One day you and I and everyone else who reads this post will be the occasion for black suit coats to be donned, dark blouses to be worn, flowers to be stacked. Regardless of long it will be, one day you and I will die. A friendly pastor will preach the gospel to a host of our friends, relatives, and unbelieving coworkers. Nice bulletins will be printed and given to everyone in attendance, giving a brief overview of our lives. There will be the slideshow filled with pictures that will make people smile backed by music which we enjoyed but now causes smiles because of its quaintness. A relative—sister? son?—will share a funny anecdote or two. Maybe about how you gave up the promotion and the wealth because you knew it was right to be there for your kids, to raise them in the Lord. Or maybe you and I will die young. And there won’t be any children to raise in Lord. Instead tears will accompany a sermon about the potential we had and the tragedy of losing so bright a young person. No man knows the length of his days. But every funeral is an answer to a very serious charge: “Guard the good deposit that has been entrusted to you.”
Paul said this to Timothy right before his own execution. Guard the good deposit entrusted to you. And now, through two millennia of faithful believers guarding the gospel that has been entrusted to them, Paul is standing before you and me issuing the same command. The gospel and years of wisdom regarding Christian living has been entrusted to you and me. We’re momentary players. Someday we’ll die. What then for the gospel?
This summer I’ve been reading through Jerry Bridges’ classic book, The Pursuit of Holiness. Emblazoned on the back cover in large, striking letters is the statement “Holiness: The Christian’s joint venture with God.” That phrase caused me to search the Scriptures in a new way. And I found that the Christian life is full of active verbs. Church in Ephesus, build one another up in love. You build one another up. Christians, go unto all the world and preach the Gospel. You go and preach the Gospel. Timothy, guard the gospel. You guard the gospel. Not “exist and let the Spirit guard the Gospel.” You guard the Gospel. The Lord is not looking for empty shells to indwell. The Holy Spirit is not a hermit crab. Rather He does something more wonderful; He transforms us—giving us both the desire and the ability to do good works. We hold the gospel in our hands, as He holds our hands. And yet the command to guard the gospel is given to us.
Guarding means giving. We’re entrusted with the gospel message. But before us it was entrusted to someone else. And before them, someone else. We’re sentries who are called to guard the gospel not just for our time, but until the Lord returns. Usually sentries are concerned only with protecting the object until they’re relieved. They’re unconcerned about the future or even what the object it is they guard with their lives. We’re different. We’re guarding the message of salvation. Of the God come down from heaven to earth intent upon dying on a cross to provide a way of salvation to wretched men who deserve hell. The sentries at the foot of the cross made sure Jesus was dead. We guard the gospel so that His death isn’t in vain.
The Middle Ages is a graveyard of the Christian faith. Those who were supposed to be spreading the good news of Jesus Christ hoarded it like a squirrel afraid of the winter, terrified that their holiness would be compromised by contamination with the world. There were few men raised up to be mighty in the Scriptures and the defense of the faith. And so Christianity almost died out.
Guarding means giving. A good sentry does not merely tell his successor that he must guard, but rather how to guard. Enemy bullets may target the sentry. Infiltrators must be apprehended. Exhaustion tugs the eyelids in the dead of night. A good sentry tells his disciple how to position himself within the bulwark never failing to shield himself from the hail of lead. A good sentry equips his disciple how to discern false doctrine from the real deal. A good sentry prepares his disciple to weather the exhaustion and discouragement which befall him in the darkest hours.
It took me about two weeks to order my thoughts enough to get past paragraphs 1 and 2. Discipleship is a passion in my life. And so that question was left hanging in my mind: What then for the gospel? Last night I learned that a church member’s college-age daughter was in a horrible traffic accident. Several youth and youth group leaders were on their way to a bible study when their van was hit by a Jeep. There was one fatality: the church’s youth pastor. His time at his sentry post was much shorter than he ever imagined.
“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12
I’m young. I’m inexperienced in ministry. I don’t have much wisdom to give. God doesn’t care about our age. His charge is for all His people. On a Roman hill our sin played the sentry, keeping Christ on the cross until it was finished. And now, by the renewing, transforming power of the Holy Spirit, you and I get to be sentries of the resurrection. Guard it. Give it.
It must confound Satan to no end to watch all his evil intentions turn into God’s purposes.