Sermon preached on 1 Timothy 6:11-13 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 5/28/2017 in Novato, CA.
1 Timothy 6:11-13
“O Man of God”
O man of God! That’s what Paul calls Timothy here. That’s a title that in the Old Testament was given to such godly men as Moses, David, Elijah, and Elisha. Here Paul calls Timothy this man of God. That’s am especially fitting label when you think of Paul being a minister. He is this godly man serving the Lord as he pastors the church at Ephesus. As Paul addresses Timothy as a man of God, he calls him to action. What should a man of God be doing? How should he be looking to live as one who is a man of God? That’s what Paul wants to talk to Timothy about. And so, this passage is a passage of action! This is important to remember as Calvinists. Though it’s God’s work that saves us and even sanctifies us, that doesn’t mean the Christian life is a passive one. No, rather because we believe God’s grace is at work in our life, we are to be active. Active in looking to live Christ-like. And so, as we see Paul talk to Timothy about this, we are reminded of that call that comes to us as well. As men of God and women of God, how then should we be active in living for Christ? We’ll look at four calls to action in this passage.
The first word of action here is in verse 11. It’s the word “flee”. This word is the idea of running away from something. As Christians, sometimes the Christian life needs to recognize certain evils, certain temptations, certain dangers, and we need to run as far away from them as you can get. To clarify, it’s not a running of retreat per se. It’s a running away that says that you don’t want anything to do with those things.
Paul especially has in mind here what we talked about the last two weeks. In the last passage, we saw those false teachers. We learned about who they were at their core and the fruit they brought. Those false teachers were proud, ignorant, argumentative, and lovers of money. Those false teachers brought into the church things like envy, strife, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction. Paul tells Timothy here to run away from these things. He shouldn’t have anything to do with these false teachers. He shouldn’t try to cultivate their qualities within himself. He shouldn’t be about the fruit they are about. He must turn tail and run away from those things as fast as he can.
This is the regular reflection we need to have as well, in our lives. One commentary said that verse 13 comes across with a tone of emergency. Like if you had a fire in the house, you would flee that fire. There should be a sense of urgency and great concern here. This same commentary went on to note, though, that this emergency is lifelong for the Christian. The urgency won’t end until Christ’s return. Then we’ll be able to be at ease. Until then, there needs to a vigilance in your life that sees the dangers and threats when they come and knows when to run. What are those things in your life that by the grace of God you need to be running from? Maybe that’s been an issue. Maybe you’ve not been running from them. Maybe you’ve too often entertained them or dabbled in them, thinking you could manage the risk. But if you play with fire, you get burned. Let us recognize that are certain things we just need to stay away from and flee!
The second word of action here is also in verse 11. It’s the word “pursue”. This is the complement to the word “flee”. As a Christian, when we flee from something it should be to run toward something else. You don’t just flee aimlessly, running like your head is cut off. You flee the evil to pursue the good. This imagery that Paul uses here is somewhat like the put off, put on, language that he uses elsewhere. You put off the bad thing and look to put on the equivalent good thing in its place. But that language of put off and put on doesn’t have the same sort of “energy” or “action” that these two words have here. Flee and then pursue. In terms of pursuing, this is something we run after. We race toward something, some goal, some thing we want to get. We really put our heart and our energy into our pursuit. If you are air force pilot in a dog fight with an enemy jet, you are pursuing getting a lock on the enemy and then firing. If you are an Olympic swimmer, you are pursuing first place or maybe to break the world record. Life is full of various pursuits. Paul reminds Timothy of the things that a man of God should especially pursue.
And so, then verse 11 gives us yet another list of virtues. These are things Paul tells Timothy to pursue. Surely, they are not exhaustive, but they do paint a nice picture of the Christian life in general. He calls him to pursue righteousness, which is a general idea of living in a way consistent with God’s laws. He calls him to godliness, which is the same word discussed in last passage. There the false teachers had a perverted sense of godliness that they thought could make them lots of money. But Paul reminded us last week of the true aims of godliness, especially godliness with contentment. Paul drives home here that such true godliness must be his pursuit. Paul calls Timothy to pursue faith, which reminds us of how last passage said the false teachers were straying from the faith because of their love for money. Timothy rather needs to be renewed in his pursuit of faith; the one true faith, that is! Paul calls Timothy to pursue love. After Paul had just mentioned the wrong love of money, we remember that there is a right kind of love for the Christian. Timothy needs to double down on loving God and his neighbor. Paul calls Timothy to pursue patience. This is the Greek word for steadfastness or endurance. In light of the ongoing struggles with these false teachers and the strife and constant friction they bring to the church, Timothy will need endurance. And in general, Christians need endurance while we await the rest that will finally come when Christ returns. Lastly, Paul calls Timothy to pursue gentleness. I prefer to translate that as meekness. In contrast to the pride of those false teachers, Timothy needs meekness. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t stand up against the false teachers. No, it’s clear that Paul says he must stand up against them. And yet this is a lesson for all. There is a way to meekly yet firmly oppose false teachers and false teaching.
