Passing on the Trust
“You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men.”- 2 Timothy 2:1–2
Second Timothy is Scripture for all Christians, but since it was originally written to a pastor, Paul’s teaching in this epistle is particularly applicable to church elders, pastors, teachers, and other leaders. All of us who confess the name of Jesus are called to be faithful to Him in the midst of suffering, yet the ways in which we are tempted to be unfaithful depend in some measure upon our vocation. Pastors and teachers, for example, because they regularly instruct people in the gospel, may be more prone than others to watering down the good news in order to make it more palatable to their audiences. Many churches encourage their pastors to dilute the Word of God, at least implicitly, in their drive to measure success by the number of people sitting in the pews.
Knowing these temptations, Paul counsels Timothy in today’s passage to “entrust to faithful men” what he has heard from the apostle (2 Tim. 2:1–2). Here Paul is equating his own words with the gospel itself, conveying that the teaching he has given to Timothy is nothing less than the very Word of the living God (see also 1 Thess. 2:13). Therefore, Timothy must pass it on unchanged to those who will in turn pass it on to others. Some would see Paul’s admonition here as proof of apostolic succession — that the true church is found where the bishop has been ordained by an earlier bishop who was ordained by an earlier bishop all the way back to one of the apostles. Yet this is not exactly what Paul is saying; rather, he is tying apostolic succession to the purity of the gospel. The true church is found where the gospel is preached faithfully, where leaders carefully guard the oracles of God, and where care is taken to make sure only qualified men preach the Word. Tertullian, an important church father from the second century, writes, “A warning is…given against receiving any other doctrine than that which Timothy had heard from Paul” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament vol. 9, p. 239; hereafter, ACCNT).
Again Paul explains that only the Lord’s grace can enable Timothy and other leaders to be faithful (2 Tim. 2:1). Grace not only initiates salvation, it is the arena in which the whole of the Christian life is lived (John 1:16).
The faithful men to whom Timothy was to entrust the gospel were those loyal to Christ and His apostles, committed to keeping their promises, and sound in their knowledge of the faith. Not all of us are called to be pastors, but all of us should become the kind of people Timothy was to look for. Men and women alike should strive for loyalty to Christ, trustworthy speech, and competence in biblical doctrine.
Passages for Further Study
1 Samuel 2:27–36
2 Corinthians 5:18