Disciplemaking is a living interaction between Christ and the members of Christ’s body. —Marty Voltz
In Acts 16:1-2, the apostle Paul highlights three relationships that foster the making of a disciple. The disciple in question, of course, is Timothy, and the disciplemaking relationships Paul highlights are the same relationships God still uses to raise up disciples today.
Here are the three relationships:
Relationships with family in the home
Relationships with friends and younger believers
Relationships with brothers and sisters in local churches
It is significant that as Paul writes to Timothy, he begins and ends his second letter by focusing attention on these same three relationships. These are relationships in which and through which our Lord calls on His church to foster disciplemaking.
Relationships with Family in the Home
The first relationship that Paul highlights is how God uses family to foster disciplemaking:
"I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in her mother Eunice, and I am persuaded, now lives in you also." — 2 Timothy 1:5.
We pick up on this theme again in Timothy 3:14-15. Paul says to Timothy, "Continue what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you have learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures." This takes us back to mom and grandma again.
Now, if we add to these passages Luke's record of Paul's early encounter with Timothy back in Acts 16:1 we have every reason to assert that Timothy's journey to disciplemaking began, not with Paul himself, but with a godly mother, Eunice, and grandmother, Lois. In Acts 16:1, we read that Timothy was already a disciple when Paul came to Lystra. Have you ever noticed that? He was already a disciple.
“Well,” you might say, "Paul was the one who discipled Timothy." True, but Timothy was already a disciple. Paul came to Lystra, and he found a disciple by the name of Timothy. And he was already well spoken of by the church. In other words, there was a certain level of maturity and obedience in his life that caused those around him to say, "This young man is already a fruitful disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ." Clearly, Timothy's earliest experiences as a disciple began, not under Paul's tutelage, but under that of his mother and his grandmother.
In these women, we have an example of a mother and grandmother who took to heart the instructions of God. Way back in Deuteronomy 6, when Moses spoke to the people of Israel, he said, "These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up, and tie them around your arms and your forehead.”
I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish community. I would go to visit my friend Morris, and if it was a certain time of day, he would say, "I can't come out yet." If I looked through the window, I might have seen him put on a little cap, and then tie little boxes to his forehead, phylacteries with Scriptures inside. I would have seen Morris recite the Scripture, as he bowed his head in reverence to who God is.
He was carrying out a command given thousands of years before in Deuteronomy 6:4-8:
‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.’
"Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads" Very literally, Morris and his family would carry that out. I imagine that Timothy might well have done the same, as the Word of God was central in his household, and was very much a part of his early training.
But Timothy's mother and grandmother did not simply recite the words of law to young Timothy. Paul does not describe their communication of the faith in this way. He says in 2 Timothy 1:5, "Theirs was a genuine living faith." That is a relationship that can be described as genuine, unmatched, transparent, real and from the heart. Their faith was the real deal. It was not mere ritual or religion. It was not a list of "thou shalts and thou shalt nots.”
Recently, we were at home with some friends, and we were talking about our earliest upbringing. I said, "I was raised a Quaker." And they asked, "What's distinctive about a Quaker?" I replied, “That's easy. We didn't do anything." We had a long list of things we didn't do, and we were sure that if we didn't do those things well enough, we'd get to Heaven.
Well, Timothy's faith was not in doing or not doing. His faith wasn't about “the list.” It was a genuine, unmasked, transparent, real, from-the-heart faith in the God Who Is. It was attractive. Timothy was not raised in a perfect home environment. His daddy was a Greek. He was a pagan! But mom and grandma had real faith in the real God. And their faith was alive in Timothy.
Many years ago, I was at a stage in my life where I was not on good terms with my dad. I was talking with a friend, and he said, "Yeah, I don't like my dad, either. He's a phony." "Wait a minute,” I interjected, “I didn't say my dad is a phony. I said I disagreed with him, and I have gotten angry with him. But my dad is not a phony. He is genuine. He is honest.”
It is safe to assume Timothy had a similar relationship with his mother and grandmother. They weren’t perfect. And he probably didn’t always agree with them, but there was something attractive about the genuineness of his mother’s and grandmother’s faith. And because it was genuine, it was convincing and compelling.
In 2 Timothy 3:14 we read that Timothy was convinced of the truth of Scripture. He saw the genuineness of those from whom he learned it, and was shaped by that. Paul says, "You know the Scriptures and you've become convinced of them." He tells him why: "Because you know from whom you heard these things." It was in relationship, in family, that Timothy watched his mom’s and grandmother’s faith play out. He was affected by their faith. He was persuaded.
“...from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” — 2 Timothy 3:15
In 2 Timothy 3:15, we see that when Lois and Eunice instructed Timothy, their instruction was grounded in the Scriptures. They had the authority and power of God's Word behind them. They didn't simply say, "Timothy, do it because I said so." What's more frustrating to a child than those words? There are times, parents, when we just say, "because I said so," but most of the time, in a family where God is king and Jesus Christ is the head, there's a better reason: it's because the Word of God has directed us in this way. Timothy didn't grow up with a superficial religion or religiosity. He grew up in a home that was grounded in the Word of God: "Because God has said so.”
Lois and Eunice instructed Timothy from the Scriptures, but 2 Timothy 3:15 tells us that the goal of their instruction was not primarily an accumulation of knowledge. Their goal was Timothy's salvation.
This was the instruction: the Word of God was to lead him and give him the wisdom of salvation. That was the goal. That was the purpose. No wonder the writer of Acts 16 reports that when Paul came to Derbe, he found Timothy already impressive and genuine, a young multiplying disciple in the making.
