What is “Humble Orthodoxy”? We know that it comprises of humility and right thinking. But what else? This passage in 2 Tim is helpful for us. 2 Tim also tells us that it began all the way with Paul. In 2 Tim, Paul the good pastor is telling Tim to be a good Christian, and telling all of us what it means to be gospel-centered.
For us to understand it better, we need to understand the context of this passage. We see a picture of young Timothy and Paul’s father-son relationship, where Timothy is clearly someone Paul really poured his life into. Paul’s message to Timmy in his introduction reads like an insider conversation, where Paul sets forth certain priorities and more. 2 Tim 1:6 tells us that Paul knows something special about Timothy - he has a gift of being a pastor added on to his sincere faith. They share a similar calling, and Paul is speaking as a older pastor to a younger pastor. Here, he calls Timothy to listen, for He is suffering for this gospel, and Timothy has been given that same charge. In our passage, Paul tells Timothy what he must do for he cares and knows about him.
But this is not just a personal letter from Paul to Timothy. God has included it in the Bible, and this is also for us too! Read on to see how Paul speaks to you as well today.
(A) Humble orthodoxy means standing on the truth (2 Tim 1:13-2:2)
Paul’s begins with a twofold instruction (2 Tim 1:13-14) which calls Timothy to follow and guard. Specifically, Timothy is to follow a pattern of sound words, and guard the good deposit that was given to him. These are all metaphorical ways of saying, “Do something!”, which might seem confusing sometimes. What exactly is Paul saying here? Think about this as we explore the next few verses.
Paul goes on to speak of a specific situation (2 Tim 1:15-18). He says, “we were a church, we were a community, and we knew each other. But everyone ditched me, and you know this!” By being explicit about this and even calling them by name, Paul sets a contrast for Timothy. It tells Timothy that in living in the way described in 2 Tim 1:13-14, Timothy will not be like Phygelus and Hermogenes, but like Onesiphorus - a co-labourer with Paul even when Paul was in chains. One might even argue that if you don’t do "follow the pattern of the sound words" and "guard the good deposit entrusted", you will end up ditching your ministry companions. Notice how Paul phrases things in such cut-throat black and white manner. We usually think that people are entitled to just have different emphases at their different life stages, but Paul’s message here suggests otherwise. Paul says, either you do what I said earlier, or it’s a matter of time before you fall away.
Paul adds two more instructions in 2 Tim 2:1-2 to the earlier instruction in 2 Tim 1:13-14. First, he calls Timothy to be strengthened by the grace in Christ Jesus. Second, he tells Timothy to entrust to men what he heard from Paul, so that those men would be able to entrust it to other faithful men who will be able to do likewise. To entrust means to take something of great intrinsic value and pass it on for one to guard.
Now we have four sets of instructions, and they still seem likely vague. What does it really look like for us, young adults in the 21st Century? Let’s think about them collectively. Paul tells Timothy to:
- Follow pattern of sound words
- Guard the good deposit
- Be strengthened by the grace in Christ Jesus
- Entrust it to other faithful men
The first two instructions are focused on the gospel - how we follow and guard its contents. What are we doing with the content of the gospel? Know that the gospel comprises of words and information. It also means that there is a right gospel. Paul is telling Timothy to follow the pattern in order to get the gospel right, for it is not that hard to get it wrong! What are you doing with those words? Are you preserving them in the logic that was given to you that made you a Christian? Or are you changing it? Paul calls us to the specific action of pattern preservation. But not only that, for we have to get the words themselves right!
To press it in, what are some ways we have gotten it wrong? Have you gotten the gospel wrong? Perhaps your heart is saying to you that there is another way of getting security, salvation, and a saviour. That might take the form of your work, your significant other, or your personal accolades. As we read these verses, we are reminded again that to keep the gospel central, we need to always look to Jesus the Saviour. He who did everything to give me everything I need must be everything I need.
Paul speaks of guarding the deposit. Remember that a deposit is not a full payment, it’s a guarantee of the fullness to come. This tells us that the Christian’s life on this side of heaven is marked by waiting - an expectation of what is to come that Rom 8:24 makes clearly. Paul reminds us that this deposit is of immense value - so guard it! Don’t leave it outside of the different facets of your life, keep it in!
Paul is not content with Timothy walking and guarding his own life. He also calls him to entrust it to other faithful men, to work on passing it to the next generation. This gospel is not just for our lives, but we are to think about others around us, and those that are to come after us! Some of us teach Sunday School to the children in our churches. This is a perfect way of applying this truth. How can you handle the gospel accurately and truthfully as you communicate it to the 5 year olds in your church? Don't underestimate the impact it could have on them when they group and become teenagers!
Simply put, Paul exhorts Timothy to get the gospel right, prepare himself to get it right, and prepare himself to get it right for the next generation and the next, and the next. Get the gospel right! Does the fact that Jesus died on the Cross excite you or fill you with wonder? If it does not, something in your heart has shifted, and you have forgotten what the gospel preaches. Getting the gospel right is orthodoxy! Orthodoxy might seem like a complicated idea, but it’s really just about getting the right thing right, and keeping it right.
But what we want to be is not just right, but humbly right - an idea we will get to later. We live in a world filled with people trying to do things, but those things lack conviction and truth. Friends, humble orthodoxy means making a stand. Not just doing things. Not just “progressing”. Not just being “forward thinking”. You have to know what you are progressing on, and what you are progressing for. You have to know your stand. If you think that this doesn’t apply to you because you are not a pastor, remember Onesiphorus, Phygelus, and Hermogenes. We are all called to be ministry companions, and the sad truth is that we have not done a good job of this in our churches. We have to do better.
