Him, and it becomes quite clear that, while they were disciples of John the Baptist, they transferred their discipleship at a certain point to the Lord. But the gap was between the initial calling and the point at which they made the full and final break. In between they went back to their fishing, as we read in Luke.

It is quite clear that Simon knew the Lord before this incident and had a kind of relationship with Him which meant a certain degree or a certain kind of obedience. There was an understanding between them; there was a relationship already existing, but they had not finally left their boats and nets and their work as fishermen. In a sense they were already disciples up to a point. They had gone so far; there was an understanding between them and the Lord. There was a relationship, but the relationship had not yet arrived at the point where everything else was abandoned for Him. That came, as we shall see later, on certain grounds.

The point for the moment is this gap, and during the gap this incident occurred which we have just read in Luke, referred to as the 'miraculous draught of fishes'. That is placed between an initial relationship and understanding which just goes so far, and the full break and entire abandonment of all for the Lord, and therefore this incident has peculiar significance, coming into that gap. You see, they are in a way disciples, but that discipleship was not intended to remain in that realm and on that basis indefinitely. They were called to learn in order that they might do; "He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him, and that He might send them forth" (Mark 3:14). "That they might be with Him" - that is the discipleship; "and that He might send them forth" - that is the apostleship. They may be two different things, or two halves of one thing, and in between, at some point, in some way, in between the discipleship and the apostleship (that is, in between the relationship with the Lord for instruction, for discipline, and the effective service) certain things have to take place. It is not always a time matter at all; it is just how quickly we learn. The two things may be going on more or less at the same time - that we are disciples and apostles at the same time, for these men were that at a certain point. But something has to come in to carry us from the point where we are only in an indefinite way the Lord's disciples, and the full way which leads to the realisation of the full purpose for which we have been called of the Lord, the object for which He has called us into fellowship with Himself.

The Value of a Practical Background

There are two things to say about that. One is, firstly, the great importance and value of a practical background. These men were trained fishermen. It seems it was a kind of limited liability company, and Simon was the managing director. The two families are mentioned working together, and they were partners with Simon. How very much their natural training and background is drawn upon in their lives. It is very impressive, if you just read Mark's Gospel alone, to see how much the sea and fish, and fishing, are mentioned. "He walked by the sea" is constantly reiterated in Mark. These men had that practical, temporal background which was going to be of tremendous value, and the Lord Himself drew upon it. They knew something about the sea and what you might expect on the sea; they knew something about fish and what you might expect where fish were concerned and how to go to work in catching them; they knew something about nets. All that was going to stand them in great stead in the other realm where the sea is the world; the fish the multitudes of men in the world; the sea and the fish together - the whole mass of humanity, and the ways of God in taking men alive. It is interesting to follow Peter through from the day of Pentecost onwards, and see that higher spiritual wisdom at work in his life in relation to men. In the same way we can look at the church and the Spirit's wisdom in the world, taking hold of men.

My point is this, that training and values here in this world in a temporal way are not wasted. There is a sovereignty behind the way in which the Lord deals with us in our lives here. In some cases there may be a very full and complete training along a certain line. In other cases, the way of the Lord's sovereign dealings with us may be different. Some He has led this way and some that. Some have been led for some reason (perhaps they do not know why) to take up this line of work or that, and they become efficient or trained in that. Others find that their background is different from their current task, but when looked at from the Lord's standpoint, the way the Lord has dealt with us is not meaningless or without value. There are some, of course, who would say, "If only I had been trained in this or that! If only I had this in my hands!" Well now, the time may come, if it has not already come, when even such people will be able to say, "Well, that has provided a very real ground for knowing the Lord and for knowing people and being able to enter into the lives of others; it has not been wrong, a mistake or a misfortune." Sometimes it is something quite definite and concrete, as with these men who were expert in their trade. I do not know what Matthew might think about it. He had to sit at a desk receiving tribute money as a servant of an invading, occupy­ing nation. Perhaps he reflected on that with a good deal of questioning. The Lord sovereignly has a place for our background, and we must not take the attitude of discarding it as something that does not count for anything. It will find a place just as with these men it had a very definite place. It will find a place if we trust the Lord and not just clean the slate of everything of the past as if there had been no sovereignty of God in it at all. That is a very important thing to remember and, whether you are able to recognise it now or not, the time will come when you will not be sorry that your former life was as it was. You will see that under the hand of the Lord, it really has been a ground upon which He has been able to work, and out of which He has been able to get peculiar values. That is one thing here. The Lord took up these men, and transferred their past history to a higher realm and made use of it there - with a higher wisdom of course, and an entirely new understanding of things.

