We’ve reached the end of Paul’s first letter to Timothy. Timothy was a young minister who was serving the church in Ephesus. And Paul has written to him about several matters which we’ve studied on previous weeks. Today we come to Paul’s final instructions to Timothy in this letter. And today’s passage can be divided into three parts. Firstly, in verses 11 to 16 Paul has a series of charges for Timothy regarding his ministry. Secondly, in verses 17 to 19 he writes to Timothy about believers who have money. And thirdly, in verses 20 and 21 he closes the letter with one more word about the false teachers and about Timothy’s responsibility to guard the truth which has been entrusted to his care. And so, we’re going to study those three parts this morning.
Verses 11 to 16
In verses 11 to 16 Paul has a series of charges for Timothy. Firstly, in verse 11, Paul says to Timothy:
But you, man of God, flee from all this….
By referring to Timothy as ‘man of God’, Paul is reminding Timothy of his calling, because ‘man of God’ is a title in the Bible which was applied to men like Moses and Samuel and David and Elijah and Elisha. They were all prophets, or we might say preachers, sent by God to declare God’s word to God’s people. And God has sent Timothy to declare God’s word to God’s people in Ephesus. And since that’s the case, then he must flee from all of this. That is, he must flee from all the things Paul mentioned in the previous verses. So, flee from the false doctrines which the false teachers were teaching; and flee from their unhealthy interest in controversies and their quarrels over words which result in envy and strife and malicious talk and evil suspicions and constant friction; and flee from the love of money which is a root of all kinds of evil. Flee from all of those things, just as you would flee from a burning building or from a fierce dog. Whoever remains in the burning building will be destroyed. Whoever stays near the fierce dog will be bitten. And so, just as you’d flee from a burning building and just as you’d flee from a fierce dog, so flee from these sins, because they will only destroy your ministry.
So, flee from all this. Secondly, pursue righteousness and godliness and faith and love and endurance and gentleness. Righteousness means doing what is right. Godliness means living a godly life, a life which brings glory and honour to God. So, aim for these things, Timothy, as well as for greater faith and greater love. And aim too for greater endurance and gentleness. One of the commentators says that endurance is needed to deal with difficult circumstances, while gentleness is needed to deal with difficult people. These are the things which Timothy and every preacher like him need to pursue.
Thirdly, fight the good fight of the faith. The Greek word is agonizomai, from which we get the English word ‘agony’. And it refers to a fight or struggle or even an athletic contest. The commentators debate whether Paul has in mind the image of soldiers fighting a battle or whether he’s thinking of athletes wrestling or even racing against one another. The image of soldiers fighting a battle is probably the right way to take it, but in a sense it doesn’t really matter, because whether he’s referring to a military battle or to an athletic contest, he means the same thing: that Timothy must exert himself and struggle with all his might to defend the true faith in the face of opposition from false teachers and from all those who do not believe. And again, that’s what every gospel preacher is called to do, because there are many who do not believe, and there are many who put doubts into the minds of the people and who confuse the Lord’s people by the things they say. And so, the preacher’s task is to defend the faith by teaching the truth about God and the truth about salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
Fourthly, take hold of eternal life. That’s in the middle of verse 12. Paul reminds Timothy of the day when he made a good confession in the presence of many witnesses. Paul could be referring to the day when Timothy was ordained as a minister of the gospel and the elders laid their hands on him and set him apart for this special work. And no doubt he was required at that time to confess his faith in the Saviour. Or Paul could be referring to the day when Timothy was baptised and when he first publicly confessed his faith in Jesus Christ. Whichever day it was, Paul now reminds Timothy of that special day and how God has called him to possess eternal life which we receive by trusting in Christ the Saviour who died to pay for our sins and who was raised to give us life. And Paul wants Timothy to take hold of eternal life. So, grab hold of it. Seize it. We have these squirrels which come into the garden and they grab hold of the bird feeder which is filled with nuts. And they won’t let go of it until they manage to open the feeder and get the nuts out. And here’s Paul telling Timothy to grab hold of eternal life and don’t let go of it until your life in this world is over and you’re brought into the presence of God.
Fifthly, in the sight of God, who gives life to all, and in the presence of Jesus Christ, who made the good confession before Pilate, keep this command. That’s the fifth charge to Timothy. And when he refers to ‘this command’, he’s probably referring to everything he said in verses 11 and 12 about fleeing from sin and pursuing all that is good and fighting for the faith and taking hold of eternal life. Keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of the Lord Jesus. Soldiers grow tired and weary of the battle and perhaps they feel like surrendering. Athletes are exhausted and want to give up the race before the end. But Timothy must not give up, but he must persevere and keep going and he must continue to fight for the faith and to defend the good news of the gospel right to the very end, knowing that eventually the Lord Jesus Christ will return in all his glory and power to gather his people together and to bring us to our eternal home.