(B) Humble orthodoxy requires thick skin and deep convictions (2 Tim 2:3-13)
Paul also writes realistically, for he knows that if Timothy does this, he will come up against immense difficulty - the simple truth that you will suffer for orthodoxy.
He uses 3 metaphor to flesh this situation out, and each metaphor has a point.
- The soldier does not get distracted. He wants to please his commanding officer, and he knows who to please (2 Tim 2:4). The nobility of the soldier is that he lives to please his commanding officer. Do you know who you need to please? Are you paying attention to His words? Is your heart aligned with His?
- An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules (2 Tim 2:5). This means that the athlete will receive his crown only if he completes the race. The athlete who focuses and knows what the game is will ultimately receive the reward. Do you know what the game is? Where the finish line is? What it looks like to be mature, and then die? Have you ever thought about what kind of life do you want to live just prior to your death?
- The hardworking farmer ought to have the first share of the crop (2 Tim 2:6). The application here is straightforward - just be hardworking at it! Paul is not telling us to be legalistic and earn our salvation, but he’s telling us to know what we need to be doing and just do it, knowing that there will be fruit for it!
Paul proceeds to give Timothy 3 motivational pushes. He first gives Timothy something to remember (2 Tim 2:8). Timothy was to remember that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and is the offspring of David. With that, he was to remember that the promises of God are true, calling to mind the thousands of years that the Israelites waited for their Saviour but having all that finally coming true. The long-expected Jesus was not only born - He crushed death! You may feel that your suffering is too much to bear, but God’s promises are true and He will sustain you and bring you to the end.
Paul also gives Timothy something to notice (2 Tim 2:9-10). Paul was bound, suffering, and put through immense tests of endurance but he still persevered. Here, Paul tells us that this is what we do, and this is who we are! We endure, live, and suffer for the gospel. Notice Paul's life! It’s not about how clever you are, how much you know, or how charismatic you are. Your ability to be a leader is your ability to say to someone “I am following Jesus with a clear conscience, so you now do the same."
Lastly, Paul shows Timothy something to believe (2 Tim 2:9b, 11-13). The word of God is not bound even though Paul is. The promises of God remain true even while we suffer in this present age, for God is faithful. Paul is motivating Timothy by saying “remember Jesus Christ, notice my life, and remember that God is faithful”.
This calls us to wield incredibly thick skin and deep convictions. The Church today is in desperate need of people who will say “this is what I believe because the Bible says so.” We don't shout or showboat how our way is better, but show it through our lives. Friends, if no one has ever said these words to you, then hear these words “you must live by nothing else except the truth that Jesus Christ came, died, and rose from the grave that you might be in Him.”
John Piper once said in a famous sermon, “You do not need to know a lot of things to make a difference in this world for the Lord. But you do need need to know a few things that are great, and be willing to live for them and die for them.”
Do you know what they are?
(C) Humble orthodoxy requires a humble love for people (2 Tim 2:14-18 c.f. 1 Cor 8:1-13)
But orthodoxy doesn’t just come on its own. It comes with an instruction to be shaped by it, for the message will shape the messenger! The gospel of grace is designed to neutralise human boasting - if I am saved not by what I bring to the table, what right have I to look down on my brother? Therefore, my orthodoxy must make me humble!
Look at what Paul says. He switches gears in 2 Tim 2:14-16, and tells Timothy to remind them to be a "workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15). This is exactly like what he has been saying in his 4 instructions earlier. It is important to be this kind of Bible-person!
Paul also charges them not to "quarrel about words which does no good but ruins the hearers" (2 Tim 2:14). How do we guard the pattern of sound words? We follow the pattern of sound words, and correct people gently. Paul specifically mentioned not quarrelling but to engage in gentle correction (c.f. 2 Tim 2:25). It cannot mean that you don’t engage with someone saying something contrary to the gospel. But it also cannot mean that you grow quarrelsome - following a certain kind of warlike debate that only leads downwards. So do not be that kind of a quarrelsome, prideful messenger!
Paul also warns them to avoid irreverent babble which leads to ungodliness and gangrenous talk (2 Tim 2:16). Irreverent babble isn’t just being rude. It means that the way you are discussing this issue no longer focuses on God. It is mere babble that displaces God from the picture. Avoid that! That’s gangrene! That’s a disease! If in your arguments you are not considering God and His pleasure, you are diseased!
Friends, it is very possible to be orthodox and not humble. We have to strive to be a workman approved by God, engage in reverent conversations, and avoid quarrels at all costs! Are you someone who gets roped up in quarrels. If you are, pause and pray that you would honour Him, honour the Word, and honour each other.
So what is it that Paul desires to give Timothy? What is the picture that Paul is describing here? He calls Timothy to stand on the truth, be incredibly deep skinned, wield deep convictions, but also love people humbly. In one sense there’s only one such person. One person who was truly humble. Jesus! Be like Him!
And we will often fail, but that’s why we need the gospel. We don’t have to ask ourselves too many questions. Just one -- "How do you live your life today? Just today. "
Will you pray this in response today?
"Jesus, help me to love your truth. To be deeply convicted about them. Help me to be like you. I don’t want to be more like me, I want to be more like the gospel. Help us live lives that smell of orthodoxy and humility, to the glory of Your name"