Be a Disciple – 2 Timothy 2:1-7
By: Alistair Brown
Occasionally there are TV commercials with a slogan like: “Be a complete man” or “Be a complete woman.”
The advertisers might be selling
- A health product.
- A fitness program.
- Maybe even an educational opportunity.
‘Swallow this,’ ‘do this,’ ‘learn this’ – and life will be complete. I suppose they think their pitch is compelling. Who wouldn’t want to be the complete person? But I am not buying what they are selling. I find their argument so uncompelling that I am content to stay incomplete in respect of what they have to offer.
The idea that there is a formula for the complete life is flawed – as if there are ten components to perfection and if you have only nine you can buy the tenth and, wonder of wonders, life is now complete. Our personalities, our life journeys, are really not that simple.
Discipleship cannot be reduced to a formula either. Being a Christian and loving, following, and serving Jesus has many facets and there will always be new challenges. There is no single formula for success. But, all that being said, the first seven verses of 2 Timothy 2 does list seven key characteristics of discipleship, and they are our study today.
2 Timothy 2:1-7
You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. 3 Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. 5 Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. 6 The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. 7 Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.
There are seven commands here, one in each verse.
v.1 – Be strong – “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
The Christian life is not easy and disciples need down-to-earth human resilience, but Paul’s command to “be strong” here is not about personal strength – instead, he says: “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
Discipleship is not about our strength, but about Christ’s strength. That’s important. Living the Christian life well means knowing where strength lies and relying on that strength.
I was about six when a shed fell on me, or at least the wall of a shed did when it collapsed. I was trapped under the wall. I wasn’t badly hurt, but it was too heavy for me to lift and I couldn’t wriggle out from under it. But my older brother Alan was right there. “Help,” I called weakly. Moments later my brother – big and strong because he was eight! – had that shed wall off me and out I crawled. What I could not do myself, his strength made possible.
Timothy faced many pressures. They were greater than anyone could endure. But Paul tells Timothy to be strong in Christ’s grace, to accept the strength given freely to anyone whose life belongs to Jesus. It is foundational for discipleship to know where your strength lies and to draw on that strength. With Christ’s help, we are strong.
v.2 – Be an equipper – “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”
Paul is saying: “Pass on what you know to people who are able then to pass it on to others.” Like a relay race, where the baton goes from the first runner to the second and then to the third and then to the fourth. Make sure, Paul says, that it goes to reliable people each time.
Down through history master craftsmen have taught apprentices, who then became master craftsmen who taught apprentices, who then became… Well, you get the idea. If they had not passed on their skills, if the chain of teaching had been broken, the craft would have been lost.
Many years ago I remember feeling very challenged by the Luis Palau movie “God has no grandchildren.” It focused on Wales. In 1904 there was a remarkable revival in Wales. Tens of thousands came to faith in Christ. The conservative estimate for just the first six months after revival broke out is that 150,000 were converted. The revival changed the spiritual character of the nation. Decades later when Palau visited Wales he found many churches with only a handful of people or even closed down. Revival fervor was long gone. Palau’s visit inspired him to make the movie with its “God has no grandchildren” theme. The hard message was this: God has children, but if those children do not share their faith the next generation of believers will never exist. God’s church is only ever one generation away from extinction. In other words, “God has no grandchildren.”
So, be an equipper of others, Paul tells Timothy.
v.3 – Be tough – “Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”
Paul’s metaphor is of an army, and his point is that no-one who enrolls in an army can complain about having to fight and even about having to suffer. It’s part of the deal. Therefore, he says to Timothy, “Join with me in suffering.”
He said the same just one chapter earlier. 2 Timothy 1:7 – “Join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.” Why stress the point about suffering for the faith so much?
Probably the answer lies in a short sentence near the end of chapter one. 2 Timothy 1:15 – “You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.” There’s the background. Paul had already been abandoned by Christians who were not willing to suffer for the gospel. When times got tough, the not-very-tough Christians got going. They saw Paul suffering, and did not want the same experience, so they left him.
Therefore Paul writes to Timothy: “Join with me in suffering….”
Some enroll for a Christianity they think will be only blessing, only happiness, only every problem solved with a prayer. Whatever commitment they made, they did not join themselves to the Jesus whose message was “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). The way Jesus went was the way of suffering and death. There is no easier road for his disciples. They need to be tough.
v.4 – Be focused – “No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.”
I heard an ex-marine describe his experiences just after he first reported for duty. There were endless exercises to toughen up the young recruits physically and mentally and to teach other important lessons. He described one in particular. The new recruits were ordered to crawl under nets through a mud field. Not shallow mud but inches-deep wet, sticky, smelly mud. It was awful. As he crawled, mud got through every layer of his clothes, into his hair, up his nose, in his mouth. When he and the others got to the other side, they were all black from head to foot, and they smelled as bad as human bodies can smell.
