Alfred Place Baptist Church

6:20-21 Guarding the faith

1 Timothy 6:20 & 21 “Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith. Grace be with you.”

Aberystwyth castle is over 700 years old. It is one of the less imposing castles of Wales. Cromwell’s soldiers did too good a job on its demolition 300 years ago. But it has a magnificent prospect, its walls are six feet thick, and one tower still stands around the entrance gate. There is a ditch in front of it across which a drawbridge would have been let down. That would have been taken up at night to protect the doorway, but if enemies had lowered it there were other defences. One can see the channels down which came the portcullises. A castle’s thick walls surround the central tower, the ‘keep.’ Here the governor of the castle lived and all that was valuable would have been stored there. Keeps were impressively strong. If there were a well, and a good supply of food, its residents could sit tight for a year while the invaders, far from home, had to forage in the surrounding countryside, survive the winters and avoid being picked off by guerrillas in the darkness. The keep was the place of safety.

In this text Paul is telling Timothy to guard and keep what had been entrusted to him. The apostle is referring to the essence of the gospel, and the heart of all that is distinctive in the Christian religion. It has been summarised like this: “We believe in the inspiration, inerrancy and authority of Scripture; in God as Creator, as one God yet three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; in Jesus Christ, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, one person yet both human and divine; in the fall of man into sin, and of salvation from sin by God through the atonement of his Son and by his Spirit; in death, the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the resurrection, the final judgment, in everlasting joy in heaven and everlasting misery in hell.” Such a summary of the Christian faith is by Bob Sheehan found in his booklet, “What is an Evangelical? Do we Understand?” which beliefs he listed as part of the Evangelical Library lecture in Bath in 1994.)

These Christian beliefs were coming under attack even in the apostle’s day. There were false teachers and Paul disdains their “godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge” (v.20). There were some people who once had shown an interest in the gospel but who had come under the influence of these men “and in so doing [they] have wandered from the faith” (v.21). That is the solemn note on which this letter actually ends. Yesterday’s blessings on the Ephesian church are a day late for today. “Timothy, we are under assault. Don’t presume on anything that has happened in the past to keep you in the present. ‘Guard what has been entrusted to your care'” (v.20).

Guard them! But them alone! The truths that have been entrusted to you in the Scriptures. Don’t run ahead of God, probing, inquiring, speculating where God has not revealed. There are certain areas concerning God’s ways which are, and forever must be, mysterious. “Timothy, learn to control your curiosity and don’t get dragged into unprofitable debates about ‘myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work’ (I Tim. 1:4).” But keep up with God. Don’t put on the so-called ‘contemporary’ mask and discard what God has said. Don’t neglect anything God has revealed. “Guard what has been entrusted to your care.”

It challenges every Christian with the duty of never letting go of what God has given us. We think of someone drawing up a will and appointing an executor to ensure that all the terms of the will are faithfully implemented. How important is that? Justice demands it. Or think of a trust being established with millions set aside to further certain specific aims of the benefactor. How important is it that those causes which he has left his fortune to support are actually being helped and not totally different causes? It is all important, and those who are appointed as trustees have to ensure that that end is being fulfilled. Or consider that contract which you have signed with a builder in which he has promised to build you a house of certain specifications for a certain price. How important is it that he keep to the terms of a contract? It is crucial. If such things are a matter of simple honesty in the world, how much more important it is to guard that which the living God has entrusted to our care!

