2 Timothy 1:13-14
Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me,
in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. (RSV)
Theme: Hold fast to the pure doctrine entrusted to you.
Read: 1 Timothy 4:6-16; 2 Timothy 3:10-4:5
Text: 2 Timothy 1:13-14
Songs: (from Book of Praise, Ango-Genevan Psalter)
Ps 86:1,4 (opening)
Ps 119:53,54 (after law)
Ps 78:1,2,3 (after offertory)
Ps 25:2,4 (after sermon)
Hy 8:1 (closing)
Date: Preached by Rev. Richard Pot, July 19, 1998
Location: Canadian Reformed Church of Orangeville, Ontario
Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
As Reformed people, we're known to put a lot of emphasis on doctrine. What do you think about that? How important is doctrine to you? I ask this especially because we've just begun going through the Heidelberg Catechism once again. Last week we started with Lord's Day 1. Do we really need to do that? Should we really spend that much time on the doctrines that Scripture teaches? Another year of Catechism preaching, Catechism instruction - do we really need to hear that?
As Reformed people, we are sometimes accused of putting too much emphasis on doctrine. And not enough on life. Once in a while you hear this: The problem with you Reformed folk is that you're always talking about doctrine. How about just encouraging people to be Christians, and to live as Christians. To love Jesus, and live a life for Jesus? Why can't you just put this doctrine thing to rest once in a while - after all, what's so important about it? Isn't it really all about living a Christian life - isn't that what God wants of us? Isn't that what we should be striving for? All this talk about doctrine - doctrine only divides, it only prevents you from living as a Christian.
Now if it's true that we're always speaking about Christian doctrine and at the same time we don't live a Christian life, then we ought to be ashamed. Discussions about doctrine are never an excuse for not living a Christian life, an excuse for apathy, for not doing anything as Christians in the world. We also heard about that last week. Last week we listened to God's Word about the command to be holy. And then God instructed us that as Christians, we're all called to live a holy life. We're all to be obedient to God's Word, we're all to be very active in our lives serving the Lord. Christian life, that's important yes - but what about Christian doctrine?
It's true that we Reformed people talk about doctrine a lot - in our history we've also separated from churches because of false doctrine. Doctrine - are we making too much of an issue of things when we speak about pure doctrine? Does it really matter what you believe, as long as you live a Christian life? If you don't believe the right things - does it really matter? Do you have an answer for those kinds of questions? And how about if you hear other Christians say things like this: I don't believe in doctrine, I believe in Jesus. Or: We believe in just the Bible, not church doctrine. Or: No creed but Christ. I'm just a simple Christian, I believe just the Bible. How do you respond?
Doctrine and life. Just as last week we were instructed by God from 1 Peter 1:15 about a holy life, so today we want to be instructed by God about pure doctrine. For we do not want to answer these questions with mere opinions. No, let's listen to what God Himself tells us about doctrine. And so let's be instructed by the Word of God from 2 Tim 1:13 and 14 with the theme:
Hold fast to the pure doctrine entrusted to you.
1. You've been entrusted with it.
2. You're to hold fast to it.
1. You've been entrusted with it.
"Go away…I'm alright." Those are the famous last words of H. G. Wells. "Everything is gone - kingdom, body and soul." Those are the famous last words of king Henry VIII. "I am in the flames." Those are the famous last words of the atheist David Hume, a died a death with terrible despair and fear. People have a fascination with the last words of important people. When they're on their death bed, notebooks and pens are ready to record their last pearls of wisdom, their last contribution to mankind, their last words.
It's been said that the second letter to Timothy are the famous last words of Paul. In a certain sense, that's not really accurate, because when he wrote this letter, Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit - these are the words of God Himself. And yet, in inspiring Paul to write these words, God also used the situation that Paul was in. And in that sense, these are indeed the famous last words of the apostle Paul. He was about to die. There he was, in a prison in Rome. Convicted as a believer in Christ. About to suffer death for the sake of Christ. Death was certain. The end had come. And Paul knew that - he writes at the end of this letter: "For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (4:6-7). The race is over. Paul sees the finishing line, right there ahead of him, the running is practically over.
But before Paul finishes the race, he looks back over his shoulder, as it were. And there, in the distance, running behind him, he sees Timothy. Timothy, the young man, the minister of the word who was working for the sake of the gospel in Ephesus. But before he finishes the race, before he dies, Paul has some last words to say to Timothy. Paul wants to give a final charge to Timothy. These last words of Paul, this final charge and encouragement to Timothy - that's the letter of 2 Timothy. These are the last words of an experienced runner, words to encourage those who are still running the race. Some tips from the pro. Listen up, this is important. Here are urgent instructions for us, in running the race.
