Guard the gospel – 2 Timothy

4:6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

The apostle Paul is at the end of his life. In prison in Rome. Facing execution. His old apprentice Timothy is now leader of the important church in Ephesus. And in the last letter we have of Paul’s, we find him passing on the baton to Timothy to continue the mission Christ had entrusted to him.
1:13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

Guard the gospel. Paul’s command to Timothy and God’s command to all of us in these troubled days. Because as Paul warns Timothy, the world is going to get worse and worse.
3 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power.

Somebody has said, “We live in a world of invertebrate theology, jellyfish morality, seesaw religion, India rubber convictions, somersault philosophy, and a psychology that tells us what we already know in words which we do not understand.”

Our world is racing ever more rapidly away from God. 30 years ago for Derek Tidball’s Sociology of Religion class I had to write an essay with the title, “why is it the church has good news which nobody wants to hear?” I have watched the answers become more and more true. The world we live in is changing ever more rapidly. People are much more mobile – they may move homes and cities many times. Patterns of employment have changed. Few people expect a job for life. Women are no longer stay-at-home wives and mothers. Family life is breaking down through increasing divorce rates and single parenting. Television has transformed leisure time just as mobile phones, the internet, texting, and instant messaging have transformed communications. All these twentieth century “advances” have produced a much more fragmented society. People’s lives are becoming increasingly insular, self-centred and individualistic. Sociologists saw these changes coming 30 years ago – we have watched them happen!

Enlightenment understandings of the world are being rejected. A so-called “Post-Modern” culture is emerging. There is a distrust of authority and “the establishment” in education, politics and law and order. Certainty is replaced by questioning – the only thing post-modernists are certain about is that you can’t be certain about anything. People reject any idea of absolute truth – everything is relative. Everybody is entitled to their own truths which political correctness insists are all equally valid. Christendom, a culture where everybody shared a common Christian faith and values, is being replaced by a multicultural, multi-faith society where Christianity is only one option amongst many.
4:3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

So many people are rejecting truth and each choosing for themselves what they want to believe. It was the noted theologian Victoria Wood who said, “Church is what you we did on Sundays before we had garden centres.” That simple statement is a brilliant analysis of how the majority of people regard church nowadays. Church is something you do, an activity. It is something restricted to one particular day of the week. It is something that has been superseded by garden centres, or car boot sales, or shopping malls or, take your pick really, because that is what people can do in our pick-and-mix, consumerist society. Church is now just a lifestyle choice – one option among many.

Contemporary culture is dominated by consumerism. People expect the right to choose and they demand satisfaction guaranteed every time. And these expectations extend to shopping between religions. Our multicultural multi-faith society has become a ‘spiritual supermarket.’ Just 50 years ago, the only choice was what kind of Christian church to attend. Today there is a vast range of options on offer. Christianity is only one stall in the spiritual market place. And faced with the difficulty of making an informed decision about which religion to believe in, many people take the easy option of not believing in anything at all. Ask a friend what they believe about spiritual things. They may say. “I don’t buy into any of that!” Religion has become something people can choose to buy into – or choose to ignore!

Over the last 30 years or so all these changes in the world around have led to a dramatic decline in church attendance. In 2007 TEAR FUND made a detailed survey of Churchgoing in the UK and that study illustrates the enormous challenge we face in reaching those who are not regular churchgoers. In summary:

OHP 1 In the UK 15% of adults can be described as regular churchgoers. They go to church at least once a month. Another 10% of adults go to church less than six times but at least once a year – occasional churchgoers. And another 5% of UK adults do not go to church but they used to attend in the past and are likely to go to church in future. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that all the other people in the TEAR FUND survey describe themselves as not very or not at all likely to go to church, ever. And those people now add up to more than two thirds of the population. 67% of people in the UK who say they are not very or not at all likely to set foot in a church apart for weddings or funerals! And for under 35s that figure goes up to 74%. Three quarters of under 35s say they are not very likely or not at all likely to go to church – ever!

OHP 2 How open folk are to going to church varies with age.

More than two thirds of people over 55 describe themselves as Christian.
Less than a quarter of over 55s say they have no religion.

Only a third of under 35s see themselves as Christian.
More than half of under 35s say they have no religion.

