This semester I have been taking a spiritual formation class at Ambrose University. As part of my studies, I just finished doing some writing about Paul and his mentorship of Timothy. Since we are currently working through a sermon series on discipleship, I thought it might be worthwhile to share with you a few important principles that impacted me along the way. Paul’s relationship with Timothy is one of the more famous examples of intentional relational discipleship in the New Testament. There was obviously a very close relationship, so much so that Paul called Timothy his “true son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2). A few key lessons worth noticing:
1. The Work is God’s
When I hear about Timothy, I am used to hearing about how Paul impacted his life and influenced him to become the great church leader that he was. It was surprising, then, to be reminded that before Paul ever came into his life, Timothy had already been a Christian for a long time, was spoken highly of by other Christians, and had plenty of positive influences in his life (see Acts 16:1-2, 2 Timothy 1:5). No doubt Paul had a major impact in Timothy’s life, but he was just one part of something far bigger that God was doing, and had been doing for a long time. We need to remember this as we disciple others today. The work is God’s – all we can do is humbly ask to join him in what he is already doing. This can be a freeing realization, because we know that even when we mess up God is big enough to see his plan through to fruition.
2. Discipleship Means Life Together
In a letter to the Thessalonian church, Paul reminds the Christians there that he and his fellow workers were “delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). This is the way he mentored Timothy as well. Timothy accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys and then eventually became a trusted colleague who was assigned to go to churches that were facing challenges when Paul himself was unable to go. Through all of this Timothy would have seen Paul’s blameless way of living (2:10) and how he lived his life “in a manner worthy of God” (2:12). Paul would later challenge Timothy to do the same:
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. -1 Timothy 4:12
We too are called to live our lives in close relationship to others, and in doing so to set an example of godly living. This means we need to make our own relationship with God a priority if we are going to be effective in helping others draw closer to him. Spending regular time in God’s word and in prayer would be a good first step.