You can tell a lot about a man’s priorities by observing what consumes him in the moments before his expected death. In the case of the apostle Paul, we can get a good glimpse into what was important to him by viewing his letters to Timothy and Titus—these are called the Pastoral Epistles. And from the two letters to Timothy that we’ve just read, we can see that two things remained significant to Paul to the very end:
- He had poured his life into Timothy. He had loved him, traveled with him taught him, listened to him, helped him, corrected him, introduced him to the growing network of pastors in the area—he had spent significant time with the young man, helping him to fan into flame his own gifts and abilities. Timothy was prepared to do the job he was doing in Ephesus because Paul had discipled him. He had studied scripture with him, and had taught him to read it correctly and handle it responsibly. Unlike the other epistles that Paul writes, we can see a personal touch in these; a real connection with Timothy. This is how we know that discipleship is important to him—and why he thought it should be important to us.
- The Church. Paul didn’t just travel aimlessly around, randomly whipping people up into frenzies and moving on to the next crowd. Paul’s chief concern was the local church. That’s why he spent so much time developing Timothy for the pastorate. Consider all of the advice about how men and women behave in that particular church in Ephesus, how to install deacons and elders, and how to resolve conflict. The health of the local church was significant to Paul; that’s why he wrote in the first place. His travels always fit the same pattern: travel to a local CHURCH, develop the people there for ministry to the community through the local CHURCH, and develop relationships with those folks—then spend the rest of his life nurturing, establishing, encouraging and rebuking the local CHURCH through his letters. He was all about the Church.
It is telling, in these days of the declining Church in America, that we often have a hard time finding the importance of these two things. How involved are you in discipleship? How involved are you in the health of the local church? It was important in the New Testament, and nothing has changed since then.
So get to it.