Paul says these are things to pursue; to strive after. Here is godly ambition put into action. Run toward these things! Again, saints at Trinity, apply this to yourself. Are you racing after these things? What do your main pursuits in life look like? It is so easy to get so involved in various earthly pursuits that we forget about these bigger things to pursue. So then, if you tell yourself you are pursuing these things, then I would ask what are you doing for that pursuit? Remember, these are action words. What does your pursuit look like? It should be more than just a wish. Not just some casual desire, “It sure would be nice to be more meek.” No, pursue it actively. For example, if your pursuing meekness, search the Bible for teaching on meekness. Meditate and memorize key verses on meekness. Look for sermons online on meekness and listen to them. Find faithful Christian books on meekness and read them. Pray for meekness. Ask others to pray for your meekness. Strive to put meekness into practice. Get counsel from other godly Christians in areas you find difficult in meekness. Hopefully you see the point. Whatever you are pursuing pursue it actively! Really go after it!
The third word of action here is in versed 12 when it talks about fighting the good fight of faith. Here we find most major translations are all pretty consistent, but they don’t alert you to the fact that this word was generally used in the sense of athletic competition. That’s true for both the word “fighting and “fight” here. They are commonly used in terms of athletic competition. You could arguably translate it as “compete the good competition of faith. This nuance of athletic competition comes out more clearly in 2 Timothy 4:7. There, Paul tells Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” That verse is clearly dealing with the same topic. It uses the same Greek words, again translated as “fought” and “fight”. But there he mentions in the middle the idea of finishing the race. There the athletic competition idea comes out in the translation with the specific example of a race. That’s the idea here too. Compete. Run the race. Swim to win. Hurl that javelin the farthest. Go for the gold!
With Paul talking like this, we again see Paul revisiting ideas he stated at the start of the letter. This is one of them. In 1:18, Paul told Timothy to “wage the good warfare.” Some translations even translate 1:18 as “fight the good fight. The Greek construction is very similar, though the words are different. There in chapter 1 it is definitely words of war. Here it is the words of athletic competition. But they both get at the same idea, and I love the colorful imagery. I could imagine some people can relate to one imagery more than the other. For me, I’m a highly competitive person especially when it comes to sports, though I’m not someone with much exposure to the military. So, I can especially appreciate this language here that involves competition. Compete so as to win!
So, when Paul talks about fighting the good fight here, or competing the good competition, what is he referring to specifically? Well he mentions “faith”. What does he mean then for Timothy and us to compete in terms of the faith? Well, that parallel passage I mentioned in 2 Timothy helps us to understand what he surely has in mind here. There, in 2 Timothy when he speaks in past tense about fighting the good fight, and finishing the race, the next verse says this: “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness.” When you hear that crown reference, you should still be thinking athletic competition. When you win the race, you’d get a crown. This crown is the wreath you’d get as a prize or reward for winning the race. So, this seems to help explain what Paul has in mind in this this passage. He has in mind Timothy active in his Christian living until the end. It’s like he’s running a race or competing in some competition, working hard until the very end. Think of when you watch those Olympic athletes. As they finally cross the finish line, they are huffing and puffing and you see them and think they’re just going to have a heart attack or something right there on the spot! But the point is they are giving it their all to try to do as best as they can in the competition. Paul says that’s how we are to act as Christians in terms of our living for Christ. Put in all, our everything, as if we are in a contest trying to win. And in the end, we will taste of a great victory. We’ll be in eternal heavenly bliss with our Lord in paradise.
So, again, saints at Trinity, are you competing so as to win? I’m not talking about in terms of earthly matters. You might be running in your job to be the best. You might be striving as a parent to be the best. Nothing wrong with that. Surely, we should strive for excellence in our daily callings. But in general, are you thinking of your life as a Christian in this way? Are you approaching your Christian living like such a contest or competition? I know as good protestants and reformed folks it might at first sound a bit funny to think of you putting your all and all in trying to make it to the end. We know rightly that Jesus is both the author and perfecter of our faith. You might think it seems contrary to that to talk about striving with all your energy and activity to make it to the end of the race and even to win. But the Apostle Paul is one of the strongest Calvinists I know and he used this imagery repeatedly. Our doctrine of sanctification needs to have a place for this. See your Christian life as a competition of sorts and compete to finish first. To clarify, Paul doesn’t use this language as to say that we are competing with other Christians. But simply the attitude of running to win is something that each are to pour into their Christian life, with eternal life as our goal.
