When you stop and think about yourself and all of the Christians around you, how many people are true disciples of Christ in the way that God intended? I have a sneaking suspicion that the number is not what it should be. This is one of the reasons Paul challenges Timothy, in this last letter to his spiritual son, to not only make more disciples but to teach other people how to make disciples as well.
Let’s take a look at 2 Timothy 2:1‒2:
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 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.
This is one of the texts that inspired Billy Graham to spend his life sharing the gospel and making disciples. He said, “One of the first verses of Scripture that Dawson Trotman, the founder of Navigators, told me to memorize was 2 Timothy 2:2. This is like a mathematical formula for spreading the gospel and enlarging the church.”[i] In just these few opening verses Paul has given Timothy a process for making disciples (verses 1 and 2) and a picture of what discipleship should look like.
Paul Outlines a 4-part strategy for Making Disciples:
- Abide in the Power of Christ
- Implement the Principles of Christ
- Invest in the People of Christ
- Repeating the Process of Christ
Abide in the Power of Christ
In order for us to be empowered to make disciples, we must first abide in the power of Christ. Paul writes, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” We cannot do anything in the Christian life apart from God’s grace that is found only in Christ Jesus. The word strengthened in the Greek New Testament means “empowered by” or “to be made strong” in order to accomplish a task. The use of the present tense for this word implies that being strengthened is something that must occur every single day. The term is also in the passive voice, which means that the subject is not performing the action but receiving the action.
Paul is essentially telling Timothy, “The way you will be strengthened for ministry and discipleship is by relying on God’s grace.” The good thing about God is that His grace never ends. He gives grace upon grace; He gives energy and power. We choose to rely on God’s grace by meditating on God’s Word and His character, by thinking about God’s grace, by asking God to give us grace, and by waiting patiently to receive His grace.
Remember that Paul tells Timothy in chapter 1, verses 6–7, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” In verses 13–14, he says, “Follow the pattern of sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.”
This is a reminder that the Christian life is an upside-down kingdom. It’s radically different from the kingdom of this world. You don’t gain strength by acting in your own power; you gain strength by waiting on the Lord.
Let’s look at a related biblical principle from the words of Jesus. In John 15:4–5, Jesus says, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Did you catch that? Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing. As Christ works in us, He also works through us.
2 Corinthians 12:7–10 is one of my favorite passages. In these verses we see Paul describing a thorn in the flesh, or messenger from Satan, sent by God to keep Paul from becoming conceited regarding the greatness of the revelations God had made to him. Three times Paul pleaded with the Lord to remove this torment. But God refused, reminding Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.” Paul responds, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weakness so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” Paul tells us that the power of Christ rests on him when he boasts in his own weaknesses, insults, hardships, and persecutions. He knows that it is only when he is weak that he can be strong in Christ. To be strengthened by Christ is to be weak, humble, and open to His leading.
The one issue in your life that can seriously hinder the work of Christ is your pride. Humility, on the other hand, says, “I can’t do this in my own strength. I need Christ.” That’s why James 4 tells us that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
If you are not reading the Word of God, I can guarantee you that you are not experiencing the fullness of the grace of God that should be given to you through the Word. One of the main facets of discipleship is having a regular quiet time with the Lord. If you’re not drinking deeply from the well of His Word, how else can God deliver his grace and strength to you?
[i] Billy Graham, The Holy Spirit (Waco, TX: Word, 1978), 147.