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Aggressive Discipleship is depicted emphatically in both testaments of the Bible. That passive discipleship is displeasing to our Lord is evident from Revelation 3:15-16. Furthermore, neither does fanatical discipleship possess inspiration’s stamp of approval (Acts 15:1; 3 John 9-10). Aggressive discipleship lies middle-range between the passive and the fanatical. Fruitful, aggressive discipleship, then, is a balanced discipleship.
As in the first century, our generation boasts of disciples, many of whom are passive Christians, a few of whom are aggressive disciples and several of whom whose zeal overrides the authority and balance of the Scriptures. For instance, many are the elderships and congregations who are content merely to sit upon orthodoxy. Comparatively few congregations and their elders, armed with the sword of the Spirit, appear genuinely concerned about lost souls. At the same time, some other brethren have undertaken the intensified distribution of their own and peculiar brand of zeal. Agressive discipleship is the medium and biblical stance between two extremes.
Old Testament characters bring to mind an aggressiveness that has always been characteristic of God’s most useful servants. Hebrews, Chapter Eleven, appropriately portrays many Old Testament worthies in some of their most aggressive or active roles. Examination of the Bible’s Hall of Fame discloses the activity with which they demonstrated their faith, often in the face of personal peril.
The New Testament also records an aggressiveness with which the Lord’s disciples demonstrated their faith. Remember how John the Baptizer boldly proclaimed God’s Word before the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 3:7) and even in the presence of a wicked king (Matthew 14:3-4). John was beheaded because of his aggressive discipleship.
Recall the earnestness with which the apostles in Acts Two through Chapter Five and Stephen in Acts Seven preached the Gospel. Their zeal was not hindered by the prospect of physical abuse or death (Acts 5:40-42; 7:58-60). In the face of great personal danger, they practiced aggressive discipleship.
The apostle Paul, even when he was known as Saul of Tarsus, was an exceedingly zealous man. Before his conversion Paul vigorously pursued Christians unto their imprisonment or death (Acts 8:1, 3; 9:1-2, 13-14; 22:3-5, 19-20; 26:9-12; Galatians 1:13-14; Philippians 3:6; 1 Timothy 1:13). Paul said of himself, ". . . after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee" (Acts 26:5). Being a Pharisee was the epitome of the most intense Jewish zeal of his day. The apostle further wrote to the Galatian brethren: "For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: And profited in the Jews’ religion above many of my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers" (Galatians 1:13-14).
The identical aggressiveness that he exhibited regarding the traditions of the Jewish fathers (Galatians 1:14) the apostle Paul applied to his Christian discipleship. The intensity of his Christian zeal can be evaluated by noting that he willingly ignored the manifold blessings and honors of his Jewish station in life (Philippians 3:4-11) and willingly suffered repeated perils and persecutions (2 Corinthians 11:22-28) to preach the Gospel. Beginning in Acts Nine throughout most of the remaining chapters of the Book of Acts the aggressive discipleship of the apostle Paul can be easily traced.
Not only the apostles but other brethren with whom we are less familiar also demonstrated aggressive discipleship in the first century (Acts 8:4; 11:19). Besides the general reference to the scattering of the Jerusalem disciples (who "went everywhere preaching the word"), detailed accounts appear in the New Testament that depict aggressiveness as a fundamental characteristic of discipleship in the first-century church.
The following names and references represent a fair sample of the aggressive discipleship chronicled in the New Testament. JOSES (Acts 4:36-37); PROCHORUS, NICANOR, TIMON, PARMENAS and NICOLAS (Acts 6:3-6); STEPHEN (Acts 6:3-6, 9-15; 7:1-60); PHILIP (Acts 6:3-6; 8:5-40; 21:8-9); ANANIAS (Acts 9:10-17; 22:12-16); DORCAS (Acts 9:36-42); CORNELIUS (Acts 10:1-4, 45-48); BARNABAS (Acts 11:22-26; 13:2; 14:1; 15:12, 22, 35-36); MARY the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12); RHODA (Acts 12:13); JOHN MARK (Acts 12:25; 13:5; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24); SIMON that was called Niger, LUCIUS of Cyrene and MANAEN (Acts 13:1); BARSABAS (Acts 15:22, 27, 32); SILAS (Acts 15:22, 27, 32, 34, 40; 16:1; 17:1; 18:5); TIMOTHY (Acts 16:1-4; 17:15; Romans 16:21; etc.); LUKE (Acts 16:10-17); JASON (Acts 17:7-9; Romans 16:21); AQUILA and PRISCILLA (Acts 18:24-28); APOLLOS (Acts 18:24-28); GAIUS and ARISTARCHUS (Acts 19:9; Philemon 24; Colossians 4:10); SOPATER, SECUNDUS, TYCHICUS and TROPHIMUS (Acts 20:4); AGABUS (Acts 11:28; 20:10-11); MNASON (Acts 21:16); PHEBE (Romans 16:1-2); SOSIPATER, TERTIUS, ERASTUS and QUARTUS (Romans 16:21-23); CHLOE (1 Corinthians 1:11); STEPHANAS, FORTUNATUS, and ACHAICUS (1 Corinthians 16:15-17); EPAPHRODITUS (Philippians 2:25; 4:18); ONESIMUS (Colossians 4:9); EPAPHRAS (Colossians 4:12; Phil. 2, 3); DEMAS (Colossians 4:14; Philemon 24); NYMPHAS (Colossians 4:15); ONESIPHORUS, EUBULUS, PUDENS, LINUS and CLAUDIA (2 Timothy 4:19-21); ARTEMAS and ZENAS (Titus 3:12-13); PHILEMON, APPHIA and, ARCHIPPUS (Philemon 1-2); SILVANUS (1 Peter 5:12); and DEMETRIUS (3 John 12).
Particularly in the first century, to have one’s name publicly associated with "the way" (Acts 19:23) or Christianity was of itself a deliberate and often dangerous demonstration of aggressive discipleship. The selection of these Bible characters and the placement of their names in a public record attests to the aggressiveness of the these disciples.
Jesus Christ is, of course, ultimately the supreme model of Christian zeal (1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 Peter 2:21-24). His disciples should imitate both the fervor with which he served the Father (Matthew 23:1ff) and his willingness to fulfill the mission on which God sent him, in spite of persecutions and death (Matthew 26:39; John 6:38). Aggressive disciples today need to acknowledge the fervor and sufferings of Christ and first-century disciples. Further, faithful disciples of the present should endeavor to duplicate the zeal of the first-century church. Though, if first-century Christian zeal were uniformly duplicated throughout the church in this day, persecutions similar to those of that former time would be directed toward brethren now (2 Timothy 3:12). How well would the church in our day bear the first-century cost of discipleship (Matthew 10:16-39; 16:24-26; Luke 14:25-33)? Is the relative freedom from persecution enjoyed by the churches of Christ today any indication that the church is not as zealous as it was in former years?
Even the aggressiveness with which first-century disciples evangelized the world did not then cause the entire world to be saved, but it "turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6). Consequently, discipleship was "multiplied" (Acts 2:47; 5:14). There is no hint in the New Testament that the early church was content to hold its own or keep house!
The biblical formula by which the first-century church grew both spiritually and numerically is recorded in Acts 2:42. "And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." The early church changed forever the world by these principles, not in spite of them! The early disciples multiplied in direct proportion to the proclamation of the Word of God (Acts 12:24)!
For what, brethren, under heaven are we waiting when denominationalism and those among us not true to the Book are making disciples of Satan! Is it not now time that we disciple the nations (Matthew 28:19, ASV) and otherwise turn this world upside down (Acts 17:6)!