And that leads us to the final word of action to mention today. It’s also there in verse 12. Lay hold. Lay hold of the eternal life. By the way, I’m sure this is just a further explaining of what we just talked about, the fighting the good fight. What does it mean to fight the good fight, to run so as to win the race of faith? It means to ultimately lay hold of eternal life. That’s the goal, prize, the reward, the outcome. But Paul uses this additional language of laying hold of it, so let’s not miss the imagery. There is again great action here. To lay hold of something is to reach out and take it. To reach out and grab it or seize it. You see something you want and so you zealously snatch it up! Sticking with the sports imagery, I think of a relay race with a baton. In the race, you need to reach out and grab that baton when it’s your turn. Or at the end of the race, when you see that ribbon at the finish line, you are going to lean in and really push forward to propel yourself through that finish line. You are trying to take hold of the victory.
We see this same language of laying hold onto eternal life down in verse 19. There it’s not talking about Timothy doing it. It’s talking about other Christians. That only illustrates the point we’ve been making throughout our sermon today. These calls to action are for Timothy, but they have application to all Christians. You too are to look to lay hold of eternal life. Stretch out; reach out; look to grab it! Again, is this your ambition in life? Today’s passage reminds us that it should be as a man of God or woman of God! May we be renewed in this ambition and striving and action again today!
And so, we’ve seen these four words of action that Paul calls Timothy and us to today! In conclusion, I want to draw your attention then to verses 13-14. These verses sum this all up by Paul urging Timothy to keep this commandment. In other words, he urges Timothy to be doing what we just have been talking about. And you’ll notice that this urging in verses 13-14 is put in rather solemn terms. Paul invokes the name of God and Christ. This is Paul adjuring Timothy using the name of God and Christ. That’s a serious charge he gives to Timothy!
And yet when Paul says this charge, I find a great encouragement in a specific detail here. Notice that before in verse 12, Paul had reminded Timothy of his own earlier confession of faith before many witnesses. But then when adjuring Timothy in 13, he mentions how Jesus Christ made his own confession before Pontius Pilate. There is a close symmetry here between Timothy’s confession and Jesus’ confession. Surely the comparison is intentional. Before Timothy made any such confession of his faith, Jesus first made confession to who he was and what he came to do. This little comparison in passing actually reminds us wonderfully about the foundation that underlies everything we talked about today. Timothy’s confession is rooted in Christ’s own confession. Timothy’s hope is rooted in the hope Christ already secured. Timothy can lay hold of eternal life because Jesus already won it at the cross. Timothy’s faith is in Jesus who already achieved victory for his people. Timothy’s union with Christ, his salvation in Christ, is behind all this. And it is Christ within Timothy that will enable him to accomplish the things that we discussed today.
I mean, even look at how Paul finishes there in verse 14. He wants Timothy to keep these instructions perfectly. Without spot or blemish. On our own strength, Timothy couldn’t do this. The only human who has ever lived without spot or blemish is Jesus himself. 1 Peter 1:19 calls Jesus a lamb without spot or blemish. Hebrews 9:14 says that this is why Jesus’ sacrifice is able to purify our dead consciences so we can serve the living God. And so, it’s amazing that a passage like this (or 2 Peter 3:14) can call us now to live without spot or blemish. Yet, it looks to who we are in Christ. It looks to the work Jesus has already accomplished for us, and the work he will complete in us. Already, Jesus’s sacrifice as the lamb without blemish, means God looks at us and sees us now in Christ as a lamb without blemish. That’s the atonement. And then right now, currently, Ephesians 5:27 says that Jesus is working within us so that he can ultimately present us holy and without blemish. That’s his ongoing work of sanctification within us that he’ll finish at the end.
So, again, this is the encouragement and the gospel behind all of this. Why all this call to action? Because of Christ. Because of who we are in him. Because of what he has already done for us. And because of what he is currently doing in us. That’s why if you are not in Christ, this call to action is basically worthless to you today. If you haven’t first repented of your sin and turned to Christ for salvation, don’t start with these commands. First things first, come to Jesus. Then these calls to action are relevant. Don’t miss the order there. It’s essential. Become a man or woman of God first by turning to Christ. Then, O man of God, live like this. Then, O woman of God, live like this! Flee sin and wickedness. Run away from temptation! Pursue and strive for being like Christ. Compete and race towards the finish line when you will reach out and take hold of the reward of eternal life! Persevere by grace through it all!
As you are active in this pursuit, I point you to a tool at the disposal of men and women of God. It’s what we find in 2 Timothy 3:17. It says that the Scriptures are given to us so that “the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” As we look to respond to these calls to action today, may we do so as continued students of the Word. For we know that God gave us the Bible to grow us as men and women of God, even while we await Christ’s return to bring us into our final reward. Amen.
Copyright © 2017 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.