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Discipling According to Paul

Discipling can very easily be thought of as an overwhelming, daunting task of developing and maintaining a Bible study with a new believer. One who does not believe he/she is gifted in teaching are likely to break out into a fearful, sweaty mess of person. Yet, it does not have to be this way. If one were to follow the pattern of Paul in 2 Timothy, one would see that there are categories of discipleship that the apostle interweaves together. While he does incorporate Scripture with his protégé/disciple, he is not performing any type of rigorous, verse by verse Bible study with him. Instead, he is simply using Scripture to prove the point at hand.

Personally, I found five categories of discipleship in 2 Timothy that are crucial for the discipler and disciple. In the next few paragraphs, I will give one example within the text, but also list references that could be studied for further understanding. These five categories are:

1. Encouragement

2. Gospel-Remembrance

3. Personal Testimony

4. Warnings

5. Admonishment

Encouragement

It is more often the case than not that a person (whether a new believer or old) sees his/her failings more than their accomplishments. Christians will sit through sermon after sermon hearing about sins and being better Christians than hearing about the progress that they are making. This can lead to a defeated life. Paul, however does not forget to include Timothy’s growth in his letter to him. The apostle encourages him in such a manner as: “I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and now, I am convinced, is in you also,” (2 Timothy 1:5, CSB). How encouraging would it be for Timothy to hear that Paul is convinced of this young man’s faith. It very well could be that Timothy questioned his own faith as many are apt to do, but to hear someone who is well-known and respected within the Christian community to write and say he was convinced of Timothy’s faith could be a life-saver. A discipler must never neglect the power of encouragement. (Cf. 2 Timothy 3:10-11 also).

Gospel-Remembrance

Keeping the gospel in front of a believer is crucial to their godliness and growth. Who has not sought to serve God in their own power? Who has not at some time forgotten that we do not gain God’s love through works, but it is by God’s love that we have our works?  Here was Timothy, serving the church in Ephesus and encountering much affliction. It would have been unfortunate if he had allowed the gospel to be buried beneath all the burdens he was carrying. Thankfully, Paul reminded him time and again of the gospel message. “He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,” (2 Timothy 1:9, CSB). If we are wanting to be good disciplers, it is imperative that we keep the gospel before our own eyes as well as those whom we disciple. (cf. 2:19; 4:7, 18 also).

Personal Testimony

The personal testimony is not only for speaking to the lost. It encourages and strengthens the saved as well. The testimony of afflictions, failures, hardships, and accomplishments can go a long way in the growth of a disciple. People need to know that others have faced what they are facing. They need to know that there is an end in sight. Of course, they also need to know that there is no foreseeable end, but one can remain faithful. Then again, they need to know that there is grace when a believer fails to be as faithful as he/she ought. Paul shared his testimony with Timothy. “For this gospel I was appointed a herald, apostle, and teacher and that is why I suffer these things. But I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day,” (2 Timothy 1:11-12). In essence, Paul just told Timothy, who was a herald and a teacher, that he has gone through what Timothy is going through (in fact, he’s still in prison about to die). Yet he has not given up hope, but is convinced of God’s faithfulness. What a blessing for Timothy. A timely word through a personal testimony. Let us never neglect to give the power of a personal testimony. Disciples need them so let us give them. (cf. 2:8-10; 3:11; 4:6-7 also).

Warnings

Warnings are a must. While there are three positive discipling categories, there are two negative–at least in one sense. Warnings are one of those two. Having fought so hard and so long against enemies of the faith, it is easy to see Timothy growing tired and wanting to throw in the towel. Perhaps, some of the arguments of his opponents are starting to make a bit more sense. Who knows? Paul takes no chances. He warns Timothy what giving in and giving up can do. This false teaching can spread like gangrene. “Hymenaeus and Philetus are among them. They have departed from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and are ruining the faith of some,” (2 Timothy 2:17b-18, CSB). Paul used concrete examples, names of those who have departed from the truth, showing the devastation they left in their wake. It is not wrong to use names and specifics when warning others not to go in such a direction as those who shipwreck their faith. The discipler will be discerning about when to use such warnings with those whom they teach. (cf. 3:1-9; 4:3-4 also).

