What does discipleship look like?
As hard as it may be, every Christian needs to take an ongoing look in the mirror and ask: have I ever “made” a disciple? The Great Commission is not a mere suggestion so if Jesus commanded it, we ought to be busy doing it (Matt. 28:16-20). If you’re not sure what discipleship books to buy or where to begin, the Bible is still the best place to go for insight on what discipleship looks like.
In his second letter to Timothy, Paul provides valuable instruction for his protégé in the faith. His goal was to equip Timothy so that he would be equipped to serve the church in Ephesus. Through Paul’s words to him, we see a picture of what discipleship could look like for us today. In the particular context surrounding his letters, Paul’s discipleship of Timothy was a serious need — as discipleship always is. Prior to this final letter he’d ever send, Paul exhorted the elders at Ephesus to shepherd the flock and protect it faithfully from those would attack it from the inside (Acts 20:28). This church was being opposed and the enemy was seeking to undermine its effectiveness. Ephesus was an important epicenter for pagan worship as it was home to the Temple of Artemis and not everyone was a fan of what the gospel was doing to their city. The church was in a battle for souls at Ephesus as the power of the gospel started putting idol makers out of business (Acts 19:24-26). Discipleship was vital to the health of the church then, and it still is today.
With that context in mind, here are three fundamental truths about discipleship that can be drawn from Paul’s pastoral letters.
Discipleship is hard work. Nobody worked harder than Paul to further the gospel and make disciples (1 Cor. 15:10). Paul travelled extensively, reasoned and debated with evangelistic prospects, was beaten, imprisoned, mocked, and eventually killed for the gospel. Through all of this he endlessly poured his life into his disciples. In 2 Timothy, the term Paul uses to describe Timothy is “son” (1:2;2:1). This would be inferred by the text but using such terminology would mean that Paul put in the time and effort it takes to earn that right. You don’t get the privilege of that kind of relationship without putting in the work. Other terms that correlate hard work, ministry, and discipleship are “soldier” (2:3-4), and “workman” (2:15). References to “suffering” or “hardship” (2:3; 3:12; 4:5) are reminders that advancing the gospel and making disciples is arduous labor because we’re preparing others for the same kind of work. Disciples aren’t made in a microwave; they’re made in the field. Keep your work boots by the door each day.
Discipleship is giving direction. Whether you blame passive fathers who produce passive sons, or fault societal assault on dogmatic instruction, it seems that fewer and fewer leaders are prone to giving clear, authoritative direction. Paul doesn’t hint at things or just shoot the breeze with Timothy; calling it “life on life.” He isn’t afraid to tell him what to do! While it’s true that discipleship can be more caught than taught, giving direction is essential if you want to get somewhere. Jesus, while making disciples in a “life on life” scenario with the twelve, still had precision and purpose in what He did. In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he focuses on the task at hand and provides marching orders. Contrary to what anti-authoritarian opinions may be, discipleship includes telling people what to do and showing them how to do it. Paul uses imperative after imperative when directing Timothy. Jesus said that making disciples would involve “…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Discipleship is much more than just telling people what to do, but it’s certainly not less. Of course, being an example is non-negotiable when directing others. The disciple-maker’s instructions must match his own actions as well.
Discipleship is duplicating yourself: One of my favorite portions of 2 Timothy is a section that not many people spend time focusing on. From 4:9-22 there are at least eighteen names listed. Two are those who either deserted or harmed Paul but the rest are people who have come alongside him in ministry and been discipled by him along the way. This is a powerful picture of duplication! Discipleship is not about creating a following that seeks after you, it’s about creating disciples who do ministry long after you. Paul was eventually beheaded and this was his last letter. But because he was faithful to the task of making disciples, his work empowered others to suffer for the gospel and advance the church.
Discipleship should never be far from our ministry repertoire. Without pouring into others we become cesspools of self-importance; forgetting that we have been saved to bring the gospel of salvation to others and we’ve been made into disciples to make disciples of others.