Discipleship: The First-Fruit of the Kingdom

What do you think the first-fruit of the kingdom is?  Discipleship is lacking in many churches today. The local church lacks discipleship because people, in large part, are afraid to be wrong. Many pastors don’t start the difficult conversations that Scripture insights because they fear people will lash out at them and/or leave their congregations. People don’t ask sincere questions of their pastor-teachers because they don’t want to be burned. It’s understandable. Worldly churches have built for themselves a discipleship culture of dogmatism rather than understanding and growth. What kind of discipleship culture does the true church have? What kind of discipleship culture do we cultivate in response to the Gospel of grace?

Matthew 13:51-52

“Have you understood all these things?” They said to Him, “Yes.”

And Jesus said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old.”

The root of the kingdom (v. 52)

“Have you understood all these things?” They said to Him, “Yes.”

What information has Jesus’s kingdom of Heaven parables related about the kingdom of Heaven?

  1. The mysteries of the kingdom of heaven belong only to those whom they have been granted. This is what Jesus meant by “he who has ears, let him hear” (13:1-15).
  2. The kingdom of Heaven is for those whose hearts have been cultivated by God to receive the Gospel (13:16-23).
  3. The kingdom of Heaven started out small but will grow to become the greatest kingdom (13:31-35).
  4. The kingdom of heaven consists of those people created by God for the purpose of glory and excludes those planted by the adversary (13:36-43).
  5. The treasure of the kingdom is Jesus, His word, and His gospel (13:44-50).

Jesus asks His twelve disciples if they understand all these things, and they claim to understand what Jesus has taught in this discourse. We could sum up Jesus’s parabolic teaching simply by proposing that Jesus is building His church despite people; He is building His church by His word alone. This is the root of the kingdom. The kingdom is centered on Jesus, not people—He is the treasure, not us.

The fruit of the kingdom (v. 52)

And Jesus said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old.”

Therefore, because Jesus is building His own church by His word alone, every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom is like a head of a household. The scribes during Jesus’s day are a group of educated Jews who were trained in theology and in the legal code of the day. They would handle large financial and property transactions and keep records. Jesus refers to scribes, here, because they are learned men. If a scribe, who was a disciple of the world, becomes a disciple of the kingdom of Heaven, he renews his mind and begins learning from Jesus instead of worldly religions and institutions. He is like the head of a household, who teaches his children. By his word, Jesus is making disciples who make disciples. Those who are being brought into the kingdom by Christ learn from Jesus and reason with others concerning what Jesus teaches.

Discipleship is the first-fruit of the kingdom, like we have seen throughout Matthew’s Gospel (See notes on v. 23). There is another sense in which the term first-fruits is used to describe Christ’s work. For instance, Christ has been raised from the dead as a first-fruit of those who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20); in response to His being raised, His disciples go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). Proper discipleship is consistently the first-fruit of the kingdom because that is what Jesus is working out in His resurrection. We learn from those who are more knowledgable than we are and invest in those who are not as knowledgable as we are concerning Christ’s words and not necessarily ours. Everyone has a place in discipleship; If someone knows more than I do or has a perspective I have not considered, I can glean from that person. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17). Jesus does not describe a discipleship hierarchy. Where I am lacking, there is someone who can reason with me and I with him or her. Discipleship is an interdependent relationship within the community of faith. That’s why we prize everyone’s place and have multiple, equal elders. The kingdom cannot bear this first fruit without the community of believers gathering together. Those who neglect discipleship are not like the scribes described by Jesus. They probably have not experienced true conversion; Their religion is probably more like the Pharisees and scribes who did not become disciples of the kingdom of Heaven. Concerning the gathering together of believers, the preacher of Hebrews agrees with Jesus. The purpose of the gathering is to spur one another on to love and good deeds according to Scripture’s definitions (Hebrews 10:23-25). Concerning the relationship between conversion and discipleship, the apostle John agrees with Jesus when he reveals that one test of our having eternal life is our fellowship with one another (1 John 1:5-10). It is true that one does not have to go to church in order to have eternal life. If we take Jesus at His word, those who receive eternal life will participate with the body of believers for the purpose of their sanctification and the sanctification of others through the understanding of God’s word as iron sharpens iron.

Discipleship is the first fruit of the kingdom. Discipleship has its own fruit. The result of proper discipleship is that Christ’s people bring out of their treasure, Christ’s word, new and old things. We bring what we have learned to the table with others and learn new things that confirm, challenge, and grow us—so that we might become perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

In response to this text, we simply ask: What is our discipleship culture? If discipleship is the first fruit produced in the kingdom of Heaven, discipleship matters. We might break the broader question into a few narrower questions:

  1. Do we seek understanding instead of confirmation or validation as we gather together?
  2. Are we free to disagree and ask sincere questions about the person and work of Jesus Christ?
  3. Do we desire to know Christ more by understanding His word more deeply?
  4. Do we consider and reason with others who disagree with us or do we push them away?
  5. Are we willing to change in response to God’s word, or are we stuck on either new or old teachings?
  6. Do we facilitate a sincere and civil dialogue rather than preach or teach at people?

Without sincere discipleship, we either have a social club or a cult. Proper preaching and teaching means practicing discipleship—it gets a conversation going that accomplishes the sanctification of the saints. That’s the very reason we have preachers and teachers in the church according to Ephesians 4:11-13. The text indicates that both strict traditionalism and progressivism are idolatrous points of view. When Jesus draws us into His kingdom by His word alone, the result is sincere discipleship centered on Christ’s word—without tainting it or taking away from it. Remember, this isn’t a works-based Gospel. We don’t have to go to church to have eternal life. If we have eternal life, we will live as part of Christ’s true church in our local communities because that’s a natural result of the work Christ is doing. One of the most devastating symptoms of false Christianity is the lack of sincere, Christ-centered discipleship and the promotion of either legalistic or shallow teaching without sincere dialogue.

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