By Adam Brown –
Discipleship is a chain that connects us, link by link, to the ministry of Jesus Christ. Just before He ascended into heaven, Jesus entrusted the Great Commission to the church, saying that we are to make disciples by baptizing and teaching new converts all the commands of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). In effect, Jesus gave every local church its mission: make disciples. And, for more than 2,000 years, this is what the church has been doing.
In light of this, the measure of success in any local church is whether or not disciples are being made. Every other rubric or measurement means very little. If disciples are not being made, then the church is failing to fulfill its purpose.
The context of 2 Timothy 2:1-7 is conflict and opposition in the local church. In chapter one, Paul exhorted Timothy to persevere in face of difficult circumstances. In these verses, Paul calls on Timothy to get busy doing the work of disciple-making.
This is very helpful advice. When opposition rears itself in the local church, it is easy for the wheels of discipleship to grind to a halt. No wonder the enemy seeks ways to stir up division. One of the most effective ways to endure church conflict is to stay focussed on the work of ministry by making disciples. Do not get distracted. Do not lose focus. Get busy.
Second Timothy 2:1 summarizes chapter one: Be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Second Timothy 2:2, then, cuts to the heart of the matter:
2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.
This verse can be articulated by our 17th instruction for the local church: Intentionally select and strategically disciple faithful people.
Remember, Timothy was facing considerable opposition in his local church. Thus, Paul encourages him to intentionally select “faithful people” (I translate “men” to be “people” because the Greek word, ἀνθρώποις, is not limited by maleness or femaleness. Thus, the principle holds for both men and women. See, for example, Titus 2:3-5).
What does Paul mean by “faithful” people? In addition to being believers, the context suggests that he is referring to non-oppositional people. In other words, forget about all the problem people, the insubordinate, and those stirring up division. Find people who are on your side and invest in them.
It is far too easy for pastoral energy to be wrongly diverted to the burr under the saddle, which necessarily drains discipleship resources from the many faithful people who are on side. Paul instructs Timothy to focus on those who want to be discipled and not on those who do not.
God has gifted the church with different kinds of people, each person with a different gift. Discipleship efforts must take the maturity, giftedness, and calling of each individual disciple into consideration. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all discipleship plan.
Paul highlights the strategic importance of finding men and women who “will be able to teach others also.” The goal of a disciple-maker is to make disciple-makers. Every local church must consider – and then implement – the most profitable way to spend the time and energy of the most gifted teachers in the church, which is to multiply their disciple-making efforts through wise and strategic planning.
We see this pattern in Jesus’ own life and ministry. Jesus preached to and healed the masses. He had a populist discipleship plan. However, from among the crowds, Jesus selected 12 apostles. This group received a greater investment from Jesus. From among the 12, Jesus selected Peter, James, and John for an inner-circle of discipleship. And, arguably, Jesus gave most to Peter, who would become the leader of Christ’s fledgling church.
Jesus also made it easy not to follow Him. He was not about to invest His time in a person who was not committed. For example, Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their own dead”(Matthew 8:22 and Luke 9:60), and, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). When the crowds were offended by His message, Jesus asked His apostles, “Do you want to go away as well?” (John 6:67). And, let’s not forget the rich young ruler. Though he would have been considered a real catch to most of our churches, Jesus let him go because he was not ready for a life of Christian discipleship (Matthew 19:16-30).
Making Disciples is Like Being a Soldier
Paul proceeds to give three illustrations about discipleship. In the first, he likens the disciple-maker to a soldier who does not get entangled in civilian affairs because his goal is to please his enlisting officer (2 Timothy 2:3-4).
Jesus, our enlisting officer, has commanded us to make disciples. Therefore, anything that distracts from fulfilling this mission is akin to “civilian affairs.” We cannot worry about the nay-sayers, the resistant, or the opposition. Rather, we must seek to please Jesus by intentionally making disciples of the faithful.
Making Disciples is Like Being an Athlete
Athletes compete for a perishable crown. Anyone who says that winning doesn’t matter, is clearly not a serious athlete. Athletes compete to win. In order to win, they must compete according to the rules (2 Timothy 2:5).
At the end of our days, each of us will stand before Jesus Christ and He will assess our life and ministry. If we built the most magnificent church buildings, established elaborate ministry structures, developed compassionate care services, and electrified thousands with our musical worship, but did not make any effort to establish 1 Timothy and the rest of the Scriptures in the life of the church, we will be disqualified.
Making disciples cannot be done apart from the learning, doing, and teaching of the Bible. Therefore, we must compete for the crown by playing by the rules, which means we must implement 1 Timothy and the rest of God’s Word.
Making Disciples is Like Being a Farmer
Farmers toil in the hostile conditions of a sin-cursed world. A farmer cannot make his crops grow. All a farmer can do is give his crops the best possible chance for growth. He does this by plowing the earth, choosing the right seed for the climate, planting in season, applying fertilizer and manure, irrigating, giving seasonal rest to the ground, and by praying. Nevertheless, in the end, it is God who gives the growth.
Likewise, making disciples is hard work. But, in the end, it is God who gives the growth. The hope of the farmer is the harvest of a bumper crop. Paul reminds Timothy that it is the farmer who enjoys the first share of the crops (2 Timothy 2:6).
In sum, a church without discipleship is not a church, at least not an effective one. No matter how fierce the battle for unity and togetherness might become, a church can never abandon the God-given work of making disciples. Indeed, when opposition is the strongest, all the more we must give ourselves to the disciple-making work of the Gospel. The life of the church depends upon it.