Morning Sermon: 1 Timothy 6:20-21, Guard The Deposit


Old Testament Reading: Exodus 6:1–8

“But the LORD said to Moses, ‘Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.’ God spoke to Moses and said to him, ‘I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.’’” (Exodus 6:1–8, ESV)

Sermon Text: 1 Timothy 6:20-21

“O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you.” (1 Timothy 6:20–21, ESV)


Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.



Paul’s letter to Timothy ends where it began, with an exhortation to Timothy to guard the gospel that was entrusted to him. 

This is what Paul exhorted Timothy to do back in chapter 1 verses 3-7: “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions” (1 Timothy 1:3–7, ESV). No different doctrine, Timothy! That is where Paul began. And now he brings his letter to a conclusion, saying, “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you.” (1 Timothy 6:20, ESV). And so Paul ends where he began. Timothy was to guard the gospel. He was to promote and protect sound doctrine. This was to be among his chief concerns. 

This was Timothy’s calling, and it is the calling of every pastor and elder who serves within Christ’s church. The gospel is to be kept pure. Sound doctrine is to be promoted and preserved, for God’s word is like bread and water to our souls. God’s people will languish if they are fed corrupted food; they will wither if they are presented with polluted water to drink. “Guard the deposit entrusted to you”, Paul says. 

I have devoted an entire sermon to verses 20 and 21 for two reasons. One, these verses do stand alone in Paul’s letter. They are the concluding remarks — the final charge — given to Timothy. And two, the church today needs to carefully consider how central this work of “[guarding] the deposit” is to the work of the ministry. 

So let us now consider this text bit by bit. 


Guard The Deposit Entrusted To You

At the beginning of verse 20, we read, “O Timothy…” The “O” adds emphasis to the address. “O Timothy” — you can hear the apostle pleading, can’t you? “O Timothy”, please be sure to do this! 

And what was Timothy commanded to do? He was to “guard the deposit” that Paul (and others) had “entrusted” to him. 

To guard is to hold on to someone or something closely. A prison guard keeps a close watch on the prisoners to keep a hold on them. A security guard keeps a close watch on someone or something of value to be sure it is not harmed or stolen. And Timothy was to “guard the deposit.” He was to keep it safe and return it as he received it. 

What was this “deposit” that Paul entrusted to Timothy’s care? The context is very clear. It was the gospel, that is to say, the truth of God’s word, or sound doctrine that Timothy was to guard. The Christian faith was entrusted to him! This was the precious thing that he was to keep! 

So important was this that Paul commanded Timothy to do the same thing in the second letter that he wrote to him. In 2 Timothy 1:13 we read, “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:13–14, ESV). So there it is again. Timothy was to “guard the good deposit entrusted to” him. And the deposit was “the sound words” that he had heard from Paul. And a little later in 2 Timothy Paul adds this: “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2, ESV).

So here we learn something very important about the Christian faith. It is not something that evolves. It is not something to be added to or taken away from. There is no need to improve upon it, for it was whole and complete when Christ delivered it to his Holy Apostles, and his Holy Apostles entrusted it to the next generation of pastors and teachers. These pastors and teachers (men like Timothy) were not called to alter or develop what they received, but to guard it. And having guarded it, they were to entrust it to other faithful men, who would teach others also.

And how did Christ entrust the faith to his Apostles; and how did his Apostles entrust the faith to the next generation, and they the next generation after that? They taught the scriptures! They demonstrated that Jesus was the Christ from the Old Testament scriptures. This is what Christ did with his disciples in his earthly ministry prior to his death, but especially after his resurrection. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27, ESV). And his Apostles did the same. They proclaimed that Jesus was the Christ from the Old Testament scriptures. And his Apostles, as eyewitnesses of the resurrection, were specially commissioned to testify concerning the finished work of Christ, and, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they either wrote or oversaw the writing, of the New Testament scriptures. The New Testament testifies to the work that Christ has accomplished, and applies that finished work to the New Covenant people of God.  