Of course we are to do more than guard the divine revelation. We are to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. Then the Lord Jesus told us that we should be “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). So we are to declare what has been entrusted to our care. Also we are to teach one another and our children what God has given to us. The divine revelation is like fertiliser, it is most useful when it is spread abroad. There was an oft-quoted remark of Spurgeon’s made at the Annual Meetings of the British and Foreign Bible Society on May 5th, 1875. He was talking about a certain mentality that looked on Scripture as something one had to defend. He imagined a number of people hurrying together and discussing how best to defend a caged lion from a group of men who were armed with sticks and were intent upon attacking it. Spurgeon says, “Many suggestions are made and much advice is offered. This weapon is recommended, and the other. Pardon me if I offer a quiet suggestion. Open the door and let the lion out; he will take care of himself. Why, they are gone! He no sooner goes forth in his strength than his assailants flee. The way to meet infidelity is to spread the Bible. The answer to every objection against the Bible is the Bible” (“Speeches at Home and Abroad,” ‘The Bible,’ reprinted Pilgrim Publications, 1974 p.17). That is a famous statement, and we agree with it. We are not interested in setting up a National Society for the Protection of the Bible! Live the Bible. Learn the Bible. Love the Bible. Preach the Bible. That is our priority in the defence of Biblical truth. But we recognise also that we live in an age of high-velocity rifles and ruthless poachers so that there have to be game-wardens whose task is even to defend lions. Do not forget to guard the Bible’s truths from its attackers.

1. Why Must We Guard What has been Entrusted to Our Care?

i] The very men of the Bible itself do so. Think of the prophets. They are implementing the teaching of the five books of Moses. They are applying its truths to the people of God who are being charmed into Baal worship and are being seduced by the gods of the surrounding nations. The covenant people have broken their trust, and God raises up a Hosea and an Amos and an Isaiah to defend the truth and call the nation back to the old paths.

Consider the Lord Jesus himself. What was he doing in the Sermon on the Mount? He says, “You have heard this – it is all right to swear by these objects … it is all right to love your neighbours and hate your enemies … it is all right to insist on an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth … it is all right to have a divorce as long as you give your wife a certificate of divorce.” What was happening? They were turning away from what God had given to them. So Jesus speaks, “But I say unto you … I say unto you … I say unto you,” and he corrects them and he summons the people back to the truths he is guarding.

Consider the apostles of Christ. Peter at Pentecost guarded what David had written in the psalms, and what Joel had written in his prophecy. He would not let the people forget those truths. “This is that,” he said to them. This event is the fulfilment of that prophecy. He is applying the word of God to the events of crucifixion, and resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit which they had been witnessing.

Or take the epistles of the New Testament. Paul is guarding the historicity of Adam and the fall of man, the fact that woman was created after man and for him, that God is the Sovereign Potter and man is the clay, that God’s purpose had ever been to incorporate the Gentiles into the Covenant of Grace, and so on. He is guarding the great truths God had entrusted to the writers of the Old Testament. The writers of the Bible all guard what had been entrusted to their care.

ii] The men God has raised up through the history of the church have done so. At the beginning no one was admitted into the church without making a confession of faith: “Jesus is Lord.” Then the false teachers arose – just as Christ has warned, wolves in sheep’s clothing. The truth about the deity of Christ, or the truth about the Trinity, or the truth about the depravity of man, or the truth about the sufficiency of Scripture, or the truth about the basis of a free justification were stolen by the heretics. The church grew careless about guarding what God had entrusted to it, and some men saw this. They were holy men, courageous men. Their lives were moulded by the Bible. All of them were persecuted for what they taught, and many were martyred for guarding what was entrusted to their care. But they would never stop obeying what God said – “Guard what has been entrusted to you care.”

Those men gathered the church into great councils and assemblies and they produced statements of what they knew the Bible was teaching, like the Apostles’ Creed and the formula of Chalcedon, the 39 Articles and the 1689 London Confession of Faith. Those creeds are like diamonds mined from the Bible. As long as a diamond is in the dark womb of the earth is does not seem to be made for the light. You could easily fail to see its value, but once it is extracted and polished, how it sparkles. So too when a Christian takes up a verse from Scripture, polishes it in the right way, puts it in a certain setting and lets the light of the rest of the Bible shine upon it. Then it can become the most beautiful truth you have ever seen.

