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Sermon preached on 1 Timothy 6:20-21 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 7/9/2017 in Novato, CA.
1 Timothy 6:20-21
“Committed to your Trust”
Last time we studied 1 Timothy we had a chance to think about stewardship. We thought about Christians who had becoming financially rich and the call for them to use those finances in certain ways. We said it was a matter of stewardship and that it had applications beyond just finances. That whatever things God has entrusted to us, we must look to steward them in a godly way. Well, today’s passage, in a different way, also brings to us the topic of stewardship. You see, as we come to our final sermon on 1 Timothy, Paul ends the letter with one final charge to Timothy. Here, he again has in mind the main reason why he wrote this letter. There were false teachers causing trouble at the church in Ephesus where Timothy was pastoring. Here Paul closes the letter with one final personal charge to Timothy to guard what has been committed to his trust, and to avoid the teachings and trappings of these false teachers. As Paul calls Timothy to guard this trust, we will see that it is ultimately a call for Timothy to be a good steward of the spiritual responsibilities God has given him. So, if last passage dealt with stewardship of various physical things God has entrusted us, today’s deals more with stewarding various intangible but greatly important things. What spiritual gifts and associated responsibilities has God entrusted to you? He calls us to be good stewards in such areas. This will be our topic for today.
So then, we turn in our first point in verse 20 and will look at the first part first. It says, “O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust.” We learn right away that Timothy has something that was entrusted to him. The Greek word here can also be translated as deposited. The idea here is that someone receiving something from someone else in trust. The person who receives the deposit must safeguard it until he returns it to the owner. This might be in the case of someone who goes on a trip. The person going on a trip might deposit a valuable with such a person to safeguard the valuable until they return. Other times, this kind of deposit might be to safely deliver the item from one person to another. The original possessor of the property might deposit the item with an authorized courier who would then safeguard the item until he can deliver it to the recipient. Hopefully you get the idea.
So then, specific to our text, we must ask, “What was Timothy entrusted with?” What does Paul have in mind here? What has been deposited with Timothy? Is this a reference to his personal faith? Or to his job as pastor? Or to his spiritual gift of preaching and teaching? Or of his flock at Ephesus? All of those are certainly things Timothy has been entrusted with and certainly he needs to be a good steward of those things. But in context, it seems the specific thing Paul has in mind here is the gospel and the sound doctrine of the Christian faith. Throughout this letter, Paul has been talking about how Timothy needs to stand up against the false teachings that are happening at his church. Paul has told Timothy he needs to oppose these false teachers. And now here we’ll see that after calling him to guard this trust, that he’ll need to avoid the false teaching. So, in context, it seems that when Paul talks about this deposit entrusted to Timothy, he has in mind the sound doctrine of the gospel. As a pastor, God has entrusted this to Timothy. God has entrusted Timothy with the words of the Christian faith, with this gospel truth.
Remember, how we’ve read of this glorious deposit of the gospel. Paul has reminded Timothy of it in several ways in this letter. 1 Timothy 1:15, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” 1 Timothy 3:16, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.” Sinners saved by grace through faith in the work of Jesus Christ, our Lord, Savior, and Mediator! What a glorious gospel deposit Paul and Timothy had received as ministers of the Word!
And so, it’s in light of this grand deposit, that Timothy is commanded to guard it. This word guard can also be translated as watch or defend. One lexicon translates it as “to keep watch and ward, keep guard.” You could think of a prison guard who watches over the prisoners entrusted to them. The bank guards and watches over the funds deposited with them. I especially like the use of this word in Luke 2:8. That’s the night of Jesus’ birth when it speaks of the shepherds who were keeping watch over their flock by night. That keeping watch of the flocks is the same word and idea here. Timothy then must keep watch over the gospel and the sound doctrine that he is teaching. He must make sure that this truth does not get changed or altered. He is not the author of the truth, but instead he is a keeper of the truth. That means he cannot take liberty with the truth to change it based on what others in the church might prefer the message to be. He also cannot stand idly by if others try to amend or replace the gospel with some other teaching. He must guard. He must keep watch. He must defend the gospel and sound teaching.