Christ is coming. Christ is coming again one day. And when he comes, it will be clear that whatever hardships and struggles and pain and sorrow we had to endure in this life were all worthwhile, because in the end our Saviour came to take us in to our eternal reward. And so, every minister who is called to preach the gospel must not give in despite disappointments and hardships. And all of God’s people who are called to serve the Lord in different ways, must not give in despite disappointments and hardships. Instead of surrendering and giving up, we must keep going, and endure all things, because Christ is coming again.
When will Christ come again? When will he appear? Little children want to know when it will be Christmas. When will I be allowed to open all those presents under the tree? And their parents can say when it will be Christmas. It’ll be Christmas on 25 December. So, they will be 13 big sleeps and then it will be Christmas. But when will Christ come? We don’t know. No one knows. But, as Paul says in verse 15, God will bring it about in his own time. When he has determined that the time is right, he will send his Son.
And the thought of God sending his Son into the world again seems to transport Paul into a kind of reverie and he becomes lost in his thoughts as he thinks about the glory of our God. He’s the blessed and only Ruler. By saying he’s blessed, he means God is eternally in a state of blessedness or delight. He’s eternally happy so that there’s nothing that can happen which will spoil his happiness. All kinds of things spoil our happiness and we’re often frustrated or sad or disappointed or fed up. But God transcends everything. He’s unaffected by everything outside of himself. He’s eternally happy. And he’s the only Ruler, the one who rules over the heavens and the earth and over all that he has made. And therefore he’s the King of kings and Lord of lords. When we were studying the Song of Songs recently I explained that the phrase ‘Song of Songs’ is a superlative. You know what a superlative is, don’t you? There’s good, better and best. Something is good. Another thing is better. But then there’s the best. That’s the superlative. The Song of Songs is the best song. And the King of kings is the best King. And the Lord of lords is the best Lord. Our God is the best King and Lord, the greatest King and Lord, the most glorious King and Lord.
And he alone is immortal which means he cannot die. We too are immortal, because after we die, our souls continue to exist; and at the resurrection, our bodies will be raised and we’ll live for ever in body and soul. But our immortality is something God gives to us, whereas he possesses immortality in himself. And he lives in unapproachable light. Think of how God appeared to his people in the days of Moses in that glory-cloud. That cloud, which burned brightly, signified the presence of the Lord and it shone in the darkness. And so, the people could see that God was with them, not because they could see God — because God is a spirit and he is therefore invisible — but because they could see the glory-cloud around him. And by ascribing honour and might to this wonderful God, Paul is declaring God’s glory and his power.
By including this doxology here, this hymn of praise to God, Paul is reminding us who our Commander is. Paul has reminded Timothy of his orders. He must flee from sin. He must aim for what is good. He must fight the good fight of the faith. He must take hold of eternal life. He must keep this command without spot or blame. These are Timothy’s orders. And these are your orders too, because though you may not be a minister like Timothy, you must flee from sin and aim for what is good. You must fight the good fight of the faith and take hold of eternal life and obey God without spot or blame. Those are your orders too.
And, you see, our life as a Christian can seem like a battle and it’s a struggle sometimes to hold on to the truth, because the world around us is trying to get us to believe its lies. And it’s a struggle sometimes to do what is right, because the world around us is trying to get us to do what’s wrong. Right now, our life can seem like a battle. And to encourage us, Paul reminds us who our Commander is. And he’s like no other commander, because he is the eternally blessed one, the only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and invisible. There is none like him. And our Commander sent his only Son into the world the first time to give up his life as the ransom to pay for our sins and to make peace for us with God. And our Commander is sending his only Son into the world a second time, not to suffer, but to crush all his opponents and to give eternal life to all who trusted in him. And if earthly soldiers, who do not know the outcome of the battle, are prepared to obey their earthly commanders and fight, then how much more eager should we be to obey our heavenly Commander who is so great and so glorious and who has already accomplished the victory for us by his Son. And what a reward he is willing to give his people, because he has promised us fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore in his presence for ever.
And so, does the Christian life seem like a battle? But it’s a battle which has already been won by our great and glorious Commander who is the blessed and only Ruler of all.
Verses 17 to 19
That may have been a good point to end his letter. But Paul hasn’t finished his letter. In the passage we studied last week, he addressed those believers who want to get money. Now he addresses those who already have money. And Paul instructs Timothy to command them not to do something. They’re not to be arrogant and they’re not to put their hope in wealth.
