Their stricken faces said it all. The men and women of the U.S. Olympic 400-meter relay teams were disqualified and in disbelief. The U.S. had owned the 400 relay in years past. Now, in 2008, the teams hadn’t even qualified.
In just a thirty-minute span, both teams’ hopes were dashed at the fumbling of the third and final baton handoff. When you’re running a relay, the handoff is critical. Runners take extra care to ensure a smooth handoff because when they drop the baton, they don’t finish the race.
RELAY THE TRUTH
Christians have an even more important handoff to make: passing the gospel on to the next generation. Paul, arguably the most skilled believer aside from Christ to ever hand off the gospel, once instructed his young protégé Timothy in how to pass it on well, saying, “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 Tim. 2:2).
Paul is challenging Timothy to pass on what he has heard to faithful men and women who also are able to pass it on. What has Timothy heard from Paul? The gospel. The truth of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
By this time in their relationship, Timothy would have seen Paul testify to this gospel hundreds of times. He also would have seen Paul pass it on hundreds of times. Paul understood the gospel does the next generation no good if it never receives it. The gospel is like a relay race; we’re either fumbling the handoff or ensuring it’s passed on with care.
In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul summarizes his most critical advice for passing on the gospel in three principles.
1. BE A PUBLIC WITNESS
Paul’s first principle for passing on the gospel is that a believer’s faith is not a private matter. Christians are called to be a public witness for the Christ they profess. We see this in Paul’s mention that Timothy has heard the gospel from him “in the presence of many witnesses.”
Paul was not known for being quiet about Jesus. His beatings, imprisonments, and ridicule all testify that Jesus invaded all of Paul’s life, not just his private time. Paul didn’t keep his faith to himself. If he had, he wouldn’t have been killed for it.
Surely Timothy noticed Paul’s public witness. He was the recipient of at least two letters from an imprisoned Paul (1 and 2 Timothy). While the consequences of Paul’s public professions surely made a mark on the young Timothy, Paul’s faithful example of announcing the good news to anyone who would listen would have also left a mark.
And this is true of followers of Christ today. If you intend to pass on your faith to your children, your friends, or your neighbors, you must learn to be a public witness to the gospel. If you compartmentalize your faith out of Monday through Saturday, so will those you teach. The gospel is not a personal issue, it’s an all-of-life issue.
Passionate believers are easy to spot no matter when you’re around them. Their love for Jesus is not a secret to their friends, family, and coworkers. Their gospel is not stuck between the pages of their Bible but overflows into their everyday lives. Like Paul, their faith is so explosive that they can easily point to examples of publicly sharing about who Jesus is and what he has done.
What we pass on is what will live on. Paul passed on the gospel he received, he encouraged others to do the same, and he led by example. Are you doing the same?
2. INVEST IN PEOPLE ON PURPOSE
Paul’s second principle for passing on the gospel is to make passing it on an intentional part of life. His relationship with Timothy wasn’t an accident. It was the result of having eyes to see and ears to hear those who were hungry for godliness.
Nor was their relationship the only mentoring relationship Paul was a part of. The letters to Titus and the various churches make that clear.
Paul intentionally identified and invested in future leaders. He set aside time and energy and resources to build into their lives and show them how to follow Jesus. He saw passing on the gospel as a critical part of his calling.
Are you taking seriously the call to pass on what you have learned? Do you learn and read with a pen in hand so you can pass it on to someone else, or do you receive information in one ear and lose it out the other? Have you identified a younger man or woman you can invest in? Are you showing them how to follow Jesus?
If not, it might be because you have no idea where to start. This brings us to Paul’s third principle.
3. INVEST IN THE RIGHT PEOPLE
His third principle for passing on the gospel is that we are to invest in the right people. We are to pass on the gospel to other faithful men or women who will be able to teach others.
When it comes to investing in someone, Paul tells us to identify a man or woman who has proven themselves to be faithful, and who will be able to teach others. Notice the tenses used.
When it comes to identifying someone who’s faithful, we are to look to their current resume for examples of their faithfulness to Jesus. We should be able to point to times where they’ve displayed faith, courage, wisdom, etc., in the name of and for the sake of Jesus. We should be looking for people who have been and are now faithful to Jesus.
Being able to teach others is a forward-looking goal. Paul said to entrust the gospel to other faithful men and women, “who will be able to teach others also.” That means they aren’t necessarily able to do so now.
Let’s simplify this. Paul is saying we should pass on the gospel by intentionally investing in other men and women who are faithful to Christ and who will be able to teach others to do the same one day. That means we invest in those who display a vibrant, active faith in Jesus, and we do the hard work of teaching them so they can turn around and teach others one day.
“The gospel came to you so that it could pass through you,” says pastor and author Robby Gallaty.
You received the gospel, yes, but part of the reason you received it is that it’s headed to someone else—and you’re the intended vehicle. If you’re not investing in people who will turn around and invest in someone else, your efforts to pass on the gospel will be stunted.
We can never truly know who will pass it on and who won’t, of course. But if you’ve invested in someone for any amount of time, it quickly becomes evident who is taking seriously the call to pass on the gospel and who isn’t. Give your time to those who are hungry for the gospel and who demonstrate faithfulness to live it out.
Each Christian is called to run a race of being faithful to Christ. That race is always a relay that requires a handoff. So be a public witness. Invest in people on purpose. And invest in the right people.
Don’t fumble the handoff. Ensure the gospel is passed on to the next generation and finish your race well.
Grayson Pope (M.A., Christian Studies) is a husband and father of three, and the Managing Web Editor at GCD. He serves as a writer and editor with Prison Fellowship. For more of Grayson’s writing, check out his website or follow him on Twitter.