How far must a disciple be subject to his teacher?

In this article I will answer a visitor’s question. Here she is:

I also have a question for you and I will greatly appreciate it if you take the time to answer me. How should a disciple behave whose teacher takes the wrong path? For example, he demands respect from me, but he has no respect for his teachers. He asks me to receive counsel and obey, but he practically doesn’t consult anyone anymore and he doesn’t obey anyone anymore. I wonder if the disciple in this case must follow and be obedient to such a teacher?

The Bible repeatedly teaches us to be submissive to our elders when it says:

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17 NASB)

In this verse, obedience to those set by God to be greater over us is not an option, but a commandment. Our elders have a responsibility to watch over our souls. If we are submissive and faithful, they will do it with joy, if we choose not to obey, they will continue to do so, but with much pain and heartache.


Is there a limit to this obedience?

Yes, of course. We cannot be submissive even when the leader has taken a wrong path. Paul told his disciples:

“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NASB)

The disciple is commanded by the Lord to follow in the footsteps of his teacher, but not any teacher, but one who himself follows in the footsteps of Christ. As Christians, in our run for the prize of heavenly calling, “God first ordained in the Church apostles; second, prophets; the third, teachers ”etc. God made this ordinance for order and obedience in the Church of Christ. As long as the leader follows in Christ’s footsteps, it is your duty to follow him and be subject to him. But this submission is not without limits. It must be in the Lord. We are called to submit to the Lord first and then to our elders. As Scripture tells women to be submissive to their husbands, this principle applies to every Christian:

“Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” (Colossians 3:18 NASB)

Obedience must be proper in the Lord. In other words, the Lord and His Word define the limits of my submission. If your teacher leads a life of disobedience in the Lord and asks you to follow in his footsteps, you cannot do this. In this case his footprints are no longer the footprints of Christ, but we are called to follow Christ in the first place.

It is a joy when the Lord blesses you with mentors who truly follow in the footsteps of Christ. It is a joy to serve with them, and in turn they have a joy and satisfaction to serve with you, for together you follow Christ. Paul described his disciple Timothy as “a child serving his father, he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel,” (Philippians 2:22).

What a joy it is to have such a disciple. But this joy is even greater when you, as a disciple, have a teacher like Paul. Many thanks to the Lord for my mentors and teachers with whom He has blessed me in my life of faith. Their teaching always went hand in hand with their deeds. It is a joy to follow in their footsteps, because I know that they follow in the footsteps of Christ faithfully!

In conclusion, I want to draw your attention to one important thing. Often the problem is not with the mentor, but with the apprentice. Because the disciple thinks that he has reached the level where he knows everything and has nothing to learn from his mentors, then he looks for different reasons to move away from those who raised him and thus build his “kingdom” separately. In this case that disciple will misinterpret any small, insignificant matter and will seek to leave. In fact, this is nothing new. So did many of those whom Paul taught. After they left, not only did they cease to be his disciples, but they also became adversaries of the teaching that Paul taught. So check to see if what you think about your teacher is really so or rather is a problem of yours. Maybe you have problems with obedience and the fact that you don’t want to be submissive to your elders? This, in fact, shows that you are still disobedient to Christ.

May God help us to follow in the footsteps of those who follow in the footsteps of Christ!

Translated by Olya Trikolich