THESE were the commanding words that fell upon the ears of two brothers as they were busily engaged at their daily occupation. And they obeyed, leaving their jobs as fishermen immediately to follow the speaker.
Who could command with such confidence? Who could inspire his hearers to forsake everything to which they had been devoted for something new? The speaker was already well known to them, for they had been told by John the Baptist that this one was “the Lamb of God.” Reports of his marvelous miracles had spread throughout all Galilee. Yes, it was the voice of Jesus of Nazareth, and already these men knew in their hearts that he was the promised Messiah.—John 1:36.
Far from obeying a like command today, the majority of people have no intention of following anyone. They prefer to be led by their own whims and desires, whether these are detrimental to themselves and others or not. They like to feel that they are totally independent, that they have no need of anyone’s guidance. They claim they want to get the most out of life, and the only way they know is to cater to their own selfish impulses. Yet they fail to achieve lasting happiness and peace of mind. They find that they have been chasing the wind.
Of course, there are multitudes today who claim that they have complied with the above command. They call themselves “followers” of Christ, yet when we compare their course of action with that of Peter and Andrew, who responded to the same command nineteen hundred years ago, we note a great discrepancy.—Matt. 4:19, Authorized Version.
Peter and Andrew not only followed Jesus as long as he was in the flesh, but even after his death they continued to follow him. How? By living the kind of life that he lived; by carrying on the great preaching work that he commenced while still with them; by adopting the same view toward worldly people and institutions that he held; by ‘following his steps closely.’—1 Pet. 2:21.
Those disciples knew that Jesus’ command did not mean they were to be merely observers of what he said and did. They were to become imitators of him, for he explained that he would make them “fishers of men.” That they so understood the matter is proved by the Bible’s record of how they learned from him, copied him and transformed their lives in accordance with the pattern he presented.
In that first century those who followed Jesus were eager to be trained and to share with him in his preaching campaign. Even married men such as Peter, and family men such as Philip the evangelizer, responded wholeheartedly and followed Jesus’ example. (1 Cor. 9:5; Acts 21:8, 9) Those with family obligations did not neglect their families while they went out preaching. No, they discharged their duties toward their families, but they also set aside time to study the example of Jesus and then share as they could in his preaching campaign. They really “followed” their Master.
Those early Christians were undaunted by Jesus’ warning that those who followed him must be prepared to deny themselves many pleasurable things, must use their assets for the furtherance of the Kingdom work, must be ready to endure hardships. (Matt. 16:24-26; 19:16-21; Luke 9:58) They were eager to be his followers. Even when reminded that father and mother must not be permitted to come before their loyalty to Christ, they continued faithful. After all, was not this God’s own Son, and had not God appointed him to be King of all humans who will get eternal life? Surely there could never be any real loss through obeying his command, responding to the wonderful opportunity to follow him!
The stark fact is that in this twentieth century people who feel that they cannot deny themselves little comforts, hobbies, personal interests in life, the freedom to do as they wish, can never really become, while in that attitude, followers of Christ. To allow any other goal in life to rival or eclipse the goal set before one by Jesus is to disqualify oneself as a follower of God’s Son, that highly exalted One who said: “I am the way and the truth and the life.”—John 14:6.
To follow him means hearing and getting the sense of his teaching, striving to spread that teaching to others, while always maintaining in our daily lives the same good conduct that he exemplified. That is what first-century Christians were noted for. They worked with their hands and provided for their daily necessities, but they refused to allow other activities to become more important in their lives than sharing in the preaching of the Kingdom message and caring for fellow Christians.
Today there are even greater opportunities for men, women and young people to heed Jesus’ command and truly become his followers. The thrilling words “Follow me” can be responded to in our day with the same promptness and eagerness as was shown by the apostles, and with the same blessed results. Appreciating this fact, Max Larson, a director of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., addressing a class of graduating missionaries of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead on February 27, 1966, used Jesus’ command, “Follow me,” as his theme. Among other things, he said: “You want to be faithful missionaries in your assignment and receive the prize of everlasting life. That is your goal. You can realize it by following your Guide, Christ Jesus, and by remaining faithful to God’s Word and his organization.”
Those words apply equally to all followers of Christ today, for wherever a Christian is located, there is an assignment for him to equip himself to preach to and teach others. The Christian will find it helpful to begin each day by giving prayerful consideration to the depth of meaning embodied in that command, “Follow me.” Constantly he will find additional ways to apply in his life the marvelous example of the One who issued that command. No privilege can be greater than that of following closely in the steps of God’s own beloved Son.