And what Paul is especially concerned about, as he nears the end of the race, is what will happen to the gospel of Jesus Christ. He's concerned especially with doctrine, the pure doctrine that he had taught Timothy, that he'd passed on to the church. For this doctrine had been given to Paul by God Himself. Already in his first letter to Timothy, Paul had written about "sound doctrine, in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted." (1:11). This sound doctrine, the gospel of Christ, it had been entrusted into Paul's care by God Himself. Like a precious jewel, Paul had been given it. To cherish. To protect. To pass on.
What had been entrusted to him, Paul had passed on. For example, concerning the doctrine about the Lord's Supper, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:23 "For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you." See, this doctrine & teaching about the Lord's Supper, Paul had received from God Himself - it was entrusted to him. And then Paul passed it on to the saints, he delivered it to the church, he taught the congregation about it. So also with Timothy. This precious jewel of the gospel, the pure doctrine of the Word, Paul had passed on especially to Timothy. And that doctrine was valuable, already in his first letter to Timothy, Paul had urged him: "O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you." (6:20) And he'd warned him there about false doctrine, false knowledge.
But now in his second letter to Timothy, the pure doctrine is even more central. It's really the focus of the letter here. Paul was going to die. But now what was going to happen to that pure doctrine? It had been entrusted by God to His servant Paul, and Paul had entrusted it to Timothy, but when Paul was no longer around - what would happen to that precious jewel?
That's really what Paul calls it in our text, he calls this pure doctrine which Timothy had heard from Paul: "a pattern of sound words". Paul not only calls the pure doctrine a "pattern of sound words" but he also calls it "a good deposit entrusted to you." Actually, in our translation verse 14 speaks about guarding "the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit." The way it reads seems to say that the Holy Spirit entrusted to Timothy the truth. Actually, however, the phrase "by the Holy Spirit" goes with the word "Guard". "Guard, by means of the Holy Spirit who dwells within you, guard the good deposit which was entrusted to you" is a more accurate translation of what Paul wrote here. By means of the Holy Spirit who dwells within you, guard the good deposit which was entrusted to you.
So Paul is calling the pure doctrine a "good deposit which was entrusted to you." God had entrusted it to Paul. And Paul had entrusted it to Timothy. Here we're to think of someone going to the bank. There you go, and you take along with you something very precious. Family heirlooms, from generations gone by, a gold necklace with diamonds, and an antique watch, worth a great deal of money. Priceless. Irreplaceable. You then entrust these valuable heirlooms to the banker. They're put into his care, and he has to look after them.
And it's the same thing with the pure doctrine - this is a rich treasure! That's why Paul calls it "sound words" - for isn't the pure doctrine of salvation a rich treasure? The doctrine of total corruption & justification by faith alone - these are sound words which speak about the fact that I am totally corrupt, that God grants me forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation in Jesus Christ, by faith alone, out of mere grace. The doctrine of God's providence - these are sound words which speak about the fact that everything is in God's hands, nothing comes by chance, nothing can separate me from His love for me in Christ. Pure doctrine - it's a rich treasure! And this rich treasure, this invaluable wealth, God has entrusted to Paul. To Timothy. God is the owner. But now Timothy has to keep it safe. He has to look after it.
But look now. What's going to happen to this precious deposit that was entrusted to Paul? He's passed it on to Timothy. To the church. But now what's going to happen to it now that Paul will die? What's going to happen to the pure doctrine of the gospel? It's a pressing question, urgent on Paul's mind, and so he impresses Timothy: follow it, hold on to it, keep it safe, guard it. And it's a pressing question no less today. The pure doctrine of God's Word has been entrusted to the church. Jude 3 speaks about the doctrines of our Christian faith, which were "once for all delivered to the saints" - yes, the pure doctrine of God's Word has also been delivered to you, it's been entrusted to you, as congregation. But what's going to happen to it? What are you going to do with that precious jewel that's been placed in your care? Will we take good care of it? Make no mistake - it only takes one generation to apostatize. You could say that humanly speaking, we all live just one generation from total apostasy. In just one generation, if the church isn't faithful in passing on what has been delivered, entrusted to us, the pure doctrine of God's Word can be corrupted and vanish. That's all it takes. The jewel will become covered with dust, it will become buried and forgotten, and imitation, substitutes will take its place. That's exactly what happened in the time before the Reformation - the Roman church became saturated with all kinds of heresy and false teachings. That's what can happen if parents don't faithfully teach their children, if the older members don't faithfully instruct the younger ones, if the pure doctrine is not protected. No wonder Paul was concerned. And that's why he says to Timothy: Follow it. Guard it.
