Disciples Training Disciples (Sermon)
Updated: May 28
2 Timothy 2:1-2
Language differences make for some good laughs. When I was in Africa, I remember talking with a couple of the local men who helped cook dinner for our mission group. When they heard we were eating “chicken fingers” they started laughing uncontrollably. They couldn’t understand why we called them chicken fingers since chicken don’t have fingers.
Sometimes the difference in language can be instructive. Whenever I talk to pastors from Moldova, they will inevitably refer to one of the men their training in their church as “my disciple.” I’ve never heard an American pastor use that phrase, but maybe we should. Maybe that terminology would remind us of the importance of discipleship. Maybe it would remind each of us that part of the job of every disciple is to make new disciples. Committed disciples train new disciples.
If you’ve ever been on a team, you’ve seen this. The upperclassmen help the underclassmen. The veterans help train the rookies. You’re not done when you’re a fully committed disciple of Jesus Christ. In fact, you’re just getting started. Now you’re in a perfect position to help disciple someone else.
If you’ve learned how to worship, teach someone else.
If you’ve learned how to minister, show someone else.
If you’ve learned how to serve, find someone who hasn’t, come alongside them and disciple them.
We see the importance of disciples training disciples in the second letter written by the apostle Paul to Timothy. First, we’ll look at his example, then the instructions he gave, and finally where we get the ability to disciple others.
(2 Timothy 2:1-2 ESV) You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
Example of Discipleship
Paul calls Timothy “his child.” This is the second time in the letter he’s done so. Look back to chapter 1, verse 2:
(2 Timothy 1:2a ESV) To Timothy, my beloved child…
He begins his first letter to Timothy the same way. He writes:
(1 Timothy 1:2 ESV) To Timothy, my true child in the faith:
Timothy is not Paul’s physical descendant. Paul is not his birth father or even adopted father. Paul is his father in the faith. He considers Timothy his spiritual son.
Paul has other spiritual sons. He calls Titus his “true child in a common faith” (1:4), and he says the church in the ancient city of Corinth is made up of his “beloved children” (1 Cor. 4:14). Why did he call them his children…his sons? Listen to what he says in 1 Corinthians:
(1 Corinthians 4:14-17 ESV) I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church.
They are his sons because he is the one responsible for their growth and development. They heard the gospel from him, responded to it, watched his life, and began to grow and mature. Like a father, he watched over them and discipled them from the very moment they were born spiritually.
To a different church, he likened their relationship to the relationship between a mother and her child. He told them:
(1 Thessalonians 2:7-8 ESV) But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
He loved them, cared for them, watched over them, and gave up his own comforts to see them grow, just like a mother does with her children. So, when he calls Timothy “his son” what he means is that he has invested his life in the spiritual growth and development of Timothy.
How did he do this? How did he invest in them? How did he disciple them? Listen to what he says in Philippians 4.
(Philippians 4:9 ESV) What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
He has not only taught them about following Jesus, but he’s also modeled for them what it means to follow Jesus. In other words, he’s been a parent to them. Isn’t this what parents do? We not only teach our kids, but we show them.
I remember when we reached a milestone in our family a few years ago. We came to the last time I would ever mow my lawn. I have three sons, and Jack, my oldest, was ready to take over mowing responsibilities. So, what did I do? I pushed him out into the garage, said, “mow the lawn,” and shut the door. It really wasn’t that simple. I had to show him how to mow the lawn. I had to show him how to start the mower, where to mow, and how close he could get to trees and bushes. The first couple times I watched him, and periodically stopped him to show him something (“You see that row you missed?”). At this point a few years later, the only thing I do is tell him and his brother when to mow. They know how to do it.
The apostle Paul not only told Timothy and Titus how to follow Jesus, but he also showed them how to follow Jesus. That’s what it means to disciple them. As you read through the letters of the apostle Paul, you find this happening all the time. He is constantly telling Christians to remember what he said and how he lived. At least four different times he says to imitate him (1 Cor. 11:1; Phil. 3:17; 1 Th. 1:6-7; 2 Th. 3:7-9). He didn’t say it arrogantly—“Look how good I am.” He said it like a father to his son—“Do it like I showed you.”