When we have money, we can become arrogant. We can become arrogant because we look down on others who don’t have what we have and who haven’t been so successful. But we can also become arrogant in the sense that we think our money lifts us above all the problems of life. Whatever problems come our way, we can fix them with our money. We think our money makes us untouchable. And therefore, we become guilty of the second thing Paul mentions here which is that we begin to put our hope in money. Instead of trusting in God for all that we need, we trust in our money. The poor person prays to God, hoping that God will provide. But the person with money doesn’t pray, because he believes that his money will provide him with all that he needs.
Think of the man who asked the Lord Jesus to tell his brother to share the family inheritance with him. Perhaps he was thinking that all of his problems would be over if only he had some money to help him. And the Lord told the parable of the rich fool who had everything. He was able to take life easy and to eat, drink and be merry. And perhaps everyone who heard about the rich fool envied him: ‘Wouldn’t life be great if I had all that money.’ But the rich fool was a fool, because his wealth did not make his life any more secure. And in the night he died. Having money doesn’t make our life any more secure.
And, as Paul says, money itself is uncertain, because it’s here today and gone tomorrow. Think of all those people we hear about sometimes, who made a fortune, and yet somehow or other they end up bankrupt. And so, Paul instructed Timothy to command believers with money not to be arrogant and not to put their hope in money, but to put their hope in God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. So, God is not miserly. Some parents are miserly and they give their children as little as possible and they pile chores on them without giving them time to play. But our Heavenly Father is not miserly. He’s generous. He richly provides for us and he gives us good things to enjoy.
And as well as commanding believers with money to trust in God, Paul wants Timothy to command believers with money to be rich in good deeds and to be generous and willing to share. So, our bank statement records for us how much we have in our bank account. But what really matters is not that bank statement, but the statement which only God sees, which records all of our good deeds, the things we have done in obedience to his word to love and serve the people around us. Instead of being known for how much money we have, we should become known for how many good deeds we’ve performed for God’s glory.
And since our money comes from God, then we should use our money in a way that glorifies him. And that means that after we have paid our bills, we should think about how we can use part of what’s left for the good of others. And in this way, Paul says in verse 19, we will lay up treasure for ourselves as a firm foundation for the coming age and take hold of life that is truly life. In other words, instead of only thinking about this life, we should be thinking about the life to come, because there’s this present age which is destined to perish, and there’s the age to come, which is everlasting. And whatever wealth we have in this present age is destined to perish. It will not last. But there’s a treasure which will last for ever. And when Paul refers to that kind of treasure, which we’re able to lay up for the coming age, he’s referring to the rewards we can expect from the Lord in the life to come. These are rewards we cannot earn and which we do not deserve. After all, we don’t deserve anything from the Lord apart from punishment for our sins and shortcomings. But as well as giving us eternal life as a free gift, God also graciously and freely promises to reward our obedience in the life to come, because he himself is generous.
So, believers with money — and we all have money, don’t we? — must not be arrogant and we must not trust in our money. But we must trust in God and we must do good and we must be generous and willing to share.
Verses 20 and 21
And that too would be a good point to end his letter. But there’s one last thing for Paul to teach Timothy. And it’s fitting that the letter which began with a warning about the false teachers should also end with the same kind of warning. Timothy: guard what has been entrusted to your care. Paul is referring to the faith: everything which God has revealed to us about himself and our salvation. So, guard that message. Keep that message safe. When the false teachers start with their godless chatter and with their so-called knowledge, turn away from it. Have nothing to do with it. And instead, guard the truth. How do ministers like Timothy guard the truth? They guard the truth by making sure that they preach the truth. And how do believers guard the truth? They guard the truth by making sure that they believe the truth. And so, week by week I’ll preach the truth about God and about Jesus Christ the only Saviour of the world. And you’re to believe the truth and keep believing the truth so that none of us will lose the truth.
And right at the end of the letter Paul says ‘Grace be with you’. And the ‘you’ there is plural. He’s saying: ‘Grace be with you all.’ Though the letter was addressed to Timothy, Paul knows that all of God’s people need God’s gracious help. You see, because we’re sinners, we’re naturally inclined to do what’s wrong. Sinning comes easily to us. Disobedience is easy. But obedience is hard. Doing good is difficult for us. And therefore we need God’s forgiveness, don’t we? We need his forgiveness for all that we have done wrong. And the good news is that he graciously and freely gives us forgiveness for the sake of Christ who gave up his life for sinners to pay for all that we have done wrong. So, we need his forgiveness, which he graciously and freely gives us. And we also need his help to do what is good and right. And the good news is that he graciously and freely gives us his help. So, none of us should ever be proud, because whatever good we have done is because of God who graciously helped us. But then none us of should ever despair, because though we are sinners, we can rely on God to help us.