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BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION (9): The Pattern


What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. – 2 Timothy 1:13-14

What did Paul mean when he wrote to Timothy about “the pattern of sound teaching” or “the form of sound words” (KJV)?

The answer to this question is important, for he continues a few verses later:

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. – 2 Timothy 2:2

The pattern of sound teaching was to form the basis of the teaching Timothy was to deliver to faithful men who would in turn teach others.

Just what is this pattern?

Paul defines it for us. He said that “what you have heard from me” you should keep as the pattern. In other words, Paul’s teaching formed the pattern for Timothy to follow. Though he did not use the same word in 2 Timothy 2:2, the same thought is present: what you have heard from me you should pass to others who will also teach still others.

The only other time this particular word translated pattern (NIV) or form (KJV) in 2 Timothy 1:13 appears in the New Testament is in 1 Timothy 1:16 where Paul said Christ displayed His patience in saving Paul as an example of how Christ can (and will) save any sinner who turns to Him.

What did Paul teach? What was the patience Christ  displayed in saving Paul?

Actually the two are very closely related. Paul said:

I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. – 1 Corinthians 2:2

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. – 1 Corinthians 15:3-4

This, Paul said, is the gospel he had preached and by which we are saved. This was the foundation of all of his teaching – and is to be the basis for all of our teaching as well. We, like Paul, should preach “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” For too long, we have been more interested in the rituals of worship and baptism along with the organizational models of how the church should be governed, how we can spend “the Lord’s money” that we contribute to “the church” and the procedural matters of church discipline than we have been in being conformed to the image of Christ. In other words, we have preached “churchianity” instead of “Christianity” as our concerns focus more on the church than on the Christ.

Many of the things we identify as a part of “the pattern” are not found in the Bible at all. They come, not from what the Scripture says, but from our inferences about what the Scripture does not say, inferences that are far from “necessary” and that make leaps of assumptions. Yet, we have tended to enforce these as “the pattern” that everyone must follow.

Paul’s pattern was simple. “Imitate me as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Jesus is to be our pattern, as He Himself said on more than one occasion, “Take up your cross and follow me.” He said we are to love one another as He has loved us. We are to imitate Him in our mission, our character, and our faith.

“The pattern” of the modern Church of Christ is elusive. When asked for a complete description of the pattern, people respond by saying that the New Testament is the pattern. Certainly the New Testament has the pattern, as it describes Jesus Christ for us. It also tells us how early Christians fared as they either followed Him or did not. They got into messes in their local churches. The apostles would straighten out the mess by pointing them back to Jesus, His cross, and His resurrection.

We need to do the same today and spend less time worrying about the finer details of a “new law” that is really summed up in one word: love. If we would learn to love as Jesus loved, our concerns would be more with people than with precise practice, more with mortifying the flesh than with maintaining the forms of godliness without power.

What is the pattern for us?

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. – 1 Peter 2:21

The word for example here is not the same as the word for pattern in 2 Timothy 1:13, though the meaning is somewhat similar. This word comes from the classroom. The teacher puts an example of penmanship on the board or on the page – and the student copies it. Jesus is our teacher. His example of submission to unjust suffering is what we are to follow or imitate.

He bore His cross without complaint; so should we. He showed love in every action; so should we. He trusted Himself to God at all times; so should we. He had confidence in God that He would deliver Him even from death; so should we.

In other words, in our faith, our hope, and our love – we should follow in the steps of Jesus. Then, when we disagree with another Christian, each of us should learn to accept one another just as Christ has accepted us (Romans 15:7). This will not be difficult if we love people more than we love law.

What this means is that our hermeneutic must focus more on finding the mind of Christ (as in Philippians 2:5). Too many read to discover details of the law of Christ, which we suppose is similar to the law of Moses, just scattered here and there throughout the New Testament.  This is why few agree on any specific version of “the pattern.”

It is not hard to understand what it means to love one another, to have faith in God, and to have confidence in the future because God loves us, Christ died for us, and the Holy Spirit lives in us. This beats having to find all of the elements of that elusive pattern, while worrying we might have unintentionally overlooked some vital part of it that will damn us eternally.

It is far better for us to concentrate on following Jesus than some hard-to-decipher pattern!

NEXT: BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION (10) – Willing to Do His Will

PREVIOUS: BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION (8) – Context! Context! Context!

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3 Responses

  1. Excellent article…
    Keep up the good work!

  2. Hey Jerry,

    I continue to enjoy this series. I thought of another one…”faith”.

    I had one of the most difficult conversations with someone the other day — I’d label them conservative COC (I loathe labels…but it helps sometimes). Anyway, for anything we’d talk about, he’d constantly say that he had arrived upon his conclusion “by faith.” I’d ask him about any other number of things, and he’d say, “By faith, I can’t use IM”, etc.

    He then said he believed the Earth was billions of years old, “but that wasn’t a matter of faith.” I told him I could find many in the brotherhood that would disagree!

    Anyway, I found this to be an interesting defense. To me, it kinda seemed like playing King Of The Mountain…whomever could announce that they’d arrived upon their conclusion “by faith” first was the winner.

    Just curious if you’d heard that defense much.

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