The creeds are like hymns. Their purpose is to glorify God. Doxology is too great for us to speak. It needs to be sung. In Psalm 116 the psalmist asks, “What shall I render unto the Lord?” Psalm 111 gives the answer, “I will praise the Lord with my whole heart in the assembly of the upright.” When we answer the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, with the words, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever,” there is something of extraordinary beauty about that sentence. In the year 451 the church was being attacked by error about the Person of Christ. False teachers were trying to rob Christ the God-man of his two-fold nature. So the leaders of the church met near Istanbul in Turkey in a place called Chalcedon and they came up with a magnificent, thoughtful summary of the two-fold nature of Christ, the heart of which stated that the divine and human natures were “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.” Over thirteen centuries later lived the most famous Welsh woman hymn-writer, Ann Griffiths. She has a hymn in which she has turned those words of the Chalcedon Confession into doxology. The hymn is ‘O am gael ffydd i edrych’ – ‘O to have faith to see Christ as he is,’ is its theme. She declares in the first verse that she wants to see this:-

‘Two natures in one Person,
Conjoined inseparably,
Distinct and not confounded,
In perfect unity.’
That is pure Chalcedonian theology, and it was the stuff of Ann Griffith’s meditation and her longing. Whether it was the ordinary Christian people of the fifth century with few of our educational advantages, or the 18th century Christians in Wales, a farmer’s daughter from Powys, they all expected to be taught the theology of the Bible, and learn it, and love God with all their hearts. What were they doing? They were guarding what had been entrusted to their care in worship.

The confessions and catechisms of earlier generations are our heritage, left to us by our fathers in which they tell “the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he has done” (Ps. 78:4). But the confessions are also a weapon by which we guard what has been entrusted to us against numerous enemies. Should I see across the road on a Friday night in Aberystwyth two half-drunk young men trying to fight one another egged on by their friends, I am tempted to think, “More fool them,” and not cross the road and intervene. But if I see someone I love being attacked I would hope to be there like a shot. The more we love them the more we will fight in their defence. Christians are called to “earnestly contend for the faith” (Jude 3). Don’t let the gospel suffer because you were silent. One reads of arrogant surgeons who walk about hospitals like dictators, whose butchery cripples the lives of scores of women, but who are such intimidating personalities that none dares to challenge their incompetence. So it has been with the modernists who dominate large denominations and cry to simple Bible believing men and women that they should stay out of church politics, that they do not understand theology, and that they are going to split the church if they challenge their religious butchery. So the glory is taken from Christ, and Christians fail to guard what has been entrusted to their care. The consequence of that is the churches become irrelevant and go into rapid decline. What denomination dominated by liberal ideas is growing anywhere in the world? Not a single one. God has taken his light from them.

2. How Must We Guard What has been Entrusted to Our Care?

Think of this letter and all that the apostle has been telling Timothy as to how he should behave each day – “hold on to faith and a good conscience … the overseer must be above reproach … temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle … set an example to for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity … watch your life and doctrine closely … pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” Here is this absolute obsession, that runs through the letter, with how Timothy lives his life.

We know that men can read a booklet on the doctrines of grace, and if God illuminates their minds as they read those pages, in an hour their total biblical understanding is changed and they have grasped that God is sovereign. A man once came on to me after reading my little booklet on “Reading the Bible” and he said to me that it had changed his life. I doubt it, but it had helped him. But you cannot pick up sanctification in an hour. Christlikeness is something to be pursued throughout the pilgrimage of our walk with the Lord to heaven. There is no secret to getting it other than what we find written in every chapter of the Bible, look to God in faith seeking his grace, and turn each day from your sins. Only such people can guard what has been entrusted to their care.

A man with a mere intellectual grasp of orthodoxy is useless in guarding Christianity. That is the faith which King Agrippa had. The apostle said to him, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.” (Acts 26:27). But the king, though he believed the Bible, had no interest in guarding its truths. He continued to serve himself and the desires of his heart and mind. He had the same faith that demons have: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder” (James 2:19). One who lives in the fellowship of demons cannot defend the truths of Christ. The grace of the doctrine is essential to guard the doctrines of grace. The living waters of the word may not be served in rusty cups.

