Quality Control: Preserving the Gospel for the Next Generation
Italy is a country passionate about its wine. Since the days of the Romans, wine has played a significant role in Italian culture. It is present at most meals and enjoyed daily by people from all classes of society. Beautiful vineyards can be found all over the peninsula. The country boasts over 350 varieties of grapes, more than one million vineyards under cultivation, and twenty wine-producing regions, some of them among the world’s oldest. Because Italians view wine as an important part of their daily life, they care deeply about perfecting the production process and protecting the quality of taste.
In order to safeguard the purity of their wine and preserve it for the next generation, Italy regulates their winemaking industry through a series of rigorous qualifications and government-issued quality assurance labels found on the necks of wine bottles. The highest classification among these labels is DOCG, which stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita(“Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin”). To obtain this label for a bottle of wine, Italian winemakers must meet strict standards pertaining to the location of the vineyard, production, quantity, alcohol content, aging, and taste. The variety of grape can only be grown within its original region and the prescribed pattern of production must be followed precisely. This ensures that a good bottle of Barolo from Piedmont or Brunello di Montalcino from Tuscany is the genuine article and not a counterfeit. It also preserves the quality of Italy’s wines for future generations.
Italy’s devotion to quality control of its wine illustrates Paul’s concern to preserve the purity of the gospel message and ensure that it be brought to future generations. Convinced that the time of his death was near, the apostle wrote the letter we call “2 Timothy” with a great sense of urgency to his young and trusted colleague. Paul had finished his race. Timothy must now carry the torch. In 2 Tim 1:13-14, Paul exhorts Timothy to “follow the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me” and “guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” The Greek word he uses in v.13 for “pattern” describes a model, form, or standard that serves as a trustworthy guide. After summarizing sound apostolic doctrine in vv.9-10, Paul tells Timothy to continue in this teaching and guard it. Like a disciplined Italian winemaker who refuses to deviate from the prescribed standard of production, Paul stresses to Timothy that he was not to dilute the gospel message or depart from the doctrine that was being entrusted to him. In one sense, the gospel that Timothy was to preach must bear the label “DOCG.” He was to follow the pattern of sound words and guard the good deposit.
Paul’s plea for doctrinal purity is applicable in every age, including our own. The church must be vigilant to guard the gospel so that each generation can rediscover it. Although we live at time when people do not “endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they…accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Tim 4:3), we must follow the pattern of sound words, for it provides the church with nourishment, protects the church from heresy, and preserves the church unity.
Laboring as a missionary-pastor here in Milan, Italy, I am acutely aware of the need to preserve the gospel for the next generation of Italians. Sadly, there are few churches in this beautiful country that faithfully proclaim the liberating message of God justifying the wicked by his grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone. I am very grateful for those that do. However, we must not only labor to reach young Italians and pray for their conversion to Christ, but we must also ask the Lord of the harvest to graciously provide this land with a multitude of Timothys, faithful young men who will follow the pattern of sound words and guard the purity of the gospel so that it will discovered (and rediscovered!) by the next generation.
As we joyfully labor in Christ’s vineyard together, please join us in prayer for the longevity of the gospel witness in Italy. And may we be encouraged as we remember that, ultimately, God himself is the master winemaker. The vineyard belongs to him, and he is committed to preserve it.
Rev. Michael Brown