1 Timothy 6:11 & 12. “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”
The Christian life dawns in a realisation of what the Lord Jesus Christ has done, all by himself, for us. A Christian is someone who has accepted the gift of the finished work of the Saviour. That Messianic achievement becomes the foundation of our lives, and why we plead in hope for mercy from God. The Christian is a receiver before he becomes a doer. As the old hymn says:-
“Till to Jesus’ work you cling
By a simple faith,
Doing is a deadly thing.
Doing ends in death.”
A man who was deeply troubled about his relationship with God wrote to Luther. He could not have written to a more compassionate man because the German had himself known agony of heart over his condition. Luther wrote back to him saying this: “Learn to know Christ and him crucified. Learn to sing to him and say,
“Lord Jesus you are my righteousness, and I am your sin.
You took on you what was mine:
You set on me what was yours:
You became what you were not,
That I might become what I was not.”
It is in appropriating that reality for ourselves by the enlightenment and enabling which the Holy Spirit gives us that the Christian life begins. Jesus Christ alone is the Saviour, and I am a conscious sinner who accepts the gift of salvation which he accomplished alone for me.
But all who have received salvation through Christ discover a whole new range of duties opening up before them. Duties concerning their relationship with other Christians, with their families, with their neighbours and even their enemies. There are new attitudes to sin, and leisure, and money, and work, and government, and creation, and heaven, and study, and towards people who live on other continents thousands of miles away. These are the transforming obligations of the Christian life, and with them go the enabling energies of the Holy Spirit to tackle these duties. So we are not be put off by the scale of the challenge facing us. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” says the disciple.
These new obligations of the Christian is the theme of the apostle in these verses. Timothy has become a ‘man of God.’ He was once a man of the world. Now he is God’s man and every such person has a whole new set of duties. The apostle presents four of them to us here: Flee! Pursue! Fight! Take hold! These are the challenges facing every single Christian.
You will notice a couple of things about them. The first is that there is no right given to the Christian to glory in inertia. Sometimes you stumble across a professing Christian who boasts about the secret of the spiritual life which he has discovered. It consists of his simply letting the Holy Spirit or Jesus Christ live his life through him without any effort on the believer’s part at all. It is not only delusional theology, it is frank disobedience to such passages of the New Testament as these. “Flee…Pursue…Fight…Take hold.” Paul is not focusing on the second or third members of the Godhead but on us Christians – “But you…” There are influences which could destroy us which we have to get away from as fast as we can. There are goals to be attained, foes to fight with and the life of heaven to be grasped. So there are no so-called ‘secrets’ to the Christian life which result in anyone advancing to a ‘higher life’ and becoming ‘resters’ or ‘abiders.’ God deliver us from such fairy lands forlorn. In our text we are confronted with a clarion call to Christian energy.
The other thing we have to notice about these exhortations is that there is a pattern here which you find throughout the New Testament, and so this pattern must be important: the Christian is to flee from some things and he is to pursue after other things. Now that, very simply, is fundamental Christian living. This is the message preached by the Son of God when he first began his public ministry: “Repent and believe the gospel.” ‘Repent’ means to flee from those things which hinder you, and ‘believe’ means to pursue the things of God. Think how the Saviour told the rich young ruler to flee from all his wealth – “Sell all you have.” Then the Lord told the man to pursue Christ through life. Or again he says to all of us, “Take up your cross” and then “follow me.” Or think of the apostle telling the Colossian Christians to put to death the deeds of the body. Flee from them! Then they were to set their affection on things above – pursue that as a goal! Or again Paul tells the Romans to mortify the deeds of the flesh, and then to mind the things of the Spirit. There again we find both contrasting and complimentary exhortations. Or you find the writer to the Hebrews telling those Jewish Christians to lay aside every weight and to look to Jesus Christ. Both exhortations, I say, we can find throughout the Bible. They are the foundations of the Christian life, repentance from sin, and faith in God. We must be involved in them both.
1. Flee From All Sin.
“But you, man of God, flee from all this” (v.11). All this what? All that Paul has been talking about in the previous verses (vv.3-10) – false doctrines, an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, the thought that godliness is a means to financial gain, a discontented spirit, the aching love for money, foolish and harmful desires, ruin and destruction. “But you, man of God, flee from all this.” In other words, put a distance between yourself and the turmoil of a sinful life.
