The apostle Paul was a master disciple-maker. Paul excelled in evangelizing and discipleship. Evangelism and discipleship are the two wings of the disciple-making airplane. Unfortunately, in the anti-supernatural movement of 1850, a man by the name of Charles Adam separated “making disciples” into two parts: evangelism and discipleship.
The holistic command in Matthew 28:19-20 was split into two terms. Modern churches have been shaped by the faulty separation. Evangelism became the process of bringing people to Christ, or the communication of the gospel by saved people to lost people (Reid, Evangelism Handbook, Kindle Loc. 440). Discipleship became the process of growing people up in Christ. However, disciples cannot be made unless both evangelism and what became labeled as discipleship, defined by Michael Bird as “gospelizing,” are happening (Bird, Evangelical Theology, Kindle Loc. 104).
Therefore, 2 Timothy is filled with an abundance of “gospelizing.” As Paul writes to Timothy, Paul’s desire to ensure several disciple developmental markers which have been achieved by Timothy are continued. For structural purposes, I see three layers of discipleship Paul desires Timothy to remember. One should note that these markers are not sequential. One does not merely move on from one to the next because they have “completed” that step. Instead, they should be viewed as maturity markers. When one is deficient it should be strengthened. When one is skilled it should be refined. The layers and markers can be applied to our modern church context for holistic disciple-making.
First, Paul desires Timothy be grounded as a believer. Throughout 2 Timothy, Paul shifts from the example of himself to Timothy, to poor examples of being grounded. Just as a child grows in maturity, Paul desires Timothy to grow in spiritual maturity. Paul reminds Timothy of his identity in Christ and his spiritual lineage (1:2, 5, 10, 12; 2:11-13; 3:17; 4:8). Paul encourages Timothy to walk in obedience through the power of the Holy Spirit (1:6-7; 2:10, 22; 3:12). Paul desires Timothy learn spiritual talk in prayer and sharing the good news with others (2:2, 15, 22; 4:2). Timothy is reminded how a believer grows through feasting on the Word of God (1:10, 13; 2:9; 3:14-17). Lastly, Paul knows Timothy needs to learn how to flee from sin and purify his life (2:14-26; 3:5; 4:5). These five developmental markers are interconnected. Should Timothy waiver in any one of these areas, serious consequences would result. Paul’s goal for Timothy is long-term faithfulness and obedience to Christ. The long-term vision must be built on the gospel and being rooted in its implications.
Second, Paul desires Timothy equip others for the work of ministry. Healthy beings reproduce. The world will not be reached by the witness of a single individual. God wants us to reach the world in the same way it is populated—by multiplication. Paul instructed Timothy to entrust the grace of Christ to faithful men who will then be able to instruct others. Should this occur, Paul will have spiritual great-grandchildren in the faith. What if a new Christian was able to grow so that in two years the new Christian is ready to help another grow?
Jesus loved the world and helped thousands, but he closely trained only twelve men who trained others. The ministry of multiplying disciples comes through ministry to individuals. This is the way Paul communicated his life to Timothy (3:10). We reach the masses through the man.
In working with the man, he must be equipped. Paul compares the work of a disciple to a soldier, athlete, and farmer (2:3-6). Paul himself plodded on for the sake of others (2:10). Paul imparted his life to them and he recognizes his work in Timothy (3:10). Paul continues to equip Timothy by reminding him about the profitable use of the Scriptures. The Word is useful for teaching others to walk with God in belief and action. Rebuking identifies sin and shows where the believer has gotten off the path. Correcting shows the disciple how to get back on the path and how to change. Finally, the Word trains in righteousness by showing one how to stay on the path and live in an accordance with God’s ways.
The work in maturing others and equipping them requires desire, decision, determination, and discipline. The work is not haphazard. For example, consider a man who desires to have time with God before going to work. He realizes that in order to have enough time, he must get up early. He decided to get up at 6:30a. The next day he oversleeps because his desire and his decision alone could not get him out of bed. He then determines to use an alarm clock to help him get up. The real test comes when the alarm goes off. Discipline must then come into focus. He must shut the alarm clock off and not go back to bed. Good habits can be developed as a result of consistent discipline. The desire for good habits begins with training and accountability from another (1:3-7). Consistency requires thought and effort on a daily basis. It continues through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, Paul desires Timothy persevere in the faith by holding onto the gospel as disciples go throughout the world (1:13; 2:1, 12; 3:11). Paul reminds Timothy that time will be hard because people will reject truth (3:1-5). Paul countlessly alludes to his own suffering and coming suffering because they are engaged in a spiritual battle (2:3-4). Paul was able to testify to his perseverance, in light of his suffering, concerning his earthly walk with Christ (4:7-8). Paul was able to persevere because his focus was on eternity and life beyond this present life. Paul provided countless examples of those who did not persevere. Demas is an example of one who was choked out by the thorns (4:10; cf. Mk 4:19).
Our modern churches would do well to learn from Paul and Timothy. Present-day Christians must invest in a few people and help them become grounded in their faith. The Christian must entrust his whole life to them, rather than merely a few hours a week. This lifestyle goes beyond the small group meeting or the worship service. Further, the overseers of the church must equip followers of Jesus to reach others for Christ, grow new believers, and then equip others. Finally, the pastor must demonstrate and champion perseverance. Because many pastors oversee programs, these programs should be structured to encourage the development of disciples not inhibit them. In order to implement such principles, the church must realize equipping and needed perseverance come through engaging with those outside the building walls.