by Richard Mansel
2 Timothy 1:13 says, “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (NKJV). The word “pattern” means “an example, mold or outline.”/1 It refers to a “pattern placed before one to be held fast and copied, a model.”/2
It is like a teacher who writes down the alphabet so that her students can copy the letters she has written. They may not do so perfectly, but that is immaterial. They are learning, doing the best that they can, and the teacher is pleased with their efforts.
The pattern is a standard to guide someone in the construction of something or to aid in completing a task. We understand this completely in secular life. We follow patterns, guidelines in driving, in our jobs, and in our home projects. We employ rulers, mathematical equations, gauges and measuring cups in order to have a standard of measurement. Everything has instructions in our culture. If it is necessary to put directions on shampoo, surely God would have guidelines in order to allow us to live righteously and safely in him. It is only when we come to the Bible that people suddenly fail to understand the pattern.
People claim that Jesus is our pattern, not the New Testament. Jesus cannot be separated from the Word of God. Jesus is indeed our pattern. However, Jesus said to deny ourselves and follow him (Mark 8:34). Jesus said that he never spoke of his own authority, but that which he heard from God (John 14:10). Likewise, the Holy Spirit also yields to God’s authority (John 16:13). Therefore, I have no right to go beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6). Jesus always directed people to “what is written” in God’s Word and to the Father. To separate the Godhead from the Bible is to render the latter useless. Without God, it becomes just another book and we lose all of its blessings and promises.
The purpose for the pattern is replication. That is, it allows everyone the same opportunity to hear the truth and to follow its tenets. God is “no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). Accordingly, God has fashioned a system where each person regardless of locale, culture, language, or era can open the same book and receive the same message. Therefore, Christians can be made who believe and follow the same doctrines regardless of the factors above. It is a beautiful, timeless plan and an example of the loving grace of God. We cannot merit the Word of God and the way of salvation. God gives it to us out of pure love. To follow the path he has built is not to merit salvation, it is to rejoice in his arms.
God’s plan has always been the unity of believers (John 17; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13). Yet, pride, selfishness, and false teachers conspire against the plan and disunity reigns throughout the religious world. This fact is falsely laid at the feet of the New Testament pattern. This is akin to the belief that since we have so many divorces that we must change what we believe about marriage, divorce, and remarriage.
These results-oriented doctrines are dangerous. They are coming at this from the wrong direction. The goal is obedience to God, not in the reorientation of his Word.
What is the pattern? It is the teaching within the New Testament on all manner of doctrines. God’s Word breathes with these guidelines in areas of worship, the Christian walk, salvation, church leadership, Christian marriages, etc. To enumerate these items would be to copy the New Testament itself. To determine what God desires on any topic, study and find what the Bible says. Christ will then lead us to the joys of heaven and keep us from the evil one (1 Peter 5:8; James 4:7).
1/ Gerhard Friedrich, editor. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 8:247.
2/ Joseph Thayer, Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman, 1977), 645.