So where do we find this deposit that was entrusted to Timothy? The answer is that we find it in the scriptures. The gospel of Jesus Christ — true and sound doctrine — the Christian faith — is contained within Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible. There we find the faithful words of Christ, his Apostles, and Prophets. There Paul’s teaching, for example, is preserved for us. There we may see and clearly understand what Paul taught concerning Jesus the Christ. There we may come to understand how Paul proclaimed Christ from the Old Testament. And there in the Holy Scriptures we may also understand how the finished work of Christ is to be applied by the New Covenant people of God.  

Paul taught the Christian faith to Timothy orally, but he also wrote. And what he said and what he wrote did surely agree. The Roman Catholic church makes much of this distinction between the written word and oral tradition. This is how they attempt to account for their many strange doctrines that are nowhere to be found within Holy Scripture. They claim that they arise from tradition. But there is no warrant for this. What Paul said and what he wrote surely agree. And certainly, he was careful to write down the essential things to be preserved from generation to generation. So this distinction between oral tradition and scripture simply will not explain the blatant contradictions that exist between Rome’s doctrine of justification by faith and works, and Paul’s teaching regarding justification by faith alone as found in scripture, to name just one thing. Yes, we agree that Jesus, Paul, and the other Apostles said many things that were never written down. John famously tells us so at the end of his Gospel, saying, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25, ESV). But it is foolish to think that the oral teaching of Christ and his Apostles would contradict what was written. But this is what we find in Rome’s distinction between the authority of scripture and tradition. 

Where do we find the Christian faith? Where do go for true and sound doctrine? To the scriptures! We go to the scriptures and we labor to interpret and apply them in the way that Christ and his Apostles did. And we allow the more clear passages of scripture to shine light on the less clear. The scriptures are our authority for truth, and we must labor to rightly divide them, or correctly interpret them. 

So do the Reformed find any value at all in the interpretive tradition of the church? Yes, we do! We hold the writing of the early church fathers in high esteem. We cherish the creeds and confession of the church that have stood the test of time. We are not so foolish and arrogant to disregard those who have gone before us. No, we may learn from them. We may be greatly helped by their insights into the Holy Scriptures and their attempts to summarize the Christian faith. 

We are not opposed to the tradition of the church. No, but we are aware that men are fallible. They are prone to error. But “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work”. That is 2 Timothy 3:16–17. Pay very careful attention to this. In 1 and 2 Timothy Paul exhorts Timothy to guard the deposit entrusted to him, and to entrust it to others. And what does Paul direct Timothy to? What is Timothy to run to depend upon to be “equipped for every good work” as a “man of God”? The Holy Scriptures — “all scripture”, the Old Testament and the New — for they are “breathed out by God”, Paul says.

And this is why the very first thing we confess is 2LBC 1.1 is, “The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience. Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet they are not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in divers manners to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his church; and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.” And in paragraph 10 of chapter 1 we say, “The supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit, into which Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved.”

Paul began his letter with an exhortation to keep the doctrine (teaching) of the church pure. Here he concludes his letter by returning to that theme, saying, “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you.” And we should also remember that at the very heart of Paul’s letter he stated his purpose for writing, staying in 3:14, “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14–15, ESV). And so in the beginning, middle, and end of Paul’s letter, it is the truth of God’s words that is emphasized — the church is a “pillar and buttress of the truth”. Ministers in Christ’s church are to guard the truth, for the church is designed to hold aloft true doctrine for all the world to see. She is to promote it and protect it. The whole church is to be concerned with this, and ministers have a special role to play. 

May I ask you by way of application, are you eager to have your pastors do this in the church today? They, like Timothy who lived so very long ago, are also called to “guard the deposit entrusted to” them, for they are ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The deposit is the same deposit! It has been handed down from generation to generation and preserved marvelously for us in the pages of Holy Scripture. The Christian faith has not changed. It cannot change, for the work of Christ is finished! The practice of the Christian faith may look somewhat different from culture to culture, and from generation to generation, but in substance, the faith is the same. And though it is true that the church has been sometimes more and sometimes less faithful to guard the deposit entrusted to us. Indeed, in certain times and places it has seemed as if the truth of the gospel was nearly snuffed out. Nevertheless, the scriptures have been preserved. And the scriptures do constantly call the church to be reformed and to be constantly reforming according to the written word of God. Are you eager to have your pastors lead from the scriptures, and to guard the deposit entrusted to them? 

