Guarding Gospel Treasure
When you prepare to leave your house what do you do? I suspect a lot of us have a routine. A routine we probably follow without thinking about. If it's dark, you draw the curtains. Maybe leave a light on so it looks like someone is in your house. Punch in the alarm code if you have one. Lock the door. Pull down the handle to make sure you've definitely locked it. Sometimes we get half way down the street, and go back to make sure! Why do we go through this little routine two or three times a day? Because our homes are valuable. They contain all the things we own. They are where our families live. We spend money renting and buying them.
But if you're a follower of Jesus, you actually own something more valuable than your house. You've been entrusted with something priceless. It's not something you can flog on E-bay. God has entrusted you with the gospel, the good news of how people can be reconciled to God. And because it's priceless your job is to guard it.
This is what Paul is writing to Timothy about. Paul is in Rome, in prison awaiting his trial. So he writes to Timothy, his apprentice, asking him to visit, but also to encourage him in his gospel ministry. Timothy has been given this precious gospel, but it is under attack by false teachers. Remember too that this letter is not just for Timothy, but also the church. So it's not just Timothy or pastors' jobs to defend the gospel, although they lead that defence. It's a job for all of God's people. We'll see tonight that God's people guard the gospel with the help of the Spirit. How do we do that? We're going to see two ways we defend the gospel, and one result of it.
My first point is this: Keep the gospel. Look with me at verse 13:
"What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus."
Timothy is to simply keep the pattern of sound teaching he heard from Paul. Paul's teaching is to be Timothy's model or standard. It didn't mean Timothy had to sound the same as Paul, but the components of his gospel message must be the same. Simply put, Timothy has no authority to change the gospel message.
When I was a teacher I had a computer on my desk. It wasn't my own. It was the school's. Whenever I tried to change the settings or download a programme a message like this would come up: "You are not authorised to make any changes!" It was frustrating at times. But because it wasn't my computer I had no real authority to change it. That lay in the powerful hands of the Principal and the I.T. department. In a similar way, Timothy had no authority to change the gospel. It had been passed down from the Apostles. It had been given to them by God.
What does this mean? It means we have no authority to change the model of the gospel we've been given. We can't! It's simply not ours to change. There's a lot of pressure to re-label what sin is, be silent on judgment, or to change what living with Jesus as Lord means. What the Bible says doesn't always fit with what society says. But Paul's teaching takes the pressure off us. It's simply not our message to change!
So the apostolic gospel is to be our model in Sunday School, in our home groups and in our services. Let me encourage you to keep your bibles open as you receive teaching at HTG – keep checking what we're teaching fits what is in the bible! Please pray for us teaching that we'd keep the gospel. Notice too that Paul describes his teaching as "sound." The word "sound" means healthy. Paul's gospel is healthy, it's good for those who hear it. So if we change the gospel, the message is no longer healthy. It's not good for those who hear it. I have a friend who is a great singer. He's been in choirs all of his life. When he was young he had to go to a church service almost everyday. Unfortunately the teaching wasn't healthy. So, even though he's probably been to more services than I have, he currently doesn't believe in Jesus. Wherever you go in the future, make sure you're getting healthy gospel teaching. Make sure the podcasts you listen to are healthy, because some of them aren't. Make sure the books you read healthy, because some aren't.
Notice too that Paul says to Timothy, he is to keep this pattern of sound teaching, "with faith and love in Jesus." Paul tells Timothy it's not only important what he teaches, it's important how he teaches. The teacher's attitude matters. It needs to be full of faith and love in Jesus. In 2 Timothy 2:24, Paul says:
"And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct."
Yes, tell the gospel. But don't be resentful. Be kind and gentle to those who disagree with you.
So we defend the gospel by keeping the gospel. In the next verse Paul tells us to guard the gospel, and that's my second point: Guard the gospel. Look with me at verse 14:
"Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you--guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us."
Paul's called the gospel "sound teaching", now he's calling it a good deposit. It's so valuable it must be guarded. As Jesus says the "kingdom of God is like treasure". How do we do that? Firstly, we've got to value the gospel. We've got to see how wonderfully beautiful the treasure of the gospel is. Only then will we want to guard it.
Think of it a bit like this. On the Antiques Roadshow people bring antiques from their homes to be valued. Usually they're just ordinary people who want to know a bit more about the old hat they've got in their homes. Last year Jamie McCleod bought a picture in an antiques shop for £400. Mainly because he liked the picture frame. It hung in his hall way. In fact once it was knocked off and it destroyed his CD player which was underneath. He brought it on the Antiques Roadshow where the experts told him he'd accidentally bought a Van Dyck painting that was worth £400,000! Jamie liked the painting but he didn't realise it was really worth so much more. Sometimes we can be like that with the gospel. We like it. But we get so familiar with it we forget how beautiful it is. Just look at how Paul describes the gospel in verse 9:
"This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel."
The gospel is grace – it's totally undeserved. The gospel saves us from sin and death. In fact Jesus utterly smashes death. When we trust him we have eternal life. The gospel is priceless treasure.
Now I suspect when Jamie McLeod got home he gave his Van Dyck pride of place in his living room. I bet he looked at it from all angles. I bet he bought a book on Van Dyck so he could appreciate his painting all the more. I bet he enjoyed his painting. In the same way, let me encourage you to value the gospel. Give it pride of place in your life. Appreciate it from all angles. Get to know Jesus better. Enjoy the one who smashed your death and gives you life. Why? Because only then will you want to guard it.
Another way to guard the gospel is to tell it. Tell it to yourself when you've messed up with that sin you struggle with. When you feel like God wouldn't touch you with a barge pole. Remind yourself, as Paul did to Timothy, that "God, [who] has saved us and called us to a holy life--not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace." (2 Timothy chapter 1 verse 9) Chat about the gospel with your friends and family after the morning service has finished over lunch. Tell the gospel to your friends at work or at school. When you get into the habit of telling the gospel you'll be able to see counterfeit gospels a mile off.
