And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. (NIV)
I’ve always looked at this verse strictly as a command to teach and mentor other so that the Gospel will be continued and people will know how to live godly lives. I skipped the first half of the verse that places an emphasis on the witnesses of Paul’s teaching. The Holy Spirit working through witnesses are the key to the reliability of the Bible. Paul’s teaching wasn’t done in secret and the people who heard it would easily correct anyone who tried to change it. The Apostles and leaders of the Church would also be able to call Paul on the carpet if his teaching was in anyway erroneous but it was Paul who initiated the council at Jerusalem when he detected false teaching (Acts 15). If a letter claiming to have come from Paul stated something different than what he had preached, it would be identified as a fake. And we know that some tried to fake his letters as he signed the originals even when dictated by others (Gal 6:11).
And when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring). For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give. (Deut 31:21 ESV)
Paul’s writings are only part of the Bible. The principle of witnesses is important in the preservation of the message of the rest of the Bible as well. Witnesses were not always people, sometimes they were monuments that were set up to remind people of a treaty (Gen 21:30, 31:44). God provided a song as a witness and recorded it in Deuteronomy 32. It has become part of the Bible, faithfully transcribed and passed from generation to generation. Each generation then became witnesses as well.
This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. (Acts 2:32 KJV)
The disciples were told that they would be witnesses in Jerusalem and eventually, all around the world. They were to tell the truth about what they had seen and heard. Being a witness was a very important part of their message. It verified that what they were saying was true – anyone living during that time could have contradicted their statements but history during that time is silent in opposition to the Gospel. No one came forward to say the Apostles and other witnesses were lying. The Sanhedrin, the highest governmental council of Jesus’ time didn’t deny the truth of the disciple’s witness, they tried to cover it up (Matt 28:11-15), tried to shut it up (Acts 4:13-22), and finally tried to ignore their witness in the hopes it would fade away (Acts 5:34-40). No one said they were liars.
Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This "letter" is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts. (2 Cor 3:3 NLT)
We have not seen the events of the first century, but we can be witnesses to the reliability of the Bible as well. Our lives changed from sin to a life of righteousness, love, compassion, and all the other fruits of the Spirit bear witness to the truth of the Gospel and the life-changing ability of a person surrendered to the lordship of Jesus Christ. If others can’t see the change or the difference between worldly values and Christian values, then there is something seriously wrong with our hearts. If the “letter” the world is reading is full of lies, lust, or licentiousness then our witness isn’t in accord with the Gospel or the Bible.
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:26 KJV)
One of the arguments that I had before becoming a Christian was that there was no way the disciples could have accurately remembered everything Jesus said. They would have added their own twists to it. Certainly, some of the accounts in the four Gospels vary depending on the author and the emphasis each wants to make and their viewpoints. These minor differences help establish that they were witnesses or wrote based on interviews of witnesses (Luke) rather than agreeing upon a contrived story. However, when it comes to the message of our sinfulness, and God’s redemptive plan through the death of Jesus for our sins according to the Scriptures, His burial, and His resurrection, there is consistency that is brought about by the Holy Spirit.
If we were to approach the Bible and Christianity simply as a religion that is passed on from generation to generation we would expect it to evolve as society changes. This can be seen in a major religion that has changed its rules about the number of wives allowed and people of color and gender being in certain offices. The leaders get a revelation and what used to be wrong is now right. These revelations come when it appears they are losing converts over these issues. They even make significant changes to the wording of their scripture when it fits their needs.
When the Holy Spirit (who is God) is in control, then the message that is preached doesn’t change or contradict the Bible. The Bible may need to be revised as our language changes (King James vs. current English translations) so that we can understand it, but the original language is not changed because the Holy Spirit guided and called to remembrance what the disciples heard. Paul received His teaching as a revelation from Jesus (Gal 1:12). These original witnesses are reliable because of God’s work in them.
Entrust – Qualified
But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. (1 Thess 2:4 NASU)
One of the things that we need to look for in a person who can be trusted with passing the Gospel along to others is someone who is more concerned with pleasing God than pleasing men. I remember a preacher telling me that the board of his church wouldn’t allow him to have an altar call for salvations except for twice a year. I suspect that his sermons were also affected by what the board allowed him to say. If the messages were too convicting or too biblical, I’ll bet he heard from them that he needed to be more considerate of people’s feelings.
