Almost two thousand years ago the Gospel of Jesus Christ began to be proclaimed: God became Incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth, went about doing good, was crucified and buried, but God raised Him from the dead; He ascended to the Father, received all authority and an everlasting dominion, and will return one day to judge the living and the dead (Acts 2:14-31, 10:34-43, 17:30-31, 1 Corinthians 15:1-7). The Apostles served as the first witnesses to the life, resurrection, and lordship of Jesus, having personally seen, experienced, and witnessed these things (Luke 24:44-49, Acts 1:1-8, 1 John 1:1-4). Yet what about after them? What was to happen after the Apostles lived no longer?
The Holy Spirit did move the Apostles and some of their close associates to write down the events surrounding Jesus of Nazareth and correspondence regarding how to serve Him as Christians and in local churches (2 Timothy 3:14-17, Jude 1:3). Thus the New Testament stands as the continual apostolic witness regarding the life, death, resurrection, lordship, and Kingdom of the Lord Jesus; though they are dead they still speak to us through their writings (Ephesians 4:11-12).
Yet even such documents would need to be copied by hand for the next 1,500 years. Meanwhile we also have the witness of the Apostle Paul regarding the Gospel in 2 Timothy 2:2:
And the things which thou hast heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.
Paul wrote to Timothy a second time near the very end of his life, likely around 64-65 CE; he would soon no longer be able to witness to the resurrection of Jesus (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Nevertheless Paul does not fear; he has entrusted the message of the Gospel to Timothy who had heard and understood it. Timothy now must commit the same message to faithful men so that they could commit it to others in turn (2 Timothy 2:2). As Paul had prepared Timothy for the work of ministry, equipping him to serve even after his own departure, so now Timothy is expected to do the same for and with others. In this fashion the preaching and teaching of the Gospel was intended to continue for generation after generation until the Lord Jesus returns: each generation would pass on the torch of the light of the Gospel to the next.
As Christians we do well to learn from both the example and the exhortation of the Apostle Paul. Paul would have far better reasons to feel himself to be “irreplaceable” in the Kingdom; he was an Apostle of the Lord, having seen Him in the resurrection (Romans 1:1, 1 Corinthians 9:1). Through the Spirit Paul maintained authority he could not bestow upon Timothy or anyone else; no one after him could be a witness to Jesus in the resurrection in the same way as he had. And yet Paul is acutely aware of his mortality; he recognized that others would have to continue to work of proclaiming the Gospel in the world. Paul thus spent much time in training and encouraging men like Timothy, Titus, etc., so they could in turn teach others. Such is the way of the Lord Jesus who Himself devoted great time and energy into His Twelve disciples (John 14:9)!
As Christians we have all been given differing and various skills; some have been blessed with more or greater skill than others in various ways (1 Peter 4:10). We may feel as if our particular set of skills is of the greatest importance, and may find it hard to imagine how the Lord’s people could continue the work without us; if we feel this way we are self-deceived (Galatians 6:3)! The Lord’s people and work was carried on long before we were born, and unless the Lord returns in the meantime, the Lord’s people and work will continue on long after we have passed out of this life. We have our place and standing in the Lord’s body (1 Corinthians 12:12-28), but we, like Paul, must recognize that our time in this life is very short. We must equip and prepare others to do the work we have been doing so that it may carry on for generations; we cannot keep the Gospel message to ourselves, but must teach it and entrust it to fellow faithful Christians who may carry the message to the ends of the earth and to the next generation (Colossians 1:6, 1 Timothy 2:2).
Therefore, in whatever we do to serve the Lord, we must look for opportunities and ways in which to pass the torch. Evangelists, elders, and teachers are commissioned to equip the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12); part of that work is to instruct the next generation and others so that they can carry on the good work we have been doing. We must strive diligently to teach our replacements, equipping them for the work of ministry, for if we do not, how will the Gospel be proclaimed to those yet unborn? May we seek to pass the torch of the light of the Gospel to others and the next generation, and prove faithful to our commission!
Ethan R. Longhenry