The first indication that a man has become a new Christian is that he begins to put a distance between himself and sin. Think of John Bunyan’s portrait of the Pilgrim, that he is leaving the City of Destruction and he is in flight to the Celestial City. When Wilhem Busch began his ministry in the German city of Bielefeld he managed to gain access to the ‘House of the People’, a communist-owned hall and he held a long discussion about the claims of the gospel with about a hundred working men. The meeting spilled over into the street and he answered their questions until 2 a.m. finally bidding them goodnight with the words, “Now, my friends, it’s time for me to go home. In the morning I am holding a church service at 9.30. I’m certain you’d all like to come … if you weren’t so scared of each other.”
This provoked one Westphalian, aged around 35, who felt that he was not scared, and he duly turned up the next morning with his hymn-book under his arm. But on Monday morning back in the factory he took a lot of flak for going to church. He later said to Pastor Busch, “They cry, ‘Long live liberty,’ but actually they are slaves to other men.” He had seen it, and he distanced himself from the fear of men, and he was Wilhelm’s first convert. He defied the pressure of his peers, and he physically brought himself out of his home, and down some streets and into a church. That journey was a symbol of a flight from the tyranny of unbelief. From then on his whole life is to be a series of movements away from temptation. Remember the blessed man of Psalm 1? He does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of the scornful. He is always walking away from all of that because it corrupts him. You don’t hang around with the gang hearing their boasts and dirty jests and stories of their conquests. You have better things to do with your years.
Consider Joseph and the famous narrative of his flight from powerful temptation as it is recorded in Genesis 39: “Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he refused. ‘With me in charge,’ he told her, ‘my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?’ And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house” (Gen. 39:6-12). Now here is a lonely powerful woman whose husband is a military man, often away from home on the frontiers of Egypt keeping the enemy nations in subjection as he serves his master Pharaoh. What does his wife say to Joseph? Just one phrase, “Come to bed with me!” She says it twice (vv.7 and 12) and that is all she says, because that is all she thinks about. She is an utterly pathetic figure, but my problem is to make her a wicked person in the eyes of our generation. She is betraying her husband, and putting a young servant in mortal danger. If she becomes pregnant will she then kill the unborn child, or will she pass him off to her husband as his own? There is a play on in London at the present time called “The Graduate,” and it is the ‘hottest play’ in the West End, as they say. Not a ticket can be obtained for its entire run. It is virtually a re-run of the story of Potiphar’s wife and Joseph set in the present century, but in that play contemporary Joseph does not say no. He would be a wimp in the eyes of our sex-mad society if he said no, and she is a kind of heroine to our corrupt and frustrated age. But her seduction is an action which destroys her life and that of her family.
So here in Genesis is a woman who is betraying her husband, obsessed with a “well-built and handsome” man. What is Joseph’s response? He has a mind that is protected by two thoughts. Firstly, the vileness of sin – “How then could I do such a wicked thing?” (v.9). Secondly, the goodness and faithfulness of God: he had been kept from suicidal despair very far from home after his brothers had sold him into slavery by the grace of God. When he had come to Potiphar’s house we are told that he found he was not alone, that “the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did” (v.3). We are even told that “because of Joseph the blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had” (v.5). Joseph knew experientially the presence of God day by day. So when the woman’s temptation came to him again and again he could say, “How then could I … sin against God?” (v.9). Not any god, not even a vaguely known God, but the LORD who was there blessing and keeping him day by day. “How could I grieve him who has been so good to me?” Those were Joseph’s sentiments by which he overcame the temptation. But you notice his beliefs were transferred into deeds. We are told that he refused even to be with her (v.10), and when she sought to seduce him “he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house” (v.12). What did he do? He put a distance between himself and the source of the temptation.
You see how important the phrase in our text “all this” is? “All this” means all that is specified as sinful by God in his word. In other words we are given a frame of reference, a standard to appeal to, a set of laws which forbid certain defined behaviour. God has given to us commandments which declare what is permissible for the Christian. We really know the boundaries of our conduct. We are not walking in darkness. That knowledge is our first line of defence. When the siren voices woo us to cross the line we see the danger signs. There are convictions that the Holy Spirit has written on our hearts. There is our daily experience of the loving kindness of God. How can we do such a wicked thing and sin against God? But when the voices still entice it is time to get away. Few men have won a battle with smiling eyes, and perfume, and the absence of witnesses, and the pleasures of sin. You’ve got to have great convictions, the blessing of God on your life, and the energy of the Spirit to flee!
We once had a church member who, from what then seemed sensible encouragement from me, was attending a seminary controlled by modernist lecturers. While he was there he was increasingly aware of the threat that place was to his trust in God and his zeal for the things of Christ and he came to me and told me he had to physically get away from it. We completely supported his decision. He went to another conservative seminary where now, in fact, he is a teacher. The apostle tells Timothy to flee from such things as false doctrine and the love of money.
