When you have something that’s worth guarding, then you find a safe place to put it. You can buy a safe, but there are problems with safes. If you know what you’re doing you can break into a safe. If it’s not a heavy one, somebody can walk out with the safe and break into it at their leisure.
You can rent a safety deposit box. They are more secure, but nothing’s perfect. Safety deposit boxes can be destroyed or flooded. If you don’t pay the fees, the bank can seize the box and the contents. If you’ve watched movies you know that there are ways to pull off bank heists that nobody would think possible. One of the most enjoyable novels I’ve read is The Great Train Robbery, which is about a train heist that took place in Victorian England against impossible odds.
I’m not going to tell you about where the church’s valuables are stored, although I should mention that we had someone break into the church and try to get into the safe in my office a few years ago. I think they would have been very disappointed with what they would have found if they’d gotten into the safe!
One thing is clear, though. We have something worth protecting. Scripture is clear about this. This morning I’d like to look at this and ask three questions. One: what is it that we have to protect? Two: how do we protect it? Three: what steps do we at Richview need to take to make sure that we’re doing this?
One: What is it that we have to protect?
The letter we have before us was written near the end of Paul’s life. Paul was in prison in Rome awaiting death. Within a few short years after writing this letter, Paul would be martyred under Nero’s reign. And so Paul writes this letter to his young associate, Timothy, encouraging him to continue the fight of faith even as Paul approaches the end of his life.
At the end of the previous letter that Paul had written to Timothy, a few years earlier, Paul had written, “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you” (1 Timothy 6:20). What deposit? What is Paul talking about? Well, here in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, Paul again writes:
What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you–guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. (2 Timothy 1:13-14)
What Paul is saying here is that Timothy has been given something that is valuable and that needs to be protected. It’s a deposit – something that one person has placed in trust to another person’s safekeeping. And Timothy, Paul says, is to protect it, keep watch over it, and with God’s help ensure that it’s kept safe. In other words, it’s something that’s in danger of being lost if it’s not protected.
What exactly is he talking about? Paul tells us. In 1:13 he calls it “the pattern of sound teaching.” In 2:2 he calls it “the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses.” Paul is talking about the message that he’s entrusted to Timothy. He’s talking about the apostolic gospel itself. It’s exactly what Paul mentioned in chapter 1:8-10:
So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life–not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
This is the good deposit we’ve received, and Paul says: protect it. Guard it. It’s too valuable to lose. The message is that God has saved us and called us to a holy life. He has done this not because of anything we have done, but because of his own purpose and grace. It’s not because we merit it or deserve it. It’s simply because of God’s grace. God’s purpose and grace were given before the beginning of time, but have been revealed through Jesus who destroyed death by his death and has brought life and immortality to light through the good news of what he has accomplished at the cross. This is the good news for which Paul was willing to die.
This is the good news that has been entrusted to Timothy that must be protected. By implication, this is what we are always in danger of losing. The danger we face is gospel erosion. As one person puts it:
You don’t need much more than a cursory scan of history to see that solid Christian organizations can easily lose the gospel if they are not attentive. Losing the gospel doesn’t happen all at once; it’s more like a four-generation process.
- The gospel is accepted
- The gospel is assumed
- The gospel is confused
- The gospel is lost
It is tragic for any generation to lose the gospel. But, as Philip Jensen says, the generation that assumes the gospel is the generation most responsible for the loss of the gospel.
So this is one of the most important things we must do as a church: guard the gospel. On one had, it’s not an attractive thing to do. It’s the very thing that landed Paul in prison. It’s not the most exciting thing to do. Guarding what is already in our possession is not as exciting as some other things we could do. But there is nothing that is more important than guarding the gospel.
I stayed at a hotel in the States a couple of years ago. When I arrived I hid my passport in the room. I hid it so well that when I was packing a few days later I couldn’t find it. It made for a tense couple of hours. In a sense I guess I meant to guard it, but what actually happened is that I lost it. We can’t afford to do this with the gospel. We must treasure it, make sure it’s in sight, protect it, pay attention to it. “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you–guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”
Second question: How do we protect it?
I’m sure we could come up with all kinds of ways to answer this question. As elders we’ve spent time discussing how we can keep the gospel central. That’s my job as I preach weekly. Everything I teach must be grounded in the gospel. I need to make gospel connections, showing the doctrinal and behavioral implications of the gospel. Every ministry of the church must maintain the gospel at its core. Martin Luther put it well:
I must hearken to the gospel, which teaches me, not what I ought to do, (for that is the proper office of the law), but what Jesus Christ the Son of God hath done for me: to wit, that He suffered and died to deliver me from sin and death. The gospel wills me to receive this, and to believe it. And this is the truth of the gospel. It is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consists. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.
This is a great way of putting it. We’ve got to be swinging the gospel hammer continually. I think this is exactly what Paul is saying we need to do.