Unfortunately, this has become the norm for most Christian churches. They want everyone to feel included but not called to repentance. They measure sin and morality not by the Bible but by society. They please people and the Gospel should not be entrusted to them. Paul was approved by God to be entrusted with the Gospel, modern men who are more concerned with popularity than speaking the truth of the Gospel are not approved by God and their distorted Gospel is proof.
Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. (1 Tim 1:18-19 NIV)
The Gospel should be entrusted to people who are willing to fight for the faith. If they have doubts or concerns, they dig into the Bible to see what it has to say. They don’t let people sway them to strange doctrines, myths, or pop-psychology. They keep their conscience clear not only in their behavior but in the way they handle the Word of God.
Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (Matt 10:16 RSV)
Jesus wanted His witnesses to have two qualities that we don’t often acknowledge. While we talk a lot about being wise, we seldom associate wisdom with snakes. Since snakes most often represent evil, I would say that Jesus is telling the disciples not to be naïve. Entrust the Gospel message and teachings of godliness to people who are aware of the wolves and the schemes of Satan. There are too many people who minimize Satan’s power and influence because they are naïve. They can be caught off guard and a long way down the wrong path before they realize they’ve been duped, if they eventually wake up.
On the other hand, they also need to be innocent. I don’t think this innocence is just about living godly lives, but in context with the wolves and wisdom. It is easy to resort to human methods to combat wolves and other forces in spiritual battles. However we need to be innocent with respect to the way the world works and wise in the way God works. Our weapons have divine power to remove spiritual strongholds, arguments, and people’s opinions that would try to hinder us (2 Cor 10:3-5).
Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Matt 20:26-28 NKJV)
A significant characteristic of a person to entrust with teaching others is someone who is humble and puts other first. Jesus pointed to Himself as the example of putting other first. This takes the emphasis off being great and on being a servant. If a person wants to learn how to teach others in order to become a famous preacher, theologian, guru, or wise man, then we can’t stop him. However we can pray that in the process he will learn that he must become a servant and won’t entrust him with a teaching position until he learns that.
We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don't try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this. (2 Cor 4:2 NLT)
Faithful people will be honest as they present the Word of God. They know that they don’t need to sugar coat or distort the Word for people to come into the God’s fold. People who stage miracles and other phenomena claiming them to be the work of the Holy Spirit may win converts to themselves, but I seriously wonder if the converts find true salvation. When the truth of God is preached, we don’t need anything else.
Some trick people into proclaiming themselves as Christians by presenting a false gospel. They talk of salvation, but the major promise is a good life. They promise troubles will be removed. They promise prosperity for the faithful. They don’t mention that Jesus promised persecution (Matt 5:10-11). They don’t speak of the cost of discipleship (Luke 9:23-26) or obedience to Jesus (Matt 7:21). They don’t talk about repentance (Luke 13:5). The result is a false sense of eternal security that usually crumbles when hardships arise. The faithful teacher must speak all that he has heard and not leave out the tough things.
But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities [hardships], in distresses, In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened [punished], and not killed [put to death]; As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things. (2 Cor 6:4-10 KJV)
What a fantastic summary of the attitude and behavior of someone who is entrusted with the Word of God to teach others! What stands out to you in this list of attributes?
Is it the patience? I think of many who serve in difficult nations patiently sharing the Word with whoever will listen and not seeing anyone come to Christ. Some would say that there is something wrong with their calling if they don’t see results. Many quit. Yet history has proven that the seeds sown sprout many years later.
Genuine love is also something that critical. I’ve seen too many who say they love yet they don’t take the time to listen. They speak the words but are so busy or their ministry is so important that they have to get to their next meeting or prepare for their next sermon or lesson that they can’t give a genuine hello to anyone. I’ve know some who would shake your hand as they pulled you past so they could keep on walking to wherever was more important. This is too convicting; let’s move on to another.
Evil reports are often going to follow people who are making an impact for Jesus. The way a trustworthy person handles these is very important. We’ve seen politicians who have protested that they were innocent only to be exposed later. Does a trustworthy person make a big deal out of accusations and fight them fiercely? If they are true, then he acknowledges them. If they are false, then let the wolves howl until they find nothing to complain about. The important thing is to make sure that the reports are not brought because there is a problem. Being true is what is crucial.
If you think you should be teaching others and no one is entrusting you to teach, then you should look back at what you want to teach, look at your character and see what is going on that would keep you from it. You may need to repent and show a good track record before you are entrusted with a teaching position. If you are faithful in these areas but still not entrusted, then it may be time to look for a different calling.