In reading through 2 Timothy, I’m struck by how many times and different ways Paul expresses the need for Timothy to maintain the purity of the gospel, exhorting him to hold fast to the truth. There is an urgency to his words, knowing that his days of ministry are nearly over.
Listen to the many ways Paul mentions the importance of maintaining the purity of the gospel:
Do not be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord…join with me in suffering for the gospel. (1:8)
Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me. (1:13)
Guard the treasure which has been entrusted to you. (1:14)
The things which you have heard from me, entrust to faithful men who will teach others. (2:2)
Be diligent…to accurately handle the word of truth. (2:15)
Continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of…that from childhood you have known the sacred writings…that lead to salvation in Christ Jesus. (3:14-15)
All Scripture is inspired by God. (3:16)
Preach the word. (4:2)
Bring the books, especially the parchments. (4:13)
Paul loved the portion of God’s written Word that was available during his lifetime (the Old Testament), and he zealously guarded the gospel which he had been entrusted to preach. Even in its infant days, the early church was susceptible to false doctrine and the watering down of the message of the cross. The Jews wanted to mix the gospel with the Old Testament law. The Gentiles wanted to deny the holiness of the gospel with permissive grace. But Paul was determined for his part to zealously guard the truth.
Today we are blessed to have the New Testament in written form. The four gospel accounts are linked to the letters of Paul, Peter, John, and James by Luke’s succinct and exciting history of the spread of Christianity in the book of Acts. We have the treasure of Paul’s letter to the Romans which explains the mystery of salvation which all men need, whether Jew or Gentile, slave or free, righteous in works or abounding in wickedness. We have the wisdom of Hebrews, so much of which explains the link between the Old Testament (the shadow of things to come) and the New Testament (the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus). We even have a guide for the last days of mankind, John’s Revelation, which disturbs, confuses and intrigues us all at the same time!
Do we have Paul’s passion to guard this precious storehouse of truth?
Will our generation be remembered as the ones who preserved the message of the gospel and passed it on to our children and grandchildren, still intact, still pure, still clinging to its every precept, whether or not we agree with or understand the mind of God?
Or will we water down the message, accept and excuse sin in the name of tolerance, regarding all faiths as equal to the precious blood of our Savior who died, the One and only One who raised from the dead?
The gospel is offensive to a sinful culture, and we should not be surprised when it is rejected. It happened in Paul’s day; it will continue to happen even more the closer we get to the end of time. Listen to Paul’s warnings to Timothy:
But realize this, in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; avoid such men as these. (3:1,4-5)
…Always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (3:7)
These men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. (3:8)
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. (4:3-4)
So what should we do?
In the face of attacks on scripture and the gospel message, our flesh wants to fight back. We want to debate and quarrel and prove our points. We want to win arguments and be proven right.
But Paul gives us a different tactic in this spiritual war. Of course, we are to live by the gospel and keep our mind and heart and behavior free from sin. We are to be “above reproach” so that the enemies of the gospel have no grounds to accuse us. But we are not told to battle with our words.
But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses, and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2:23-26)
The message of the cross is preserved best when it is lived out in front of our family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and yes, even our enemies. Its effectiveness on our mind and heart speaks far more clearly and loudly than debating and arguing. We will guard the gospel best when we love it most, when we align our thoughts and decisions with it in the face of a culture that tells us the opposite is true, or right, or “cool” or “politically correct.”
Paul spoke much about the preciousness of the truth according to Jesus Christ to Timothy. But he also talked a lot about suffering. No wonder! As we quietly maintain a life dedicated to God and aligned to His Word, the gospel message will speak volumes. We might be mocked; we surely will be seen as foolish in the world’s eyes; and in the days to come, we may even be persecuted, even in America.
But really, there’s no need to argue. No need to debate. Just stand firm on the truth, speak it gently when the opportunity arises and pray for the Spirit of God to open the eyes of those who cannot see.
What lies have you personally observed in the culture around you? How do you maintain the truth of the gospel in the face of them?