The Apostle Paul used several metaphors to describe the rigor of the Christian life. He likened it to a boxing match (1 Corinthians 9:26), a race (1 Corinthians 9:24; 2 Timothy 4:7), a wrestling match (Colossians 1:29–2:1), a soldier who pleases his commander (2 Timothy 2:3, 4), an athlete who plays by the rules (v. 5), a farmer who works hard (v. 6), and a battle that must be won (4:7; Ephesians 6:10-18; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5). We might not fight like the world fights, but fight we must.
Paul closed his first epistle to Timothy with this call to fight. Timothy was fairly young and perhaps a bit timid (1 Timothy 4:12). Ephesus was not Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. The fight is real. That is why Paul told Timothy to stay put (1 Timothy 1:3). A lot of ministry is just staying power. Paul also told Timothy how God’s church should behave in the midst of a pagan environment (3:15). Three gerunds will help us stay in the fight.
1 Timothy 6:11-16
A lot of life is just keeping. Four imperatives describe this keeping: flee, pursue, struggle, and take hold. Timothy’s life is set in contrast to the false money-hungry teachers of his day in the first two words, “But you.” Timothy’s life was to be measurably different from the people described in verses 3-10. Timothy was to bring his identity to the table as a man of God (a rare title in the Bible).
Fighters must know when to pull back and when to step up. Timothy was told to flee from all this (love of money) and pursue (hunt down as one would hunt an animal) six qualities (righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness). Timothy was told to hold his ground, to fight (the word is better translated “struggle” and is where we get the English word agony), and to take hold of (receive) eternal life.
A narrative breaks out of these imperatives. It is the narrative of the good confession. Paul reminded Timothy that he received this eternal life when he made his good confession in front of others (Matthew 16:16). More than that, Christ Jesus gave a confession of sorts too. It was not a confession of his identity but of the truth of his kingdom (John 18:33-38a).
Timothy was told to keep on keeping on until Jesus appeared. This would be something that God the Father would bring about in due time. As soon as Paul mentioned that, he broke out into doxology. God is blessed, the Ruler, the King, and the Lord. God is not human, he is so holy that he cannot be approached, he cannot be looked upon by human eyes, and therefore certainly deserves all honor and might forever. Who would not want to keep on keeping on for a God like that?
1 Timothy 6:17-19
The power to persuade the mind comes through teaching. Christian leaders fight through teaching. Paul returned to the subject of money (vv. 6-10) by commanding Timothy to address rich Christians. Many of the earliest believers were poor (Acts 6:1-6), but some were people of means with strong giving capacity (Mark 1:20; Luke 8:1-3; Acts 12:12-17; Romans 12:8; 16:23).
Martin Hengel suggested that to be rich in the biblical world meant the ownership of property (Property and Riches in the Early Church). Evidently some believers owned land (Acts 4:36, 37). But riches not under the lordship of Christ can lead to arrogance and putting hope in the things of this world. Having too little can cause one to steal. Having too much can cause one to forget God (see Proverbs 30:8-9 and Craig Blomberg’s, Neither Poverty Nor Riches). Instead, wealthy believers are to put their hope in God, who, by nature, is a giver and provides us what we need for enjoyment (Jeremy Jernigan’s, Redeeming Pleasure). Wealthy believers are told to do good, to be rich in good deeds . . . to share . . . and lay up treasures . . . for the coming age. Timothy was told to teach the rich Christians to take hold of what is truly life.
1 Timothy 6:20, 21
Paul developed the theme of protection more in 2 Timothy (see John R.W. Stott’s Guarding the Gospel). The word guard is a military word that means “to station a soldier at his post.” If Timothy guarded the gospel, then he would turn away from chatter and false teaching. Unfortunately, some had already professed such false doctrine and departed from the faith.
Christian leaders fight the good fight by consistency, instruction, and protection. The duties remind us of a certain shepherd’s psalm (Psalm 23).
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
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