We do not lack for sermons and books on the topic of discipleship. Some Christians speak about discipleship as if it is something to be into—like being into politics or into running or into body building or into gaming. But such a view of discipleship betrays some faulty assumptions.
First, we tend to formulate the call to discipleship as an option for Christians to consider. Second, there is a tendency (especially in today’s consumer oriented churches) to make discipleship attractive (with a book you can buy or a study-guide to purchase). The fact is, there is nothing attractive about discipleship. It calls for an undivided loyalty to the gospel, full allegiance to Jesus, the Messiah. It calls people to place themselves at the disposal of Jesus and the work of his church. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it best: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
As Paul puts it in his letter to the Philippians, both Timothy and Epaphroditus are examples of discipleship. They, indeed, exemplify what J.B. Phillips remarked about the early Church:
"Perhaps because of their very simplicity, perhaps because of the readiness to believe, to obey, to give, to suffer and if need be to die, the Spirit of God found what He must always be seeking—a fellowship of men and women so united in faith and love that He can work in them and through them with the minimum of . . . hindrance.
Paul, in referring to Timothy and Epaphroditus, is they are examples of a committed Christian life—they are examples of the Christian life of discipleship. The Christian life is a call to discipleship, a call to authentic Christian living. Whereas sanctification is the process (and progress) of becoming more like Christ, discipleship is the discipline, the lifestyle of the one who is becoming more like Christ.
As one reads through a text like Philippians 2:19–30, we discover the marks of the true disciple of Jesus Christ. Paul certainly is informing his friends back in Philippi about his situation. But in doing so he uses special words to describe Timothy and Epaphroditus. He wants the Christians of the Philippian church to know these two men are models of the Christ hymn Paul earlier cited (2:5–7):
"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant . . ."
We should resolve to be the servants, bond slaves actually, that characterize Jesus; servants that lives the gospel as models of Jesus. As Christ followers, we shine as lights in a dark world. Timothy and Epaphroditus model this for us. Paul shows us the way (2:12–18).
"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me."
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.