Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 12/13/1992
1:13 Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me , in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us the treasure which has been entrusted to you.
2:1 You therefore my son be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
Throughout this series of messages on Second Timothy we have seen Paul's concern that Timothy understand that because of the content of the Gospel there will be opposition to the Gospel, which will often lead to suffering for the Gospel; but when we consider the source of the Gospel, the rewards of the Gospel, and the power of the Gospel, those considerations should give us boldness for the Gospel, in the preservation of the Gospel and the proclamation of the Gospel. Yet many conservative Christians are profoundly suspicious of the idea that it is our responsibility to "preserve" the Gospel. Hasn't God promised there will always be a faithful remnant? If God inspired the Bible and has preserved it from destruction or corruption all these years, shouldn't we just forget about preserving the Gospel and get on with proclaiming it? Well, the right kind of proclamation is indeed the best way to be sure the Gospel does not perish from the earth--or from our own society. It is the best way to be sure that the Gospel will be available and accessible to people in another generation. But this raises the question, what is the right kind of proclamation? And it also raises the question why Paul told Timothy to "guard" what had been entrusted to him, to "retain" it, and to "entrust" it to faithful men who could then keep on proclaiming it. Only the Holy Spirit can regenerate sinful hearts, but we are still responsible for preaching the Gospel. And only God can guarantee that the Gospel will not be lost, but we are likewise his instruments for achieving that end. So, like Timothy, we need to pay attention to retaining, guarding, and entrusting. To the extent that we do not do so, to the extent that we do not defend the Gospel and pass it on, not just to new converts but to trained teachers, to that extent the Gospel will indeed perish from the earth and the next generation will be deprived of the opportunity to hear it and respond to it.
Our situation is that we live in the "perilous times" of 3:1 and 4:3-4. Never before, at least since the Reformation, has there been a generation of professing Christians less prone to endure sound doctrine or more desirous of having their ears tickled. The Puritan fathers used to preach detailed expositions of Scriptural passages, full of meticulous textual analysis, detailed doctrinal development, and painstaking practical application. Their congregations felt cheated if these sermons lasted less than two hours. Many of them took notes on them and would rehearse and discuss the main points around the table at Sunday dinner. Today people start fidgeting after twenty minutes. They want to cut straight to the application, which needs to come in the form of cute little stories that do not challenge anyone to rub two brain cells together at the same time. And so the truth once delivered unto the saints has been replaced by a "feel-good" faith. Well has Dr. Dan Orme said, "Christianettes love sermonettes." How can we preach the Gospel with integrity to a lost race when even believers do not understand it except on the most superficial level? And how will they teach it to their children?
You begin to see the problem. This is why I say with complete confidence that the preservation of the Gospel is one of the most critical fronts of spiritual warfare at all times, but especially in our generation. And so we must follow Jude's exhortation to "contend earnestly for the faith" (1:3). If we drop the torch, who will be there to pick it up?
God has provided us with the primary means of preserving the Gospel by inspiring the apostles to write the New Testament. Indeed, that was one of their primary motives for writing: "I will also be diligent so that at any time after my departure you may be able to call these things to mind" (2 Pet. 1:15). They wrote because they realized that Christ might not return during their lifetimes, so the Gospel needed to be set down in clear, definite, and authoritative form in writings that would be forever after a "standard of sound words" for the Church.
God has given us the Bible, but he expects us to use it. He holds us responsible to use it. So what do we add to what God did in the inspiration of Scripture? Isn't the power there, in the Text, and not in us? Yes, it is. But the Bible is not magic. It is a sharp two-edged sword, powerful to cut through our defenses and change our hearts--but only if it is read! A closed Bible is the most impotent book in the world.
Do you think the Bible will continue to be read just because it exists? Just because it is a great literary classic? When I first preached this message, it was in a church with about 120 people present. And so I took a little poll right in the middle of the sermon. How many of you have read Herman Melville's Moby Dick? It is supposed to be the greatest American novel, so I figured it would make a good test case. About twenty of them had. How many have read it in the last ten years? About half that number. In the last year? No one (not even myself). How many people remembered the name of the boat? No one but me (It is "the Pequod"). How many could quote the first sentence ("Call me Ishmael.")? Myself alone. And I had cheated by looking both answers up before the poll was taken!