Many of the most successful approaches to evangelism in the 20th Century were based on a pre-existing knowledge and often an acceptance of Christian teaching and morality. In these we could include Billy Graham style rallies and family services where those who had gone to church themselves as children now brought their own children to church. Even the Alpha course uses Christian language and presupposes the authority of Scripture. Those kinds of approaches are bound to be much less effective in reaching folk who are closed to the church – which is three quarters of people aged under 35.

The world is changing faster and faster! So how should we guard the gospel in this changing world. The apostle Paul gives instructions to Timothy which are still as valid and effective today.

He starts by recognizing that the gospel has to be passed down from generation to generation

Guard the gospel – from generation to generation

1:5 I have been 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.

Timothy had learned his faith from his mother and Grandmother.
3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

A simple reminder that as parents and grandparents we are responsible for passing on the faith to our children and grandchildren. That’s not just the job of ministers or missionaries or evangelists. It’s not something we can leave to full time Christian workers. As parents and grandparents WE have to guard the gospel in our homes and with our families. Because our children and grandchildren will see how important our Christian faith is to us. They will see the difference Jesus makes in our lives – or does not make. It has been said that the church has always been only 2 generations away from extinction. “My grandparents always went to church. My parents sometimes went to church. I never go to church.” So we begin to guard the gospel in our own families!

The centrality of Scripture!

3:14 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

We began this series on “The Whole Story” with eleven great reasons to read the Bible
So we can believe in Jesus
So we can enjoy life in all its fullness
To know from eyewitnesses the wonderful things Jesus said and did.
To know what the first disciples believed and taught
The Holy Scriptures make us “wise for salvation”
The Bible is inspired – God-breathed
The Bible teaches us
The Bible rebukes us
The Bible corrects us
The Bible trains us in righteousness
The Bible equips us for every good work

We guard the gospel by remaining faithful to the truth of Scripture!


1:13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

2 You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.

There are gospel truths which need to be passed on. The history of the church and all the blind alleys people have been distracted by shows us that even with an open Bible, people cannot reliably work out for themselves what the Bible says and means. They need teaching. Those ignorant of the mistakes of church history are destined to repeat them. There will always be a need for teaching in the church because the Bible word for Christians and believers is disciples and disciple means “learner”. And every Christian until their very last breath should be on a learning journey. “The Lord has still more light and truth to break forth from His word.” I hope you are still enjoying “The Whole Story” and benefiting from reading the Bible every day. But I also hope that when you come to the end you won’t just breathe a sigh of relief and close your Bible for the next year! I hope you will want to continue to read, continue to learn, continue to study and look for ways to do so! Guard the gospel!


2:23 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will

In this postmodern world where political correctness insists that everybody is entitled to their own opinions it can be easy to get dragged into arguments. If this happens to us as Christians, it can be very easy to win the argument but lose the war. We may tie people in knots with our understanding, but drive them away from God. So Paul wisely says no arguing – just gentle instruction and of course lots and lots of love and prayer! Guard the gospel.

Preaching and evangelism

4:1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

4:5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

We need to be a church which believes what it preaches and preaches what it believes. To take every opportunity to tell everybody we possibly can that God loves them and that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and that Jesus Christ is Lord of all! Our little book of testimonies of “The difference Jesus makes” will be just one small way of sharing the gospel with family and friends and neighbours. Preaching in season and out of season! Guard the gospel.

Preaching – whatever the cost

In prison and facing death, Paul knew from personal experience that preaching the gospel carried a high cost!

1:8 So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us to a holy life

2:3 Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.

3:10 You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, 11 persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. 12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

Proclaiming the gospel will cost! Whatever the cost we must still guard the gospel.

Don’t be timid!

It would be so easy to be discouraged by the scale of the task the church faces. To put our heads in the sand and give up.

1:6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

We should not be scared. God has given us His Holy Spirit – power to be witnesses for Jesus. All the resources we need to guard the gospel!

But how good a job are we doing?

I heard the story of a visitor in a strange city who was returning from supper when a spectacular sign in a shop window caught his eye. It read “Chinese Laundry.” He made a mental note of the location because he had been away from home long enough to have need of a good laundry service. The next morning he arrived at the store with a bag full of clothes. He piled all the clothes on the counter but the attendant was shocked.
“What’s all that?” she asked.
“It’s my laundry,” the man replied. “Chinese laundries always do an excellent job.”
“But we aren’t a Chinese laundry,” the assistant explained. “We’re a sign shop!”

We proudly display the sign of the cross. The sign of the gospel which brings life to the dead. We need to be a church which does what the sign says. How well do we do at guarding the gospel??

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