We’re already one month into 2020. Your new year’s resolutions might be a distant memory, or maybe you’re one of the few who is chugging along steadily towards your goals.
Whether or not you put plans in writing, I’m sure everyone has thought about what they hope to do this year—whether that’s to do with money, health, relationships, or ministry.
Here’s a resolution to start any time of year: Resolve to remember the gospel.
It sounds simple, but we can’t overstate how important this is. For the sake of your soul and your ministry, you must keep the gospel at the forefront in 2020.
Why do leaders need to remember the gospel?
The Bible gives us two letters written by Paul to Timothy, whom he left in charge of the church in Ephesus. The letters of 1 and 2 Timothy, along with Titus, are known as the pastoral epistles because they are addressed to individual church leaders and deal with matters central to overseeing a congregation.
We might expect these letters to be filled with strategies for church growth, advice on delegation and managing your schedule, and instruction on effective preaching. But instead, Paul urges Timothy more than anything else to hold fast to the truth of the gospel:
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1 Timothy 1:15)
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:5–6)
Timothy already knows the gospel. He has been taught since childhood about the promises of God in Scripture (2 Timothy 3:14–15), and he believes that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all those promises, his only hope for salvation. We all profess that.
So why it is so important that Timothy keeps reminding himself of this day by day?
1. False teaching is deceptive and deadly
Paul wrote 1 Timothy because false teachers were assailing the Ephesian church. He warns Timothy against falling for these lies and exhorts him that the gospel is the only message that can save. The true gospel alone brings changed lives of holiness.
Paul says he has been “entrusted” with the gospel (1:11) and tells Timothy to guard that which has likewise been given to him:
O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you. (6:20-21)
There are deadly consequences for forsaking the gospel in favour of human knowledge and wisdom. For the sake of his own soul, Timothy mustn’t be swayed by false teaching. This teaching, rather than leading us into godliness, bears the fruit of “envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and contract friction among people” (6:4–5). Our doctrine and life and inextricably linked, and Timothy needs to keep a close guard on both (4:16).
But since Timothy is a teacher in the church, he must also guard himself for the sake of his flock. False teaching nowadays often comes from secular perspectives, or supposedly Christian books or podcasts that teach heresy. Church leaders need to faithfully and persistently teach the truth so that these lies don’t take hold of our people and lead them into sin and, ultimately, shipwreck.
If the gospel isn’t our constant guiding star, something else will take its place. The truth must always be more important to us than the opinions of other people. Even if it will cost you popularity, keep preaching the gospel.
2. Suffering will come
In Paul’s follow-up letter of 2 Timothy, his focus moves from false teaching to suffering. Paul exhorts Timothy to persevere through immense suffering and persecution for the sake of the gospel, as Paul himself has done.
To survive the fierce flames of suffering, we need to be firmly grounded in the gospel before the trial comes. I’m currently in the second year of a ministry apprenticeship. If I continue on in vocational ministry, I know that the suffering and pressure I face will only get more intense (though hopefully the joys will multiply too!). I will never stop needing the gospel. By spending time in these epistles as an apprentice, I am setting up fences that will protect me down the road.
Suffering clouds our view of the truth. The pain can seem more real than the precious promises of God. It whispers lies: God doesn’t care about you. God is withholding good from you. God would never accept you. But the gospel is the wind that blows away the fog and gives us a clear view. We need to keep it as the foundation and teach others to do the same. If you are a leader responsible for training others, make sure that they will be able to do this:
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. (2:1-2)
A lifelong resolution
I need the gospel of Jesus Christ every day, as he is my salvation and the only hope for the people I lead. I cannot do effective ministry without this truth. By reading 1 and 2 Timothy over this year with a group of women from my church, I will have the gospel before my eyes week after week. I’ll be prepared for what is ahead: the twin dangers of false teaching and suffering.
There is no greater resolution I could set this year, and no greater reward: at the end of 2020, and at the end of my life, to be standing firm in the gospel of Jesus Christ.