Learning Jesus (1)
I, the Preacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven; this burdensome task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised. Ecclesiastes 1.12, 13
The call to learning
Those who follow Jesus are on an upward path of becoming more like Him. They focus on Him, learn about Him, take up His agenda as their own, and make the most of every opportunity to teach Jesus to others.
Every true follower of Jesus Christ is a disciple of Jesus. And every disciple of Jesus is also called to make disciples by teaching and nurturing others in Him. The New Testament Greek word for disciple, mathetes, derives from the verb, manthano, which means “to learn.” The basic meaning of the word disciple is learner. A disciple is one who learns, and for our purposes, one who learns Jesus and follows in the way of life He lived and taught, including the duty of teaching Jesus to others (cf. Matt. 11.29; Eph. 4.17-24; Col. 3.16).
Being a disciple, one who teaches others, doesn’t just happen. Such a way of life is the fruit of learning. Learning does not come easy to most of us. Think of all those years we spent in school, daydreaming about when the days of books, lectures, and tests would finally be over, and we could get on with what we really wanted to do in life.
At the same time, human beings are natural learners, but only within certain rather narrow parameters. When it comes to learning things beyond what we naturally enjoy or need to get by, most of us look at learning as a chore, a kind of necessary evil, a “burdensome task.” The great Irish leader Columbanus put it this way: “For indeed what is learnt here without sorrow and toil, in the time of our very greatest stupidity and weakness? But if temporal sorts of training [Latin: discipline] destroy the sweetness of present joy, what is to be hoped for from this training of our school? This is in fact the training of all trainings, and at the price of present sorrow it prepares the pleasure of unending time and the delight of unending joy” (Sermon IV On Discipline).
A “burdensome task”: That’s the way Solomon described the call to a life of learning. The Hebrew is even more severe – “an evil matter” with which God has “afflicted” (exercised) the children of men. And yet it pleases God to afflict human beings with the responsibility of learning. Doesn’t God usually bless us with good things? Why should He afflict us with this unhappy, brain-wracking, sorrowful business of learning?
The way to wisdom
Because learning, the life of being a disciple, is the way to wisdom; and wisdom is the lifestyle that expresses the pleasure and purpose of God, especially as that is revealed in the life, death, resurrection, and reign of Jesus Christ, in Whom is the treasury of all God’s wisdom (cf. Col. 2.3). God calls us to be wise, and wisdom comes, first, from fearing God Who calls us to be wise (Ps. 111.10), and then from searching diligently for wisdom through the hard, burdensome task of learning.
But why should learning be such a burdensome task? Primarily because we must work hard at it if we’re going to get anything out of it. In a fallen world, we no longer enjoy the ability, like Adam naming the animals, to learn, as it were, by mere observation and intuition. We must search and investigate, ask questions and read, try various approaches and correct our mistakes, take good notes and change our behavior, discuss with others, and a whole host of other activities.
True learning requires, above all, a commitment of the heart, so that we desire to be wise and are eager to pursue a course of learning as much as possible, so that we can demonstrate the wisdom of God increasingly in every area of our lives, and teach His wisdom to others as well.
The hard work of learning
Our course of study anchored in the Word of God, the world becomes our classroom, its mysteries and creatures are our curriculum, and our fellow learners past and present are our teachers. Learning is hard work, but it can result in wisdom, and wisdom honors God and brings benefit to the people in our lives.
Jeremiah expressed the joy that comes from committing oneself to a life of learning, when he described the Scriptures as “the joy and rejoicing of my heart” (Jer. 15.16). Why was this so? Because God had called Jeremiah and made Him a disciple and prophet. Nothing would discourage or dissuade him from this path, and learning from the Word and world of God would be, in the midst of all his trials, his great joy and delight.
We may not be good learners; we may not even like studying or having to learn new things. But it pleases God to have “afflicted” us with this “burdensome task” of seeking out, searching through, investigating, and learning as much as we can, throughout the whole course of our lives. This is how we grow in the Lord, become wise, and are better able to teach others so that they might grow in wisdom, too.
Well, why can’t we just pray for wisdom, like Solomon did, and wait for God to bestow it, if it pleases Him to do so (cf. 2 Chron. 1.10-12)?
Because, while Solomon prayed to God for wisdom, and God promised to grant it, Solomon still had to apply himself diligently to acquiring wisdom, which he did through learning. This process of gaining the promised wisdom of God is what Solomon alluded to in our text. He shows us that the way to wisdom follows a path of study and learning, where there are no shortcuts.
Learning and discipleship may be a burdensome task, but it’s what God has called us to as disciples of His Son.
1. Do you agree that many people find learning a “burdensome task”? Why is this?
2. Describe the relationship between prayer and hard work in learning to become wise.
3. What is wisdom, and how does wisdom relate to following Jesus?
Next steps - Conversation: How would you describe your life as a “learner of Jesus” at this time? Are you as diligent in this as you ought to be? Can you identify any areas where you might like to improve? Talk with a fellow believer about these questions.
T. M. Moore
You can download all the studies in this series, “Disciples Making Disciples,” by clicking here.
Two books that can help you in becoming a more consistent and fruitful learner are The Joy and Rejoicing of My Heart and Know, Love, Serve. Each is free and you can order them by clicking here and here.
Don’t forget to visit our free Personal Mission Field Workshop for this month (click here).
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.