What is the gospel? In 2 Timothy 1:8ff Paul begins with the call to live a life set apart, to walk in the ways of God. This has always been God’s intent for us. It is a plan of grace: God’s basic orientation towards us is one of love, favour, blessing, rescue, healing. All of this has taken shape, been evidenced and accomplished in the life and person of Jesus, the one who broke the power of death and showed the way to life.
There are many summaries of the gospel, and Paul gives two in 2 Timothy. This variety of gospel expressions helps us remember that the gospel is something that shapes our lives, a transforming drama that we find our lives caught up in. A person who is changed by the gospel becomes part of it — as if you were watching a movie and then were suddenly inside it.
And that’s how the gospel is passed on: as your life is shaped by Jesus, it rubs off in the lives of others. It is the message of life, transmitted from life to life. When you share the work of God, you share not just an understanding but a current, evolving, lived experience.
It is worth anything to bring that life to others. But here we find the message of life getting jammed by opponents of Paul and Timothy. There’s a great deal of debate and hot air, but perhaps these arguments themselves are not so much the problem — Paul is concerned that it detracts from a Godward life.
‘False teaching’ here is not only untrue but also fruitless. It results in toxic behaviour which cripples and destroys people, and Paul likens it to cancer or gangrene. It is a stark contrast to the life-giving way of the gospel which always creates flourishing in the lives of those around us.
What’s to be done? Paul warns Timothy against his own desire to fight back. That’s what ‘youthful lusts’ is about: anger and impatience. Trying to compel others to agree with you will only distract you from the patient witness to truth. Let God be the one to change someone’s heart, says Paul; your job is to give voice to the truth in your speech and conduct. ‘Righteous living’ is inseparable from ‘gentle instruction’.
This is also a call for us in university ministry — a ministry that is not always understood or appreciated by local church leaders. We need to patiently demonstrate how university ministry is a vital gospel work, not just with clear words but with the gentleness to promote its reputation.
Paul calls Timothy to rise above the to and fro of words and argument, calling him to live a gospel life. Focus on your ministry, your way of life, your character: righteous living, faith, love, being firm, patient and gentle. Let your life demonstrate that your way is indeed the way of life. We could almost say that how you live is more important than what you believe. Following Jesus is about dying with Jesus, enduring hardship with Jesus, in order to live and reign with Jesus.
Holiness is of utmost importance here. It is not something between you and God because it directly affects your ministry. To be a gospel mentor, your own life must be a faithful model. There is no room for hypocrisy; make sure that your words match your actions. Pay attention first to your own way of life, because your ability to pass on the gospel depends on the integrity of your example.
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.