Category Archives: Encouragement

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.

Responding to Gospel-Responses

In one sense of the word, there will be as many types of responses as there are people to respond. No two people are affected by the gospel in the exact same way and so no two people will respond in the exact same way. However, there are categories that one can attribute responses to: 1) hardness, 2) indifference, 3) neglect, 4) misunderstanding, 5) fear, 6) excitement, 7) devotion.

Hardness

In Isaiah 6:8-10, God asked whom it was he could send to the people of Israel.  Isaiah responded that he would go. The message that God gave must have been devastating. “And he replied: Go! Say to these people: Keep listening, but do not understand; keep looking, but do not perceive. Make the minds of these people dull; deafen their ears and blind their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears,” (CSB). The people of Judah had long-forgotten God, lived as they pleased and not as was pleasing to God. Isaiah’s message to the people would cause the hearts to grow dull, their eyes to grow even dimmer, and their ears to be deafened. His message would simply harden them against hearing from God. This is what John spoke of in the twelfth chapter of his gospel account. “This is why they were unable to believe, because Isaiah also said: He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so that they would not see with their eyes or understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them,” (vv. 39-40, CSB). What must never happen is the evangelizer to allow the hardness of the sinner’s heart to harden his/her own. As Spurgeon wrote, “If we are to be a blessing to them, they must lie in our hearts,–they must be our daily and nightly charge.”[1] If they are so dead, as all humanity is, then the one who speaks God’s message must pray all the more. for them.

Indifference

Other’s will not harden their hearts so much as respond indifferently. They do not see the urgency. They do not understand the warning. They do not care if they are in sin. At the moment, they enjoy life just as it is. One can read about this type of response in Matthew 7:24-27. This is the parable of the wise and foolish builders. The wise man built his house upon the rock and was ready for the judgment. The foolish man was by no means ready. He thought his structure was sound enough and did not care to listen to the words of Jesus. “But everyone who hears these words of mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. the rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. It collapsed with a great crash,” (Matthew 7:26-27, CSB). This sand was not the sand one might think of as that which is seen on a beach. That sand is loose and washes away easily. This sand that Jesus referred to was more like hardened sand. It was the sand of a wadi. A wadi is a dried up river. In the dry season, it dries hard as a rock (but it is not a rock). In the rainy season, it is a river once again. It fills with water, the sand is softened as the water penetrates through the cracks. The foolish man does not realize that what he built his house upon was a mirage. It seems stable enough and therefore is indifferent to the truth of its instability and his need for a true and lasting rock.

Once again, prayer is necessary. The evangelizer is unable to change a fool into sage. He cannot remove folly and replace it with wisdom. Only God can do that. “Such prayer will often be made its own answer; for God may, while you are pouring out your soul, make your prayer to be a hammer to break the heart which mere addresses had never touched.”[2] With much prayer can come much work as the evangelizer takes the pick-ax of the gospel and starts chipping away at the foundation of the fool. Soon, with God’s mercy and grace, the fool will see how unsteady his foundation is, and move his house to the rock.

Neglect

Still others will answer with neglect. They hear the word, but do nothing about it. It isn’t apathy or indifference, it is simply neglect. Jesus spoke of the four soils and the first of which he spoke of is that of the road. “As he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. . . Some are like the word sown on the path. When they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word sown in them,” (Mark 4:4, 15, CSB). This reminds me of Screwtape’s letter to his nephew Wormwood. He wrote of an experience he had with an atheist, who while reading began to have a thought toward God. The “enemy” was at his side in a moment to lead him to deeper thoughts and so Screwtape had to think quickly. “I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control, and suggested that it was just about time he had some lunch. . . .by the time I added, ‘Much better come back after lunch and go into it with a fresh mind,’” he was already halfway to the door.”[3] Due to neglect, the man never thought on the matter again. The battle had been won.

One must pray for this person to have an undistracted moment, a moment where Satan is hindered from swooping down and taking away the seed so that it may be implanted in their very souls. It must also be that the seed would need to be thrown time and again if one hopes it to take root at some point. Thus, keeping the gospel ever before the lost soul is necessary.

Misunderstanding

Still others will respond in misunderstanding. In Matthew 7:21-23, these types of responses are seen.

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?” Then I will announce to them, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers,” (CSB).

