In his day Jude had to write to the saints exhorting them to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints; they were called to stand up for that which they had received. The question we face today is not ‘Is the truth still under attack’, (only the spiritually blind would deny that), but ‘Are we equipped to defend it?’ Sadly, many of us are so ignorant that we cannot discern when the truth is being assailed, let alone contend for it!
In Christendom much of what goes on under the banner of ‘teaching’ has at best only a weak link with Scripture. Tragically this means that many genuine converts are not grounded in the truth and are “tossed and carried about by every wind of that teaching [which is] in the sleight of men” (Eph. 4: 14). Paul’s exhortation to Timothy in his last epistle thus has great relevance for our day: “Have an outline of sound words, which [words] thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which [are] in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 1: 13).
What did the apostle mean by an “outline of sound words”? The word for “outline”, upotupwsis (which occurs only here and in 1 Tim. 1: 16), was used to describe the initial sketch of an artist prior to painting a picture. Paul is exhorting Timothy to ensure that he has a basic summary of the truth––a grasp of the key fundamentals of the faith. It was seen as indispensable. How startling then to observe in our day many who do not appear to have much more than the barest rudiments of the faith! In new converts this would be excusable, but not in those who have been professing Christians for years. These seem content just to have a few lines on the canvas and leave it at that. Babes remain babes at their own peril. Possession of a simple summary of the faith is a basic need of every Christian.
What of the sound words? It is self-evident that an outline must be formed of such words or else our apprehension of the truth will be marred. Unsound words lead to unsound belief. Sadly, Christendom is overrun with unhealthy teaching. Where then can sound words be found? The apostle himself supplies the answer: “ … which [words] thou hast heard of me.” (v13, see also 2 Tim. 3: 14, 15). The sound words refer to apostolic teaching, the teaching in which the early Church “persevered” (Acts 2: 42). Timothy had heard this doctrine first hand from Paul’s lips, and in due course, what he had heard he was to “entrust to faithful men, such as shall be competent to instruct others also” (2 Tim 2: 2). Through grace that record has been preserved to us in the Scriptures. It is in those Scriptures then that we shall find the sound words of which Paul speaks. Let us ensure our doctrine is governed accordingly!
Having got hold of the outline, it is then and only then, that the believer can begin to fill in what we might call the detail. Some get prematurely occupied with the details before they have the outline, but this is to run before you can walk. Imagine an artist painting in the details of a picture before he had completed sketching the outline. The result would be a shapeless mess. The effect is little different in the spiritual realm. If the details of what we believe are not moulded and controlled by the outline of sound words, then confusion and error will be the consequence. Once the outline is completed, however, every effort should be made to fill in the detail. No artist would be satisfied with a mere sketch, and nor should the Christian. 1 Tim. 4: 6 is significant in this regard: “Laying these things before the brethren, thou wilt be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished with the words of the faith and of the good teaching which thou hast fully followed up" FULLY FOLLOWED UP! How many have the desire to dig deep into the meaning of Scripture or indeed have even the inclination to progress beyond the most basic brush-strokes on the canvas?
A word of caution, however: it is possible to be orthodox ... and dead. Hence the apostle speaks of having an outline of sound words “in faith and love which [are] in Christ Jesus.” There must be a living link between the soul and Christ. “Faith” supposes an active dependence upon God––not merely head knowledge. “Love” ensures that the spirit of doctrine is attended to as well as the bare words. Of course none of this comes naturally, hence what follows: “keep, by the Holy Spirit which dwells in us, the good deposit entrusted” (v14). May there be many who have ears to hear!