A few years ago a man went on the Antiques Roadshow – don't worry this is my last Roadshow illustration – with what in his eyes was a rare glass bottle that he'd purchased for £1000. He took it to the glassware expert who looked it over and said, "I'm afraid it's an empty olive oil bottle, Tesco circa 2008. It's worth nothing at all." The BBC decided not to broadcast it because they felt it was too cruel! The point is if you're know what you're looking for, you can spot a fake a mile off!
So tell the gospel. Get to know it. Because just like in Timothy's day, there are counterfeit gospels about. People want to corrupt the gospel. They want to steal the treasure you have been entrusted with. So when you hear someone say the gospel is all about improving society, or it's all about being prosperous, or it's all about following rules to earn God's favour, you can say, "Hang on a second. That's a Tesco Olive Oil bottle gospel. It's worthless. Let me tell you how wonderful the real gospel is."
You might be thinking, "It's a lot of responsibility guarding the gospel." And you'd be right, we're guarding something priceless. But Paul reassures Timothy and his readers. Paul says don't panic. Why? Look at the back end of verse 14:
"guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us."
We're not guarding the gospel alone. The church is to guard the gospel, along with the Holy Spirit. So what does that look like in practice?
The Spirit enables us to see the beauty of the gospel. The Spirit enables you to put your faith in the gospel from the first day you follow Jesus, and everyday after that. The Spirit empowers you to understand the gospel as you read your Bible on a Monday morning over your cornflakes. The Spirit moves you to pray for for your preachers. The Spirit helps you tell the gospel at Sunday School. The Spirit enables you to gently correct someone with the wrong gospel. They may all seem like bog standard activities, but they're some of the ways we experience the Spirit at work in us guarding the gospel.
The Holy Spirit is on the church's side. God himself is the ultimate guarantor of the gospel. As tough as things get, God will not allow the light of the gospel to be snuffed out. But we've got to hold that in tension with the command to guard the gospel. It's our job to guard the gospel. But we can be confident that the Holy Spirit enables us to do this.
So the church is to keep and guard the gospel because it's true and priceless. When we grasp that we will be unashamed of the gospel; we'll even be willing to suffer for it. Guarding anything comes at a cost; there's always a risk of attacked.
If you go down to 10 Downing Street or Buckingham Palace you'll see the police wear flak jackets – because guarding is dangerous. But we guard what is important. So if we see the value of the gospel we're entrusted with, the result is we'll guard it, we'll unashamed of it. So the result of guarding the gospel is we'll be unashamed of it. And that's my final point: Unashamed of the gospel. Let's look back at Paul's command in 2 Timothy 1v8:
"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."
Paul wants Timothy not to be ashamed of the gospel he's been proclaiming, nor Paul himself. Paul and the gospel are so tightly bound. Just as when we think of Ant, we think of Dec. Just as we think of Marks, we think of Spencer, so when with think Paul, we think gospel. So when the gospel is rejected, Paul is rejected too. In verses 15-18, Paul gives a negative and a positive example showing what it means to be unashamed of the gospel. Firstly we see an example of those who have rejected the gospel, and Paul, its messenger. Let's look at verse 15:
"You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes."
Now it's probably a bit of exaggeration for effect that everyone has deserted Paul because Timothy hasn't, neither has Onesiphorus who we'll come to soon. But Paul's point is a lot of people have turned their back on him. It's likely that Phygelus and Hermogenes were ringleaders, possibly deserting Paul at his arrest. Perhaps they fell for a fake gospel? Perhaps what the world offered seemed more beautiful than the gospel? Perhaps the cost of following Jesus was too much after Paul's arrest. We don't fully know. But they deserted Paul and his gospel.
Now look at the postive example of being unashamed of the gospel in verse 16:
"May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. 18 May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus."
Onesiphorus was not ashamed of Paul or his gospel. It seems Onesiphorus left his household to support Paul in Rome. In a time when following Jesus was dangerous, Onesiphorus searched all over the greatest city in the world until he found Paul so he could refresh him. It seems that unlike those who deserted Paul, he saw the truth and beauty of the gospel. Onesiphorus thought the cost of following Jesus was worth it.
Paul knows Onesiphorus' service to the gospel was worth it, even if it came at great cost. Paul prays, "May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day!" We don't know much about these events. We can't read into it too much. But Onesiphorus was not ashamed of the gospel. Because of that Jesus will not be ashamed of him when he returns. Because of the gospel he will be shown mercy. He will enjoy eternal life.
In Mark chapter 8 verse 38, Jesus says:
"If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."
Onsesiphiorus wasn't ashamed of Jesus' words. He was willing to help Paul and the gospel out even at great cost. Jesus and Paul both say he made the right decision. But we too have to decide our response to the gospel.
You see how we respond to the gospel divides us. We either see it as treasure worth guarding, even at a cost. Or we see it as worthless, maybe politely, but nonetheless something not worth suffering for. We are ashamed of the gospel or unashamed. That's not to say followers of Jesus never mess up, but it is to say the gospel demands a response. There is no middle ground.
If you know you haven't put your trust in the gospel yet, let me say it's totally worth following Jesus – even when it costs. Only Jesus can save you from sin, smash death and give you eternal life for free. The gospel is priceless treasure. If you are following Jesus tonight, let me encourage you to look at the beauty of the gospel treasure entrusted to you. Guard it with the help of the Spirit. As you grasp its worth, you will not be ashamed of Jesus.
God's people guard the gospel with the help of the Spirit. Let us keep the gospel, guard the gospel and be unashamed of the gospel.