The Marks Of A True Disciple
Dr. Armand Nicholi has been for many years the Chief of Psychiatric Services at Harvard University. Not very long ago in an address he delivered, he proceeded to list what he said were, in the opinion of the leading psychiatrists and psychologists of the day, the four distinguishing marks of a strong and healthy personality. As I listened to those four marks listed, I thought immediately of Jesus, the most perfect human who ever lived. And I realized that those four marks were overwhelmingly evident in Jesus’ own life. As a matter of fact, you can see the four marks quite clearly in just a handful of words here in the 13th chapter of the Gospel of John—words which I must tell have come to be among my favorite words in all of Scripture. John writes: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had put all things into His hands and knowing that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from the table, laid aside His garments and girded Himself with a towel and washed His disciples’ feet.” That’s an incredible verse. And I want you to see that it not only contains the four marks listed by Dr. Armand Nicholi as the marks of a strong and healthy personality, it is also a brilliant summation of who Jesus is and was and always will be. But even more to the point, you find in those words the four distinguishing marks which identify those who are the true disciples of Jesus Christ. Will you join me for a few moments and let me try to explain to you what I mean…
The first mark of a strong personality, according to Dr. Nicholi and his colleagues, is a responsible view of one’s self.
That is, a healthy sense of identity—knowing who you are and being happy with it. That is also an identifying mark of a disciple of Jesus Christ. We see that in Jesus Himself as He is portrayed in these words from John. How do they begin? “Jesus, knowing that the Father had put all things into His hands, and knowing that He had come from God…” In other words, Jesus understood that not only was He fashioned by God, but that He was magnificently favored by God.
And what was true for Jesus is true for us. This truth is found in Jeremiah where God says of us: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you and before you were born I consecrated you.” We are conceived by God. We are made by God. We are handcrafted by the Almighty. And we are loved by Him. When you begin to catch hold of that, it does something wonderful to your heart, your mind and your soul. That is why it is so important to me, to try to remind you who you are and whose you are. You are made by God. You are one of His masterpieces. He has written His signature across your life. No matter what your circumstances may be, no matter what may happen to you along your life’s way, God will never, ever let you go. You are royalty. That is the point that I want to drive so far into your conscientiousness that you will never lose sight of it. You are the children of the King. Jesus understood who He was and whose He was. Jesus knew that He had come from God. That He had been fashioned and favored by the Almighty.
And what was true for Jesus is true for us. You and I are made by God and we are loved by Him. That is one of the distinguishing marks of a true disciple of Jesus Christ—A Christ-like view of one’s self.
Now the second mark of a strong, healthy personality, according to the leading psychiatrists and psychologists of the day, is a responsible view of one’s service.
That is to say, having a loving spirit that reaches out and serves the people around you. That is one of the distinguishing marks of a strong, healthy personality. But it is also one of the distinguishing marks of the life of Jesus. You can see it right here in this verse from John 13: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had put all things into His hands, and knowing that He had come from God…” What did He do, knowing that? He got up from the table, girded Himself with a towel and washed His disciples’ feet. Because He knew that He was loved by God, He could give Himself to loving service to the people around Him. And what was true of Jesus, ought also to be true of us.
A significant portion of every working day for me is spent seeing other people. It is very important for me to do that because it helps me to stay in touch with my people—with you. You are my people. You belong to me. Why? Because God gave you to me and because you are mine, it is so important for me to stay in touch with you. It would be much easier for me to concentrate on staff meetings and reading memos and reports and answering letters and digging deep in my study and research, thinking noble thoughts about God in splendid isolation. But you see when you are engaged in the service of Jesus Christ it leads not to isolation, but to involvement and sometimes to inconvenience. It is not easy being in the service of others. You see, I’m not some kind of robot or automaton. I’m not even a dispassionate, clinical, therapeutic specialist. I’m a lover of Christ and I’m a lover of Christ’s people. When people come to me and share with me that their home is being broken, I cannot accept that coldly. I cannot respond without emotion when people share with me that their dreams are being shattered—that a friend has some dreaded disease—that someone counted upon has fallen and failed. When people come to me with their hearts breaking, my own heart breaks within me. It is not easy.
There are times when I feel like that minister who quit the ministry and became a funeral director. Someone asked him why, after 20 years in the ministry, he quit. He said: “Because I could never get everything straightened out. I worked for 14 years with the Smiths trying to straighten out their situation and nothing ever happened. I worked for 5 years with the Joneses and it never got straightened out. I worked 4 years with that unruly teenager Tim, and he’s not straight yet. So I finally quit and became a funeral director and at least now when I straighten them out they stay straight!”
There are days when I feel like that. But it doesn’t matter whether things get straightened out or not. There is an incredible joy to be found in giving oneself away in loving service to other people. That was the secret of the joy in Jesus’ life and you see it here in this verse. Filled with the love of God, He could give Himself away in loving service. What was true of Jesus, ought to be true of us as well. That is one of the distinguishing marks of a true disciple of Jesus Christ—having a Christ-like view of one’s service.
