Several years ago I was asked a question by a Pastor which I haven’t forgotten. It was simple but profound.
‘Who is your Paul? And who is your Timothy?’
The principle behind it was be aware of who you are letting speak into your life and equally, be intentional about speaking into the lives of others. It’s about being discipled and discipling others. There may be many rules of leadership out there but this one is important.
Philippians 2 helps to demonstrate this important principle. The chapter begins with Paul’s instructions to make sure that being a follower of Jesus is not merely a label we wear but requires action (Ph. 2:1-5). He does this poetically demonstrating Jesus as being humble but also exalted by God (Ph. 2:6-11) and then describes how our lives may look (Ph. 2:12-18). Most people who have been in Christian circles for a while are familiar with this passage. What follows is a bit more surprising (Ph. 2:19-30).
Paul shifts his focus and starts giving an endorsement of Timothy. The question is why?
It would be easy to assume that Paul is doing this because he wants Timothy to help lead them. This is part of it but not the full story. Yes, he wants Timothy to lead and he wants them to listen to him. But Paul is also giving an example of what discipleship is all about.
For the Philippians Paul highlights 4 simple aspects relating to discipleship:
1. Centred on Jesus
Some things haven’t really changed. In Paul’s day people were self-interested. They asked ‘What’s in it for me?’ Discipling others isn’t like this. When we disciple others, we aren’t trying to get anything out of it. We aren’t trying to create miniature versions of ourselves. This isn’t what Paul meant when he talked about imitating.
Instead we have experienced God’s love and want to help others experience it too. In other words, discipleship is always centred on Jesus, never on the disciplemaker. To Paul, imitating was a good place to start, but he knew it wasn’t enough. Just think about how he uses the metaphor of the body for the uniqueness of God’s people individually and how he has gifted them. For true discipleship to happen we must encourage people to move beyond copying, and instead start creating rhythms that they experience God’s love in life changing ways.
My kids normally imitate me when they’re learning to do something. They do it just like me. I want them to succeed. But as a dad, I don’t want them to end up being a mini-me. I want them to experiment and discover their own ways of doing things.
The heart I have for my kids can be applied to discipleship. Success isn’t about making people look like me. It’s not about making behave in certain ways, or do specific courses. Discipleship is about helping people move closer to Jesus and learning to participate within the embrace of his love in their daily life.
2. Built on Relationship
Paul likens Timothy to a son. Don’t worry about the nuances of family dynamics in the 1st Century. Just notice the need of relationship. The image Paul uses is a close relationship. You can’t disciple, or be discipled, outside the context of relationship.
Luke is one of my friends who has been at our church for about 4 years. He’s been following Jesus for a long time but has always struggled going to church. There were always too many people. Our’s was a place where he felt he could belong. I’ve watched Luke’s relationship with Jesus grow. Last Sunday we had a combined dedication/1st birthday party for our daughter. Luke stood and prayed for us before our church, family and friends. A few years ago he couldn’t have done this.
That’s discipleship. It was a tiny church that helped Luke move closer to Jesus. He’d tried going it alone but hadn’t made progress. He needed to have trusted relationships to guide him consistently to Jesus. And then it was Jesus who could take Luke and enable him to grow into a person who could stand in front of a crowd and pray.
The Philippian church knows Timothy. They have seen him in action. They know they can follow him because he has proven it. This is important. Mark Menyell writes on understanding how God has woven grace, hope and restoration into the lives of followers of Jesus:
I regularly suggest looking back over our Christian life and identifying those individuals who had the biggest impact on us. Then ask what it was about them that most reflected Christ’s character, that drew others towards them and to imitate them.
This is gold for understanding discipling relationships. When we are being discipled, we need to ask what they are demonstrating. How are others demonstrating Jesus’ character? Equally we need to ask in ways do what our lives clearly others who Jesus is as we disciple them.
In the final part of Chapter 2 Paul uses the example of Epaphroditus. Paul wants the Philippians to follow Epaphroditus because he isn’t afraid to sacrifice. Being a disciple and a disciplemaker can be costly. We often don’t focus on this but it’s a reality.
Sacrifice is the evidence of being a disciple. It demonstrates the faith we proclaim. Sacrificial discipleship builds on relationship in that it counts the other as more important. And sacrifice helps to centre discipleship on Jesus – the one who was the ultimate sacrifice.
The reality of leadership goes both ways. Leaders speak into the lives of others in ways that help them move, in this case, toward discipleship. But leaders are also led and shaped by others. We need to make sure that we are being led by quality people. How do we see them sacrificially building relationships that centre on Jesus? And how do we display these qualities so that we can speak into the lives of others. In other words,
Who is your Paul? And who is your Timothy?