The command itself looks beyond Timothy to younger men whom he would train. It lays out a perpetual strategy for raising up generation after generation of church leaders. The baton that was passed from Paul to Timothy would ultimately be handed off to faithful men, who in turn would pass it to a fourth generation—and so on.
Although Paul’s primary concern here is leadership development, the principle he gives Timothy has clear implications for every Christian in every era. We are all part of a living chain. Each of us has been taught by someone who learned the truth from someone else. If you follow that chain backward, link by link, it goes back to the original Apostles—and beyond them to Christ Himself.
In order to be faithful stewards of what we have received, each of us needs to pass on to others what we have been taught. In other words, every Christian ought to be a teacher. No matter who you are, you can find someone who knows less than you and teach them. That responsibility is inherent in our Lord’s Great Commission: “Make disciples” (Matt. 28:19).
The writer to the Hebrews scolded believers who were derelict in this duty: “Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God” (5:12). Because of their failure to become teachers, they needed to start learning from the beginning again. No wonder. What you teach you retain, and what you don’t teach you tend to forget. Passing on what you have learned not only helps the person who is being discipled; it also strengthens the teacher.
Paul’s charge to Timothy is carefully focused. He doesn’t tell Timothy to be innovative. He doesn’t encourage him to adapt his style to the fads and fashions of secular culture. He doesn’t employ words like fresh, original, or imaginative, the verbal glue that binds so many twenty-first-century church-growth strategies together.
In fact, Paul gives Timothy practically the opposite mandate. It is a clear, narrowly defined directive. Timothy is to guard the deposit of truth he has received (1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:14) and pass it on, unmodified and unadulterated, to the next generation. Being an effective disciple-maker is not about being chic or creative. It’s about faithfully guarding “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) and accurately transmitting it to another generation.
It sounds paradoxical, but each Christian has a personal responsibility to keep the faith and to pass it on to others. That’s what is required of those who would win the prize (1 Cor. 9:24; 2 Tim. 4:7).
Anyone who breaks that centuries-old chain is like a relay runner who abandons the race before finishing. And what’s at stake in this race is infinitely more import-ant than any earthly trophy. Failure to run well and with endurance would be an inexcusable insult to our Lord, an offense against those who have taught us, a disappointment to those who have trained alongside us, and a grievous sin against those to whom we must hand the baton.