The third mark of a strong, healthy personality, according to current psychological thought, is a responsible view of one’s values.
That is having an active conscience that knows what is right and does what is right in life. That was true of Jesus. Once again, you see it in this verse. Jesus, having the knowledge that God had put all things into His hands, and having the knowledge that He had come from God, girded Himself with a towel. Why did He do that? Because He knew it was the right thing to do. What was happening at this point in time is the disciples were engaged in arguing with each other. And what were they arguing about? They were arguing about which one of them was going to be the greatest and the most powerful of all. They were fighting among themselves and they couldn’t even bring themselves to serve one another. Jesus knew that was wrong, so He took His stand. He did what was right. He girded Himself with that towel and He washed their feet. And when He was finished He said to them: “I have shown you what is right. I have given you an example to follow. You are to find your greatness in being the servants of all.” Jesus knew what was right and He did it. And what was true of Jesus, ought to be true of us as well.
I think here of Jean Donovan. At age 27, Jean Donovan’s commitment to Jesus Christ led her to become a nun in the Roman Catholic Church. Her desire to serve Jesus Christ in the world led her to become a missionary to the country of El Salvador. She believed that was the right thing for her to do in the name of Christ and she did it. She went to a little out-of-the-way mission station in El Salvador and there she proceeded to give herself away in the service of Christ. She taught Bible studies and led prayer groups. She kept the books of the mission station. She directed a youth choir. She taught expectant mothers about nutrition. She told children Bible stories. Day after day, hour after hour, giving herself away and the more she served, the more committed she became. And yet at the same time, the political situation around her grew worse. There came a point where she would be traveling in her little van from one spot to another, one village to another, serving Jesus Christ and she would actually pass dead people by the side of the road and she would stop and bury them. Then in November of 1980, her spiritual father, the great Archbishop Romero was assassinated just after he finished saying mass on a Sunday morning. It would have been a good time for Jean Donovan to run, but she didn’t run. She stayed, serving Christ amongst the people there. And then there came a night, it was December 2, 1983. Jean Donovan and three of her fellow nuns were driving their van on the way to a Bible study group. They were stopped by a group of armed men. The next day they found the van burned and crushed. The day after that they found the four nuns buried in a shallow grave. Each one had been shot in the back of the head. You read the story in the newspaper, I am sure. What I want you to understand is this: Jean Donovan, because of her commitment to Jesus Christ, was willing to do what was right in her life no matter the cost. She knew the risks. She knew them only too well. But she wouldn’t quit. She was willing to pay whatever price had to be paid. That was the same spirit that marked the life of Jesus.
My friends, I have thought about it alot. I’m not sure that all of us here, or any of us for that matter, are brave enough to confront the cross as Jesus did. But I am convinced that we can gird ourselves with a towel. We can do what is right in life no matter the cost. That is one of the distinguishing marks of a true disciple of Jesus Christ—having a Christ-like view of one’s values.
There is a fourth mark of a strong, healthy personality, according to leading psychological research, it is having a responsible view of one’s death.
Do you remember what the verse in John said? “Jesus, knowing that He had come from God, and was going to God.” Jesus knowing that He was going to God, knowing that in the end His destiny was with God in the kingdom of heaven—knowing that, Jesus could never be conquered by fear.
I have always loved the story about a woman who memorized enormous portions of Scripture. Some of the smaller books she had actually committed to memory in their entirety. She would repeat those verses at the drop of a hat. It was amazing. As her years advanced, and her memory began to fail just a bit, she began to lose some of those verses and as the years past, many of those verses. She actually came to the point in her life where all she had left was just one verse from II Timothy: “I know whom I have believed and I am persuaded that He can keep until that final day that which I have committed to Him.” She would repeat that verse over and over again every day. As illness tightened its grip on her, she was reduced to saying over and over again: “That which I have committed to Him…that which I have committed to Him.” At last on her deathbed, her family gathered about, saw her lips moving, and bent low to hear what she was saying, thinking it might be a word of request or instruction. They discovered that she was repeating the only word of the verse left to her: “Him…Him…Him…” She lost all of the Bible except for one word, but in that one word she had all of the Bible—Him!
You see, the Bible can be summed up in one word and that one word is “Jesus.” He is everything we need in life. Because of Him, we know who we are and whose we are. Because of Him, we know that we can give ourselves away in loving service to others. Because of Him, we know what is right and we have the courage to do what is right in life. Because of Him, we know that we are heaven-bound—that death has lost its sting and the grave has been robbed of its victory—that the tomb has been transformed into a thoroughfare and that darkness has been changed into the dawn. Because of Him, we shall experience the reality of eternal life. I want you to remember that, because if you remember that, you will never be afraid to die. And if you are not afraid of death, then you will never be afraid of anything else…
One day, the great poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, was walking in a garden with a friend and the friend said to him: “What do you think of Jesus Christ?” And Tennyson stopped and turned and pointed to a flower in all its radiant beauty and he said: “As the sun is to that flower, so Jesus Christ is to me!”
Is that what He is to you?
I hope so…
Oh, yes, I hope so…