Spiritual Succession



When Moses wrote the song that became Psalm 90 in our Bibles, he spoke of the limitation of human life.  In Psa. 90:10 he said, “As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone and we fly away.”  This limitation on the number of years we live creates challenges for us.  One challenge is to not waste our lives on frivolous things.  Life is too short to be spent on things that truly don’t matter.

Another challenge is to make provisions for the continuation of one’s life’s work.  A prudent business owner, for example, will prepare a successor to carry on after he is gone.  He will also initiate protocols so the business will continue to function in a productive manner.  After all, no one wants the fruit of his labor to come to nothing after his passing.

This same challenge exists in spiritual matters because even the most godly and spiritually-minded of people are going to pass away some day.  This is certainly one of the reasons why God’s word instructs parents to teach the scriptures to their children in every aspect of life (Deut. 6:6-9; Eph. 6:4).  It is also why Paul instructed Timothy to teach faithful men who would be able to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2).  This is the only way in which faith in Jesus Christ can be sustained from one generation to the next (2 Tim. 1:5).  We must instill this faith in others and thus create a line of spiritual succession, as it were.

As important as this principle is, it is surprising how rarely we see it followed in the scriptures.  Eli the priest was a godly man who served the Lord for many years.  His sons, however, were not like him.  1 Sam. 2:12 says that they were worthless men and did not know the Lord.  This is one reason why Samuel succeeded Eli as a priest of Israel.  Samuel, likewise, was an outstanding priest and judge over Israel, but his sons also did not follow in his footsteps.  1 Sam. 8:3 says that they turned aside after dishonest gain and took bribes.

Both Eli and Samuel were godly men.  Even so, their godliness was not a building block for their sons.  At least part of the reason for this failure had to be because their sons were unwilling to follow their father’s example of faith and service.  This is a key aspect of their character that must not be overlooked.

In contrast to Eli and Samuel, Paul was able to pass on his faith in Christ to the next generation of preachers of the gospel.  In Acts 16 he took the young man Timothy into his charge and molded him into a capable and trusted gospel preacher.  He did the same with Titus, whom he called “my true child in common faith” (Tit. 1:4).  Both these men did outstanding work in the kingdom and built upon Paul’s good works with their own faithful service.  The difference in Timothy and Titus is that they were willing to follow Paul’s footsteps, and to build upon his example of faith.  Because they were willing to learn from Paul and to do as he did, the church prospered for many years after the great apostle passed on to his reward.

This is the challenge that we face in every generation.  We must be willing to learn from, and to emulate, the godly men and women who have gone before us.  Whether they were our parents, preachers, elders, or Bible class teachers, we must not refuse the mantle of discipleship that they have worn.  If we are unwilling to build upon the good works of those who have preceded us, how will the church continue to accomplish God’s purposes?  Therefore, let us be like Timothy and Titus, and step up to continue building faith in Christ as long as we live.