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Look at My Muscles, Dad

When my children were younger, they would suddenly get it into their heads to start exercising. They’d do some jumping jacks and some push-ups, taking all of five minutes. After they were done, they would flex their biceps and say something to the effect of, “Look at my muscles, Dad. See how strong I’m getting? I’ve been working out.” Not wanting to crush their spirits, I would praise their efforts, after all I remember doing the same thing when I was younger. Not surprisingly, it would be weeks (or even months) before they would work out again. This is how Christians, including me, act towards growing in our strength. A little Bible reading here; a little Bible reading there. A prayer today; another next week. The difference is that many times, we don’t become giddy with accomplishments like a young child after doing push-ups. We lament that we are not growing in faith and strength.

Paul wrote to Timothy that he was to “train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7, ESV). The word for “train” is where we get the word “gymnasium.” It has reference to training or to exercising. Training might work, but exercising is not helpful in our culture since many exercise like my children and I used to do. The best word is perhaps “discipline.” My godliness is linked to my discipline—my buckling down and getting to business, consistently and intentionally. If I were to consistently and intentionally do all the disciplines that Don Whitney wrote about (Bible reading, study, meditation, and memorization, prayer, worship, evangelism, serving others, stewardship of money and time, fasting, silence and solitude, journaling, and learning on my own) there is no telling what type of man I’d become! Two things are for sure: I would be a very busy man and I would be so busy, I wouldn’t have time to get ensnared by sin. That isn’t to say that I would never sin, but that being captured by it would be nearly impossible. Holiness, or as Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 4:7: godliness, would be a near given state of being.

In some ways, I wish Dr. Whitney’s book was introduced by the concluding chapter, but then again, it probably would not have had the impact that it does as a conclusion. In that chapter, he articulated what discipline really was: “But even though disciplining yourself is sometimes difficult and involves struggle, self-discipline is not self-punishment. It is instead an attempt to do what, prompted by the Spirit, you actually want in your heart to do.”[1] This will probably be the point that I am going to take with me. I’m not seeking to make my life drudgery by disciplining myself; I’m seeking to give my life godliness. That’s what I really want. It is easy to forget the reason for doing anything, especially the things that go against the flesh. The flesh has a way of fogging up the mind. Whitney reminds the reader that the heart (not the stony heart, but the born again, heart of flesh) wants godliness and holiness. It is a struggle, but it is one worth fighting.

In my bullet-journal, I have a habit tracker in which I record whether or not I did a certain habit (good or bad). My goal is to actually add a Spiritual Discipline’s tracker which would include all of the disciplines Dr. Whitney wrote about. I was planning on having it done by August, but as the saying goes: “No time like the present.” As J. C. Ryle wrote, “Tomorrow is the devil’s day.” Thus, I will be sure to finish my Spiritual Discipline’s tracker today, and begin today with disciplining myself unto godliness. May God allow me to supplement my faith with virtue and virtue with knowledge and knowledge with self-control and self-control with steadfastness and steadfastness with godliness and godliness with brotherly affection and brotherly affection with love (cf. 2 Peter 1:5-7).

[1] Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, (Downers Grove, IL: 1992), 244.

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.