So then let’s apply this point to ourselves. What things has God entrusted to us? What are we to guard? Yes, of course, we as Christians all have an interest to make sure the gospel message is protected and preserved. We all must have an interest to see that sound doctrine is kept alive in the church. Pastors and elders especially have this trust. But again, I would ask you to think also beyond this. Think about what other specific things God has entrusted to you. Maybe it’s a spiritual gift. Maybe it’s a specific role you are in (a parent, a husband, an employer, etc). Maybe it’s some job you have at church or at home or in the workplace. Whatever God has entrusted to you, seek to be a good steward of it. Guard and keep watch over what God has entrusted to you to steward.
Our second point for today comes from the next part in our passage. Let’s pick up in verse 20 with the word “avoiding.” “Avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge — by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith.” This is the opposite of what we just discussed. We just discussed certain things we need to keep and safeguard and protect. Now, Paul talks about certain things to have nothing to do with. The Greek word for “avoiding” here can also be translated as “turn away.” There are things Timothy and we need to turn away from.
Let’s look at what he was supposed to turn away from. In general, what he’s supposed to be turning away from is the false doctrine that Paul’s been talking about throughout this letter. I refer you back to chapter 1, verses 3-4, where Paul told Timothy he need to fight against those who teach other doctrines, including fables and endless genealogies that cause disputes and not edification. In chapter 4 he spoke of how deceiving spirits would come to the church speaking lies and forbidding good things like marriage and certain foods in the name of religion. In this chapter, back in verse 3, he again spoke of people in the church who teach other things and who won’t consent to wholesome doctrine, people who quarrel and wrangle in the church as they try to advance their false teachings. So, Paul’s been talking about this throughout the letter. Paul’s finishing his letter with one more charge to Timothy.
That being said, I want us to look at the specific ways Paul describes these false teachings here in these verses. They give us yet more insight on the nature of false doctrine. In verse 20 he refers to these as vain babblings. This is actually one word in the Greek. It’s talk that’s empty or worthless. It’s chatter that’s nonsense. It’s like mindless noise that doesn’t have any value. No real truth or information of value is communicated. Have you ever done something and say it took thirty minutes and you realized afterwards that it was a complete waste of time? You might say, I want my thirty minutes back. That’s like what it is hearing these false teachers spew their false teachings. You should want your time back afterwards because it was all vanity of vanities to waste your time listening to them.
Verse 20 also describes these vain babblings as profane. The word for profane can also be translated as worldly or godless. In other words, it’s is not Christian or godly. It is unholy talk. It is not consecrated talk. This is important to state because these false teachers surely present their false doctrines as something godly. But in reality, they are not of the Lord and thus they are profane.
This is reemphasized by the next description of these false doctrines in verse 20. It says they are contradictions. The Greek word for contradiction is antithesis which of course we have an English word that comes from that word. This word describes something that is in direct contradiction or is logically inconsistent with Christian teaching. In other words, it means that the two teachings are opposed to each other. They are not compatible. You can’t believe both. These are things you can’t hold to be true while at the same time confess sound Christian doctrine. It’s like you can’t affirm the Christian doctrine of the afterlife if you want to also affirm the Hindu teaching on reincarnation. They aren’t compatible teachings. That means that these false teachings are enemies of sound doctrine.
I love the final description of these false teachings in verse 20. It says that they are something which is falsely called knowledge. The word for “falsely called” in the Greek is the word pseudonymous. Something that is pseudonymous is something that bears a false name. Some ancient writings are clearly pseudonymous, where people would claim a book to be by some famous author when it wasn’t. For example, there is a book written somewhere around 150 AD called the Gospel of Peter. It claims to be written by the Apostle Peter. But scholars and the early church didn’t believe it was written by Peter. They thought it was pseudonymous. To be clear, such pseudonymous work is trying to deceive. It’s trying to pretend to be something it’s not, so that you’ll give it more attention. Well, that’s what Paul is saying is happening with this false teaching. The false teachers are labeling their teachings as “knowledge”. They are saying it is truth to know. But Paul says it’s been mislabeled. It’s actually not knowledge and it’s not truth. This false teaching has masqueraded as knowledge, but it’s not. Of course, that’s what Satan likes to do. He himself masquerades as an angel of light. That’s what false teachers like to do to. They come looking like sheep but are really wolves. And so, their teaching comes dressed up and disguised as knowledge but it’s not really. Thus, such false teaching must be avoided; it must be turned away from.
