Paul: The Disciple-Maker
PAUL: THE DISCIPLE-MAKER
Acts 16:1-5 (ESV):
1 Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek.
2 He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium.
3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of
the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem.
5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.
Since we started E12 as our discipleship process in 2010, our leaders have agreed that we need to put this as one of the core values of our church. From this core value came out a clear vision that we want to see every member of BCI to be discipled and become a discipler. Of course, just like any vision, if we don’t keep repeating this, there’s a great chance that our people are going to lose it. So, time and again, we want to find an opportunity to re-echo our vision.
After eight years of being in the vision, you are probably wondering why some people are still not involved in it. I’m guessing that probably one of the reasons why others don’t participate is because maybe they don’t really understand why we are doing it or why it is important to the church of Jesus Christ to have a discipleship process. If this is the case, allow me to take some time explaining it again briefly before heading to my main topic.
I want to clearly emphasize that the main reason why we do it is because of Jesus Christ. Allow me to explain this by quoting the words of Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck in their book, Designed to Lead.
“When you examine His life, being the Son of God, he could have chosen any method to ensure the world would hear of His gracious sacrifice for them, to ensure that that the message would be shared around the globe. The world is His, so all resources were at His disposal . . . He could have chosen any method imaginable and unimaginable, yet He chose discipling people who would disciple others.” (p. 155)
This is so true! This is the reason why with his very limited time of ministry, which was only about three years, he poured most of his time and energy in making disciples. And after he was done with them, he left them the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), which was simply to repeat what He has done to them.
On the practical side of it, this is really for the benefit of the one who is being discipled. I want to think of it this way. As a grandparent of two cute kids, going three by the end of September, I know how wonderful and cute kids are. Even when they are doing silly stuff, it is still funny and cute. But I also know that if parents and grandparents will not spend enough time discipling (teaching and training) their children, they won’t become productive individuals in the society. Instead of becoming assets, they could become serious liabilities. The same is true with Christians. If we fail to disciple them and they remain “baby Christians,” they will never become productive members of the Kingdom of God.
Think of it according to these three areas of growth. When a believer is being discipled, I believe it will affect three significant areas of their lives:
1. Their Pursuit – If they grow as believers, their main pursuit will not be power, possessions, or pleasures, but having a vibrant relationship with God.
2. Their Perspective – They will develop the mindset that knowing God and being close to God is much better than having anything in this world.
3. Their Practice – They believe that living a blameless life before God will bring them great rewards not only in the future, but in their present lives.
Believe me, it will take some serious discipleship to bring a Christian at this level of growth. You might ask, is it possible to have this level of growth? Well, serious followers of God lived this kind of life throughout the Bible. Listen to these words in the Old Testament:
Psalm 84:10-12 (ESV):
10 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.
12 O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!
Examine the Psalmist’s words again. Verse 10 speaks of his pursuit and perspective; he recognizes that being in the presence of God is much better than being elsewhere. Then, verses 11-12 clearly highlights the fact that his righteous life comes from the belief that God will not withhold any good favor from him. Again, this level of maturity can only come through a deeper walk with God.
On this basis, the apostle Paul, being one of the followers of Jesus Christ was a firm believer of discipleship. The text we have read can serve as our jumping board to other passages where Paul demonstrated his commitment to the same method that Jesus commanded believers to do. As we trace Paul as a disciple-maker, we can highlight at least three initiatives he had in fulfilling the Great Commission:
I HE IDENTIFIED THE POTENTIAL DISCIPLES:
Going back to our main text, especially verses 1-2, we find the apostle Paul and Silas coming to Derbe and Lystra for the purpose of revisiting the believers who came to know Christ during his first missionary journey (Acts 14:8-20). If you are familiar with their first visit there, it was in Lystra that Paul would be stoned by some fanatical Jews and would be dragged outside the city almost dead. In fact, some Bible scholars would even suggest that he was actually left for dead there and was brought back to life to continue his ministry. Personally, I don’t take that position, but it is safe to say that he was totally tortured that by the time the Jews were done with him he was almost lifeless. But what is significant to see is that when they came back to the city, there were strong believers who were growing in their relationship with Jesus Christ. It is good to emphasize that many times, our ministry doesn’t seem to have some impact, but nothing that we do for the Lord is wasted. You know why? It is because God’s Word—once declared—will not “return to Him empty”:
Isaiah 55:11 (ESV):
11So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
Certainly, Paul’s first ministry in Lystra was not a loss or a waste of time because in that place he found “a disciple” named Timothy. This description simply suggests that Timothy was not a believer only, but he was progressing well in his Christian faith. He was the one that Paul would choose to join his team and one of his significant disciples, besides Luke and Titus.
It is interesting to highlight that Paul could have avoided the idea of taking another young
man to take with him for his missionary journey because of what happened with John Mark. Notice the last part of Chapter 15.
Acts 15:36-41 (ESV):
36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.”
37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
Paul and Barnabas, these two great missionaries, separated because of John Mark. After the separation, it is surprising that Paul would decide to take Timothy. This decision on the part of Paul should teach us two major lessons:
1) Failures on the part of the disciples do not nullify the value of discipleship – Despite the failure of John Mark, Paul should continue in his effort to do discipleship because of its importance to the church of Jesus Christ.
2) Identifying the potential disciples should be done with tremendous care to ensure success in discipleship – It is quite obvious that Timothy met certain essential qualifications before Paul took him:
He was “a disciple.”
“He was well spoken of by the brothers” – This simply means that he had established a
positive reputation among his faith community.
He was willing to submit himself to circumcision (v.3) – This effort was meant to
increase his effectivity among the Jews because it was known to many, especially to the Jews, that his father was Greek.
As I was reading this, the question that came to my mind was: If Paul visited BCI, who would he pick out as his potential disciples? What Paul did in Acts 16 with Timothy is consistent with what he told Timothy when it was already his turn to choose his potential disciples:
2 Timothy 2:2 (ESV):
2And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
There are two qualifications, which are highlighted by Paul to Timothy. First, the disciple must be “faithful.” Faithfulness literally suggests being trustworthy and dependable. You give him a responsibility and you know you can count on him to deliver. Second, the disciple is “able to teach others also.” These words suggest having the ability to pass on to others whatever he or she has learned in discipleship. So, true disciples will not only be learners, they will be good teacher and mentors as well.
II HE INSTRUCTED THE PROACTIVE DISCIPLES:
If we carefully examine the discipleship process that Jesus has exemplified, it is quite clear that it involved personal attention and guidance from the discipler. Jesus spent at least three years in shaping his disciples. By the way, I just want to emphasize my usage of the word proactive disciples. I simply want to emphasize the fact even when there is a discipler available,
if the disciple is passive and uncooperative, the process of discipleship will not be effective. Because of Christ’s example, beginning in verse 3, we will find the apostle Paul doing
the very same thing with Timothy by taking him along in his missionary travels. Imagine the privilege that was bestowed upon Timothy to be invited and be a part of Paul’s missions team. Thinking of this, I am convinced that discipleship is a gift given to us as believers.
This type of discipleship is very effective because this kind of instruction is more than just passing information, it lends more to the transformation of life. In order for this to happen, it is evident that Paul included several elements in his discipleship:
Accountability in discipleship is shared by the discipler and the disciple. The apostle Paul described this accountability within the type of relationship he established with Timothy. Notice how Paul considered Timothy:
1 Timothy 1:2 (ESV):
2 To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
1 Timothy 1:18 (ESV):
18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare,
In both of these passages, Paul as the discipler of Timothy clearly had considered himself as the spiritual parent to Timothy. There are some Bible interpreters who see this statement, “my true child” and “my child” as references to Paul as the person who led Timothy to salvation. However, if you read 2 Timothy 1:5, it is evident that Timothy’s faith came through the witnessing of his grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice.