Or will you go the way of the worldly church and say that doctrine does not matter? Of course, I think better of you. But the temptation will always be there. The Christian faith is always under assault. And it seems that a common tactic of the evil one in this time in place is to convince churches that doctrine simply doesn’t matter. What matters? Feelings matter. Being “good” matters. “Love” matters. Jesus matters (whatever that means). But doctrine doesn’t. “Doctrine divides, but Jesus unites”, is the mantra in many churches. This is a lie straight from the pit of hell. The Christian faith is built upon the truth of God’s word. If those truths — truths regarding God, man, sin, Christ, salvation, the church, our worship, and our future (to name just a few things) — are corrupted, then the Christian faith will not last, it will not stand. The truth is that love for God, faith in Christ, holy living, and sound doctrine cannot be separated. How can you love a God that you do not know? How can you trust in Christ without understanding who he is and what he has accomplished for you? How can you live a holy life before God without knowing what he requires and forbids? It is doctrine that informs all of this. And that is why Paul was so concerned to combat heresy and to exhort Timothy to “guard the deposit entrusted to him”.

And if you wish for pastors to do this then you must support them in their work. Some of them should be supported financially so they can devote themselves fully to this work. All must be supported with your prayers. And they should be encouraged in their work too, so that they do not grow weary. I speak generally here, and not condemningly, for you do excel in these things. But do not cease to support your ministers in their work, brothers and sisters. No, you are to maintain and even grow in your appreciation for the work that your ministers are called to do. Support them. Support them with your prayers. Support them with your time, treasures, and talents.  

Support them by faithfully attending the worship services of the church and other classes to attentively listen to their teaching. Ministers labor in their teaching. And they labor so that the church might be built up strong and true. But the teaching will accomplish nothing if the congregation does not listen. Perhaps I can exhort you here, brothers and sisters, to attend the second service on Sundays to sing, to pray corporately, but also to listen to catechetical, that is to say, doctrinal preaching. We have decided to regularly preach through these central doctrines of the Christian faith because we believe it is needed and beneficial to the people of God. 

And my last point of application for this first point of the sermon is, let us also be sure to invest in the education of future ministers. Who will the Lord call to the ministry? It’s impossible to say. But if a man is called to the ministry, he must be trained for it. And the congregation will need to get behind that. If sound doctrine is to be preserved and promoted within Christ’s church, the sound doctrine must first be understood. This requires study. This requires the hard work of preparation. 


 Avoid What Is Falsely Called “Knowledge” 

“O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you.” And then Paul adds, “Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’…” Guard this. Guard the gospel. Guard the Christian faith that has been handed down to you. And avoid that. “Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’…”

Many students of the Bible have wondered what particular false teaching Paul was referring to here. The phrase, “what is falsely called knowledge”,  has led some to believe that Paul was combating the heresy that came to be known as Gnosticism.  The gnostics taught, among other things, that salvation was attainable only through the attainment of some special, secret, and esoteric knowledge — that is, special knowledge only a select few have access to. This gnostic teaching runs contrary to the Christian faith on many points, one of them being their view of knowledge. In the Christian faith, the truth of the gospel and true doctrine is accessible to all, not just a few. And so you can see why some would see the heresy of Gnosticism behind Paul’s warning here. But two things make this unlikely: One, Gnosticism would not fully develop and threaten the church until a little later in church history. And two, the teaching of the Gnostics does not exactly fit with what Paul says elsewhere in this letter regarding the false teachers who threatened the church in Ephesus. Really, it does not matter who these false teachers were, exactly. What Paul says here describes and applies to all forms of false teaching. 

