God's Method and Means in Times of Special Peril

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 7 - The Responsibility

I'm going to ask you to take up your New Testaments again, and open at the letters to Timothy. And we're going to just run through them in four series, four very brief series of fragments.

In the first letter, first chapter, the eleventh verse: "...the gospel of the glory of the blessed God which was committed to my trust." - the gospel which was committed to my trust. Verse 18: "This charge I commit unto thee, my child Timothy". Chapter 6, the same letter, first letter, verse 20: "Oh Timothy, guard that which is committed unto thee...". The second letter, chapter 1 and verse 12: "I know Whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to guard that which I have committed unto Him against that day." You will see the margin makes an alteration: "He is able to guard that which He hath committed unto me". That's the first series.

Now the second series, in the second letter, chapter 2, verse 3: "Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier on service entangleth himself in the affairs of this life; that he may please Him Who enrolled him to be a soldier." Back to the first letter, and its first chapter, at verse 18: "This charge I commit unto thee, that thou mayest war a good warfare."

The third series, chapter 2 of the second letter, verse 5: "And if also a man contend in the games, he is not crowned, except he hath contended lawfully." That series only has one in it.

The fourth, chapter 2 of the second letter and verse 15: "Give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth." And that series only has one.

I wonder what impression all those passages make upon you? Hearing them, reading them, putting them together, what is the conclusion to which you come? What do they say to you? What impression do they leave? Well, surely they ought to leave one very definite impression upon us, it is that the Christian, the Christian, is a very responsible person. Every one of those passages, and indeed, the much more lying behind them and in these letters, does really say very, very clearly, and very distinctly, and very strongly: we are in a position of tremendous responsibility. The Christian is, by the Word of God, looked upon as being a very responsible person.

You know, the Lord Jesus and His apostles never appealed to people to be Christians, to be saved, to come along and follow, just for their own pleasure, just that they might have a good time. That was never the appeal; never to the pleasure-instinct in people, the good time, liking and desire. They never, never did make their appeal on that ground at all - that if you are saved, if you become a Christian, well, you are just going to embark upon one eternal joy-ride, and a whole life of pleasure and gratification. Now, whatever there may be of good and enjoyment and profit that follows (and of course, a gathering like this is a great testimony to the fact that it's not so bad to be a Christian on a bank holiday, not so bad to be a Christian) but the appeal of Christ, the appeal of His apostles, the appeal of the Scriptures, is always to people who mean business more than pleasure, who really are prepared to take serious responsibility for the interests of their Lord, and, if needs be, to allow themselves to be involved in trouble, in suffering for His sake. They're the people He wants.

And here we have this many-sided picture of the Christian as in responsibility. So we take up some of the titles or metaphors used here, which give the Divine conception of the Christian, very simply. Here we have them, that which is represented by these words we've read in the first series, chapter 1 of the first letter, "This charge I commit unto thee, my child Timothy... the gospel of the glory of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust... this charge I commit unto thee..." And then again, chapter 6 and verse 20: "Oh Timothy, guard that which is committed unto thee."

What is this conception of the Christian? The Christian is called to be, has the privilege of being, a trustee for God.

A Trustee

A custodian of an infinitely precious deposit: "Committed to thy trust, Timothy, you're in trust. Timothy, you are a trustee. Timothy, here is something precious, put into your custodianship, given you of God to watch over, to guard for Him." Paul calls it "the gospel of the blessed God", which was committed to his trust, and he is passing it on. He has kept it intact, he has guarded it, he has preserved it, it has lost nothing; now he is about to go, "Timothy, I pass it on to you, I hand it on to you in the Lord's Name. Timothy, guard it. It's for you to see that this gospel, this wonderful gospel, suffers no loss by any kind of carelessness, unwatchfulness, indifference, slothfulness, or preoccupation, or diversion, or persecution and suffering, or anything else. Timothy, guard it - don't let it suffer loss. Let there come to it nothing to spoil it: no tarnish, no rust, no injury." That's the Divine conception of the Christian.

