“Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.”- II Timothy 1:13
Today we begin a series of four talks under the general heading of ‘Passing on the torch’.
It was at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin that the modern Olympic torch relay was first instituted. More than 3000 runners carried the Olympic flame from Olympia to Berlin, each runner being responsible for carrying the torch for a particular distance and then passing it on to the next runner. What a tragedy for a runner if the torch went out while it was within his responsibility! Each runner would be keen to ensure that the flame kept burning and was safely passed on to the next runner.
The idea in this series of talks is that each believer in every generation of Christians has had passed down to him or her the precious truth of God. It is each Christian’s responsibility then to hold on to that truth, to witness to that truth and to pass it on to the next generation.
We are going to base our talks on Paul’s writings to Timothy. Paul was not Timothy’s natural father but he did refer to Timothy as his spiritual son – see 1 Timothy chapter 1 verses 2 and 18 and 2 Timothy chapter 1 verse 2. Paul had a great Christian love for Timothy and valued his support. He held up Timothy as an example to other Christians, for example in 1 Corinthians chapter 16 and in Philippians chapter 2. Under God’s guidance, Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus to deal with matters of concern in the church there. It seems that Timothy was inclined to be rather timid and may not have been too strong physically. Paul wanted him to understand the truth, to teach it and to stand firmly for it. In effect, Paul, the older Christian man, was passing on the torch of truth to the younger man, Timothy, and was encouraging him in turn to pass it on to others at Ephesus.
All of the talks in this series are based on verses in Paul’s second epistle to Timothy. You may have noticed in your reading of the Bible that Paul’s second letter to a church or to an individual usually demonstrates a decline in spiritual circumstances from the time of the first letter. Paul’s first letter to Timothy had given teaching on sound doctrine, on godliness and on how those comprising a church ought to conduct themselves and Timothy was instructed to pass on that teaching to the church at Ephesus. Of course the teaching was also set out as instruction for us today. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, the emphasis is on how Timothy and every other individual believer should walk in a time when adherence to the truth of God had declined. The second letter is particularly touching because it is generally accepted that it is the last letter written by Paul and so we have his final recorded words to his son in the faith, Timothy.
So, as we turn to today’s verse, we consider it in the context of the challenge to each Christian to be willing to accept the torch of truth passed down to him or her, to hold it firmly in a time of general turning away from the truth of God as set out in His Word and to pass it on to others to hold in the future until the Lord returns. Paul wrote to Timothy: “The things that thou hast heard of me … the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
Today’s verse is 2 Timothy chapter 1 verse 13. While our particular theme for today is the first seven words in the verse, “Hold fast the form of sound words”, I would like to read and consider with you the whole of the verse, reading from the Authorised Version of the Bible, as I shall do throughout this talk: “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.”
I would like to divide this verse into four phrases and to think separately of each.
First of all, let us think about the phrase in this verse “the form of sound words.” Another way of expressing this could be “the pattern of wholesome words.” Now, there are some important messages in this phrase. When Paul referred to the form or pattern he meant that Timothy should have clearly in his mind an outline of the truth of Scripture, knowing that truth and not allowing himself to deviate from it. What is more, the phrase tells us that this outline of truth is based on actual words passed down to Timothy and to us. What and where are these words? Surely not just some vague reference to traditions passed down, the accuracy and reliability of which may be open to challenge. No, the words are right in front of us, the very words of Scripture which we can study knowing that the words are not just Paul’s or Peter’s or James’ words but are words divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit (see 2 Timothy 3:16). These are the words from which I and you are instructed to form the outline of truth to hold.
And Paul tells us that these words are sound or wholesome words, literally healthful words. 1 Timothy chapter 4 verse 6 tells us that a good servant of Jesus Christ is “nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine.” We all know the importance of nourishing food in giving healthy physical bodies. The words of Scripture generate healthy Christian lives. Dear listener, never be frightened to quote actual words of Scripture. Obviously at times we have to try to explain what those words mean but don’t let us water down the words even with the laudable objective of making them easier to understand. The truths behind some Bible words or phrases, for example, glory, grace, the only begotten Son, are just not capable of definition because the meaning is so deep. by all means let us try to explain them, but let the words and phrases themselves stand, to be increasingly, but never in this life fully, understood by believers as they meditate on them!
Secondly, the phrase “the form of sound words” is followed by “which you have heard of me.” In taking on and passing on the torch, what message do I take from this next phrase? I think that Paul is emphasising his authority as an apostle and is guarding against the danger in these times of spiritual decline that we take our teaching from any source other than the Word of God. Paul and every other apostle wrote with divinely-inspired authority and we must take their written words as being from God Himself. Please note that it is the words themselves which are inspired, not just the general thoughts.
There are no apostles of this sort now. Paul was in a unique position in that he was called by the Lord from heaven as recorded in Acts chapter 9. It was a requirement of all of the apostles that they should have seen the Lord (Acts 1:21,22; 1 Corinthians 9:1). The Bible does not teach that there are successors to those apostles. Evidently even in the early days of the church there were those who falsely claimed that they were apostles (see Revelation 2:2). That book of Revelation closes with a most solemn warning to anyone who adds to or takes away from the words written in Scripture. Please note again that that warning in verse 18 and 19 of chapter 22 refers to the actual written words of Scripture, the same idea as in today’s verse in 2 Timothy. The Holy Spirit wants to guard the very detail in the inspired words left on record for us and, in passing on the torch, He wants us to know and guard the actual words of Scripture.
There is a verse in the short epistle of Jude which is of great relevance to our subject today. It is Jude verse 3, part of which reads: “it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” The force of those last few words is that we should fight to defend the body of truth which was once for all passed on to believers. This reinforces what we have just been saying. The truth which we have in Scripture was delivered by the apostles as a complete statement never to be added to. Jude goes on in verse 4 to say why he needed to make this exhortation. There were certain men who had crept in to the churches and were spreading teachings which were not in accord with the truth of God. These were ungodly men who had perverted God’s grace into lawlessness and immorality and were denying the Lord Jesus Christ. Some Christians refer to this as a time of apostasy, that is a falling away from a professed position once taken. Jude urged believers to contend or fight to maintain allegiance to the body of truth set out in Scripture.