My point? That is about how much Bible content people will have in their heads if we leave the Bible to be read for its cultural and literary value alone. That is how much Bible content people will have in their heads if we do not recommend this Book to them, not just with our words, but with the quality of our spiritual lives which we claim have been transformed by it. Our role, our responsibility in the preservation of the Gospel is to gain a hearing for the Bible as the Word of God by the quality of our answers and of our lives. If we do not do this, it will remain a closed book. Oh, yes, there will be the isolated stories of people who were saved by picking up the Gideon Bible in their hotel room. But by and large, unless we win a hearing for this Book it will remain closed and the work of God in its inspiration will be thwarted, will have been in vain. That is what is at stake.
God has preserved the Gospel in an inspired Book, the Bible. Our role then is to win a hearing for that Book so that it can do its work and continue to be heard, lest the voice of the Gospel fall silent in the land. How do we do this? In two ways: first by an intellectual defense of the Bible's truth and relevance, and secondly by practicing its teachings as if they really were true and relevant. Unless we bring the two together, our efforts will be impotent.
Once again we find that a lot of contemporary believers are uncomfortable with this emphasis. Satan has actually got them to feel that it would be unspiritual for us to mount an intellectual defense of the Bible. "Defend the Bible?" one of them once said. "I'd just as soon defend a lion!" Don't defend the Bible, they argue; just let it out of its cage and it will defend itself. Like all dangerous errors, this one contains a measure of truth. In one way the power of Scripture does not depend on us, on our brilliance, or on anything we might say or do. The Bible is a lion. But a closed Bible is a muzzled lion. How do we in fact let it out of its cage unmuzzled? We do exactly what Scripture itself commands us to do: be always ready to make a defense to anyone who asks us a reason for our hope (1 Pet. 3:15). Only the Holy Spirit through the Word can convict of sin, lead to repentance, regenerate. Our job is to gain a hearing for the Word so the Holy Spirit can work. We do this by showing how the Bible has the answers to the deepest questions and needs we have, by meeting objections, by removing stumbling blocks to faith. We have to make a case that people should give the Bible the time of day. What is unspiritual about that?
Secondly and even more importantly, we must win a hearing for the Bible as the Word of God by practicing its teachings in such a way that our lives show the difference this Book can make. We must live before the world lives that demonstrate at least the beginnings of the healing we claim the Gospel can bring to our fallen and alienated selves. Orthodoxy--right doctrine, sound teaching--comes first, but it must lead to orthopraxy--right practice, sound living--or it is worthless. What are we talking about? Godly living, biblical priorities, the fruit of the Spirit, unfeigned love for the Lord and for others: in other words, spiritual reality. We must understand that the world is averse to the truth; it will not readily endure sound doctrine. So it will be looking for any excuse it can find to dismiss us, not to take us seriously. We had better not be giving it what it is looking for! To the extent that we do, even if we are still blabbing the words, the voice of the Gospel will in effect fall silent in the land.
If we believe in the biblical view of the family, do we watch as entertainment television programs that portray adultery and homosexuality as legitimate lifestyle options? Do we laugh? Why do we not cry? If we believe in the reality of the unseen and that the present world is passing away, do we live just as much for material possessions as the unbeliever? Are we just as much a part of the rat race? If we worship a God who says, "Do not steal," do we cheat on our income taxes? If we follow a Lord who said to turn the other cheek, do we cuss the driver who pulls out in front of us? If we believe in a God who is sovereign and who is love, do we allow ourselves to be consumed by anxiety? Then why should the world pay the slightest bit of attention to anything we say? And why should it want to listen to the message we claim has saved us?
If we cannot offer the world a good reason why people should read the Bible and consider its message, why should we expect them to do so? And if we do not take the Bible seriously enough to live by its teachings ourselves, why should the world take it--or us--seriously? God will not leave himself without a witness. But to the extent that we do not take the Gospel seriously and thereby gain a hearing for it through the force of the spiritual reality it has created in our lives, to that extent the Gospel will perish from this generation. May our gracious heavenly Father preserve us from such a fate!
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams