Looking through the book of 2 Timothy, I am amazed at the number of times Paul called Timothy to serve and suffer with him. Do not be ashamed of me (1:8). Preach the Word I taught you (1:13). Suffer hardship with me (2:3). You followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and suffering (3:10). Come be with me (4:9).
Perhaps even more amazing is the number of outright commands Paul gives to Timothy. Kindle afresh the gift that is in you (1:6). Do not be ashamed of the Gospel (1:8). Retain the standard of sound words (1:13). Guard the treasure (1:14). Be strong in grace (2:1). Teach others as I have taught you (2:2). Consider what I say (2:7). Remember Jesus Christ (2:8). Solemnly charge people to be direct about the truth (2:14). Handle the Word of God rightly so you will have no shame (2:15). Avoid worldly chatter (2:16). Flee youthful lusts (2:22). Pursue godliness (2:22). Be wise in speech (2:23). Avoid lovers of pleasure (3:5). Continue in the truth (3:14). Preach the Word, regardless of the consequences (4:2). Be serious, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your calling. (4:5)
Paul was a hardcore discipler. Timothy was taught by the most radical man on the face of the earth, and that man told Timothy to imitate him. Radical discipleship as presented in Scripture is a dangerous call to follow. In 2 Corinthians 11:21-33 Paul describes what his passionate pursuit of Christ cost: whippings, beatings, being stoned, shipwrecks, dangers from robbers, Jews, Gentiles, exposure, hunger, thirst, stress, plots on his life. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul told the Corinthians “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” Imitating Paul had a heavy price tag on it.
We don’t live in a society as threatening as what Paul, Timothy, and the Corinthians faced. But the call to radical living and radical discipleship is no less urgent or extreme in the eyes of the world and the half-hearted American church.
Society tells us that we are entitled to privacy and this has become ingrained in the church (and people in the church like me). Confession of sin to others has almost disappeared, drowned in an appearance-based society. Here at TMC, we have a saying: “You’re just as jacked-up as everybody else. Stop trying to hide it.” The bedrock of authentic discipleship relationships is brutal honesty about sins and impure motives.
Think of the person who God is using at this moment to take you where you don’t want to go in order to produce in you what you could not attain otherwise. Paul rattled Timothy’s cage. Radical discipleship relationships are built upon this model. People who love and care about you biblically are not comfortable to be around. They provide a strong call to think of the horror of Christ hanging on the cross and the impact His blood has on every decision. They don’t offer lame sympathy of dealing with struggles, they stand up and drive you to be holy like God is holy. They understand that leniency and grace are polar opposites.
Everyone has “that guy” in his life who faithfully called him to something better and drove him out of his comfort zone into greater Christlikeness. But I don’t think anyone ever feels like “that guy.” I know I never do. It takes a lot of courage to go hard and go deep into a relationship with someone. It is consistently terrifying to ask that question which cuts like a dagger but has to be asked. As Gunner puts it, there is the constant fear that you’re “charging the hill with no one behind you.” A man who does what is right when nobody else is usually looks like an idiot to everyone else and gets himself hurt.
Radical discipleship is normal discipleship as defined by God. He stepped down out of heaven, ruthlessly pushed twelve men to be like Him, and commanded them to do likewise. “Go. Make disciples just as I did you. Push them just as hard and just as uncompromisingly as I pushed you, understanding that some will reject you like Judas did me, but that’s the cost. I charged the hill with Judas and he didn’t follow.” Jesus never promised results in the Great Commission, but He showed them just how radical they ought to be in discipleship.
Paul’s pursuit of Timothy. Christ’s pursuit of the twelve. These are to be our models in discipleship. In both circumstances, the discipler lost his life. While we probably won’t lose our lives, we’ll most likely lose the esteem of some people. Discipleship is costly, but the benefits are worth it all. Paul said it best to Timothy,
…The time of my departure has come
I have fought the good fight
I have finished the course
I have kept the faith
In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness
Which the Lord
The righteous Judge
Will award to me on that day
And not only to me
But also to all who have loved His appearing
(2 Timothy 4:6-8)