All that I want to urge upon you is just this: every one of you who would claim to be a Christian, to belong to the Lord, I would that you would tonight recognise this, that you are put in trust with the Gospel, that you are a trustee of "the gospel of the blessed God", that there rests upon you this solemn obligation to see to it that it doesn't suffer in any way through you, because of you, on any account it doesn't suffer, but that it is preserved in its pristine glory and in its entirety; and that you do at the end what Paul was able to do - pass it on intact, that there will be those that come after you who will take it up from you and in their turn, carry it on. "Well, that's simple", you say, very simple, it may sound quite elementary, but oh, Paul put his heart into this. "Oh Timothy, oh Timothy, my child Timothy - this, this charge, this charge I commit to thee. Guard the deposit, take care of the great trust." Will you believe, every one of you, youngest Christian and oldest, and all between, that you are a custodian of the interests of your Lord, and that those great interests can suffer because of you, if you do not take your responsibility seriously.

Now, dear friends, that is a very elevating thing - it is a very strengthening thing to realise that, is it not? To feel that God, God has committed to me His interests, that I stand in this world, not to just be a Christian and try to live a Christian life, but as a responsible trustee of the very interests of God! Now, whether you like it or not, it is so. If you're a Christian, this great trust, this great Gospel, is suffering or being preserved by you; it's being let down or it's being upheld, whether you like it or not. But why not do what Paul was seeking to get Timothy to do: "Look here, realize this, face this, and take it up, as your solemn responsibility before God. I'm a man with a charge, a man with a charge, put in trust, a trustee."

The next series, as you notice, with that verse in chapter 1 of the first letter, or that fragment in the 18th verse: "War the good warfare..."; followed by these so familiar words in the second letter, second chapter: "...a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier on service entangleth himself in the affairs of this life; that he may please Him Who enrolled him to be a soldier." Well, there are three fragmentary ideas bound up with those words. Firstly, of course, the conception of the Christian, and the Christian life, and the Christian service:

It's a Warfare.

Most of you don't need to be told that, or to be reminded of it. Many of you are here, really war-scarred warriors, you've been in the fight and the battle has left its marks on you. You know it quite well. And yet, it needs to be said - perhaps firstly to those who are newly, who have newly donned the armour, who have newly come to the Lord: understand that you have been enrolled in a spiritual army! And your life business is war. You're going to find that out sooner or later whether you like it or not, but there's the fact. And that is a very responsible position. One, by failure in this warfare, may let down many and affect the whole campaign.

But, dear friends, although you and others may know it so well, and feel that you do not need to be reminded, are you sure that you don't? Well I think I know something about it in experience; and yet, and yet there's this subtle truth, this subtle fact: that very often we are in situations, things are going on, and we begin to blame people and circumstances and get all worked up about things that are happening, and look for scapegoats, and forget, forget the reality of this thing. Why, the devil's after something! Here the battle is on, there is no doubt about it; the air is thick with conflict; and we get our eyes on people, and things, and forget. And we are defeated, we are defeated, we are just beaten, and rendered casualties, put out of the fight - simply because we have lost sight of the fact, the abiding fact, that we are in a spiritual warfare, and behind 'things' there are other forces. And we all need to be reminded.

It is no small thing, you know, when we are really in a situation like that, and things are getting worked up to a fine pitch of stress, when someone comes along and says, "Look here, the enemy is in this. The enemy's in this, he is trying to get you, he knows something or other, he's on your track; let's have some prayer about it" and we get to prayer, and the whole thing goes. So sometimes just to remind one another of the fact is a tremendous deliverance: we find that it is, it IS a fact. We've been attributing it to things and people, and there's something deeper than that behind it. But we do need to be reminded continually that we are in a warfare - we are.

Well, that's the first thing here - the conception of the Christian life - we must just get a hold of it and settle it. And, although I don't like saying it, I don't think we are ever going to be out of this warfare here! No. Well, let's go on.

The second thing that is in these statements is that, if you are going to wage triumphant spiritual warfare, you must be all in it. "No soldier on active service" (for that's the literal wording) "entangleth himself with the affairs of this life."


DISENTANGLED. One of the enemy's most successful tactics is to get us all tied up, and tangled up with all kinds of conflicting things, or with some other interests, dividing us in our life and in our strength and in our application. Now, this, this that Paul says to Timothy here, does not mean, "Look here, you must not go into business - you must come out of business, and be all on spiritual work". It doesn't mean that you've got to leave everything else and come and be a full-time worker, or full-time soldier - it doesn't mean that at all. You know it's possible - and, this is, though difficult, what the apostle and what the Lord would say to most of us: it is possible for you to pursue your daily employment, and to do it conscientiously (as you should) and thoroughly, and leave nothing for reproach, and yet at the same time, either in it, through it, or over it, your supreme interests are spiritual. The really governing things in your life are the Lord's things.