2. You're to hold fast to it.
This isn't the first time we read in Scripture about the importance of holding fast to the pure doctrine. It's something we find throughout Scripture. Let's just briefly examine what Scripture itself says about preserving the treasure, taking care of the good deposit, holding fast to pure doctrine. In Acts 2:42, we read that the early Christians "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship." Paul writes in Romans 16:17 "I appeal to you, brethren, to take note of those who create dissension and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ." We read earlier Paul's words in 1 Tim 4 "you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of faith and of the good doctrine you have followed." (v6) "Take heed to yourself and to your teaching." (v16). In chapter 6 we read "If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit, he knows nothing" (v3,4). In chapter 3 of Paul's second letter to Timothy he writes "Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed" (v14). To Titus Paul wrote: "Teach what befits sound doctrine." In 2 John 1:9,10 we read "Any one who …does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God; he who abides in the doctrine has both the Father and the Son. If any one comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into the house or give him any greeting; for he who greets him shares his wicked work." That's just a few texts. It's not an exhaustive list, but it's enough to make what God wants very clear to us: Pure doctrine is a must!
In fact, we could say that it is sin to believe false doctrine. Some people think that we'll be responsible for our acts, but not for our faith, not for what we believe - as long as we live a Christian life, and do it sincerely. But it's clear to us that that's not what God says! God holds us responsible not only for what our hands do, our mouth says, and our eyes look at - but also for what our heart believers. And if God teaches me in Scripture that I'm by nature totally corrupt and don't have a free will, or God teaches me in Scripture that infants must be baptized. And if I don't embrace this doctrine which God teaches me in His Word, then I sin in not receiving it. Errors in doctrine are as much a sin as errors in practice.
And that's why Paul encourages Timothy, that's why God encourages you today to hold on to the sound doctrine. You're to hold on to it, you're to guard it. Don’t be sloppy with what you do with that precious jewel entrusted to you. Imagine that you go back to that bank where you deposited those family heirlooms. The banker to whom you entrusted them brings them out, but when you get your great-grandmother's gold chain, then you notice that a couple of diamonds are gone! You stare in disbelief. And you look at that precious antique watch - you notice that it's been damaged! All scratches over it - they weren't there before! The glass is cracked! You would not be pleased! No of course - you'd be most upset at that banker! He was supposed to look after these valuables you'd entrusted to him.
And so, congregation, diligently guard what God has entrusted to you. Guard the treasure of pure doctrine. For make no mistake, there are many people around who would like to take off the shine, there are people who would like to steal a few of its diamonds, to break its glass. Paul also warns about a time ahead when the treasure of pure doctrine will be attacked: "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 likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth." (2Tim 4:3,4).
In fact, we see that throughout Scripture. Throughout history, Satan has been hard at work, trying to destroy the pure doctrine. For he knows that the pure doctrine is the treasure of the church! And already right at the beginning, there he was, opposing God's Word: "Did God really say…?" He keeps on asking that question. Throughout history, he offers us poisoned apples and says: this is the real thing. Take a bite. Tasty. Nourishing.
And throughout history, we see people bite into these poisoned apples, swallowing the false teaching and heresy. The pure doctrine of God's Word, - it's especially under attack - not from outside the church. But inside the church. People inside the church questioning it. That was true already in the early church - just think of all the letters that deal with false teachers and heresy!
And so don't be surprised when you see the treasure God has entrusted to you under attack also today. You've heard of the heresy of Arminius. That was an attack on the treasure entrusted by God to His church. The heresy of Arminius was dealt with at the Synod of Dort (1618-19), and was rejected as unScriptural. Now Arminianism hasn't disappeared. It's very popular today. Most evangelical churches outside of the Reformed camp hold to one form of Arminianism or another. Many of the best selling Christian books you find in the local bookstore teach this false doctrine. Many Christian fiction books, too, contain some of these poisoned apples, even some of the ones in our own church library - and it's important that you realize this. I'm encouraged when parents encourage their children to read Christian books, when they don't want them consuming the junk food and trashy novels of the world. But at the same time, you have to say to your children: Beware of the poisoned apples in here - you need to point it out to them, perhaps even underline sentences, paragraphs to make it clear to them.
