Stephen Covey has built a publishing empire on the back of his blockbuster bestseller “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Living.” There’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens,” “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families,” and, most recently, “The 8th Habit.” In these books, Covey tells us to do things like be proactive, synergize and sharpen the saw. All good advice.
While we appreciate Covey’s wisdom and brilliant book marketing strategies, however, let’s not forget that the Bible has plenty of practical advice about good and bad habits alike. In fact, the Book of 2 Timothy, in particular, offers some nuggets of what it takes to live the apostolic life. It should be duly noted that Paul’s book is also a bestseller - one part of the best-selling book of all time, in fact. In this time-tested volume, the Apostle Paul gives final instructions to his spiritual son.
Second Timothy contains some of Paul’s famous last words. When someone is about to leave this earth, the last words they speak are worth noting. What did Paul say to Timothy in his last letter? What did he leave him with that would help him fight the good fight of faith that he himself won? What did this great apostle share with Timothy about apostolic living?
Paul warned Timothy of some bad habits that would lead him away from his destiny, like idle talk that leads to ungodliness. He also warned him about the potentially deadly habits of being self-centered, greedy, proud, arrogant, disobedient, ungrateful, profane, slanderous, rash and treacherous, among others. But more than anything Paul imparted some wise words that Timothy could refer back to long after his mentor went on to be with the Lord. These are what I like to call the seven habits of highly effective apostolic living.
Effective Habit #1: Stir up the gift and use it boldly.
The Apostle Paul told Timothy to stir up the gift of God – and keep it stirred up. I like how the Amplified Bible puts it: “Stir up (rekindle the embers, fan the flame and keep burning) the [gracious] gift of God, [the inner fire] that is in you…” (2 Timothy 1:6 AMP). Paul goes on to exhort the young minister that fear does not come from God and encourages him to walk in the power and love of God rather than to cringe and fawn in fright. Apostolic living requires us to fan the flame of passion within us because there will be those who seek to drench our revolutionary dreams with rivers of negativity.
Effective Habit #2: Hold tightly to the truth.
The Apostle Paul poured his life into Timothy. Like a good spiritual father, Paul taught Timothy the doctrines of Christ, modeled the way and kept him in prayer. He expected Timothy to hold on to the sound teaching he had received; to hold tightly to the truth. “Guard and keep [with the greatest care] the precious and excellently adapted [Truth] which has been entrusted [to you], by the [help of the] Holy Spirit Who makes His home in us” (2 Timothy 1:14 AMP).
Apostle Paul went on to warn Timothy about what happens to those who do not hold tightly to the truth: they fall by the wayside, like Phygelus and Hermongenes. Apostolic living requires us to maintain a healthy balance between new revelation and solid foundations so that we move forward in the progressive truth that God is revealing.
Effective Habit #3: Raise up others in ministry.
Next, Apostle Paul tells Timothy to be strong in the grace that is found only in Christ Jesus as he sets out to raise up others in ministry. Here, Paul was calling Timothy to a higher level of leadership. He knew that spreading the unadulterated Gospel to the nations depended on multiplying himself through others. “The [instructions] which you have heard from me, along with many witnesses, transmit and entrust (as a deposit) to reliable and faithful men who will be competent and qualified to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2 AMP).
Notice that Apostle Paul qualified the instruction. He told him to choose reliable and faithful men. Apostolic living takes into account the need to redeem the time by pouring into only those who are pursuing God with their whole hearts.
Effective Habit #4: Be disciplined and ready to endure hardship.
Apostle Paul didn’t sugarcoat apostolic living. He told him straight up that he’d need a good habit called discipline as he prepared to endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. Paul admonished him not to get entangled by the affairs of life. In other words, don’t let the world complicate your ministry. Stay focused on what you are called to do. Be disciplined to play by the rules that God has laid down; submit your life to the Word of God (2 Timothy 2:3-7). Apostolic living means suffering the pain of discipline even when those around you may seem to be having an easy ride.
Effective Habit #5: Stay focused on Christ.
“Constantly keep in mind Jesus Christ, the Messiah, [as] risen from the dead, [as the prophesied King] descended from David, according to the good news (the Gospel) that I preach” (2 Timothy 2:8 AMP). Paul knew that Timothy would need to keep in mind the power of Christ’s resurrection in order to handle the persecution that went along with spreading the Gospel in his day.
Apostolic living means preserving and standing your ground with patience to endure anything and everything for the sake of the Gospel. It’s a realization that if we die with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny and disown and reject Him, he will deny us (2 Timothy 2:11-13).
Effective Habit #6: Know the Word.
The Apostle Paul’s next word of wisdom to young Timothy was a charge to know the Word of God. Paul instructed him to “study and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial), a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 AMP). Apostolic living is living in the Word. It is only the firm foundation laid by God that stands in the midst of shakings.
Effective Habit #7: Live a pure life.
Finally, The Apostle Paul told Timothy to get into the habit of living a pure life. He explained that whoever cleanses himself will be a vessel set apart for God’s use, fit and ready for good works. “Shun youthful lusts and flee from them, and aim at and pursue righteousness – all that is virtuous and good, right living, conformity to the will of God in thought, word and deed. [And aim at and pursue] faith, love, [and] peace (harmony and concord with others) in fellowship with all [Christians], who call upon the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22 AMP). Apostolic living forges a habit of refusing to get involved in trifling controversies over ignorant questions that breed strife.
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of godly habits, but I am convinced that if we would pursue these seven areas that Paul highlighted our lives and ministries would be more effective for the glory of God. Isn’t that the whole point?