He says, “Imitate me.” For someone to imitate you, they have to be close enough to see you. They have to be around you enough to know what you’re like.
When I was in college, we produced a video for one of our student body meetings. It was footage of students doing impressions of the professors. If you had come to that meeting, you would have seen hundreds of students howling in laughter. Each imitation made us laugh louder and louder. You would have looked up at the screen, seen the video, and probably not even laughed. Why? The imitations wouldn’t have made any sense to you. You didn’t know the professors.
We can only imitate those we know. We can only imitate those we’ve seen and heard. The apostle Paul couldn’t have said, “Imitate me” unless he made himself available to them. Before he instructed them to follow him, he welcomed them into his life. Who have you welcomed into your life? Is there anyone who imitates you? Have you thought about that? Is there anyone who imitates you?
Over time, people imitate what they see you and others do more than what you tell them do. More is caught than taught. When I was a kid, my dad would tell me and my brothers, “Your walk talks and your talk talks, but your walk talks louder than your talk talks.” People will learn more from you if they see your life, if you bring them close enough to imitate your behavior. The apostle Paul invited young Timothy into his life, and began to disciple him to follow Jesus.
Instruction on Discipleship
(2 Timothy 2:2 ESV) and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
By this point, Paul knows that the end of his life is advancing quickly. Later in this letter, he’ll tell Timothy that he has just about finished his race. Paul can see the finish line coming closer. He wants Timothy to think about the discipleship he’s received from Paul and begin to disciple others.
Look at the pattern. Paul discipled Timothy. Timothy is supposed to disciple other faithful men, who will in turn disciple others. Think of it like a relay team. Paul ran the first leg then passed the baton to Timothy. Timothy is supposed to pass the baton to others, who will run their leg before passing it off again. But the race is more than four legs long—it’s a never-ending relay race. Every stage is important. From Paul to Timothy, Timothy to faithful men, faithful men to others, if even one leg is missed, the results would be disastrous.
A couple years ago, I installed a new chandelier over our dining room table. I had never installed a chandelier before, but it provides light and as far as I know hasn’t fallen (yet), so I’m pretty proud of myself. When I pulled the chandelier out of the box, it had a long chain connected to the top in case someone wanted to hang it from a tall ceiling. Our ceilings were only 8’ tall, so it had way more chain than we could use. When I finished hanging the light, I set the majority of that chain on a shelf, where it sat waiting to be thrown away at some point in the future. You know how I took it apart? I focused on one link and pried it apart. Once I got rid of that link, I disconnected the rest of the chain. One link is all it took. I didn’t need to destroy the whole thing. I didn’t need to pry each link apart. All I needed was to pry open one link.
All Satan wants is to get rid of one link in the chain. If he could’ve gotten rid of Timothy, he could’ve gotten to all those faithful men and their followers. You’re a link in the chain, has Satan gotten to you? Are there people you could reach who are currently sitting on the shelf because you’re unwilling to invest in their life?
The chain has extended for 2,000 years, as Christians have discipled the next generation to know and follow Christ. Let’s not be the generation that breaks the chain.
Of course, this type of discipleship doesn’t happen by chance. It has to be intentional. That’s why Paul instructs Timothy to do it. If we assume it will just happen, we’re naïve. We need to see it as our responsibility to disciple others to follow Jesus. Who are you discipling? Who has God put around you? Who can you encourage to greater commitment to Jesus Christ?
Look at verse 2 again: Paul tells Timothy to entrust…to commit the truth to faithful men. The word translated entrust can also be translated deposit. In fact, it’s used that way in chapter 1 where Paul tells Timothy to “guard the deposit” given to him.
Have you ever made a deposit by accident? One day you’re driving around town doing errands, and you find yourself standing at the bank counter. “What just happened? How’d I get here? What should I do? Maybe I’ll make a deposit.” That’s not how it happens. You plan to go to the bank. You write bank on your to-do list. When you get there, you walk up to the teller and pass her your endorsed check. Making a deposit happens because you intentionally do it. Making a deposit to another Christian will only happen if you intentionally do it.
