Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us. You are aware that all who are in Asia have turned away from me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.
2 Timothy 1:13-15
Reading yet another news story of the Church’s dirty laundry, I think of the old adage comparing the Church to Noah’s ark: “If it weren’t for the storm on the outside, you couldn’t stand the stench on the inside.” With the fall of some church leaders in all denominations and theological persuasions, we are again reminded that the Church is indeed made up of sinners. It hurts to see Christian leaders we have loved fall, and fall hard. Whether brought down by sex, silver, or self, the sheep feel betrayed.
But this is not the Church’s first rodeo. The Bride of Christ has been here before. Read only a few pages of history and see that the Church has always faced defection, false teaching and opposition. We would fear that the gates of Hell would prevail had not Jesus told us not to be surprised, but be prepared.
Today’s scripture shows us the apostle Paul chained in an underground dungeon, awaiting execution for the crime of spreading the Gospel. Once trusted fellow ministers have now deserted him and the Gospel mission (2 Timothy 4:10, 16). Paul is reminding Timothy of the widespread defection from the Gospel in the Roman province of Asia where they had poured out their lives for the Gospel (See Acts 13:14-14:25; 15:40-16:5; 18:24-20:1).
Yet in this dark hour Paul is clear-eyed and confident of the Church’s future. He charges Timothy to stand true, imagining the Gospel to be a precious treasure he deposits with Timothy for safekeeping. “Hold to the standard of sound teaching”, Paul implores. And “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you.” Others may turn away and defect, but you must be faithful!
Like runners in a relay race, Paul is passing on the Gospel baton to Timothy. Even after the executions of Paul and Peter, when it seemed like the gates of Hell might prevail, Timothy proved faithful to the Gospel entrusted to him. Extra-biblical sources report that at the age of 80 Timothy was dragged through the streets of Ephesus, beaten and then stoned for Gospel.
This morning at my granddaughter’s soccer game I saw something that reminded me of Paul’s impending death and depositing the Gospel with Timothy. Throughout the game I watched as a player running onto the field would hand a bright pennant to the player running off the field. In that symbolic action the incoming player was saying, “Well done! Now I’m here to take your place!”
In the face of trial and trouble for the Church we say to Paul and to Timothy: “Well done! We are here to take your place!” We will guard the treasure of the Gospel entrusted to us. We will serve the Church, not because the minister is there, or a guest speaker is there, but because Jesus is there!
For times like these I find the words of the old hymn inspiring:
“I would be true, for there are those who trust me;
I would be pure, for there are those who care;
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer;
I would be brave, for there is much to dare.”
(Howard A. Walter, “I Would Be True”)
Grace and peace,