Let us remember the lesson of church history, that there has not been a single great epoch in the history of the church characterised by mighty confessions of faith being formulated without the following years being marked by decline. That was true of the Protestant Reformation, the Puritan period and the years in Wales following the 1823 Confession. What happened? A number of things. Too little stress was placed on the implications of sound doctrine for the Christian life of holiness. The idea caught root that any kind of earnest spirituality could create godliness. So there was the unquestioned and unresisted rise of pietism and Finneyism and revivalism. These were reactions against the total satisfaction with orthodoxy which characterised too many of their grandfathers. Guarding the faith had been stressed to the practical exclusion of how we are daily to live, and so concerned Christians from this barren generation came away and started to meet in little groups and emphasise quietism, practising the presence of God and mysticism. Or there was a neglect of evangelism because simply guarding the faith was absolutised and the congregations shrank.

But there is another danger too, and that is present in our circles, and that is that guarding the gospel results in doctrinal complacency or static orthodoxy. What is that a picture of? A church resting on its oars, or a church retiring on its laurels. “We have the faith.” Yes. “It is stated wonderfully in our confessions.” Yes. “Now we have to protect it.” No. A church must never suppose it has exhausted the Word of God. The Lord Jesus said that out of that treasure we are to be bringing forth old things, to be sure, but also new (Matt. 13:52). The church must be conservative, that is, it must conserve all that is true, all that our fathers have bought by the insights and their very lives, but a church must also be progressive. The enemy will require it. There are new attacks from what the apostle calls here, “the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge” (v.21). They must be answered. There are new understandings and clarifications which God himself opens up from his word. I am thinking of John Murray’s contribution of the Bible’s teaching of definitive sanctification. Thank God for such insights. So, we are exhorting one another to abide in the Word, and we also have to build on that Word, and keep building. Failure to abide spells destruction. Failure to keep building results in petrifaction. To guard what has been entrusted to our care means more than being orthodox. It means being holy and creative.

How then are we to effectively guard what has been entrusted to us? We have cleared away how it is not to be done, but positively what are we to do to obey this exhortation? Three things:-

i] With our minds. The mark of the Christian is teachableness. He was not always like this. He once had a mind that was empty of the things of God. Maybe he was initially put off when he entered a church like ours to see behind the smiling deacons a book table, and he who only read a newspaper, thought, “If I become a Christian I will have to read! Impossible!” But what a change has taken place. He gradually become interested in the faith, and in the Bible, and then in reading it for himself, and then in books that would help him enter into the Bible. The Lord opens the understanding of the people he regenerates. That is why we are not embarrassed about a book table in the vestibule. Grace gives a believer a seriousness about growing in wisdom and knowledge, gaining a literal knowledge of the Old and New Testaments by reading it day by day. When one of the Pharaohs asked Ptolemy to teach him geometry by a short method, the sage is reported to have replied, “There is no royal road to learning.” There is no royal road to heaven. As Queen Elizabeth I lay dying the Archbishop of Canterbury, who questioned her concerning what the basis of her hope in life and death might be and was satisfied with all her answers, then reminded her that she might be the monarch of a realm in England but in the world to come she must bow before the King of kings, and that her plea could only be that the Son of God had loved her and given himself for her. Kings and commoners must apply themselves to Christ and to his word.

Think of the change in young people when they become Christians. Mary Jones walked miles barefoot to Bala to buy her own Bible, and she was one of thousands of teenagers in whom the new birth registered itself in a new frame of mind. A mighty work of God makes a nation literate. That is why there is so much more illiteracy in Wales today at the beginning of the 21st century than there was at the beginning of the 20th. The use of the mind is ultimately a religious matter. R.B.Kuiper would lament the decline of interest in doctrine in his Christian Reformed denomination. Talking of the beginning of the century he said, “At that time not only our ministers, but many of our elders as well, were wont to study the works of Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, and other Calvinistic theologians. I knew an elder who spoke of Bavinck’s ‘Philosophy of Revelation’ – which, by the way, is not light reading – as his favourite book.