Or have we ourselves forgotten what Arminianism is? Let's remind ourselves. Imagine you read the following in a book: "Now I understood why God does not reveal Himself in His fullness to us on an everyday basis. To do so would be to renege on His gift of our free will, and He is that perfect gentleman who holds Himself distant so that we are always assured the freedom to choose Him or not." You'll find that kind of thing in many Christian a fiction books, often not quite so obvious, you'll find it in books by Max Lucado, even the writings of James Dobson. Man has a free will. God offers his grace, and it is up to us to choose. And you know what, they say: man can choose for God, without God helping him! Man can make that choice all on his own, God would not take that free choice away from man, God would not force man to serve Him. And so you see, in this system of doctrine, salvation depends on us after all. God may try and try to save a man, but unless that man is willing to accept the efforts of God, God can do nothing.
See, what's attractive about that, is that we get some of the credit. And, to be honest, we kind of like that. It makes sense to us. We get to choose. But this doctrine is not pure. It takes God off the throne, it puts man's free will on the throne. It steals from God's glory, it steals from God's sovereignty. But beloved, this is not Scriptural, this is false doctrine. It's a poisoned apple. Scripture says in John 6:44 "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." As Reformed people, we agree that after the fall man still has a will, that enables him to choose. But - we quickly add - Scripture teaches us that man's will is no longer free - Scripture teaches that man is dead in sin. He can't choose good on his own. And so God is not a perfect gentleman who holds Himself distant. No, rather, be comforted by the Scriptural doctrine that God is a God who comes near, and despite the fact that you and I are dead in sin, He comes with His Spirit, and He can soften the hardest of hearts, He turns what is dead into the living.
It's against such false doctrine that God warns us here in our text. Hold fast to the sound words. Guard the good deposit entrusted to you. Don't let it be damaged, don't let anyone take anything away from the pure doctrine. And that's why we have confessions and creeds. We use them to guard the truth. Yes, but don’t we need God's Word, not those human documents! No creed but the Bible. But hang on a moment. Doesn't every heretic claim to believe the truth of the Bible? Arius said that too, so did Pelagius, so did the church of Rome and the Arminians today. They all say: We go by the Bible. And so we've got a problem. What now is the pure doctrine? Which Christ has entrusted to us, what does He wants us to guard? And so we go further. We sit down, and we say: This is what the Bible teaches. And not that - this is heresy. We write it in a summary. And we examine it carefully, and when as church we agree on it, then it becomes our confession. And we have several confessions, Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, Canons of Dort.
Now are we adding to the Bible here? When you profess your faith, and you subscribe to those confessions, are you being bound beyond what the Bible teaches? No, not at all. We have these confessions not to add to Scripture, but precisely to preserve the message of the Bible, to guard the pure doctrine that God has entrusted to us. There's nothing new in those confessions. When people say to you: "Yes, but I go only by the Bible", then you can say: "Yes! Exactly! That's why we have confessions - because I go only by the Bible! And when the truth of the Bible is attacked, we summarized, wrote down what the Bible teaches, to honour what the Bible teaches, to defend it over against heresy. We wrote down an extensive description of the family heirloom - this is what it looks like. That description isn't intended to replace the heirloom! No, of course not - it's there so that we can protect it and preserve it - and that's what God commands us to do right here."
Catechism preaching for another year - a waste of time? Pure doctrine - does it really matter? Beloved, consider what God Himself instructs us about the importance of pure doctrine. Then you and I will not be careless about what we believe. We will diligently learn the doctrines of the Christian faith entrusted to us in the Word of God. We will want to study them and understand them. We'll want to teach our children about them. This is what God has entrusted to us - and it's a precious jewel! We want to protect it, we want to care for it. Nothing must be added to it, nothing must be changed from it - it has to be preserved intact.
Am I overawed by this responsibility? Yes I am. This is a tremendous task. Yet here's the beauty, beloved. God Himself will help you preserve His truth. For you can't do it alone. Even when God entrusts His precious jewel into your hands, He does not take His hands off it. He will preserve it by His Spirit. Ultimately, God Himself will care for His treasure. By the power of His Spirit, dwelling within us, He preserves His truth. We may fear apostasy in the church, we may fear the watering down of the pure doctrine as the tap of Arminianism is opened wide in evangelical circles, but don't be afraid. God will never abandon His gospel, because it's His, and He'll preserve it. But even so, He entrusts that pure doctrine to you. That treasure, that treasure which speaks about salvation in Christ, a free gift, that treasure which gives Him all the glory. And so defend it. Guard it. The pure doctrine has been entrusted to you. Hold on to it. Pure doctrine is important. Faithful in doctrine. Faithful in life. I must be faithful in both.