But Paul says we need to do something else if we are to guard the gospel. Read the first couple of verses in chapter 2:
You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.
If you were going to protect a valuable item, you would lock it away where people couldn’t get it. You would remove it so that it couldn’t be touched or accessed by anyone who wanted to put their hands on it. But if you are to protect valuable news, to ensure that it’s not lost, you don’t want to hide that news away. You want it broadcast. You want it passed on so that as many people as possible have it. If you have news that needs to be safeguarded, you get it into the hands of people who can be relied upon to get the word out.
Paul says that’s exactly what Timothy is to do. He’s already had this information passed on to him by Paul in the presence of other witnesses. He’s supposed to find reliable men so he can entrust the gospel to them. But they’re not supposed to just hold on to the gospel themselves. They will be entrusted with the gospel so that they, in turn, can pass it on to others. You already have four generations in this verse: Paul, Timothy, reliable men, others. The gospel is protected as it is transmitted from generation to generation. We become part of a living chain of truth that extends through the centuries.
I’ll give you one historical example. In 1630 Dr. Richard Sibbes wrote a little book about Christ called The Bruised Reed. Ancient history, right? A copy of that book fell into the hands of a tin peddler, who gave it to a boy named Richard Baxter, who became the greatest of Puritan pastors. Baxter wrote a book which Philip Doddridge read in the early eighteenth century. He in turn wrote a book that William Wilberforce read. It changed his life so much that Wilberforce led the fight for the abolition of slavery. Wilberforce’s example continues to inspire us, and has been an inspiration for Charles Colson and the organization he founded, Prison Ministries. I’ve just given you four centuries of one chain. The story of Christianity is one of countless chains, countless generations who have entrusted the gospel to others who can, in turn, entrust the gospel again to the next generation.
This isn’t just for pastors and authors. In 1:5 Paul writes, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” Paul also applies this to the ministry of the church, specifically to women, in Titus 2: “Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live…Then they can urge the younger women…” (Titus 2:3-4). This is to be part of how we function as a church. One of the best ways to guard the deposit of the gospel is to pass it on so that others can hold to it as well. This applies to elders. It also applies to parents, Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, everyone. Every believer has a responsibility to teach God’s truth to other believers, to entrust the deposit of the gospel to others.
This means, by the way, that all of us have a job to do. Colin Marshall and Tony Payne write:
If the real work of God is people work – the prayerful speaking of his word by one person to another – then the jobs are never all taken. The opportunities for Christians to minister personally to others are limitless. (The Trellis and the Vine)
Paul is saying we need to protect, to guard, the gospel. He’s saying that one of the best ways we have to guard it is to entrust it to others, who in turn will be able to trust it to others. There’s one more question we need to ask.
Three: what steps do we at Richview need to take to make sure that we’re doing this?
I said there was one more question. I lied. Let me ask you a few questions as we think of what Paul said.
First, do you get the gospel? Remember what we saw in chapter 1:
So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life–not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2 Timothy 1:8-10)
It’s so important that we get it. Each phrase in this text contradicts some common misunderstandings of the gospel. One of the most important things we need to realize is that God has saved us by sheer grace. It’s not anything we have done. God took the initiative by sending Jesus Christ. Jesus has revealed God’s grace. By his death he destroyed death. By his resurrection he has brought life and immortality to light. I hope you have this, that it’s real to you, that you have believed the good news of the gospel. Before you guard it, you have to have it.
Second, do you treasure it? There are certain things in my possession that I treasure. If I lost some things, I wouldn’t care. In fact, I would be grateful. But I treasure other things. I look at them. I keep them safe. I protect them. Do you treasure the gospel? Is it something that you don’t assume, or do you value it? Does it move you? Do you try to gain greater clarity on the gospel and all of its implications?
When we interviewed Barth as a potential elder, we asked him to explain the gospel in his own words. He did a very good job. At the end of it, I honestly wanted to stop the interview and hold a worship service. It never fails to move me. We need to check our souls to make sure that it still thrills us, that we’re still amazed by it. We don’t need to just get the gospel, we need to treasure it. This applies to us individually and as a church.
Final question: are you entrusting the gospel to others? I’m not talking specifically about evangelism here, although we need to do lots of that as well. Remember the quote I read you a few minutes ago:
If the real work of God is people work – the prayerful speaking of his word by one person to another – then the jobs are never all taken. The opportunities for Christians to minister personally to others are limitless.
This really is a job for all of us. The past three sermons we’ve been talking about this from Deuteronomy, from Psalm 78, and now 2 Timothy. It’s not just a task for pastors. We want to be gripped by the gospel, and then to allow others to get clear on it as well, to pass on to coming generations the good news of what Jesus has done.
Let’s get clear on it ourselves. Let’s major on what Jesus has done. Then let’s treasure it. Let’s guard it so that we’ll never lose it. And then let’s entrust it to others, so that we become part of a living chain of truth that extends through the centuries. Let’s pray.