“Many of our laity feasted on Kuyper’s practical works. In my early teens I read to my mother, not only ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, but also parts of a Brakel’s ‘The Christian’s Reasonable Service.’ Some of us can recall the days of the infra-supra controversy. My brothers and I, seated behind the base-burner in the living room of the Second Roseland parsonage, attended eagerly to many a ministerial debate on that theme. Almost every church member was interested. Today the mention of that issue elicits only quizzical smiles. It is becoming increasingly difficult to get our men out for an evening of Bible study” (R.B. Kuiper, “To Be or Not To Be Reformed”, Zondervan, 1959, p.44). We know what he is talking about. We think of the slate quarrymen of North Wales and their serious daily discussions in their cabins during their lunch-time breaks. What an educated serious group of men they were. Scarcely any in Europe were like them save for the crofters of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and the fishermen of Holland. Men like that would have pitied a civilisation of old men who lust after page 3 girls.

We are saying that in order to guard the faith you have to know the faith. We sing, “Take my intellect and use Every power as Thou wouldst choose.” Then let us be sure that our intellects are growing in grasping preaching, and reading books about the Bible and the history of the church. Go to the Christian Book Shop and select some. Borrow some from me or from the little church library. Take notes of the sermons and think about them afterwards. Ask other Christians for help. Write down verses that you find have been helpful to you. Especially there is one way of growing in the grace of guarding the faith, by getting involved in service – young people’ work on a beach mission or in a camp this summer – and then you will have to be growing. We have to guard the faith with our minds, by studying it and knowing it well, so that we are not defeated by ignorance.

ii] With our souls. Think of the writer of Psalm 119. How does he go about gaining a knowledge of the Bible? Prayerfully. “Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Ps. 119:18). I am like a blind man before something wonderful – a painting, some embroidery, or a piece of jewellery. I’ll never see why people are speaking in tones of such wonder about it until I get my sight. So it is with us, we need to address God with this problem that we are not being moved by the Scriptures. Maybe they no longer grip us as once they did. It is not a better preacher which is your paramount need. It is not more data about the Bible. It is the illumination of the Holy Spirit. “God give me light!”

Forty-six years ago in the early spring of 1954 I would walk along the road to church on a Sunday night and I would wonder whether that night God would speak to me in his word and change my relationship with him, and one evening in that year it simply happened. I had assurance that he was my God and Saviour, that my sins were dealt with on the cross. There was once a 30 year-old man in Scotland called Alexander Henderson who went in disguise to hear the minister Robert Bruce preaching. Henderson despised evangelical religion, and he did not want anyone in the congregation to recognise him, but he wanted to hear Bruce who had the reputation of being a famous orator. So he sat incognito in the congregation, but God knew he was there. Robert Bruce got up and announced the words of the Lord Jesus as his text, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.” Alexander was deeply convicted merely at hearing that portion of the word of God being read. “I shouldn’t be here,” he thought. “I am in a sphere to which I do not belong. I’m a burglar who has crept in. But I want to belong to these people. I don’t want to be a thief. I want to join them in the fold of Christ by the right way.” That was the beginning of salvation, seeing the truth of the Bible, convicted by it and understanding what it was saying to him. He then became the great champion of the Bible for thirty more years of his life.

