Becoming Yeshua's Disciple, part 1
A series on the original, Hebraic concept of discipleship.
At the outset of this study it is imperative that a distinction is made on how we should understand Scripture. In the discussion of interpretation, one of the most popular verses used is 2 Timothy 2:15,
Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
We commonly put great emphasis on the words "study" and "rightly dividing".1 However, I propose that we put the emphasis on "to show thyself approved unto God". Our spiritual forefathers did not primarily look at Scripture as a way to simply understand doctrine, prophecy, systematic theology, facts about God, etc., but looked into it as a way to emulate the goodness of God, to please Him. When "rightly divided", the Scriptures enables a behavior in us that honors God, in service to Him and to our fellow man. Any study that does not develop these kindnesses is a fruitless study and is not "rightly dividing".
The law and the prophets (Tanakh) were used to gain practical insight on how we are to be in right standing with God, and right standing with our neighbors/brothers. This is easily seen by the 61+ questions that are asked of Yeshua as well as what He taught. Notice some of the first questions Yeshua Himself asks:
- If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? (Matthew 5:46)
- If you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? (Matthew 5:47)
- Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? (Matthew 6:27)
- Why do you worry about clothes? (Matthew 6:28)
- Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? (Matthew 7:3)
Do these not resound with practicality? How we may live peaceably with our brothers? Did Yeshua shy away from other topics, no, but they weren't the mainstay of His ministry.
Culture of Kindness
While there was no shortage of issues plaguing Israel and Judaism in particular, the historic faith from which we come has always emphasized kindness. Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers), a book of the Mishnah,2 teaches that the universe depends on three things:
- on Torah (instructions/commandments),
- on avodah (service to God), and
- on g'milut chasadim (benevolence, acts/deeds/giving of loving-kindness, bestowing/providing kindness) (Avot 1:2),
The Mishnah2 also describes g'milut chasadim as one of the few mitzvoth (commandments) for which there is no minimum amount sufficient to satisfy your obligation. These are the things that have no measure:
- The Peah [corner of the field that must be given to the poor],
- the Bikurim [first-fruits that must be given to the Kohen],
- the appearance-sacrifice [at the Temple in Jerusalem on Pilgrimage Festivals],
- acts of kindness, and
- the study of the Torah.
These are things the fruits of which a man enjoys in this world, while the principal remains for him in the World to Come: Honoring father and mother, acts of kindness, and bringing peace between a man and his fellow. But the study of Torah is equal to them all. (see Pe'ah 1:1; Talmud Chagigah 7a).
Pe’ah 1:1 describes acts of loving-kindness as one of the few things that one can reap a reward from in this world, and yet again in the world to come. The Talmud says that acts of loving-kindness is greater than charity (tzedakah), because unlike charity, acts of loving-kindness can be done for both poor and rich, both the living and the dead, and can be done with money or with acts. (Talmud Sukkah 49b).
1 The problematic phrase "rightly dividing" came about from missing the Hebraic/Aramaic idiom. The Greek word orthotomeō is only used here in antiquity. It is a compound word that means to cut straight, as in handle correctly, straight forward, uprightly. It does NOT carry a meaning of slice and dice, but rather; to plow in a straight line. When a doctor is ready to give a diagnosis, you might hear a patient say 'give it to me straight', which is simply asking for straight-forward prognosis without deviation. This resembles the idiom used here. (Further, the Aramaic uses the 'proclaiming' instead of 'dividing', and the phrase is thus translated as 'proclaiming correctly', or 'preaching uprightly' [see also: Acts 17:19; 19:13; and Galatians 2:2].)
2 The Mishnah was "inked" around 200 a.d., and is the collective work, a compilation of the oral teachings, disputes, and commentaries that date to Ezra (at minimum).