One, notice that this distortion of the Christian faith that Timothy was to avoid was “falsely called knowledge”. It should be obvious to all that false teachers and their false teaching are able to creep into the church because they are disguised as the truth. False teachers do not creep into the church saying, hey, listen to me I have something other than the Christian faith to proclaim. No, they claim to have the best and truest version of the Christian faith. They claim to have light and not darkness. True knowledge and certainly not a distortion of it. They are wolves… in sheep’s clothing. They are hidden reefs upon which men and women unknowingly run aground and make a shipwreck of the faith. Think of it. These false teachers, whoever they were, claimed to have knowledge, true knowledge. And sadly, some within the early church believed them, and “by professing it some… swerved from the faith” (1 Timothy 6:21, ESV),

This should cause us to tremble, brothers and sisters. This should awaken us and sober us concerning the danger that false teachers and false teaching are to the church of Jesus Christ. Distortions of the Christian faith do cause some to “swerve from the faith”. Think of that for a moment. 

Here I will repeat what I have just said. One, doctrine does matter. When doctrine is distorted and believed, those who believe it do swerve from the faith. Doctrine matters. And two, how important it is, therefore, to have men who are well trained in the Christian faith serving as ministers within Christ’s church. Ministers have a special obligation to guard the good deposit of the faith entrusted to them. And how will this deposit be guarded if it is not known? It must be known, dear brethren. Ministers must be well trained in the faith. They must have sound doctrine if they are to effectively keep it. 

It has been famously said before that the best way to spot a counterfeit is to grow very familiar with the original. Those who are trained to spot counterfeit currency do not only study the counterfeits. No, more than this, they spend a great deal of time studying and handling the genuine. When a counterfeit comes their way they are quickly able to say, something is not right here. And then upon closer examination, they will be able to identify what it is that is not right. And so it is with the one who is well trained in Christian doctrine. His familiarity with true doctrine increases his sensitivity to all that is false. He develops discernment. He develops the ability to quickly say, something is not right here. And then upon closer examination, he is able to identify the fatal flaw.

Here I have said that ministers must be well trained in the faith. And they must also be faithful to teach the Christian faith to the congregation. This will enable the members themselves to quickly identify false teaching should it present itself. The members of a church, if well trained in Christian doctrine, will be like the noble Bereans of Acts 17 who, upon hearing the preaching of Paul and Silas, “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” (Acts 17:11, ESV).

 False teachers do not bring their false teaching into the church and say, hey everyone, I have some strange and different teaching to present to you. Come and hear! No, they are often charismatic and personable. They believe what they say. And their teaching is smooth and polished. It will be appealing. It will have the appearance of truth. Beware, brothers and sisters. Know the original.

I will say, this is one of the reasons that a confession of faith is so very helpful to the church. The word of God is our authority for truth. And confessions of faith summarize the central teachings and core doctrines contained within Holy Scripture. Through our confession we say, here is what we believe the scriptures to teach regarding God, creation, man, sin, and redemption in Christ Jesus, to name just a few things. When a confession is written it may be tested against the scriptures by all who read it. And when a confession is written it may be scrutinized over a long period of time — generations may put it to the test. A confession is a very useful thing to ministers and members alike. One of its functions is to help guard the church against doctrinal error. Ministers and members may use it to quickly identify the error. They are able to say, what I am hearing does not agree with what we have confessed to believe. And then that teaching might be more thoroughly scrutinized against the authority of Holy Scripture. The confession — ours is the Second London Baptist Confession — is a summary of the Christian faith. And so long as it is a faithful summary of Holy Scripture (and we believe it is), it may be identified with the deposit that has been entrusted to us, and the faith against which all others are to be compared. I pray that you heard me correctly. I said, “so long as it is a faithful summary of Holy Scripture (and we believe it is), it may be identified with the deposit that has been entrusted to us, and the faith against which all are to be compared.” The confession is a summary of the Christian faith drawn from the scripture. Scripture is authoritative. The confession is a summary of its doctrines. 

Let us now briefly consider how Paul describes this false teaching which is “falsely called knowledge.”

First, he calls it “irreverent babble”. “Irreverent” here means godless and worldly. The word “babble” indicates that the talk of these false teachers was foolish and empty. And of course, it was foolish and empty talk because it was, at its core, godless and worldly. Where did the teaching of these false teachers originate? Not from God! And not from heaven. No, their teaching was irreverent. It originated from the earth. It was the product, not of God, but of man. 

