TIMOTHY THE DISCIPLER
By Pastor Glenn Pease
The Chinese once started to kill all the sparrows because they were eating so much rice and seed. They reasoned that this was a waste and they would be better off without them. But then they discovered they were losing more food without them than with them. The birds not only ate seed but insects as well, and without the birds to control the insects the insects were destroying the crop before the harvest. They learned to leave the birds alone and let them eat part of the crop, for without them there was no crop at all.
The people of Brazil and Argentina decided to wipe out the jungle cats and owls for they appeared to be a nuisance of no value. Then they found themselves overrun with disease carrying rats. This story is repeated over and over by people all through history as men in their supposed wisdom conclude that God made some sort of mistake when He made certain creatures they do not like. What man quickly learns is that it is a mistake to ever think anything God makes is a mistake.
This same principle applies to people. If man was allowed to form a committee to advise God on how to create an ideal world of people, he would, no doubt, urge God to forget the present process of producing infinite variety. They would lean toward Hitler's idea of a super race, and have all the women look like Marilyn Monroe, and all the men look like Clark Gable. Everybody would be beautiful, handsome, strong, intelligent, and multi-gifted.
As we study Bible characters the one thing that stands out clearly is that God did not heed such advice if some angelic committee suggested it. Bible characters are all so different even though they have much in common. No two are alike, and it is folly to think that this is a mistake. God obviously intended people to be different and unique, and one of the most foolish things we can do is to assume that some kinds of people are not really necessary. Racism is based on this mistake, and so also most all forms of discrimination. As every form of animal adds to the balance of nature, so every form of personality adds to the balance of human society, and to the balance of the body of Christ.
Timothy is so much different than many of the characters we have studied. Most well known Bible characters are mature adults, but Timothy is actually a teenager when he first comes on the scene. He is mature for his age, but he is young, and so he adds to the balance of the age factor. Young and old alike are used by God. Scholars feel that Timothy was probably only 16 years old when he began his ministry with Paul. He was to Paul what John was to Jesus. John was the disciple that Jesus most loved. Both Timothy and John were just young people, but they both made excellent disciples.
Listen to the compliment Paul gave Timothy in Phil. 2:19-22: "I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interest, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the Gospel."
Timothy was the son Paul could never have, and he had nothing but joy in this father-son relationship. In I Tim. 1:2 he addresses Timothy as, "My true son in the faith." In I Cor. 4:17 he writes, "Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord." Did Paul have a son? Yes he did, and it was Timothy. He was born into the family of God by watching Paul go through great suffering, and by having a willingness to die for his Lord. This was a sort of male labor pains that gave birth to a new soul in the kingdom. This is how it happened: Paul had been stoned and left for dead outside Lystra, the home town of Timothy. He was taken somewhere to recover, and the evidence points to the home of Timothy where his devout mother and grandmother took care of him. That is where he became acquainted with the family.
The reason scholars believe this is because of what Paul wrote to Timothy in II Tim. 3:10-11. "You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings-what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.
As a teenager Timothy saw what Paul went through, and he wanted to follow Paul and be his disciple. Here was commitment, and he never let Paul down. He was like a son, and that explains why out of the 4 personal letters of Paul in the New Testament 2 of them are to Timothy. The other 2 are those to Titus and Philemon. But Timothy is the only person in history to have 2 letters written to him by Paul which became a part of the Bible.
He represents the very best of discipleship, for he was a faithful follower of another. He followed Paul with the same loyalty as Paul followed Christ. Being a Timothy involves being a disciple and then discipling others. But before we look at that lets pursue our grasp of just how different Timothy was. He was young, but he was also a half-breed. Timothy was half Jew and half Gentile. This has often been a handicap to people all through history, and it created some problems for Timothy as well.
In Acts 16:1-3 we read this interesting biographical information about Timothy: "He came to Derby and then to Lystra where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek."
What an eye opener into his family background. Timothy's dad was a pagan and he resisted his mother, for a Jewish mother would have had her baby boy circumcised. So we see the danger of a mixed marriage in carrying out religious convictions. Paul had to circumcise Timothy or the Jews they were trying to reach would not give heed to this half-breed. Here was a case of being all things to all men to reach them. Timothy was willing as a teenager to go this route to be a disciple.