Now, I can just imagine some of you who are Bible scholars looking at these verses, and saying, “Josh, these are directed to pastors. Timothy was a pastor, and he was being instructed to train other pastors. This doesn’t apply to us non-pastors.” And you’re right…and wrong. This is primarily referring to pastors, but not exclusively. There are at least two reasons this extends beyond pastors.
Pastors are examples
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul told him to be an example to the believers (4:12). So, by commanding Timothy to train new disciples, the apostle Paul knows the other believers will follow his example. They’ll see Timothy and imitate him.
This passage teaches “trickle-down discipleship.” In other words, if the people at the top start training new disciples, it will trickle down from top to bottom, and those below them will do the same. If pastors disciple their people, their people will disciple other people.
This command isn’t exclusive to pastors
Listen to Paul’s instructions in Titus 2. He writes:
(Titus 2:3-5 ESV) Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.
The older women are to train the younger women. This clearly extends the command beyond pastors. Paul says, “Older women disciple the younger women to be godly women.” In the same passage, Paul commands older men to have self-control and urge the younger men to follow their example.
Who’s an older man? Who’s an older woman? Most of us are older than someone, right? Most of us fall into both categories: older and younger. We’re older than some and younger than others. That means we need to be learning from some, and leading some others.
The command to disciple is also given to parents. After commanding children to obey their parents, Paul tells fathers to “bring up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). The word discipline shares the same root as disciple. Parents are to train their children to know what God wants and how to follow Him.
We could look at many other examples in Scripture, but the point is simple. Each disciple needs to train new disciples. That’s how Christianity spread from a dozen disciples in one Middle-Eastern city to where we are now—hundreds of disciples in a building in Fuquay-Varina 2,000 years later…and congregations like this one all over the globe.
A great illustration of discipleship is a graduation ceremony at a college that trains teachers. Those teachers were taught by teachers who were taught by teachers who were taught by teachers who were…you get my point. And hopefully, the students of these teachers will teach their own students who will in turn teach their own students. Imagine what would happen if one generation decided not to participate. What would happen to education? If just one generation said, “Nah, we don’t need to do that.” The whole structure would collapse.
God has chosen to call disciples one at a time. It is impossible to mass-produce disciples. Disciples aren’t built in factories; they’re individually handcrafted. One disciple patiently pouring his life into another disciple, training them to follow Jesus.
Brothers and sisters, I can say this confidently. There is someone you could pour your life into. There is someone you could disciple in the faith. If you stop and think about it, someone’s face may pop into your head right now. Or maybe you rack your brain and come up with no one. Ask God to show you someone. I have no doubt that if you ask, He’ll make it clear.
Let me assume you’re thinking of someone right now, but you’re not sure how to get started. Here are a couple suggestions.
Try inviting them to your community group. That’s a great place to pour yourself into another person. It’s a custom-made opportunity to disciple them in the faith. As you meet each week discussing God’s Word and praying together, you’ll get plenty of chances to help them grow.
You could also invite them over for dinner.
Maybe save them a seat on Sunday (though that could require you to give up your sacred buffer zone).
However you choose to get started, remember this: your own spiritual growth is not an end in itself. You grow to help others grow. Your commitment isn’t complete until you begin helping others commit to Christ.
Ability for Discipleship
Where do we get the ability to do this? This seems difficult, overwhelming, maybe even impossible. So how can we do it? Look back to verse 1:
(2 Timothy 2:1 ESV) You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
The power to disciple others comes from Jesus Christ. Before Timothy could instruct the faithful men, before he could be an example to the believers, he needed to find his strength in the grace that comes only through Jesus Christ.
Friend, this really is the heart of Christianity. We have no ability to do what God has called us to do on our own, and our only hope is trusting in the grace that comes from Jesus Christ. We have no ability to please God or come to Him, He has to come to us through His Son, extending grace that is completely undeserved. In the previous chapter, Paul describes the grace that is at work in the life of a Christian. Look back to chapter 1, verse 9:
(2 Timothy 1:9-10 ESV) who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,
The grace we have comes, not from our works, but directly from Jesus Christ. It was seen most clearly when Jesus died in our place and then rose from the dead victorious. That grace is what rescues a Christian from death, and makes him alive to God. Now, Paul says, that same grace is what empowers you to go to someone else and invest your life in him or her. Just as Jesus gave His life to serve us, we give our lives to serve others. And because He rose from the dead, our service will be effective.
