Following the Pattern of Sound Words

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. (2 Timothy 1:8-14, ESV)

Leaving a group with whom you have been studying the Bible can be hard. Fellowship, and a deepening love and appreciation for each other, is a natural fruit of ministry that grows as we study together. I’ve served on staff in three churches, and as a lay leader/teacher in three others, and each time we moved brought me a measure of sorrow. Knowing that I was leaving them in good hands helped, but it was still hard. I see similar experiences in Paul’s relationship with Timothy and the church in Ephesus.

Here, Paul’s letter to Timothy is both poignant and personal. Paul is in prison in Rome, anticipating a possible death sentence. Timothy is in Ephesus, leading the church and facing challenges as a young leader. Paul urges Timothy to stand firm in the face of suffering for the gospel, knowing that God is able to strengthen him in his ministry. Reflecting on his own circumstances of suffering in prison, Paul clearly and boldly proclaims his faith in Christ and his commitment to fulfill his calling as one appointed to preach, teach, and build up the church. But Paul knows that his opportunities to travel to the churches he helped start may have ended. So he turns his attention to the ongoing preaching of the gospel that must continue, both while he is in prison, and after his death. Timothy, and others, will need to take up this responsibility, even if it leads to their own suffering.

In light of these circumstances and his love for the believers in Ephesus, what is Paul’s charge to Timothy? That he “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” That faith needs to be passed on, truths to be understood and embraced. Others need to hear and respond to the gospel message of God’s love and grace in Christ Jesus. This message is changeless, and is still the same message we are called to proclaim. Cultures change over time but the gospel message remains forever true (sound), and our teaching must speak that message clearly. We are not just teaching about some interesting historic event. We are teaching about a living reality of reconciliation that we can experience as God, through the Holy Spirit, applies that good news to our own lives. This gospel message is the “good deposit” that Timothy was to safeguard, and we have that same deposit to guard and pass on today.

In our contemporary culture, as in the past, we can be tempted to shift or shape our gospel message into one more palatable, more attractive to a society of tolerance and broadmindedness. We don’t like to think about sin and its consequences, or a God who not only loves us but is righteous and judges sin. When challenging our culture, we can seem harsh and unloving, when actually we are motivated by love and concern for others and their relationship with God. We must be careful that, in our attempt to reach more people with the gospel message, we don’t distort it. For some, it will be a stumbling block, and people will consider us unloving people, but these “sound words” still need to be passed on. I’m all for finding relevant and creative ways to communicate the good news, as long we still clearly present the “deposit” we have received. We need all the creativity God can give us to reach out to those who need to hear the good news of grace through faith in Christ.

As you think about past Bible study sessions you have led, have you clearly presented the gospel of the love and grace of God in Christ Jesus in what you studied with your group? It’s so much more than a salvation message people must respond to in faith. It’s about the fullness of the Christian faith flowing from that gospel that we all need to learn and allow to shape our lives. This “deposit” needs to be passed on. How do you live this out in your teaching? Are you able to say with Paul, “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me” (2 Timothy 1:12)?

Father, help me never to be ashamed of you or the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In my efforts to reach and teach others, please help me stay rooted in the sound words of the faith and love of God in Christ. With your Spirit’s help, may I be a good steward of the “good deposit” you have given me, investing it well in the Bible study leadership opportunities you give me. Help me be faithful as I teach the faith to your people. Amen.

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