Wherefore, it is safe to say that Paul used this language to carry the idea of his discipleship accountability to Timothy. Like a parent, Paul took the responsibility of caring, guiding, and training Timothy in order for him to develop as a follower of Christ.
Of course, this sense of accountability is also demanded of Timothy as a disciple. Without his willingness to submit to Paul like a child submitting to a parent, the process of discipleship will also be hampered. Paul referred to this process when he wrote how he discipled the Thessalonian Christians:
1 Thessalonians 2:7, 11-12(ESV):
7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 11For you know how, like a father with his children, 12we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
Notice, as a spiritual parent, there are times when Paul was gentle like a mother and there were also times that he was firm like a father. Obviously, when he was functioning like a father, he was holding his disciples accountable for their behavior.
When Paul took Timothy on the road with him, one of the greatest blessings for Timothy was, he watched Paul carry out his ministry responsibilities firsthand. He saw exactly what it meant to live out your life for Jesus Christ day in and day out. However, from just being an observer, soon Timothy developed the skills necessary for him to begin taking some ministry
responsibilities. Later, Paul would even send him personally to pastor a big church, the Ephesian church. So, from being a plain observer, later he became capable of pastoring a church.
Well, today, we call this entire process of development as “apprenticeship.” This refers to a system of training where one learns some skills through hands-on experiences. In other words, after the disciple had watched his discipler carry out ministry responsibilities, there’s going to be a time when the disciple himself will have to do those responsibilities. However, while the disciple discharges his or her ministries, the discipler will be there to closely supervise and give feedbacks.
This process is described by Dustin Willis and Aaron Coe in their book, Life On Mission, in these 5 steps:
1) I do, you watch – The discipler is leading while the disciple is watching.
2) I do, you help – The discipler still leads, but the disciple will start helping.
3) You do, I help – Now, the disciple starts leading, while the discipler helps.
4) You do, I watch – In here, the disciple is leading, while the discipler still participate
5) You do, someone else watch – By this time, the discipler sends them as a leader and
another disciple is watching them.
This third element of discipleship is closely related to apprenticeship. In the assessment, the discipler functions just like a coach who is constantly guiding in order to continually help the disciples become well-rounded ministers. If you examine Paul’s two major letters to Timothy (1st and 2nd Timothy), they were designed to help Timothy become thoroughly equipped as a minister. Listen to these words:
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV):
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
We often use this passage to support the inspiration of the Bible, but contextually, this passage was a direct exhortation to Timothy as a minister of God.
III HE INSPIRED THE PRODUCTIVE DISCIPLES:
Lastly, Paul also never neglected his responsibility of challenging and inspiring Timothy to remain faithful in serving the Lord. Paul was well aware that fruitful disciples of Jesus Christ are often subjected to a lot of hardships and sufferings. For this reason, he provided many encouragements for him to remain faithful to the Lord. Here are some:
2 Timothy 2:3 (ESV):
3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 2:6 (ESV):
6 It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.
2 Timothy 2:11-12 (ESV):
11 The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us.
It is important to recognize that all of these verses are connected to 2 Timothy 2:2, which
is a big verse on discipleship. Of course, these are not the only challenges to Timothy as he continues to serve the Lord. There are still many more verses in Paul’s letters to Timothy. But the main point that Paul communicates is that if we follow the Lord, it is true that we have to be prepared to suffer. But, it is also emphasizing here that Jesus will allow us to enjoy the fruits of our labors for him.
Allow me to close with this verse:
2 Corinthians 3:3 (ESV):
3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
During the ancient times, people were aware that if they wrote on tablets of stones, their work will last for a very long time. What makes discipleship even greater is because we have the privilege to write on Christians’ tablet of hearts. They will certainly last for eternity. The work of discipleship will have an eternal impact and will bring eternal rewards.
August 5, 2018 Dr. Jeremiah Lepasana