Maybe you’ve tried to do this—you’ve tried to invest in someone else. You’ve tried to come alongside them and help them follow Jesus and honestly it didn’t go well. Or maybe you’ve never tried it because you didn’t think you could. You’ve heard other sermons like this and thought, “I don’t know enough.” “No one would listen to me.” “It’s not natural to me.” Those things may be true, but they’re irrelevant.
It’s not about your intelligence.
It’s not about your eloquence.
It’s not about your impressiveness.
It’s about the victorious Jesus working through you to impact someone else’s life.
Imagine visiting a friend’s house, and it’s garbage night. You pull in and see his garbage cans out at the curb. Leaning next to one is what looks like a brand-new, unused Dyson vacuum cleaner. You go inside and ask him about it. He tells you he really wanted to get his floors clean, so he bought the best, but no matter how many times he vacuumed the floors, they never got clean. He would go over and over them, but nothing would happen. Every night for weeks, he vacuumed and his floors just kept getting dirtier. That seems strange to you, so you ask him to walk you through what he did. He describes coming home from the store, pulling the vacuum cleaner out of the box, assembling it, flipping the on switch and pushing it around the house, but nothing happened. All of the sudden it dawns on you, and you ask the million-dollar question, the question that clears everything up. You ask him, “Did you plug it in?”
Without power, your mightiest effort will accomplish nothing. Without the empowering grace of Jesus Christ, your effort to impact someone else—a friend, a child, a spouse—will only fail.
We think we need something else to be effective. We need to be smarter, to work harder, to be more educated, to get more support, to have a track record of success, to have the right circumstances. None of those things determine the impact we have on others. What matters is whether we’re trying to disciple people in our own strength or relying on the grace of Jesus.
So, Paul discipled Timothy, and commanded Timothy to disciple others. Those others were to disciple others. This was the grand scheme for the advancement of Christianity. And because it was empowered by Jesus it has been effective. For 2,000 years the church has embraced this pattern of discipleship. Individual Christians, fully committed and engaged in serving Jesus, investing their lives in the lives of other people for their good and for the glory of Jesus Christ. Where do we fit in? How does Redeemer do this? What will the discipleship look like here?
I’ve said before that my desire is for our church to be a teaching hospital. What I mean is that we are first a hospital, where sick, hurting, and broken people can come to find healing. We aren’t perfect, but Jesus is, and we know that there is no sickness He can’t heal. So we spread our arms wide open and invite everyone to come, meet Jesus, and be made brand-new.
But we want to be a teaching hospital. We want to help the hurting, but we also want to produce doctors. We want to see men and women be trained here and go out and start new hospitals around the world. Hospitals in another city like Sanford or another state like Wisconsin. Hospitals in places the name of Jesus has never been spoken. We take that training seriously. In a few weeks, we will bring on a church-planting intern, who’s here to learn from the pastors and prepare for a future of ministry. We are praying that many more will join him and be trained as physicians who will take the remedy to those infected by sin.
You may hear that and think it’s great. The pastors should do that, awesome. “Good job, guys. Keep up the good work. Train some more doctors.” Let me remind you that hospitals need more than just doctors. A hospital that only employed doctors wouldn’t stay in business long. The hospital needs nurses, technicians, clerks, cooks, guards, and janitors. Without them, the doctors would quickly be ineffective.
So you’re not a doctor/a pastor, you’re just a janitor in this hospital. You’re just a guard, just a clerk. Every position is important. Every member matters. Whatever your role, you can train someone else. You need to train someone else. Just as we need future doctors, we need future clerks, future nurses, future cooks.
We don’t want to just produce doctors, we want to build other hospitals. And that will only happen as each member of Redeemer trains others. Who are you training? Committed disciples train new disciples.
This sermon was originally preached at Redeemer Community Church in 2018.