There is nothing quite like a good old fashion relay race. The concept is simple. One person runs a certain length as well as they can, then they pass the baton to the next runner on their team who takes it a little bit further. Then that person will hand it off to the next person. You get the picture. In Paul’s letter to his protégée Timothy he describes this passing of the baton as he writes awaiting his execution.
Paul knew his time was coming up and his section of the relay race was coming to an end. He had run his race well. He had carefully guarded the deposit of the Gospel. Now it was time for him to pass the responsibility of guarding the Gospel to the next generation. It was now Timothy’s turn to guard and protect the truth of the Gospel. He charges Timothy:
“By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:14)
Over the past 2000 years, the Gospel taught by the apostles has been passed from one generation to the next. As a younger pastor I feel the weight, the excitement, and the responsibility of carrying the baton of the Gospel. As the millennial generation (of whom I belong) begin to take leadership in our culture and in churches there is a changing of the guard that is beginning to take place. So as the next generations of Christians begin to bear the weight of responsibility, there are a few things we must remember.
1. Protect the Gospel from Distortion
The Gospel message of salvation by faith alone through grace alone will be attacked in every generation. This will be especially true of the next few decades as Christianity continues to be marginalized. The Christians of tomorrow will face the same challenges of Christians of yesterday. We will be tempted to distort, twist, or water down the Gospel to make it more culturally palatable to 21st century people. As the baton is passed to this new generation, the truthfulness of the Gospel must be preserved. We must continue to unapologetically defend the exclusivity of the Gospel and point people to Jesus alone for salvation. In a culture hostile to Christianity we will be tempted to take the easy way out and change all that might be controversial. We must resist that temptation and remain faithful to Jesus and His word.
2. Proclaim the Word of God
This next generation of Christians must continue to stand firm on the truthfulness of God’s word. However we must not only hold to key doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy, we also must keep God’s Word central in everything we do. We must stand firm on its truthfulness and proclaim it to others. As we evangelize and we disciple, we must do so with God’s Word. We must proclaim truth to all, even though they may not want to listen. At the very end of 2 Timothy, Paul gives him one final charge in how to guard the deposit entrusted to him. He writes:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 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 passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:1-4)
Those words remain just as true to us today as they did to Timothy in his day. The next generation must proclaim God’s word.
3. Pass the Gospel to the Next Generation
The Gospel can be lost within one generation. If one generation refuses to disciple the next generation the Gospel would be lost. This is why we each generation is given the baton of the Gospel and they are to pass it to the next generation. As a young man, it is hard for me to imagine a time where I am 50 or 60 years old. However as any 60-year-old would tell you, old age comes quicker than you realize. Our life is a vapor. We are here for one second and gone the next. As a result, we must continue to pass the generation on to the next generation. We must teach them, instruct them, and show them how to faithfully follow Jesus.
From Generation to Generation
Every generation of Christians must Protect the Gospel, Proclaim the Gospel, and Pass the Gospel on to the next generation. This cycle has continued for the past 2000 years and it will continue until Jesus returns at his second coming. Receiving the baton and then passing it on to others is a huge responsibility. However we have this hope as Paul did that “I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me” (2 Timothy 1:12). As we have the weight of responsibility we have this promise, that God will protect his truth. The Gospel will be preserved no matter what the obstacles or no matter how hostile the culture. The Church will survive across generations. Then on that day when Jesus returns, we will all stand in the assembly of saints spanning generation to generation and the relay race will be finished and we will celebrate with all of God’s people that the race has been finished and Christ has won.