Or think again of the great defender of the Christian faith, a Primitive Methodist minister called Hugh Bourne of the Potteries. He was a 27 year-old man and had been listening to preachers every Sunday, and he was also reading some wonderfully helpful books, such as Alleine’s “Alarm to the Unconverted”, so that he was very near to the kingdom of God. But then, somehow, he came across a kind of novel about a sea captain, Captain Barnaby and Old Booty, and the yarn excited him and dulled some of his spiritual concerns. He was working in a windmill near Werrington, and during the lunch break he talked to some of his workmates about this story, full of excitement about this man’s adventures. Then an impression came into his mind out of the blue: “It will not do to be following old Booty.” Then that refrain kept repeating itself with some force: “it will not do to go after old Booty. It will not do to go after old Booty.” Thus, sovereignly and mercifully, his interest was renewed in knowing God for himself and to pray in earnest, and one Sunday morning in his father’s house shortly after this incident he was reading some letters of John Fletcher of Madeley, and in one of those letters Fletcher quoted the promise of Jesus from John 14:21, “I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” That was the verse that spoke to him, and in those words the very experience which the Lord Jesus speaks of became his also; he knew the Lord as his own Saviour. He wrote these grand words, “The naughty was taken out of my heart, and the good put in … The Bible looked new; creation looked new, and I felt a love for all mankind.” If you are to become a defender of the faith then the naughty must be taken out of your soul and the good put in.” We have to guard the faith with our souls, by regular habits of Christian devotion – poured out prayers, persistent Bible reading, attentive church attendance.

iii] With our bodies. One of the strongest keeps for the faith is a pattern of good deeds. Paul tells the Romans that in the light of the grace they have received from God they should be presenting their bodies as living sacrifices to him. In other words, their hands and feet and tongues, their strength and energy should be spent in service. You know how we are built, that if we start acting badly the faith which we say we profess doesn’t seem real to us. We consider ourselves hypocrites. But as we stretch out our hands in kindness and care intelligently for others Jesus Christ seems to have truly manifest himself to us.

Think of an athlete and how he trains. There is a diet which he sticks to. He gets to bed the right time and he takes on the daily discipline of training. If he is the goal-kicker for a rugby team he will kick hundreds of balls from all over the ground between the posts every week. If he is a hurdler he will cross hundreds of hurdles just trying to shave them. Certain muscle groups will be worked in thousands of repetitions till they have mass and flexibility. Certain moves will be practised again and again until they become second nature, a dummy, a sidestep, a backhand.

Each time he trains he gets a little better, some careless habit dies a little and a disciplined new one begins to come to life. That is, each training session causes a tiny conversion. But it is only after many seasons of such training that a person can perform his skills by second nature. The mini-conversion repeated thousands of times add up to the change of one’s life. A worthy athlete becomes a disciplined athlete. That is the way a person becomes a defender of the faith.

“We have to be trained in godliness or holiness, till it becomes a second nature. Each time we pray; every time we resist a temptation, or bring a gift to a lonely person, or make ourselves think of the needs of others – each time we do these things our old self dies a little and our new self comes more to life. Add up all these mini-conversions across years of training and you have a spiritual athlete. A flabby and clumsy Christian becomes a trim and graceful one” (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., “A Sure Thing. What We Believe and Why”, Bible Way CRC Publications, Grand Rapids, 1986, p.187).

How crucial this is. When you first defended the faith you were unwise. You were hectoring, disrespectful to your parents, angry, a bit of a bully. You jumped in at the deep end. You thought you were smarter than you were. People tied you up in knots. You got embarrassed and you were an embarrassment. It happens to all of us. Don’t give up. Don’t mock what once you were. Don’t become cynical. Don’t do things but sullenly – “I suppose I have to go to Prayer Meeting tonight.” Don’t think that you are not gifted for defending the faith. Don’t think it is too hard or too boring. People will sneer at the God-squad.