And here is the difference between true and false doctrine. True doctrine is revealed from on high. It is from God, and it is received by man. False doctrine is worldly and godless. It originates in the heart and mind of sinful man. 

How do we know what is from God and what is from man? So much could be said about this. But one important observation to make is that God has revealed himself to man in the course of human history by first acting and then speaking. 

In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth, and then he did speak to Adam in the garden to instruct him how he should live in light of the act of creation. And in the days of Moses God did act to redeem his people from Egypt by accomplishing mighty deeds before them, and then he spoke to Israel by Moses to explain his redemptive work and to instruct them how they should live in response to it. And in the days of Christ God did act to accomplish our redemption — the virgin was with child, Christ lived on earth and performed mighty deeds, he died, was raised on the third days, and he ascended. Christ also taught. And his apostles taught. But their teaching was an explanation and application of the work that God had accomplished. 

I wonder if you can see the significance of this. God’s revelation of himself to us follows his work of creation and redemption. And the word of Christ, his apostles, and prophets were accompanied by signs and wonders to testify to their truthfulness. God has revealed his truth, not through the words of men only, but by acting in creation and in redemption.

Stated differently, God has spoken to us not by sending teachers only, so that we are left with the opinion of one man set against the opinion of another. No, God has acted miraculously in creation and redemption. He has spoken to us supremely through his Son who performed miraculous deeds in life, who died and rose again. And his apostles have testified concerning him. They themselves performed miraculous deeds to confirm that their explanation and application of the finished work of Christ was indeed true and from above. But the philosophies and religions of the world are irreverent. They are godless. They have their origins, not in heaven and with God, but on the earth and in the hearts and minds of sinful men.  

Brothers and sisters, the Christian faith is a revealed faith. God has revealed it by acting in history and by giving us his word. It is not the product of the imagination of men. It is from God. This is what Peter so beautifully says 2 Peter 1:16-20. Listen carefully: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’, we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:16–21, ESV). 

When Paul describes false teaching as irreverent, that is, godless and worldly, this is what he means. Its origin is not in God but in man. It is to be avoided, for it is nothing more than empty babble. The teaching that is to be received, promoted, and protected is that which has come to us from above, supremely through the incarnate Word of God, who lived, died, and rose again for his people. Any teaching which does not conform with his (That is God) is to be rejected, for “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:1–2, ESV).

Secondly, Paul refers to the false teaching as “contradictions”. “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge…” (1 Timothy 6:20, ESV).

This is a wonderful description of all forms of false teaching. They are “contradictions”. This means that they are filled with inconsistencies. They are internally inconsistent, for they do not agree with the reality of the world that God has made. And of course, they contradict God’s special revelation too. False teaching is filled with contradictions.

Timothy, and every minister of the gospel, must “avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge…” while “[guarding] the deposit entrusted to [them].” 


Keep The Faith, By God’s Grace

Lastly, Timothy was to do this — he was to guard the deposit entrusted to him — by the grace of God and in full dependence on the strength that he supplies. Paul’s last words in this wonderful letter are, “Grace be with you” (1 Timothy 6:21, ESV).

It doesn’t come through in the English, but in the Greek the word translate as “you” is in the plural. So really Paul said, grace be with you all. Think about that. Doesn’t that agree with what I have been telling you all along? Though this letter was addressed to Timothy, and though it is particularly applicable to pastors, this letter is for the whole church. It was not read by Timothy and then stuck in his drawer! No, it was to be shared with the whole church. For the whole church must know what ministers are called to do. And most of what Paul called Timothy to do has application for all Christians. 

“Grace be with you”, Paul says. Oh, how we need God’s grace. God calls us to himself by his grace. He calls us according to his unmerited favor, he draws us to himself, and gives us the gift of faith. All of it is undeserved. But we do not leave grace behind. No, we are to continue in grace. We are to grow in grace and finish with grace. We need God to sustain us throughout the Christian life and to the very end. Let us be found trusting always in him and in Christ the Savior he has sent. Amen.



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