Timothy was willing to suffer and to pay a price to be a disciple of Paul. No wonder he was Paul's favorite, for he was the ideal disciple. That is why he received the two letters he did, for he was very teachable, and so Paul gave a lot of time and energy to teaching him. To be a Timothy means to be willing to be instructed. It involves being a real student. Any Christian who goes off to school to learn the Bible better is a Timothy. Any adult who decides to keep a notebook and build a library to study the Word is a Timothy. Being a Timothy is a commitment of life to be a disciple. The ideal that fits the facts of the New Testament is a younger person committed to work with a older person to learn and become the kind of Christian they are.
A disciple is one who is willing to be an over comer of obstacles. Timothy was young and a product of a mixed marriage. He needed to be circumcised, but he did not let any of this block his way. Many people are disciples as long as the way is smooth, but let it get rough and they are gone. A Timothy sticks to it, and that is exactly why Paul was so pleased with him, for John Mark, another young man, had just forsaken Paul before he came to Timothy's home town. Paul was very upset about this instability. To find a youth like Timothy was just what he needed to restore his faith in younger Christians. Timothy was Paul's best assistant ever.
The last letter Paul wrote before he was executed was Second Timothy. Tradition tells us that Timothy was martyred by a mob in Ephesus when he was 80 years old. John the Apostle also lived in Ephesus. What a combination they were. The young man that Jesus loved and the young man that Paul loved together as old soldiers of the cross. One the joys of heaven will be to hear these two share stories of their work together in Ephesus. You cannot eliminate the young or the old in God's work, for the New Testament reveals that they are both vital to the plan of God.
Discipleship is a sort of spiritual cloning. It is taking what you have learned and become and then passing it on to others so they become a duplication. We are not dealing with paper, but with people, and so it is not a matter of carbon copying. None of Jesus' disciples were just like Him, nor were any of them just like each other. But they all came to understand the truths Jesus came to reveal, and they all became like Him in spirit. So Timothy did not become a Paul. He was different in many ways, but he became a communicator of the same message that Paul preached, and he had the same spirit as Paul. Discipleship is not a duplicating of personality or gifts, but of the message and the spirit.
Paul says in II Tim. 2:2 that he is to take the things he heard Paul say and pass them on to others who can in turn pass them on again. Then he goes on to tell him to endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ. It is the truth and the spirit of commitment that is to be duplicated. When you have taught another so that they can pass on the truth to someone else and be committed to do so, even if it is costly, then you have made a disciple, and you are a discipler.
This is what is suppose to happen in our teaching experiences in the church. The students are suppose to become teachers. They are to learn so that they can teach others. Because we do not provide for this to happen there is not nearly the motivation to learn. Students who do not have to later teach what they learn are not motivated to take notes and to truly understand what they are learning. We rob them of the motivation to learn because they do not have to teach. That is why discipleship has died out in many churches as we see it in the New Testament. James Montgomery Boice wrote, "There is a fatal defect in the church of the 20th century; a lack of true discipleship."
The Christian Business Men's Committee is trying to correct this defect with its Operation Timothy program in which business men meet with others on a regular basis and disciple new Christians. They recognize that to be a Timothy means you have to study to know the basics of the Christian faith yourself, and then be willing to pass them on to others. There are books available to do this, but most Christians feel they are not qualified, or they are too busy to be disciples. They cut themselves off from one of the most rewarding activities of the Christian life.
Part of the problem with discipleship in our day is that it is hard for people to submit to authority. A disciple has to be one who believes the one who is teaching him. It takes younger Christians feeling that older Christians have something they do not have. In a crowd and self-sufficient culture this is not easy for people to buy into. It never really has been. In Plato's Republic there is a story about the crew of a ship who decided that their pilot must be mad because he was taking observations from the stars. They argued that a ship sails on the seas and is influenced by the winds, tides, and currents, and that star gazing is a foolish and impractical procedure. They shut the pilot in the hold and sailed on to have a shipwreck.
Christians have likewise joined the revolt of our culture against authority. It has not been all wrong, for Christians in the past have exalted their own pet ideas to the level of God's revelation. The fight for freedom from oppressive authority has been noble, but like so many good things it has been taken to extremes. Will Durant, the historian, wrote, "Most of our literature and social philosophy after 1850 was the voice of freedom against authority....the child against the parent the pupil against the teacher... I shared in that individualistic revolt, but now...I wonder whether the battle I fought was not too completely won. Let us say, humbly but publicly, that we resent corruption in politics, dishonesty in business, faithlessness in marriage, pornography in literature, coarseness in language, chaos in music, meaningless art."