Admonishment

The second of the negative categories could be looked at in the positive light as well since the point is to push the believer to holiness. However, admonishment typically comes when a believer is negligent in some aspect of their life, and needs to be shown where he/she goes wrong and how to correct it. In the positive Paul wrote, “Therefore, I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment,” (2 Timothy 1:6-7, CSB). Yet then goes negative and back to positive in verse 8: “So don’t be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, or of me his prisoner. Instead share in suffering for the gospel relying on the power of God,” (CSB). One could say that this was an Oreo admonishment with the negative situated between two positives. Admonishments are different than warnings as warnings are used to show what happens if one does not heed the admonishments, where as the admonishments are entreaties to live in a manner worthy of the calling. The discipler ought to be intimately aware of the dealings with the one they teach so that they can admonish when necessary. (cf. 1:1314; 2:1-3, 14-16, 22-25; 3:12-17; 4:1-2, 5 also).

Note however that in this entire letter there is the mood of love, care, and understanding. It is quite conversational, though of course, one hears (reads) only one side of the conversation. This is not a Bible study, a lecture, a sermon, or anything else that would be deemed “official.” Paul is writing as one who cares about Timothy–one who knows him and his thoughts, pains, fears, etc. These categories are interspersed throughout the letter. He goes from one to another back to one and then a completely different one. The point is that one does not have to prepare too much to be a discipler. He/She simply needs to be a friend who listens and then talks, helping the new-believer through questions and fears. It is organic and natural, not forced or separated from “real life.” Yes, use the Bible. Let it be a guide and a help. After all “All Scripture is inspired and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work,” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, CSB). May we all be discipling according to Paul.

Follow-up is Critical to Evangelism and Here’s Why

Have you ever thought about what happened after Paul’s conversion? We tend to think about this apostle as having always been a staunch defender of the faith having been converted on the road to Damascus. He was, in fact, just that, but if we were to look closely, we see that Paul was not alone in his journey from persecutor of the church to persecuted for the church. In Acts 9:17, we read, “So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit,” (ESV).  Whether or not it was Ananias or someone else who did the work, the very next verse states that Saul was baptized. Still someone had to bring him food as well. It was as if Paul had joined a new family and that family cared for him and his needs. That is indeed what happened. “For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus,” (Acts 9:19b, ESV). He stayed with them. They cared for him. It would seem that they did not have much of a chance to teach him as he states in Galatians, “I did not immediately consult with anyone, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus,” (Galatians 1:16b-17, ESV).

What happened in those three years we cannot say, but it would seem that this event took place before the riot against Paul in Damascus that can be read of in Acts 9. No one knows why Paul went into Arabia or for how long. According to Timothy George, two thoughts are given: 1) Paul went to Sinai where the law was given in order to meditate on his new-found faith and come to an understanding of the Messiah, or 2) to evangelize to the people of Arabia.[1] I would agree with George in that there is no need to choose between the two options. However, when Paul came back, he had certainly not settled all his theology, for Luke tells us, “But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ,” (Acts 9:22, ESV). The strength that Paul grew in was mental acumen and faith. He was able to make an argument. It is not hard to believe that those disciples with whom he stayed helped develop that theology in him, just as Aquila and Pricilla did in Apollos later on (cf. Acts 18:27).

We also read that those same disciples helped Paul escape in a basket when the Jewish mob sought to kill him. They cared not only for his spiritual growth but for his physical safety as well. When Paul escaped to Jerusalem, he had no one. The apostles and the laypersons were afraid of him (cf. Acts 9:26). If it were not for Barnabas, the son of encouragement, who stood beside Paul, he very well would have been rejected by all. Barnabas, utilizing his own name and influence, supported Paul in his endeavors, later to join him on his missionary journeys.

When the people heard and saw that Paul was a genuine believer and preaching Christ, they rejoiced (cf. Galatians 1:23). How this must have encouraged him! They urged him on to preach, and while in Antioch, he was sent on his way to be on mission to the Gentiles.

What can we then learn from this lesson on Paul? Follow-up is essential to evangelism. The new disciple needs a family. They need people to care about them, perhaps even house them if they have lost everything for the sake of Christ and the gospel. They need people to teach them, strengthen them, encourage them, rejoice over them, and have their back. They need to be trusted with the gospel and encouraged to proclaim it, letting them learn from their mistakes.

We read in Galatians 2, Paul has not only Barnabas, but Titus as well. Titus was learning from Paul. We also know Timothy did as well (though not mentioned in Galatians). It was to Timothy that Paul wrote, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also,” (2 Timothy 2:2, ESV). This was a disciple who was discipled and had discipled others, expecting and instructing them to disciple other disciples who would then disciple still more disciples. Follow-up and follow-through is critical to the Christian faith and evangelism. Let us not neglect to tell the good news, but let us also not neglect to follow up with the person to whom the good news was told.

[1] Timothy George, The New American Commentary: Galatians, (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 1994), 124.