Guarding the Treasure
Sitting in a cold, dark prison cell, awaiting execution, Paul writes to his young son in the Lord, Timothy a stirring letter filled with emotion and strong admonition. Paul understood that he would die soon and his leg of the ministry would be over. He needs now to pass the baton to a new generation.
Sadly, for Paul, he is not sure how many hands are extended to take the baton as with a heavy heart he reports to Timothy that those who had formerly been with him in Asia have turned away (1:15). He is, however, confident of young Timothy’s faithfulness and is penning his last words to his young protégé: “Hold fast the form of sound words, which you have herd from me in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. That precious treasure which was committed to you, guard by the holy Spirit which dwells within us.” (1:13-14)
I have been preaching this for some time and thought; finally, I would put it down in writing. This is the “last will and testament” of a man who has kept the faith and run a good race but now finds himself at the end of the race. He is ready, but concerned that those who come behind him are ready to assume the mantle of responsibility for the gospel. Paul has a clear purpose in writing this letter.
Guard the Treasure: He wants to ensure that the “treasure” he has been entrusted with will be guarded by the next generation. He pleads with Timothy in 1:14, “by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” Paul is not even in the grave, yet the precious Word from God that was entrusted to him is already under attack. Not only does he exhort Timothy to guard the treasure of God’s Word, but urges him to faithfully communicate that same Word to “faithful men who will be able to teach others.”
My wife and I sat down last week to talk about the next few years of our lives as we approach “retirement”. Of course, I don’t intend to retire from preaching the gospel, but I am gradually turning over the church to my son and moving toward a reduced role in the church administration. We’re looking at IRA’s and investments to determine if we can live on less money, relieving the church of some of the burden of the payroll, which is tight in a declining economy.
However, my greatest concern is not whether my wife I can make it in retirement because I know the same God who has sustained us in over 40 years of ministry will continue to sustain us. I find I have the same burden that Paul carried as he wrote this poignant letter to his “son” in the Lord. Will the next generation guard well what has been entrusted to me over the past 40 years?
I don’t have any concerns about my son who is assuming leadership from me. He is, in fact, a “faithful man who is able to teach others.” He will carry the burden well, and faithfully guard the treasure I have entrusted to him. However, as I look at the emergent trends of contemporary teaching, I am deeply concerned with the well being of the church in the next generation – if in fact this world remains long enough for there to be another generation before Jesus comes. Truth is, we have not guarded well the treasure that has been entrusted to us. We have departed from what J.C. Ryle termed the “old paths.” I don’t believe truth is “emerging” and I don’t believe the God of the New Testament is different from the God of the Old. We see an eroding of truths that have long been foundational understanding in the church.
My generation has been the generation of excess. Excess emphasis on prosperity and personal well being, with little appetite for personal sacrifice for the work of the Kingdom, mark the generation from which I come. We have seen excesses in emphasis on the manifestation gifts and an obvious lack of the fruit that is surely supposed to accompany the presence of the Holy Spirit. We have been unwilling to righteously judge sin within our own lives and in the life of the church, allowing a worldliness to flow in unabated and in many cases making the church a thing to be laughed at by the world.
The result is magnified in the generation now set to grasp the baton of the gospel and move forward into what is possibly the last generation of the church on the earth. We are in danger of personifying that which William Booth warned about when he said: “The chief danger of the 20th century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, and Heaven without Hell.”
In the past week I have learned:
That repentance from sin is not required for salvation
All men are saved; they just don’t know it yet
The suffering of Christ on the Cross was an unnecessary act
The death of Christ amounts to cosmic “child abuse;” something a truly loving father could never do.
And, the church needs to drop all of its silly hang-ups about pre-marital sex and adultery.
There is no literal place called ‘hell,’ where men will be eternally separated from God.
Rather than being guarded, the Word of God is being re-written. The precious “treasure” that has been entrusted to us is now a dusty, outdated book sitting on coffee tables, unread, and disregarded; no longer applicable to our lives. Publishers are “cleansing the Bible” of its antiquated ideas about holiness, purity, sexuality and pastors are teaching that ideas like obedience and Lordship are no longer applicable to our enlightened society. The scriptures are now gender-neutered, sexually permissive, and wholly non-judgmental. The Laws of God have not been fulfilled, they have been “annulled” thus erasing any standard by which men might be judged in the final day. An antinomian, Universalists doctrine has infected the church and in many places it no longer resembles the “precious trust” of which Paul spoke.
