“How sweet it suddenly became to me, to lack the ‘sweetness’ of those follies, and what I was afraid to be separated from was now a joy to part with! You cast them forth from me, You who are the true and highest sweetness. You cast them forth and entered in their place Yourself …” –Augustine
How does God use a Paul to produce a Timothy? How does God use you to produce mature disciples of Jesus Christ?
Second Timothy 3 and 4 provide a glimpse at that divine process.
Paul characterizes the people of the last days (3:1-9). He then contrasts this (“You, however …,” v.10; “but as for you …,” v.14) with what Timothy has come to be (vv.10-15). That transformative process in Timothy’s life was brought about, humanly speaking, through a network of relationships that included his mother and grandmother (1:5; 3:15), the Apostle Paul (3:10-11, 14), and others (v.14). Timothy is charged with repeating this transformative process through his relationships with “faithful men” (2:2).
There is a pattern that is consistent in the process of discipleship, the purpose in Scripture, and the practice of preaching.
The Apostle Paul lays out what appears to be a progressive process through which Timothy passed.
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (3:1-15)
There is a logical flow to what Paul describes. Each one must move through this process:
Acquaintance → Learning → Conviction → Wisdom/salvation
One must have an acquaintance with the truth of the Scriptures before one can believe and be transformed by that truth. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Jesus confirmed that one must “know the truth” before one can be set free by it (John 8:32).
Having taken in the information of the Scriptures one is then in a position for learning from it. The Scriptures stand over against other ideas, claims, and calls. It’s teaching makes a divide and invites one to see what the difference between its claims and offers and those of others.
This brings one to the point of faith. With the line of demarcation laid down one must decide on which side of the line of revelation one stands. The revelation calls for conviction – either you are in or you are out. There is a call that goes out in the sounding of the Scriptures and one must either respond to that call or ignore, deflect, deny, and reject it.
When one rests oneself upon the truth of Scripture God-given, Biblical wisdom begins to form in one’s heart. Freedom comes (John 8:32). Life begins to change. One’s discernment has changed. One’s choices are different. You have stepped onto the path of discipleship.
This doesn’t just happen. Timothy was early exposed to the truth of Scripture by his mother and grandmother (1:5; 3:15). He heard it expounded by the Apostle Paul (3:14) and modeled in his life (3:10-11). This is why Paul now holds out the purpose of the Scriptures:
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (3:16)
Teaching → Reproof → Correction → Training
Scripture’s purpose reflects the path of discipleship.
Teaching communicates the basic information of the Scripture passage so that the listener is familiar with the facts.
Reproof then takes the basic facts set out from Scripture and reveals how they stand in relationship to other thoughts, ideas, perceptions, and claims. The Scripture reproves the other claims to truth by setting out what is in fact true. It is only in this one learns.
But this is not far enough. Correction, therefore, aims for the commitment of the one now acquainted with the claims of Scripture and sees them rightly in relationship to other claims and ideas. It calls for faith and forms conviction. The listener has gone from not knowing the truth of Scripture and therefore not seeing how other ideas and claims stand in relationship to the reality it holds forth to the call for commitment and the forming of conviction. The listener now announces, “This is true for me!”
There is, however, still more. For the inward conviction and commitment must become outward action in obedience. In addition to informing and exposing and calling for commitment, the Scripture now guides the transformation of the listener’s life through training in new steps of obedience that become a new pattern of living.
All of this—the process of discipleship and the purpose of Scripture—is matched then by the purpose of preaching:
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (4:1-2)
Preach → Reprove → Rebuke → Exhort
Preaching announces what is true (teaching/acquaintance), thereby reproving and exposing other claims and ideas (reproof/learning) and calling for personal commitment (correction/conviction) that takes the form of new steps of obedience that become a new way of life (training/wisdom).
We each can thus say:
- I preach because the Scriptures were given for teaching and with the goal of giving my listeners an acquaintance with the truth of God.
- I reprove because the Scriptures were given for reproof and with the goal of my listeners learning what the truth they’ve become acquainted with means.
- I rebuke because the Scriptures were given for the correction of the hearer and formation of convictions regarding the truth they have learned.
- I exhort because the Scripture were given for training listeners to live out the truth they have learned and come to live in the saving wisdom of God.
Maybe you’ve heard the expression and wondered about it. The Bible repeatedly refers to girding up one’s loins. After the mental snickering is over, what are we to make of this?
Peter used the expression: “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:13, KJV)
The same idea is found elsewhere in the Bible. It is found on the lips of a prophet (2 Kings 4:29; 9:1) and from God’s own mouth as well (Job 38:3; 40:7; Jer. 1:17).
Just what is meant by “gird up the loins”? And how, then, does one do so with one’s “mind”?
The first question first. In a helpful post (which you can find here) the Art of Manliness website offers us this visual instruction manual …
Here’s another helpful, but less visual, explanation.
Now consider the second question–how are we to do with with our “minds”?
The King James Version is quite literal in its rendering of the original Greek. More recent English Translations have sought to communicate the essence without a literal translation:
- “gird your minds for action” (NASB)
- “prepare your minds for action” (NASB Updated)
- “get your minds ready for action” (NET)
- “think clearly and exercise self-control” (NLT)
- “gird up your minds” (RSV)
- “prepare your minds for action” (NRSV)
- “preparing your minds for action” (ESV)
Effective, perhaps, but, it seems to lose something of the vividness of the literal rendering!
