In the first post in this series on finishing well, I compared a ministry assignment to a leg of a relay race. I also pointed to the baton as a distinguishing feature of a relay race. Furthermore, I identified the baton as the gospel in our ministry race. The gospel is the distinguishing feature of our ministry.1 While Tom Steffen does not identify the baton as the gospel in his book, Passing the Baton, he does devote a whole chapter to “Presenting an Accurate Gospel.” (p 127-141 in the 1993 version of the book.) As relay runners must keep a firm grip on the baton, so also church-planters must keep a firm grip on the gospel. This is no less true for administrative assignments in mission organizations.

What is the Gospel?

This may seem like an unnecessary question. Yet, when we read the definitions of the gospel from Christian websites, confusion is evident.2Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 2010. p 18-20. In a similar way, J. Mack Stiles warns of assuming and confusing the gospel and cultural Christianity.3 J. Mack Stiles, The Marks of the Messenger, IVP, 2010, p 37-47. It is critical to the race before us that we know what the gospel is.

The Gospel Holds the Bible Together

At the first conference of the Gospel Coalition in 2007, D. A. Carson made this observation in a message titled “What is the Gospel?”:

For some Christians, the gospel is a narrow set of teachings about Jesus and his death and resurrection which, rightly believed, tips people into the kingdom. After that, all the real training and life transformation and discipleship and maturity take place. This is a far cry from the emphasis in the Bible which understands the gospel to be the embracing category that holds much of the Bible together and takes Christians from lostness, condemnation, and alienation from God all the way through conversion and discipleship to the consummation, to resurrection bodies and a new heaven and a new earth.

Don CArson, What is the Gospel?

Indeed the gospel is comprehensive and the theme of the Bible storyline. The gospel is not limited to conversion but is essential to discipleship, church planting, and our hope for the world to come. We must avoid descriptions of the gospel that reduce its significance in life and ministry. That is why I identify the baton as the gospel. Just as the baton is essential for each leg of a relay race, so the gospel is essential for all of our ministry. We will not finish well without holding on to the gospel. In addition to the footnoted resources I recommend the course “What Is the Gospel?” on the Gospel Coalition website.

Paul had a Firm Grip on the Gospel

In a relay race, the runners don’t get to fashion the baton to their personal preference. The size, weight, and material of the baton are determined by race officials. So in ministry, we firmly grip the biblical gospel (Jude 3).

Entrusted with the Gospel

The apostle Paul likens his ministry to a race in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. Specifically, he points out the need for discipline and focus. He states his gospel focus emphatically in the previous verse, “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I might share with them in its blessings.”(1 Cor. 9:23).

Paul understood the gospel as a trust he received from God.4See 1 Corinthians 4:1, Ephesians 3:7-13 and 1 Timothy 1:11 As a result, he put a lot of effort into defending and clarifying this gospel to the churches he had started.5 See my blog post on Follow-up: Making sure they get the Gospel right.

In Paul’s gospel summary in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, he emphasized that what he and the other apostles preached and what the Corinthian Christians had believed were things of first importance (1 Cor. 15:3). The Corinthians needed to take a firm grip on this gospel.

By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

1 Cor. 15:2

Paul entrusts the Gospel to others

Not surprisingly, Paul charged his mentee Timothy to also guard the gospel (1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:13,14). Furthermore, Paul commands Timothy to entrust the gospel to others (2 Timothy 2:1,2). These “faithful men” will pass the baton of the gospel to others and so the relay race of gospel ministry continues.

In Acts 20:17-38, Paul entrusts the gospel to the Ephesian elders. He has completed his personal ministry at Ephesus. Namely, he had taught the gospel publicly and from house to house (Acts 20:20). Furthermore, he had declared what was profitable, indeed the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). Paul was confident that he had faithfully taught the gospel and modeled a humble, servant approach to ministry.

He then exhorts them to pay careful attention to themselves and the flock. He warns them that some of these Ephesian elders will become false teachers and distort the truth (Acts 20:29-30). Paul then commends them to God and the word of his grace (Acts 20:32). From Paul’s warning here we see that our finishing well does not guarantee that the next leg will also go well. Yet Paul was confident that he had faithfully completed his race and testified to the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24).

What does a firm grip entail?

So if we are to finish our ministry well with the confidence that Paul had, we need to keep a firm grip on the gospel. First, we need to be faithful to the Scriptures that make us wise for salvation in Christ Jesus. Secondly, we must avoid reducing the gospel to just the entrance to the Christian life. Thirdly, we must entrust the gospel carefully to those who follow in the next leg of the race.

In the next post, I will explore receiving the baton well as it relates to finishing well.