Paul pleaded with Timothy and now, I plead with a new generation to “guard the precious treasure which has been entrusted to you.” Do not twist the Holy Scriptures, nor allow them to be twisted into a meaning that is not, nor has ever been within them. “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:1-5
That the Word may not be bound: Paul had another purpose in writing this letter to Timothy in Ephesus. He says in 2:8-9: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound.”
He is encouraging Timothy to follow the same path as he had, in order that the Word of God would not be bound. Paul went to prison for the sake of the Word of God. Others had abandoned him. These were violent times and to be faithful to the Word of God was costly; a cost that many simply could not bring themselves to pay. Paul felt that BECAUSE he was in prison, the Word of God had been set free.
If we are to understand anything in this generation, it is that there are men who want to “bind the gospel.” “Be quiet!” they declare. Don’t speak it in the public place – not in the courts, not in the schools, not in the workplace, pull down your posters, remove your nativity scenes. The Word of God offends men, and they intend to bind it up.
If I keep silence in the presence of the offended sinner, the gospel is bound. If I attempt to make the Word of God more palatable to sinners, the power of the gospel is bound. If I squelch my testimony to keep my job, the gospel is bound! Can we not see what is happening? Can we not understand the strategy of the enemy – silence the Word of God for it is the “power of God unto salvation.” The Gospel is being robbed of its power to transform lives because fearful, spineless men are binding it by silence and compromise.
The Word of God is bound by our timidity. (1:7) “God has not given us a spirit of timidity (fear), but of power, love, and a sound mind.” We cannot be timid, but must be bold in the faithful proclamation of the pure Word of God. The Word of God does not require defense; it does require proclamation. Someone has said, “You don’t defend a Lion – you release it and it will take care of itself.” The Word of God doesn’t need to be dulled so that it will not offend men. It must remain sharp so that it may separate them from their sinfulness. When we become timid, the Word of God is bound.
The Word of God is bound by our shame. (1:8) “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.” The enemies of God have been so successful in causing Christians to be ashamed of the proclamations of the Word of God. We are ashamed of being called bigoted or homophobic or legalistic or judgmental. Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation.” (Romans 1:16) When we are ashamed of what the Word of God says about anything, then the Word of God is bound.
The Word of God is bound by generational irresponsibility. (2:2) “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” We have been building monuments to our prosperity, personal success, and anointing rather than entrusting the pure gospel to the next generation. We are responsible to first communicate the Word of God to our own children (that is a rant for another day), and then to the next generation of young Timothy’s who will pick up the mantle of responsibility. We have driven a generation of prophets from our ranks by our excess and our hypocrisy.
Father’s have abdicated their calling as the spiritual center of the home. We are called to teach our children the Word of God and by and large fathers have abandoned or ignored this holy calling altogether. We have dropped the kids off at Sunday School or Youth Group and left the task of communicating the faith to another generation to someone else.
Father’s are generally not the spiritual head of their household. Most of us are invisible when it comes to spiritual things and as a result – our children pretty much give the same importance to matters of faith, as do their fathers. Great judgment waits for my generation when we stand before God and give an account for the spiritual stewardship of our families. If I do not communicate the Word of God to my children (physical and spiritual) then the Word of God is bound.
The Word of God is bound by personal negligence. (2:25) Paul admonished Timothy, “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.” The Word of God is bound by our ignorance of it. The average church member lives on a diet of spiritual food already eaten and digested by someone else. If they eat at all, it is from the Sunday morning sermon – a meal obtained, prepared, chewed, swallowed, and digested by someone else. Sunday morning is important, but it is not a sufficient diet upon which to exist spiritually.
Personally, I don’t want to live on spiritual words spoken to someone else. I want to hear God call my name and speak to me personally. However, if I ignore the Word of God – He is not going to speak to me. If I am negligent in the personal apprehension of the Word of God, then the Word of God is bound.
This has been a very long post – but I felt the need to address all the ideas here in one piece. I will revisit this subject with more detail in subsequent posts. But hear my cry: We must guard the treasure which has been entrusted to us by generations which now comprise a great cloud of witnesses who wait now to see how we will care for it.