Paul reminds us again of the seriousness of this in verse 21. People who have embraced this false knowledge; people who have professed this, some have strayed from the faith. It’s amazing, frankly, that not all stray from the faith who start to embrace these ideas. But I’m sure some who have begun to dabble in these false ideas, by the grace of God, end up seeing the error and get pulled back to the truth. That’s what Timothy needs to be doing, trying to pull people back to the truth who have begun to be enticed by these false teachings. But the point here is that these false teachings are dangerous. There can be people who begin with a correct profession of faith who become deceived by the false teachings and ultimately fall away from the Christian faith. Yes, we realize this means that they obviously never truly knew the true faith. But at least from a visible perspective, we can see such apostasy take place. Timothy and we need to know the threat before us because we are called to fight against it. It means we need to guard the truth and turn away from the lies.
Well, in our last point for today, I point you to the final part of the letter. The end of verse 21. Grace be with you, amen. Timothy would need the grace of God for this task. We will need the grace of God for this task. In order for Timothy and in order for us to properly steward what God has entrusted to us: we will need the grace of God. Because as we think about this call to safeguard what has been entrusted to us, we should humbly ask who of us is truly worthy on our own for such a task. When we know ourselves and the struggles we have yet with sin, who of us is up to the task? I would hope you would say that on your own, you are not up to the task. Rather in this as well, we will need God’s grace. That’s the encouragement Paul gives us and Timothy at the end of this letter. Grace be with you.
That grace is ultimately known and found by entrusting ourselves to God. We’ve talked today about what God has entrusted to us. But let us step back and remember that we need to first entrust ourselves to God. If we are to guard and keep what is entrusted to us by God, it is only as we first entrust our entire selves to God! Jude 1:24 says that it is God who is able to keep you from stumbling. 2 Timothy 1:12, Paul says he is persuaded that God is able to keep what Paul has committed to him until the day of Christ. 2 Thessalonians 3:3 says that it is the Lord who establishes us and guards us from the evil one. Each of these verses uses this same word used in today’s passage for guard. Before we try to guard and keep anything ourselves, let us first see that we have deposited our lives to Christ, to be guarded and kept by him. For it is in Christ we will know and have the grace that is talked about here. See Jesus in faith as the guarder and protector of your souls. Trust yourself to him.
Having done so, what then will it look like to steward what he’s entrusted to you? We’ve talked a lot today about preserving what’s entrusted to you. However, I wouldn’t want you to think that this means stewardship is just merely preserving what was given. In comparison to the threat of false teaching changing true doctrine, Paul rightly emphasizes preserving the truth. But surely in the greater context of stewardship in the Bible we see that stewardship involves looking to bear fruit with what God’s given us. There are many examples of that in this letter of 1 Timothy. Preachers and pastors need to not only preach the message unchanged but seek spiritual growth and maturity and fruitfulness in their congregations. Think of examples with other areas of stewardship. Parents, for example, need to not just seek to have their kids survive but thrive in the Lord. Husbands should look to really nurture their wives in Christ. Older women who find themselves in a church with younger women should be reminded of the Bible’s call for them to reach out to the younger women and seek fruit. Employees should not just try to keep their job but do all they can to help the company grow and succeed, as unto the Lord. Whatever God has entrusted to you, don’t be like that unprofitable servant that just buries the talent in the sand and returns it back unharmed. Seek to bear fruit for the Lord as good and faithful servants, stewarding well that which God has entrusted to you.
So then, I leave you again with the great encouragement in this passage. Grace be to you. Grace in your Lord Jesus Christ. Grace as you entrust yourself to him. Grace to steward well all what he has entrusted to you. Grace be to you. Amen.
Copyright © 2017 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.