Some of us know what it means to be discipled in the home. That kind of spiritually nurturing relationship was one of the greatest joys and blessings of my life. My mom died just a few years ago. Not a day since she passed have I failed to think of what an incredible blessing both she and my dad were.
When my dad came to Christ at age 19, he looked around for somebody, anybody, in his extended family who also knew the Lord Jesus Christ and might walk with him and disciple him. He found nobody. He got on his knees. He said, "Oh, God, help me go first." My dad was the first. He married a young woman who loved the Lord like he did, and raised three children to come to the same knowledge of Jesus Christ. And now there are grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and the faith goes on because somebody said, "I'm serious. I'm going to make God the foundation, the building block of my home.”
Mom and Dad prayed for us before we were born. They gave us over to the Lord. Recently, I was sitting with my sisters, and we were talking about our childhood. We asked each other, "What's your earliest memory of mom?" As the three of us reflected, we had one unified, early memory, “Sitting on her lap, listening to her read the Scriptures." Her love, for God and for us, is carved into our hearts to this day.
When I was just a little guy, my oldest sister used to lead us down the steps at night. We would walk carefully, trying to avoid that one step that made a loud squeak. We couldn't be heard because we were supposed to be in bed. Mind you, we were not headed downstairs to sneak cookies or to play pranks. Instead, when we reached the bottom of the steps, we would perch together, just a few feet from mom and dad's bedroom door. On the other side of that door, they were on their knees, praying at the foot of the bed. We listened. We listened until we heard them pray for us by name. And when Judy had heard mom and dad pray for her by name, she'd slip upstairs and go to bed. And Margo and I would wait until they prayed for her. Then Margo went off to bed, and I'd wait until I heard my name. And then it was safe. It was good and right to go up to bed.
Mom and Dad showed us how to read and study God's Word. When I was six, Dad would say to me (as we sat around the kitchen table), "Buddy, you pray tonight." At age seven, he said to me, "Now, you need to read the Word so that you can share with us in your turn around the table, as we have our family time together." And so I would share what Jesus was teaching me, because in the family, we looked at the Word together. Sometimes, I needed to be straightened out by the Word. Sometimes, I needed to be comforted by it. Together, we learned from the Word.
I learned to share my faith on my dad's milk run. Remember milkmen? I say, "milkman" now, and people give me a strange look and ask, "What's that?" My dad had a milk route. I'd go with him on the route occasionally.
I was about nine years old on the particular day I’m remembering. Dad was out doing his job, and while he did it, I witnessed him share the gospel with as many of his customers as he could.
We stopped at a house on the route. I stood there beside dad, holding a crate full of milk, and dad was chatting with Mrs…. Well, I don’t remember her name. I do remember that this woman was saying to him, "Oh, but, I just don't understand this whole idea of salvation by faith. I just don't get it. It's too complicated.”
My dad chuckled, and said, "Oh, it’s really not all that complicated, A child can understand it. Buddy, share your faith with Mrs. so-and-so.” He threw me into the deep end of the pool. I shared what I'd heard and known from the time I was knee-high, and how Jesus was real in my heart, even as a little 9-year-old.
Mom and Dad introduced us to the church and taught us the importance of being part of a local fellowship where we could be built up in the faith by other believers. This too was part of their plan to convince us of the truth of God’s Word. As we observed the power of the Gospel in the lives of these men and women, we came to understand that the transforming truths of Scripture had broader application than just our family.
In all this, Mom and Dad’s purpose was not to make us religious, nor to make us well behaved children. Again, their purpose was not that we should make them look like perfect parents. Instead, they hoped to present us with the wisdom of God that leads to personal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
There is more to this story: my mom and dad did not stop discipling us kids when we left home. When we took off to college, when we started our families, they were still present in our hearts and our minds. They were still present on the phone, and by means of letters in those days, sharing what God was doing in their lives, asking good questions, making suggestions about what might make a difference. Because this discipleship was embedded in relationship, it moved and changed, yet was a constant thread through the seasons of our lives.
I think it's unfortunate that that kind of discipling relationship is missing in a lot of Christian homes. We've kind of defaulted it; we've relinquished the work and joy of discipling our children and our grandchildren to the church, to campus ministries, or to the Holy Spirit. “Well, that's not bad, is it?” No, but sometimes we use this as an excuse: "God will do it. I believe in sovereign grace. I don't need to worry about it." Really? I submit that it is God's plan that men and women should be initially discipled in the real life moments that we share as a family.
Here's the good news: It's not too late to reclaim our role as disciplemakers with our children and grandchildren. I know we can't go back. I am in my 70s, and I have some regrets about things I did and didn't do as a parent. I can't change the past and make those things right. But I can, and all of us can, with God's help, recommit ourselves to our God-given role as disciplemakers in our own family relationships.
I can't tell you how often God has been impressing on my heart the role I need to continue to play in the lives of our five grandchildren. My wife, Shari, and I had two sons. We lost one to cancer. Well, we didn't lose him. By the grace of God, he's not lost. He's with his Father in Heaven, but he left us a grandson. Our other son has given us four precious grandchildren. By the grace of God, right in our own family, we have some young people to disciple. I'm looking forward to continuing that process. And I pray you will in your families, as well.
End of Part 2.
BONUS: For those who stay with us through Part 4 we'll provide you a free digital copy of Disciplemaking: Biblical Insights from My Fifty Years as a Local Church Pastor to share with friends.
This series was originally a local church message I shared in early 2021. My friends at Cadre Missionaries encouraged me to release this in written format so that you could share in the joy of disciplemaking friendships. I go into more detail on each of these relationships in the next parts of this series: DISCIPLEMAKING: Biblical Insights from My Fifty Years as a Local Church Pastor. —Pastor Marty