You are simply out of shape. The best athletes go through bad patches. A soccer player will have a whole season when he seems to have lost it all, but he comes back. He keeps coming back. He keeps fit because without that he will never come back. It is trained people who have fun. It takes hard work to play well. Doing good with your mind and body, your arms and legs, your heart and soul is the very stuff of the Christian life. We are not saved by doing it. We are saved to do it. We are saved to guard what has been entrusted to the care of the church by the Lord Jesus, and we can never keep the faith unless we keep fit and work for people, just as the Lord Jesus did, seeing the dirty feet, and seeing the basin and seeing the towel, and noticing nobody wanted to do this work, and then doing it ourselves. That shows the reality of the faith in us, and we also have more confidence then to guard it by our words when we are keeping it by our lives.

3. What are the Consequences of Guarding What Has Been Entrusted to Our Care?

Grace will be with us (v.21). These are the final words of the apostle in this letter. What is grace? It is not ‘goodbye.’ It is not a farewell greeting. It is the omnipotence of God saving and keeping his people. It is Paul reminding Timothy again that he cannot survive without the unmerited power of God. As we keep away from error, and guard whatever things are true and lovely that have been entrusted to us then we will find the grace of God all sufficient. And how will that sustaining grace manifest itself in those who guard the faith?

i] The Peace and Unity of the Church. It is error and immorality that divides the church not evangelical Christians. King Ahab who married Jezebel and they introduced idolatry into Israel, and very few spoke out against it. The prophet Elijah was one and he preached against the worship of Baal, and God sent a drought on Israel because of its sin. But when King Ahab met Elijah what did he say to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?” (I Kings 18:17). That is always the response of the world. Evangelical Christians will speak again modernistic unbelief and the tolerance of immorality within a denomination. They are immediately dubbed trouble-makers. We reply as Elijah did, “I have not made trouble for Israel, but you … You have abandoned the Lord’s command and have followed the Baals” (I Kings 18:18). It was not Luther who caused the great separation from the unreformed Roman church it was the doctrines and practices of Rome. Those who guard what has been entrusted to the church bring peace and unity. It is error that splits churches.

ii] Evangelistic Success. Think of the great area which is kept safe surrounding a castle. Enemies will be afraid to march into that valley because the castle is a place of strength and refuge from which an army can emerge, and to which the people can flee for safety. So too with evangelism. There is a secure base – the local congregation – free from error and magnifying the truth. Those who evangelise have a fellowship to protect them, pray for them, a place of safety and a haven of peace to which to retire. In the world there is no love for Jesus Christ but the Christian has a community which refreshes, restores, revives and thus protects him. I cannot think of a church which has been blessed evangelistically which is not agreed as to what the gospel of grace is.

iii] Pastoral Encouragement and Wisdom. When a congregation is united in guarding all that God has said in his word what a wise congregation that is. There are timid members but they are always being reminded that salvation depends ultimately not upon their efforts but upon God’s grace towards them. This God is not like a chameleon whose moods change as ours do, but he says, “I the Lord change not” (Mal.3:6). Once this all-knowing God has sovereignly and lovingly determined to save a person he will not change when we fall into sin, as fall we do each day. He will give us the grace of repentance and pick us up that we keep going and keep going. What God begins, God finishes. “I am persuaded of this one thing: he who started a good work in you will complete it by the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil.1:6). Those who guard the biblical faith have real encouragement to offer their congregations. A merciful sovereign Shepherd to be our Saviour. Rely on the eternal unchanging love of God, and look to him.

Are the answer to our problems found in man’s reason or in the Word of God? Everyone in the congregation must answer that. Are you going to accept only what makes sense to you, or what God’s word says even when it sounds contradictory? The Bible teaches the foreordination of all things – the selling of Joseph into Egypt, and the crucifixion of Jesus. On the other hand the Bible clearly testifies that God hates sin, that he will not listen to the prayers of the unrepentant, and that he is Holy Holy Holy. These things seem two seemingly unreconcilable positions, yet the Christian guards them both because God has spoken them both. So often we end up with Paul’s exclamation of worship before so great a Lord – “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are his judgements and his ways past finding out” (Romans 11:33). The question is, do you believe such a God or not? If you do then guard all he has said.

11th June 2000 GEOFF THOMAS