By Jason Shuler
Recently I was using my trusty GPS (global positioning system) to navigate me through some unfamiliar territory. I was making surprisingly good time; with each look at my ETA (estimated time of arrival), I had gained at least a minute or two! Unfortunately, I was navigated to a “dead end” road. The last words spoken by that GPS were, “arriving at destination” where no destination could be found. How frustrating it was to make great time in getting to the wrong place. Somewhere between the configuration of my GPS and my current trip, someone had apparently dropped the ball. How devastating would it be if the gospel were treated this lightly? “Arriving at destination” when no destination is in sight!
Ignatius was one of the early church fathers who lived during the first century. He was condemned to die for his faith in Christ and was ordered to be thrown among wild beasts that would devour him. Shortly before his final breath, he spoke these words to fellow Christians, “Pray for me, that God would give me both inward and outward strength, that I may not only say, but do well; that I may not only be called a Christian, but be found one.”
Not quite a century later, widespread persecution went throughout Asia Minor. Polycarp, a longtime church leader in Antioch, faithfully preached the gospel despite the threat of eminent torture. When he was sought after and brought before the proconsul, he was asked to reproach the name of Christ in order to spare his life. Once he refused, Polycarp was led to the stake where he was to be burned. As the executioner began to nail him down, Polycarp said, “Let me alone as I am: He who has given me strength to come to the fire, will also give me patience to abide in it, without being fastened with nails.” As the flame was lit, Polycarp proclaimed, “Eighty and six years have I served Christ, who has never done me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and Savior?”
The last recorded words written by the Apostle Paul was his letter to a young man named Timothy. In the final chapter of his life, Paul wrote, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (II Timothy 4:2, 5-7).
Taking the gospel to the next generation was not something that Paul treated with levity. Throughout the book of II Timothy, he was careful to instruct Timothy in this vital area. Paul understood that Christianity was only one generation away from total extinction.
Today, Christianity is still only one generation away from extinction. It is the responsibility of every Christian to take hold of the baton of the gospel that has been handed to us, and share it with a world dying without Christ. Don’t drop the baton of the gospel!
Paul writes, “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (II Timothy 2:2). This is the formula that, for centuries, has enabled and equipped the next generation of believers. Will we take the gospel to the next generation or will we allow the gospel to “dead end” with us?