Freedom from all authority is just another way to slavery. America is in many ways like the day of Judges, when every man did that which was right in his own eyes. It was an every man for himself age. You don't listen to a discipler, for your way of thinking is just as good as his, so why should you submit to learn from him? I read about how Jackie Gleason was interviewed when he was in the prime of his popularity. He told of how he had been brought up in the Catholic church, but he turned away from it and was a Protestant. You may say, "Good for him!" But listen to why he did it. He said he was looking for a easier religion with fewer demands. He wanted one that took less toll on his time, money, and personal morals.
That has become the American way. It is the way of cheap grace where sins are easily forgiven, and where heaven awaits, but where you don't have to be bothered with all of this discipleship baloney. You might detect a distinct difference of opinion when you compare that perspective with the words of Jesus. In Matt. 16:24-25 Jesus says, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up the cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." Gleason wanted the best life you could find, and so he said, "Let me do as little for Jesus as possible so I can get all the gusto out of life." Jesus says that is the way to miss life all together. If you want the best life can offer, then submit, surrender, and commit your life to me, and you will get it back as life abundant.
So much of the discipling that goes on is getting people to be followers of special systems of theology or politics. Dynamic personalities develop some scheme of their own and then make disciples to perpetuate it. This is the process of the cults, and they are strong in discipleship. The idea is good, but like all good ideas it can be used for evil. The bottom line that makes discipleship a truly Christian activity is that it leads one to be Christ like. That was Paul's bottom line. He writes in I Cor. 11:1, "Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ." If Paul, or anyone else, deviates from Christ then it is not true Christian discipleship to be like them. Christian discipleship is defined simply as becoming like Jesus in knowledge and spirit. One who has the mind of Jesus and His spirit is a Christian disciple ready to be a discipler. That is what is meant by being a Timothy.
A Timothy is at both ends of being a disciple. He is one who is learning from a Paul, and he is one who is teaching another. You have to be a disciple before you can be a discipler. Discipleship is simply an awareness that salvation is not just a point, but a line. We accept Jesus as Savior at some point in time, but following Him and becoming more like Him is a lifetime process. We are being saved all along the way as we become more like Jesus. When we are saved from hell and judgment by trusting Jesus as Savior, we are not necessarily saved from our prejudices, lusts, envy, jealously, pride, and a hundred other less than honorable characteristics. Discipleship is the process of being saved from all of these things.
Christianity is not just obstetrics as if getting people born again is the only goal. It is also pediatrics and about getting them to grow and develop in a healthy way. Evangelism is obstetrics, but discipleship is pediatrics, and right on to geriatrics. It covers all of life from the cradle to the grave. It is the life long process of becoming more like Jesus. Being born again is a one time event, but being a disciple is a life time experience. The Andrew personality introduces people to Jesus, but the Timothy personality trains them to be like Jesus.
It is easier to be an Andrew and do evangelism than it is to be a Timothy and train them. The Andrew can be done with his task in minutes, but the Timothy may be busy for months and even many years. This is another reason why discipleship has been neglected. It is too great a commitment to stick with someone until they are mature in Christ. Jamie Buckingham tells one of his favorite stories about the mother bird who built her nest high in a tree, but she put no bottom in it. When questioned about it she said, "Oh, I just love to lay eggs, but I hate the responsibility of having to raise babies." This is what you have when you have Andrews but no Timothys in the church. Discipleship is spiritual parenthood in which the mature Christian passes on to the immature what they need to become mature.
It is like the passing of the baton in a relay race. If you don't get the baton to the next runner, the race will be lost. So each generation of Christians has to pass the baton of Christian maturity on to the next generation. Timothy was both a receiver and a giver of the Christian baton, and the ideal is for all Christians to be Timothys. But in our text Paul says that he was to select reliable men to disciple that they might in turn disciple others. Not all Christians are cut out to be disciplers. It is the minority who can accept this challenge.
Not all Christians can bring themselves to be so totally involved in the Christian goal of helping others to be mature in Christ. None of us have problems with the promises of God, and the forgiveness, peace, strength, and eternal life He gives. The struggle is not over what Jesus offers, but over what He demands. We are willing to take anything He is willing to give, but we are not willing to follow wherever He leads. The result is, Timothys are relatively scarce compared to Andrews. Those who say that they want to be a Timothy are saying that they want to be so committed to helping others be mature Christians that they want to be in the minority. May God help us to be willing to be a minority and accept the challenge to be a Timothy.