Made to last (7)
…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 Timothy 2.2
What makes a classic?
We are exploring the question of what makes a classic. How can we make things that will last and have an impact for good beyond our immediate presence and time? Specifically, how can we use our words and deeds in such a way as to continue the progress of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven?
We began by reflecting on the music of Mozart and the Beatles. This music has lasted for the simple reason that it continues to have wide appeal – delightful melodies, engaging harmonies and arrangements, memorable motifs and lyrics, and so forth.
But let’s not overlook the obvious: The music of Mozart or the Beatles, as enchanting as it is, would not still be with us had it not been reduced to permanent forms which could be passed from one person and one generation to another. Musical scores, performances and recordings, and the various outlets which broadcast good music (radio, orchestras, bands) are as important to keeping good music alive as the music itself.
Things last which have this kind of transferability, both in terms of their inherent beauty, goodness, or truth and by virtue of their being set in forms that can be passed on to others.
Paul’s teaching lasts unto this day, in the first instance, because it is the Word of God, and the Spirit of God has faithfully attended to His Word, keeping it pure and passing it along to the generations that followed after the Apostles.
But the Spirit also saw to it that many copies of His Word were prepared, many sermons and teachings which made use of His Word were delivered and written down, and many people were led to remember His Word and to pass it on to others, so that the words of Paul, and all the Word of God, remain intact and whole for us today.
Concerning the writing down of Scripture, The Westminster Confession of Faith explains why God considered this necessary: “Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and the world, to commit same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary…” (I.I).
Paul took Timothy with him as he worked to advance the Kingdom Christ. He taught Timothy, and he did so in the presence of many others. These people, with Timothy, would have been able to recall and discuss what Paul had taught, and to teach his words to others. Paul wrote Timothy two letters in which, we may suppose, he summed up a good bit of what he considered most important for Timothy to remember from the things he had taught him. Thus, he showed Timothy what the Kingdom looked like, taught his young protégé, and put his teaching into a more permanent form.
Things last that we are able to transfer to others in one form or another. At the very least, it seems to me, such transferability entails three requirements: modeling, persuading, and preserving. Let’s look at each of these briefly.
Paul wrote to the Philippians, calling them to remember “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me…” (Phil. 4.9). He instructed the Corinthians to “imitate” what they had seen in him (1 Cor. 11.1). To the Thessalonians he recalled his manner of being among them as the proof of his love for them and the reliability of his teaching (1 Thess. 2.1-12). Paul was very conscious of the importance of embodying his teaching before those he instructed, allowing them to observe the truth and practicality of the things they were being taught.
Paul’s essential message to the world of his day concerned the reality of the Kingdom of God (cf. Acts 19.8). The Kingdom, he explained, is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14.17, 18). Wherever he went Paul embodied the reality of this Kingdom so that people could see by his life that something new and different had entered the affairs of men and nations. He constantly referenced his example in order both to shore up his teaching and to provide his audiences and readers with a template for their own behavior.
Things last that can be modeled before others, and which have sufficient appeal, being modeled, to be adopted and adapted by others. When it comes to adopting new beliefs or new ways of living, everyone is from Missouri: “Show me,” and if I like what I see, I’ll take it up.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that everything which can be modeled and adopted is worthy of being retained. However, whatever is to achieve the status of a classic must first be seen – or heard, as in the case of music – if it is to capture the imagination and have lasting appeal.
If we want our Kingdom beliefs, convictions, and worldview – and the everyday words and deeds which express these – to last, then we shall have to work hard at presenting a credible and consistent model of these views before the people we hope to persuade (Matt. 5.13-16; 1 Pet. 3.15).
Paul succeeded in persuading Timothy and many others of the truth of his message. What they saw in him he explained in ways they could understand and that convinced them to embrace his teaching as their own.
Persuasion involves two things: a clear and compelling message and an effective method of communicating that message.
Paul’s message, as we have seen, was the Kingdom of God and Jesus Christ as the King thereof (Acts 17.1-9). Though he was, from time to time, drawn to address various subordinate matters – things related to the administration or outworking of that Kingdom, or of its defense against the lies and half-truths of unbelief – he never wavered from his message.
If we want the words we speak to others to have a lasting impact on their lives, we will need to work hard at making sure our message is as clear and consistent as Paul’s was. Christians are commanded to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt. 6.33). Whatever else we talk about must be grounded in and intended for the progress of that Kingdom. We run the risk of compromising or obscuring our most important message if the words we use to convey it are watered down by frivolous speech, gossip, complaining, or an excess of mere worldly talk. Paul himself counsels us to use only such speech as will edify others and glorify God (Eph. 4.29; 1 Cor. 10.31). We must not be so careless in the use we make of our tongues that we create a kind of “Gresham’s Law” of speech in which our communications concerning the Kingdom become lost in the mundaneness of the rest of our words.
Our message of the Kingdom of God will be persuasive, and thus more likely to be heard and received, to the extent that it provides the consistent melody line around which all our conversation and speech unfolds.
As to our method of persuading, we must work hard to develop a variety of means, appropriate to the person or situation in which we find ourselves (1 Cor. 9.19-23). Paul is described, in various places, as dialoging with people, answering questions, explaining, testifying, reasoning, teaching, preaching, and conversing. He understood that different forms of messaging are required in order to communicate his views to the people he hoped to persuade.
We cannot hope to persuade people of the truth of the Kingdom, that this is a message worthy of being believed and embraced, if we can only convey that message in some “canned” or formulaic manner. Our methods of communicating the Kingdom of God should flow naturally from our participation in that reality. And they should take into consideration the needs of our hearers, the situation in which we are communicating, and a wide range of other variables. Our methods must be thoughtful, considerate, and appropriate for each person and situation.
Our methods, in other words, must be real and not contrived, the expression of who we really are, and not simply of something we’ve studied or memorized.
Finally, our message of the Kingdom of God will be more likely to last if we employ means of preserving that message. We speak to others concerning the Kingdom. We live in a manner which accredits that message. But we also want to pin that message to the lives of others in some more permanent forms, something they can keep or possess as a token and reminder of who we are and what we believe – like Paul’s letters to Timothy were for that young pastor.
Here a wide range of possibilities is available. Give someone a book or a Bible. Send them a note or card on special occasions, or simply to reinforce your friendship or express your appreciation. Give a gift of music. Invite someone to church. Write a letter or a poem. Teach a course. Write a book. Open your home for hospitality. Invest your life in others, as Paul did. And so forth.
In addition to what you speak and how you live, such tokens of Kingdom reality can help to reinforce your words and deeds, so that they may have a lasting impact on those to whom God has sent you as His ambassador.
Our contribution to the progress of God’s Kingdom is more likely to last if we model what we believe, communicate it persuasively, and discover ways of preserving our words and deeds in tangible form with the people in our lives.
For reflection: How would you rate yourself as to consistency of message, effectiveness of method, and use of things that remind, recall, or otherwise preserve your Kingdom worldview with others? Can you identify any ways you might begin to improve in each of these areas?
For action: Make a point to pray daily for the people you hope to impact with the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Jot down Scripture references to guide you in praying for them (for example, Eph. 6.19, 20). Pray about the matters raised in this article as you come before the Lord on behalf of others.