Can you safeguard the organization and guarantee it doesn’t depart from core values? The Biblical example of the church at Ephesus says “no.” The church at Ephesus apparently got its start during Paul’s third missionary journey (Acts 18:21ff) and was influenced early on by such notables as Apollos, Aquila, and Priscilla. Paul taught there for an extended period of time (Acts 19:8), and was involved in the school of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9). During Paul’s first imprisonment he wrote his letter to the Ephesian church, and had no occasion to rebuke them in the letter. Apparently the church started very well. However, within just a few short years, Paul exhorted Timothy to “remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines” (1 Tim 1:3). Sound doctrine was very important to Paul, but not for its own sake, but because “the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim 1:5). Note the relationship of sound doctrine to love: sound doctrine is the vehicle, love is the destination. Here is a cause and effect principle: the application of sound doctrine is love. If love isn’t evident, then sound doctrine isn’t being applied.
The church at Ephesus had every imaginable advantage, and yet just over twenty years later the church there was met with this rebuke from Christ Himself: “…I have this against you that you have left your first love” (Rev 2:4). The local church body that had begun with such promise later bore little resemblance to its early vibrancy. What happened? If we understand a cause and effect relationship between sound doctrine and love, then we can conclude that despite Paul’s and Timothy’s best efforts, the church apparently did not maintain purity of doctrine. Was there anything Paul or Timothy could have done to safeguard the church further?
Paul charged Timothy with a discipleship/replication mandate in 2 Timothy 2:2, saying, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” The means of ensuring future purity is the instilling of truth in the next generation, yet that next generation also bears the responsibility of properly applying that truth – and that is never a sure thing. Like Solomon said, “…I must leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool?” (Ecc 2:18-19).
Ultimately, then, we must instill in the next generation the truth that has been entrusted to us, all the while knowing that the future generation must decide for itself how well it will learn and how well it will apply the truths. Like as in parenting, we “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov 2:6). The outcome of that general principle for child-rearing may not be fully applicable for organizations and institutions, but it provides a path of wisdom to follow. Consequently, a parent or leader is best served by modeling truth, teaching it faithfully, and beseeching the Lord of the harvest for a favorable and enduring outcome.
Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Gal 6:9-10).