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1 Timothy 6:11-21: A Final Please for Faithfulness Print E-mail
1 Timothy
Sunday, 08 October 2006

I have never been a very big fan of ‘playing not to lose.’  When I was growing up playing basketball, teams would often move to the ‘stall’ offense in the fourth quarter to keep the other team getting the ball and being able to catch up.  In football, if a team is desperate for a touchdown at the end of the game, then the opposing team will often play a ‘prevent’ defense which basically puts a number of players on the goal-line and tries to just keep a team from scoring.  I do not like either one of these strategies.  Too many times a team is doing great, playing well, building up a good lead, only to lose it because they change their plan and start playing not to lose.

Sometimes we take the same approach in the Christian life.  We start living our lives as if we just want to get through without committing any major sins or abandoning the faith altogether.  We go into ‘Christian survival mode,’ where we focus more on what we are trying not to do rather than focus on what Christ has called us to do.  Is this right?  Should we simply live the Christian life not to lose?

The biblical writers, particularly Paul, are usually concerned just as much with what we are doing rather than just being concerned with what we are not doing.  Granted, Paul’s letters are full of lists that tell us what we should not be doing.  Yet, usually he follows those lists with another list of what we should be doing.  What does this mean for us?  It seems that the best way to avoid sin (or losing) is to be active in our pursuit of God (playing to win).  The Christian life is not passive.  It is not sit around and try not to sin.  Rather, it is to be active.  It is to be a full on passionate pursuit of Almighty God and obedience to Him. 

This is what Paul is calling Timothy to do in the closing of 1 Timothy.  Yes, there is instruction to avoid certain errors, but this instruction is followed by a call to following hard after God.  Even the command that Paul gives to the rich follows this pattern.  This morning I want us to consider these two final charges in this letter.

Paul’s final charge to Timothy

Paul ends his letter to Timothy by telling him again to avoid the mistakes of the false teachers.  Look at verse 11 and 20.  As Paul has told Timothy throughout the letter, he wants him to stay away from the errors that these men have been teaching and practicing in Ephesus.  He does not want Timothy to falsely understand and teach the Law (see 1:3-11).  He does not want him to shipwreck his faith by focusing on matters other than the gospel (1:19-20. 4:1-5).  And as we saw last week, he does not want him to be a lover of money, causing great division in the Church (6:2b-10).  Paul wants Timothy to avoid all of these errors.  He does not want him to swerve from the faith (6:20).

Of course, the obvious question is how is Timothy supposed to avoid all of this?  Is he supposed to just play not to lose?  Does Paul want him to sit around and be sure that he does not make any of these mistakes?  I mean after all, better to do nothing than to do the wrong thing, right?

No, Paul does not tell Timothy (or us) to do nothing and simply play not to lose.  Rather, Paul charges Timothy to be a good servant of Christ.  Paul gives Timothy a number of exhortations in this passage.  Look at them with me. 

First, he tells him to have a holy pursuit.  Look at verse 11.  Timothy is to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.  The call is to actively pursue these things, not to sit around and hope they come to pass. 

Second, he is to fight the good fight of faith (v. 12a).  Rather than be led astray by the false teachers, Timothy is to fight to know the true faith as revealed by Paul and the Apostles.  We, too, need to be laboring in such a fight.  Are you fighting to know the true faith as revealed in the Scriptures? 

Third, Timothy is to take hold of the eternal life to which you were called (v. 12b).  The term here translated ‘take hold’ implies the idea of grasping fully.  Our salvation is God’s work, for it is He who has called us.  Yet, this does not mean since we have been justified through faith in Christ we can do whatever we want to now.  No, Paul tells Timothy and us to take hold of life, to really grasp it, to put it into practice even now.  We are to be living ‘eternal lives’ even now. 

Fourth, Paul calls Timothy to a pure obedience of the commands that he has given him.  Look at verses 13 and 14.  All that Timothy knows to be obedience to Christ he is to keep.  Paul adds weight to this charge by speaking of the presence of God…and of Christ Jesus.  As Jesus was obedient to the Father and faithful in confessing Himself as the true King and Savior (see Mark 15:2 and John 18:33-37), so Timothy is to carry on that faithful confession, bearing witness to Christ as the Savior until He returns, which points to our present call as we wait for Christ’s return.  Finally, in verses 20-21 Paul charges Timothy keep guard of the truth.  Look at those verses with me. 