To their great relief, they were told they could go back to barracks, shower, and get fresh clothes. Never had a shower been so good. Never had it felt better to put on a fresh uniform.
Then the sergeant barked out the next order: “Back to the mud field, and crawl under the nets again to the other side.” For a moment they all hesitated, but orders are not matters for debate. At the double they were back at the mud pool and crawling under those nets. Again mud was right through to their skins, in their hair, in their mouths. By the other side they were all angry. What kind of orders were these? No sooner had they got clean they stank with mud again.
But by the end of the day those marines realized the lesson: obey the line of command. The day was coming when they would be in the middle of battle, orders would be given, and their lives and the success of the mission would require immediate and complete obedience without question.
Paul understood that principle. He was a Roman citizen and Roman armies had conquered most of the known world, and Paul knew the secret of their success: clear orders from commanders, and immediate and unwavering obedience by the soldiers.
The principle is the same for the Christian: no debates and no distractions. A disciple listens only to his commanding officer, the Lord Jesus.
v.5 – Be disciplined – “Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.”
Paul has switched metaphors from warfare to athletics.
I stood in an ancient Roman sporting arena in the Lebanese city of Tyre. What a massive place. The circuit was so large, it would have been used both for athletes to run and chariots to race. I didn’t measure the track, but my rough guess is that it would be about twice today’s layout – maybe 800 meters each lap. That would take me 20 minutes to run, assuming I could run that far! Athletes of 2000 years ago certainly did compete there. Paul saw athletic contests like that. And he knew success came only with dedication, training, and keeping to the rules.
His message then to Timothy is blunt: ‘Don’t think you can live God’s life your own way. If you want the prize, know God’s rules and follow his rules.’
I have interviewed many people for vacant jobs. They have read the advertisement and the job description. They know what the job is about. But a remarkable number think that no matter what has been said about the terms of employment, they can redesign the job or the hours to suit them. At the interview they tell me: “I know what the job posting said, but here is what I want to do…” I smile, and then I tell them: “What the job involves has always been clear. You can’t set your own terms.”
It is no different with being a Christian. We can’t make up the rules of Christianity to suit our personal preferences. Following Jesus means being disciplined.
v6 – Be hard-working – “The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.”
Paul changes metaphors yet again! Who gets the first harvest? Who gets the biggest harvest? Answer: the one who worked hard.
When I was very young I went fishing, but I was very unsuccessful at fishing. Why so bad? I’d heard fishing was relaxing, and I relaxed too much. Do I mean I lay on the bank with my line in the water? Yes, but that wasn’t the problem. Do I mean I didn’t take time to search out the best place to catch fish? Yes, but that wasn’t the problem. Here is what the problem was: I relaxed so much, I couldn’t be bothered putting a worm or a fly on the hook as bait. All I did was cast the line in the water hoping a fish would commit suicide on the hook. Not a single fish ever did. I was a complete failure as a fisherman. I caught nothing because I did nothing.
Paul says the harvest comes to the hardworking farmer, to the one who puts in the effort. The lazy Christian who doesn’t dedicate his or her life to loving Jesus, learning about Jesus, and serving Jesus will never see a harvest as a disciple. It does not come to the lazy. Be hard-working.
v.7 – Be thoughtful – “Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.”
Many, many golfers go for lessons to learn how to stop slicing the ball. For a right-handed player, their problem is that their shots bend off to the right, and usually into a lot of trouble. Often they have told me, “What I learned worked during the lesson on the driving range but not out here on the course.”
I know why that happened. There was nothing wrong with the lesson; they just didn’t learn anything. Or, more accurately, they did not apply anything. On the range they were taught how to stand correctly, grip the club correctly and swing correctly. But back in the real world of the golf course they went back to their old ways: standing wrongly, gripping wrongly, and swinging wrongly. They never took time to reflect, to really understand, to learn.
“Be thoughtful,” Paul says. “You’ll hear many wise words, but they’ll do you no good unless you reflect, see the truth, and apply that into your life.”
Wherever we are in our Christian lives – still near the beginning – on a few years – on many years… “reflect, for the Lord will give you insight.”
That includes reflecting on all the truths, all the commands in these verses:
– On being strong in the power of God
– On being an equipper of others
– On being tough in a tough world
– On being focused on our commander’s business
– On being disciplined to live and serve God’s way
– On being hard-working to see the reward
– On being thoughtful for what the Lord would teach you today.
It’s good advice. It won’t make us complete as disciples, but it will take us a lot further down the road.