The call to “gird up the loins” is a call to dress oneself for action—be it heavy labor or the life-and-death struggle of battle. To do so with one’s “mind” is the reminder that as followers of Jesus Christ we are in a battle and that this battle finds its greatest struggles first and foremost in our thinking. God’s call to all His own is to “be renewed in the spirit of your minds” (Eph. 4:23). This is vital because “to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6). We must “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).
So let’s get busy with the heavy labor of daily, continually submitting our thoughts to the renewing of our minds by the written Word of God in reliance upon the Holy Spirit. And thus in the moment of battle—which arrives repeatedly every day, many times over—may we be ready for whatever the will of God requires of us.
More than once Moses warned the new generation poised to enter the Promised Land: “Do not say in your heart …” (Deuteronomy 9:4a).
God is concerned over the self-talk of His people. It is what we “say in [our] heart” that is of consequence.
It is worth pointing out the obvious—God knows we talk to ourselves! These inner conversations are of constant occurrence. In fact, they can’t be turned off, only redirected. And that only by the grace of God. We see this warning repeatedly throughout the Old Testament. There are a number of ways to go wrong in talking to yourself.
1) The danger of self-congratulation. “Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you.” (Deuteronomy 9:4; cf. 8:17)
The Israelites faced a danger from the seductions of the peoples of the land. Of this God constantly warned them (see, for example, the disaster at Peor, Numb. 25:1-9). But the ideas of others, as dangerous as they were, were not the only or even primary danger facing the Israelites. It was the conversations going on within their own hearts that made them especially vulnerable.
It is when we begin talking to ourselves about ourselves and our circumstances that we are in the most danger of going astray.
We all have this kind of self-talk going on within our hearts all the time. We see and experience and try to understand—but are prone to interpret and talk to ourselves in self-affirming ways (“because of my righteousness”). This stream of thought forms a jet stream that powerfully circles planet self, threatening to pull everything else into its flow.
What we fail to see is that God sometimes blesses one (in this case, Israel) because he is disciplining another (here, the Canaanites). We must talk and walk humbly. The reasons “why” our lives are as they are is much bigger than our performance before God.
2) We may err in our inner conversations by self-exaltation. We may not elevate others or our accomplishments over God, but we may elevate our very selves: “Now therefore hear this, you lover of pleasures, who sit securely, who say in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me; I shall not sit as a widow or know the loss of children’ (Isaiah 47:8). “I am” – that name has already been taken (Exodus 3:14); its Owner says He’s not sharing (Isaiah 42:8).
Self-exaltation was literally the problem of the Edomites. They dwelt in the physically lofty heights of a God-given land. They thought their elevated position made them untouchable. Thus they were warned: “The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, in your lofty dwelling, who say in your heart, ‘Who will bring me down to the ground?’” (Obadiah 1:3).
God did with the Edomites what he does with all who exalt themselves within their own hearts: “he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts” (Luke 1:51).
3) We go astray when we engage in self-dependence. The self-talk can also lead us stray in the opposite direction: “If you say in your heart, ‘These nations are greater than I. How can I dispossess them?’” (Deuteronomy 7:17). Instead of elevating ourselves and denigrating others, we may overly exalt them in our eyes—making them even bigger than God. And with God out of the picture all we have left to depend upon is ourselves. That leads to fear, paralysis and despair.
4) We err when we talk ourselves into self-justification. The people of Jeremiah’s day denied their hardships arose from their responsibility: “And if you say in your heart, ‘Why have these things come upon me?’ it is for the greatness of your iniquity that your skirts are lifted up and you suffer violence” (Jeremiah 13:22). Ultimately, denial of responsibility is a denial of hope.
But not all self-talk is bad-talk. The Bible depicts the power of telling yourself the truth.
Take, for example, David as he prays Psalm 62. He begins his prayer so positively and confidently: “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation” (v.1).
But, as so often is the case, things get difficult. Our confidence wanes. Our faith wavers. Our prayers change. By the middle of the psalm David is still praying. In fact he is still on the same theme with which he opened, but he has transitioned from talking to God, to coaching himself: “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him” (v.5).
This telling-yourself-the-truth kind of self-talk is the application of faith to a wavering, struggling heart. We talk to ourselves this way because deep down we believe Jesus was right: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31b-32a).
We talk to ourselves as a hold out for Jesus’ rescue, Jesus’ deliverance, Jesus’ promised freedom.
When we keep this up God’s blessings of freedom become increasingly real in our lives. Perhaps we even come to the place, as Isaiah predicted the people of Israel would, where we have to start talking to ourselves about the compounding, stockpiling grace He is pouring into our lives: “The children of your bereavement will yet say in your ears: ‘The place is too narrow for me; make room for me to dwell in.’ Then you will say in your heart: ‘Who has borne me these? I was bereaved and barren, exiled and put away, but who has brought up these? Behold, I was left alone; from where have these come?’” (Isaiah 49:20).
Don’t stop talking to yourself. Just start telling yourself the truth. And then keep it up. Those with ears to hear might hear the sound of heaven’s applause. Those with eyes to see might detect life, freedom and grace standing just off in the distance, rising with a smile on their faces as the conversation begins.