In all of this, Paul is giving clear instructions for Timothy to be a faithful servant of Christ.  He is not to grow lax in carrying out his charge.  Rather, he is to keep teaching, keep serving, keep guarding, keep believing, keep obeying.  This is no ‘prevent defense’ approach to Christianity.  No, Paul wants Timothy to actively pursue faithful obedience to Christ.  Brothers and sisters, the same call is extended to us this morning.  You may be weary in following Christ.  You may feel pressed from every side to abandon the truth and believe a lie.  You may want to run after money or success or worldly pleasures and comforts.  Yet, Paul charges you: Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.  Fight the good fight of the faith.  Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called…keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach…guard the deposit entrusted to you.  This is no time to play not to lose.  Run hard after God and labor to be a good servant of Christ.

Paul’s final charge to the rich

In verses 17-19 Paul gives some final thoughts about the rich and how they are to use their money.  First, he tells the rich to hope in God and not in their riches.  Look at verse 17 with me.  The rich are not to be arrogant as if anything they have is not from God.  It may be easy for us to look down upon the poor.  We often think to ourselves, ‘Well what have they done to get themselves in such shape?’  Granted, they may have indeed made some poor decisions, but surely we do not think that we are rich because we have been wise or because we deserve it.  No, everything we have is gift of God.  Likewise, it is often tempting to have hope in our riches.  We watch our savings account or retirement account and put our hope in the easy life that we are securing for ourselves in the future.  Yet, Paul reminds us that material wealth is uncertain.  Who knows if it will be there tomorrow or not?  Thus, rather than hoping in money, Paul calls us to hope in God.  God is to be our security, not money.  Where is your hope this morning?

Second, Paul instructs the rich to use their material wealth for good works so that they might gain true wealth.  If our hope is really in God and not in our riches, then we will be free to use our riches for good works.  Look at verses 18 and 19.  Not only are the rich to not hope in their money, they are actually to use their money for good works as a clear indication of their hope in God.  If our hope is in our money, then we will hold onto it with a tight hand.  Yet, if we see everything as a gift from God and our hope is in Him, then we will be free to use our money to serve Him.  Notice that even though we are to enjoy all that God has given us (v. 17), this enjoyment involves being generous and ready to share.  How do you view your riches?  Do you see them as a means to security and personal pleasure?  Or do you see them as a means to do good works and to store up treasures for yourself in heaven?  Paul’s view of that which is truly life is very different from the American view of ‘the good life.’  For Paul (and Christ, see Matthew 6), true living is using our riches as a means to serving others and storing up treasure for ourselves in heaven. 

Jim Elliott, the missionary who was killed taking the gospel to the Auca Indians of Ecuador, said it well: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Oh, that we would understand the difference when it comes to money.  Brothers and sisters, we cannot keep it.  Our material possessions will not remain.  Thus, give up building your mini-kingdom on this earth and give your all to the Kingdom of God, which will indeed last forever.  Hope in God and be rich in good deeds.

Paul gives us some tough challenges in bringing his first letter to Timothy to a close.  We are to avoid the errors of false teachers.  We are to be good servants of Christ in our teachings and practice.  We are to hope in God and use our material wealth for good works.  We might ask at this point: what is our motivation for being faithful in all these areas? 

To answer, look with me at verses 15-16 once again.  Paul tells Timothy to remain faithful until Christ appears and then moves into this doxology of praise.  He speaks of God as the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  He alone has immortality within Himself.  He dwells in unapproachable light and has never been seen by mortal men.  All glory and honor and praise belongs to Him!  Thus, our motivation for remaining faithful is the glorious privilege that we have been given to serve and love and worship and spend our lives upon such a great God.  We do not deserve such a privilege.  We have not earned the right to be called his servants.  We are wicked men by nature and only deserve the just judgment of God.  We deserve hell, we deserve death, we deserve wrath.  Yet, by His grace, through repentance and faith in the crucified and risen Christ, we have been given the great honor to live our lives in such a way as to bring honor and glory to Him.  In light of such overwhelming grace, may we use our lives, all that God has so graciously given us, to do just that.  To him be honor and eternal dominion.  Amen.

1 Quoted in John Piper, Desiring God (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Books, 1996), 210-11.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Sunday, 15 October 2006 )

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