The warfare may be in the business, but if you get all churned up and obsessed, you are put out of the war, out of the fight. There's got to be inwardly in our hearts a disentangled state. Now, that could be enlarged upon very much. You see what the apostle is saying: "You mustn't have two dominating interests in life; you can only have one". One. You must not be a divided person who has on the one side interests in the things of the Lord, on the other side: interests in the world. That's no good; you won't be a good soldier if you're like that. Whether you have to be in this world, and do its work, and follow your profession, your dominating concern must be the interests of the Lord, and in that part of your life you must be disentangled. In a word: one thing over everything else predominates; and no dividedness of heart or mind. "This one thing I do...", said the apostle.

And the third factor or feature in these fragments is something which is not observable in our translation. That is, it says: "Suffer hardship with me as a good soldier of Christ Jesus..." There are other translations of that clause: "Take your share in the hardship..." Now these, neither of them, are exact and accurate translations. This is one of the occasions when Paul uses one of his favourite compounds. And you know that Paul was tremendously fond of compound words. And one of his favourite compounds was a series of whole words with the prefix 'syn' to it. And 'Syn' means 'together'.


And what he is saying here is this: "Look here, look here Timothy, we are all in it. We're all in it. You're not alone in this; this is a collective matter, this is a corporate matter. This is something which, if it only related to you, might not be very important; you might not think it important enough to be seriously considered. But look here, Timothy, you mustn't let me down. We're together..." And that's a big thing, isn't it?

This fact of the collective or the corporate aspect of conflict; we are fighting with one another and for one another and the battle is a common battle, and we must not let one another down. And if someone else is having a bit of hardship, we must come and share the hardship with them; and if we are having a bit of hardship, they must come and share it with us. It's a tremendous factor in victory, to keep together in it. To keep together in it. So it is the 'togetherness' of the battle and the warfare that is quite definitely thought of by the apostle here. That's enough about that. I have to keep peace with you about time.

Then the next one is just this fragment: "If a man contend in the games, he is not crowned except he has contended lawfully". Here, hidden behind the English translation, is a Greek word - athleo - from which we get our English words 'athlete' and 'athletic'. And the Greek word athleo just means one who strives for the mastery, or enters, or engages in the contest.

The Athlete

The Christian is an athlete. Now that sounds like sport, but it isn't! For the word is a very strong word: one who engages in the contest for the mastery. That's making a business of things, isn't it? The Christian is an athlete; that's the conception. We are, as Christians, called into this: to engage seriously in a contest, at the end of which there is a prize, which it is possible for us to lose. That's the conception. And of course, there is a very large background of the Greek games to this word of Paul's; he knew all about it. You see, the Greek athlete was called upon to spend ten whole months in preparatory discipline and training before he was allowed to enter the contests. And the rules for training were stringent. He must shun many things. He must observe certain regulations. He must discipline himself and put aside all his own preferences and his own likes. He must recognise that this thing is so serious that for ten months he must be under a rigorous regime of discipline, and should he break one of the regulations of his training, he is disqualified; he is not allowed to go in. Now that's what is here. Well, you must take things seriously if you're going to do that, mustn't you? We must be serious if we're going to that sort of thing.

Well, here is something: here is a contest, here is an engagement, which calls upon us to be very watchful, and to be, in many directions, self-denying. Now, don't mix this up with your salvation - you can never be saved by good works! To be a Christian you don't have to give up this and give up that, and do all sorts of things that you don't naturally like doing! It isn't to be a Christian, but here's a vocation; here's a responsibility when you are a Christian. And Paul said: "I keep under my body, I keep under my body... lest... having preached to others, I should be a cast away", and he is thinking of this very thing in this business on hand: "This great responsibility into which I am called, which is a great contest. I must see to it that my body, my fleshly appetites, don't get the upper hand. I must keep a strong hand upon myself. I must learn the disciplined life." And you know, you know, that word "discipline" is the most hated word by most people. Discipline. Yes, but it's not just discipline for its own sake, it's because of what is involved. And we can lose so much - young Christians, you can lose so much, and you can be disqualified from the great calling with which you are called, and from obtaining the great prize, the real prize, which is set before you, if you don't learn the disciplined life. "Keep under your body". A Christian then, ought to be a very disciplined person, with a life well ordered and regulated - nothing loose, and flippant, and careless. Nothing like that. We ought to be people girded on a great business. There's a lot to be said about that, and that's enough.