These people say the right things and they even “do” the right things. Like the rich young ruler who had obeyed all the commandments since he was a child, these people lack one thing: they did not actually believe in Christ. It is abundantly clear that they trusted in their own works. Look at all they had done. Not once did they say, “Lord, Lord, we trusted you with our very souls.” They simply trusted in working their way to heaven. This response is a typical response. One’s good outweighs their bad. A person’s acts of kindness and thoughtfulness will merit God’s acceptance. It is a complete misunderstanding of the gospel.

Thus, the evangelizer must prayerfully show that all the righteous deeds of any person is as filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6) and that there is no one good, not even one (Romans 3:12). Show them that it is only trusting in Christ’s righteousness that we can become righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Fear

Others will respond in fear. Rejection is a scary thing for humans. Humanity was, by creation, meant to be in community. Rejection from a community was used, even by God, as a motivator to stay on the straight and narrow. “Yeast must not be found in your houses for seven days. If anyone eats something leavened, that person, whether resident alien or native of the land, must be cut off from the community of Israel,” (Exodus 12:19, CSB). The fear of being cut off, of being rejected is a good thing at times. At other times, it is sinful. As Paul wrote, “For am I now trying to persuade people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ,” (Galatians 1:10, CSB). One cannot allow the fear of losing a person’s acceptance to bring about the loss of God’s. This was the case of some of the rulers of the Jews in John 12. “Nevertheless, many did believe in him even among the rulers, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, so that they would not be banned from the synagogue. For they loved human praise more than the praise of God,” (vv. 42-43, CSB). Again, many will risk alienating themselves from those who have cared for them, loved them, accepted them, treated them as their own flesh and blood. That is a serious concern. Some will fear being rejected and scoffed, losing notoriety and fame.

To these, the evangelizer must be able to pray with them that they would be strong and bold. He must remind that person the words exchanged between Peter and Jesus.

Peter began to tell him, “Look, we have left everything to follow you.”

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said, “there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children of fields for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, who will not receive a hundred times more, now at this time—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and eternal life in the age to come. But many who are first will be last, and the last first,” (Mark 10:28-31, CSB).

Even if one loses all, they shall receive so much more. God has not isolated anyone, but has given them a family: brothers and sisters, mothers, fathers, children, and more. Though the biological family may reject, the Christian family will welcome with open arms.

Excitement

Still others will respond with excitement, but it will just about end there. They have a religious experience and it feels great, but in the end, they are not truly converted. Jesus spoke of these types of responses in his parable of the four soils. The middle two soils were rocky and thorny. “Other seed fell on the soil, and it grew up quickly, since the soil wasn’t deep. When the sun came up, it was scorched, and since it had no root it withered away. Other seed feel among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it didn’t produce fruit,” (Mark 4:5-7, CSB). Jesus would later state that the sun represented trials, distress, and persecutions. The thorns represented the cares of the world like wealth and desires.

These types of responses seem genuine and perhaps were as far as they went. However, the idea of believing upon the Lord is one of a perpetual state of being, not a one-time act. Thus, the sun and thorns brought that person to a state of perpetual disbelief. As John stated, they went out from us because they were never really of us (1 John 2:19). These are the ones that bring both joy and heartbreak to the evangelizer. The gospel-carrier rejoice at the initial response and weeps at the ensuing life.

An evangelizer must never fail to disciple or find one who can if he is not around. He must continue to cultivate the ground and seek to remove the thorns if God wills. He must dig deeper so that the roots can expand, and if possible bear some the rays of the noon-day sun, bearing the burdens of the new-born baby. Perhaps, by God’s will, roots will grow deep and thorns will be dispelled and excitement turns to devotion.

Devotion

This leads us to and leaves us with a final response: devotion. This, of course, is found in the fourth of the four soils. “Still other seed fell on good ground and it grew up, producing fruit that increased thirty, sixty, and a hundred times. . .And those like seed sown on good ground hear the word, welcome it, and produce fruit thirty, sixty, and a hundred times what was sown,” (Mark 4:8, 20, CSB). This is what every gospel-sowing person desires from the one who hears. This is what he/she prays will happen. This response is sheer devotion. The hearer is devoted to the gospel, devoted to his/her Savior and Lord, and devoted to evangelism. May it be with us all.

[1] Charles Spurgeon, The Soul Winner, (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1981), 151.

[2] Ibid., 153.

[3] C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters,(New York: Touchstone, 1996), 20.