Capitulation to the Lordship of Christ

The other thing that is quite clear here is this crisis in the life of Peter. If he is managing director, if he is the head of the firm, of course he is a representative one. He is, in the light of the big place that he is going to occupy in the future, the leader in the church at the beginning. It was through him, after recovery, that the scattered brethren were related and gathered. It was by the leadership which was given to him by the Holy Spirit that the first big movements of the church were made. We cannot get away from the fact that in a spiritual sense afterwards, he is still the managing director, so to speak; he is still the man who influences the situation and influences the other lives and is the centre of the church. When he was put in prison, the whole church made prayer for him; he is the key to the situation. Well, in the light of the influence that he will exert, the position he will hold, he has to be dealt with in a representative way.

Now just think of the managing director, the head of this firm of fishermen, having toiled all night and having caught nothing, being told in broad daylight by someone who is not a fisherman at all, whom he has not yet recognised as the Son of God but only as the prophet, the Messiah (a carpenter more used to agriculture than seafaring, who naturally has no knowledge and no authority in this realm of Peter's, in which Peter is an expert) to let down the nets. Now here is an interesting thing. He objects, has his reservations - "We toiled all night, and took nothing; but at Thy word I will let down the nets." He has used the word, 'Master'. That is a peculiar word, it is not the usual word for Teacher or Rabbi. It is a very rare word which means simply Superintendent, and that, I say, is significant, that Peter should have got that far and said, "Well, I am boss in this firm, but You are my boss. I give way to You because I recognise You as head of this whole business!" But when he had taken the draught of fishes, he said, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord." The word here is 'Kurios', meaning absolute Lordship. He is the Lord Jesus Christ. This is another realm altogether, not in the temporal but in the universal, the transition from superintendent to absolute Lordship. Now, that transition indicates the movement from discipleship to apostleship. "Thou shalt take men alive." The Lord has so governed this whole matter as to bring Simon, this one who knew all about it and could do it all, and who had the position, to a place where he has discovered his own helplessness and futility. Then he discovers in his own utter futility that the Lord can just very simply do what no expert would ever imagine could be done. You do not go out fishing in broad daylight, especially in those parts of the world. If you have toiled all night and taken nothing, you conclude that there is nothing doing, so you clean up your nets, hang them up to dry, and when things are more favourable, you will try again. But in the most unfavourable, naturally speaking the most hopeless situation, here is the tremendous reverse from heaven.

The fact is - we have got to face it - that sooner or later everyone who is going to be used of God will, under the Divine sovereignty, come to a full recognition of their own utter futility. In the hour of that recognition, of course, the enemy will pounce. When we are feeling worthless and helpless, he will say, "You are no good, you had better give it all up and quit!" But let us recognise that such times of manifested worthlessness when we feel and know that we in ourselves are a failure, are absolutely necessary to having greater usefulness to the Lord. The Lord will not have any natural experts in His service. There are no natural specialists in the service of God, no experts, no people who know how to do it and are capable of doing it. The Lord has no place for them or for those who think they can. Simon is a representative one; he stands at the head of all discipleship and says, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." How utterly futile! The Lord, of course, did not depart from him; He went on with the work of training.

The foundation of all training, all discipleship unto usefulness is exactly that. The foundation is your coming to know that it is no use, you have not got it; however much you may think you can, you just cannot do it. It does not matter how much training you have had; you cannot do it. It does not matter what the past has been. You may be the head of an important firm - it does not count here. You have touched another realm in which things are different. You cannot get away with it here; it is the Lord in this realm. It is another superior realm, altogether greater, but one which has to produce in us one thing.

It says, "he was amazed", and so were the others. No one who is conceited is ever amazed. No one who thinks they can do it and know all about it is ever amazed. If you come to the place where the whole situation is utterly impossible, proved to be impossible, and you know that it is not in you, and then the Lord does something, you are amazed. You can do nothing but go down on your knees and worship.

That is the double side of discipleship and training for usefulness - and let us lay it to heart. When Moses thought he could do it and he went out and took the thing in hand and started to throw his weight about, that was an end of his usefulness to the Lord for forty years. When he came to the place where he said, "I cannot - although mighty in word and learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians - yet, I cannot!" - that is the time the Lord began, and gave him the illustration of the bush filled with fire and not consumed. There is something supernatural about this and not natural at all, in the service of God. This is the way of our calling: to constantly be reminded that we have not got it, we cannot do it; but on the other hand, that the Lord can, and the Lord is doing it. So, while we have no faith in ourselves, we have faith in the Lord over against ourselves. This is the way of true discipleship.

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