And finally, the second letter, the second chapter, and the so well-known 15th verse: "Give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth." Here there are one or two features. It's a very unfortunate thing that the translators into the King James or Authorised Version put at the beginning of that exhortation, "study to show thyself approved unto God", because it has given rise to the constituting or formation of a whole school of biblical interpretation. "Study to show thyself approved unto God, rightly dividing the word..." and they have thought that it's a picture of the student in his study, taking the Word of God and cutting it up and putting it into all kinds of different watertight compartments and dispensational sections. A whole (I just mention it) a whole school of dispensationalism and ultra-dispensationalism has been built upon this verse; and it's all wrong. It's all wrong, you shall be led astray if you get that idea, for this has nothing to do with the study and with the book.

The translators of the Revised Version have improved upon it: "Give diligence to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed..." It is true that your work is with the Word of God, but the picture here is not a student, it's a craftsman. It's a craftsman, and what lies behind the Greek here is the stonemason. And the stonemason has the specification before him of the stones that are to be cut, to be fitted into a building; and in the specification, or the blueprint, there are all the lines where the cuts are to be made, very finely, so that when these stones are put together, they do fit; they just do fit, they belong to each other. It's the craftsman's job.

I think there are few things better today than to see a craftsman at work. With all the mass-production and the machinery-made things... to really find a craftsman, an old-fashioned craftsman, with his real hand-work: the work of the craftsman, not the work of the machine. And that's what Paul is talking about, of course. And he says, "You have got the specification given to you in the Word of God. Now don't toy with it, don't play with it, don't be careless about it. You see to it that the truths of the Word of God are faithfully observed. Faithfully observed; that you handle the Word of God absolutely honestly."

In his second Corinthian letter you remember the apostle used this phrase: "Not handling the word of God deceitfully" (2 Cor. 4:2). What does that mean? Making it mean what it doesn't mean, for our own convenience, because it suits us to so interpret it! But no, no scripture is of any private interpretation. The Word of God says this; now then, that's what the Word of God does say; there's no getting round it! Don't try to get round it, don't try to make it to mean something that it doesn't mean, and certainly don't be superior to it and think that you know better than what it says. No, look here: Be absolutely honest with the Word of God. The Word of God says that; the blueprint, the pattern, the specification gives that as the precise line of things. Take it. Don't think that you can improve upon it; don't be careless about it. Take note of it.

The Spirit, the Holy Spirit, gave the Word. And here, to Timothy, the apostle says so: "All Scripture given by inspiration of God is profitable for..." this and that and that. The Spirit gave the Word. We must be adjusted by the Holy Spirit to the Word that He has given! That is "rightly dividing", or, as literally the word is: "drawing straight lines" drawing straight lines, or cutting rather, cutting straight lines with the Word of God. Just be honest with it! Just be honest with it. Just let it mean to you what it really does mean, and don't try to get round it.

I wonder if now, I wonder now if you'll do that? I wonder, very often wonder, whether a lot of Christians have read the Word of God by things about them, so glaringly about them: appearances, the way they behave, the way they dress or don't dress, all sorts of things. And the Word of God has said precisely things about those things, those matters. It's here, it's here! And they go on as Christians. What's the matter, are you not reading the Word? Or are you saying, "Oh well, you see Paul was a woman hater..." and you've got the wrong word, you have not dealt fairly with the Word. "All Scripture is given by inspiration", by the Holy Ghost. Paul was not saying things just out of his own predilection, his own preferences, likes and dislikes: he was speaking what has become Scripture. Don't get round it. Be honest. You don't stand to lose anything; you stand to gain the blessing of God. Now you see, we must be adjusted to the Word of God, adjusted to the Word of God: neither less than the Word of God, nor more.

Now these are the metaphors of the Christian. They are very clear, very simple; but I come back again to where I commenced. They, all put together, do show that a Christian is a very responsible person, or is to be so regarded, and must so regard himself or herself, "I'm in something that is not just optional - my pleasure, my likes." Not some thing... "Well, it doesn't matter very much, we'll get to heaven alright, we're saved." Oh, no! There is more than getting to heaven, there is more than just being saved. There are great interests of the Lord to be served, and these are the people required for it.

So give diligence, take your share of the hardship as a good soldier, guard your trust, keep the rules, learn discipline. "And so shall be ministered unto you an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom..." and you, as successors of Paul in the battle and in the work, may be able to say, as he said: "I have fought the fight... I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give to me at that day: and not to me only, but to all them that have loved His appearing". We are in the same fight, the same contest, the same calling.

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