The Other Side of Discipleship

“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” // Philippians 2:19-20

I read this passage the other day and I stopped to ask myself the question, “Why doesn’t Paul have anyone else like Timothy?” What did Timothy do to earn so much of Paul’s trust that Paul will openly tell a church that Timothy’s the only guy he has? What makes Timothy so special?

Here’s what I’ve noticed. The Church as a whole spends a lot of time talking about two primary things when it comes to this; and, for what it’s worth, one even far more than the other.

The two things are:

  1. How to be a good disciple of Jesus
  2. How to be a good disciple maker

The Church talks all the time about what it takes to follow Jesus well. Of course, this is a great thing. This conversation needs to be continually had and I’m glad that it is one of the predominant conversations in the Church. The thing is, there’s times when Paul says, “imitate me as I imitate Christ” and even Jesus says to “go make disciples.” That’s where the other conversation comes in.

We don’t talk about this as much as the first, but the other primary conversation around discipleship is how we can be better disciple makers. How we can live lives, like Paul’s, worthy of imitation. Once again, this is a great conversation that continually needs to be had. All of us should mature into lives worth imitation by other Christians. That’s called sanctification. 

But then there’s some of us, particularly the younger of us Christians, who have to step back and ask a question that it doesn’t seem like many of us are asking. This question takes humility and implies that we haven’t “made it” yet (even though Paul would say he still hasn’t ‘attained all this’ either). 

In addition to being a disciple of Jesus, in addition to discipling others, we have to ask ourselves, “How do I be a good disciple of someone else?”

We rush people into becoming disciple makers before they’ve been disciples of someone else themselves. We create half-full pitchers of water and say “pour” before they are ready and shortchange both parties involved as a result. One empties before he is full and the other only gets half of what he could.

So the question remains, “How do you be a good disciple of someone else?” What made Paul trust Timothy so much that he would openly admit that he’s the only guy he’s got?

The following verses seem to show two things that made Timothy a good disciple.

  1. Selflessness
  2. Provenness 

Selflessness

“I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” // v20-21

Apparently, everyone else Paul knew was out for their own personal gain. But not Timothy. Timothy had genuine care for others above himself, and would put the interests of Jesus for His people and the welfare of others above his own interests. This is crucial considering that Paul had just finished saying “Have this mind that was in Christ Jesus” and went into the famous “kenosis” passage about Jesus emptying himself for the sake of us. According to Paul, Timothy has that.

For us to be good disciples, we have to care more about other’s than ourselves. We have to always be willing to put ourselves at an inconvenience for the benefit of others. This is the model of Jesus, and by modeling Jesus, we are opening ourselves up to be more like Him and approach having a life worth imitating.

Provenness

“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.” // v22

I’m sure after a while of hanging out with Paul, Timothy was ready to go out and start his own ministry or plant his own church or something like that. He must have had some times where he thought he was pretty hot stuff. I mean, he was mentored by Paul. That counts for something, right?

But instead of doing that, Timothy served along side of Paul in the trenches of ministry, watching and learning from Paul “as a son with his father.”  Instead of running out after a while and doing his own thing, Timothy stayed and let himself be the little guy until it was his time to step up. He didn’t choose himself for ministry or just decide that it’s his time. He served faithfully with Paul until Paul said, “You’re ready. I’m sending you. You go be in charge. It’s your time.” 

Without selflessness and provenness, we’re all a fraction of what it looks like to be a disciple of Jesus and to be a true disciple maker ourselves. We’re running on the fumes of our own perceived competence hoping no one will notice that we’re not ready and have no idea what we’re doing. 

However, if we lay low for a while, learning from someone who knows more than we do, imitating someone who's life looks more like that of Christ’s than ours, allowing our mind to be transformed to that of the selfless mind of Christ, then we will be set up for success when it is our turn to be in charge.

That takes humility.

That takes patience. 

That takes time.

These aren’t things our generation is particularly used to. But it’s better to be patient, full, and ready than quick, empty and ill-prepared. So play the long game. Don’t jump early. 

Soon enough, it’ll be your time.