Christian men have left employment, and changed their jobs, or refused to work in the middle of a great city, or stopped visiting female church members alone, or refused to go on the Internet, all in obedience to this commandment to flee from all these temptations to sin. The Christian life is a knife-edge between, on the one hand, our being salt in a rotten world and light in a dark place – which is our calling, and on the other hand, to remove ourselves from temptations which might destroy us.
2. Pursue Every Grace.
What inconsequential things can destroy the best men. Thirty pieces of silver. A fruit from a tree. A vineyard. A garment and a wedge of gold. These have overcome better and more privileged men than any of us. How weak they were when temptation came. Some have held the highest offices in the world. Others were renowned preachers of the Bible, known internationally.
One recently fell into the sin of homosexuality. He had the delight of preaching to his own responsive congregation – but that was stronger. Students adored him – but that was stronger. He travelled the world to speak at pastors’ conferences – but that was stronger. He had a wife and children – but that was stronger. He had become a national spokesman for evangelical religion – but that was stronger. His sexual infatuation for a man overcame every other joy.
Izaak Walton once wrote,
And when the timorous Trout I wait
To take, and he devours the bait,
How poor a thing, I sometimes find
Will captivate a greedy mind.
A worm, a fly, or a mere maggot is enough to take the life of a fine fish. So when the apostle speaks to Timothy, “Flee from all this, and…” says Paul. There is something else for the Christian to do which is the counterpoise to the flight from sin. Pursue every grace! People get obsessed with dieting. If they think only in terms of all the foods they must refuse then that they become anorexic and begin to waste away. Paul does not merely exhort us to flee from all that would destroy us but to go in hot pursuit of goodness. “Change your diet,” he says. Hunger and thirst after righteousness. He lists some of the nutritious graces which will strengthen us.
That grace is in first place and rightly so. One looks for this in a Christian more than anything else. Here is a man with integrity, and a sensitive conscience. You know what he says to you is absolutely true. He keeps his word. He will never speak behind your back. He has a regard for the Lord’s Day. He is a straight man with you and everyone else. That is crucial if there is to be anything helpful coming out of Christian relationships. Have you ever worked with a man, shared your confidences with him, and then discovered that he was unrighteous? He criticised you behind your back, undermining your authority and the affection of others,
grumbling at your convictions, but he was all smiles to your face. You still remember what a shattering blow the discovery of his unrighteousness was to you.
This is especially so if the unrighteous person tends to pepper his speech with flowery religious talk. The preacher Rowland Hill was visiting Wotton, and he heard of a woman there who had a reputation for making delicious sausages. So he visited her and bought a couple of pounds of the food. “How is it that you can make such fine sausages?” he asked her. She said very piously, “I think it’s a gift from the Almighty.” He ate the sausages that night and they were simply terrible. He shook his head as he remembered his disappointment, and remarked how often knavery is in alliance with fanaticism. “A ‘gift from the Almighty’! And yet the sausages were good for nothing.” Righteousness must be in first place, I say, and pervade everything – even making sausages…
Max Mosley is the man who runs grand prix motor racing, and he recently said, “You are getting to the stage where the completely honest man has to cheat to be competitive.” If that is true of his sport it is certainly true of cricket, football, rugby, athletics or tennis. Sport has been corrupted through and through, especially the Olympics You hear such sneering contempt in American football coach Vince Lombardi saying, “You show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser.” It is a win at all costs mentality that you meet today. If there is no place for righteousness in sport then this is an activity Christians are not interested in.
Righteous in small things, and righteousness in all things, and the great righteous deeds if the summons comes. There was the fearless Hugh Latimer, and one New Year’s Day, instead of carrying a gift to the much married King Henry VIII – as was the custom – Latimer presented him with a New Testament, a leaf of which was turned down at the passage, “whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.” It might have cost him his life, but the king admired Latimer’s courage. Pursue righteousness. Remember the great words of Christ, “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:6).
When in the early 1950’s the late Canon T.C.Hammond (author of “In Understanding Be Men”) visited the USA the columnist of Eternity magazine, Joe Bayly, asked him what was his predominant impression of evangelical Christianity in America. T.C.Hammond said to him that he was struck by their shallow treatment of the doctrines of sin and law. The churches seemed to introduce people to grace and salvation without laying an adequate foundation in the knowledge of personal rebellion and sin. The result was a low view of Christ and grace and salvation. We know that a sinner’s appreciation of the mercy of God is in direct relation to his understanding of the pit of sin from which mercy has hauled him.
Then Hammond added that the low level of personal godliness amongst Christians was probably related to the same cause. That was what Paul was talking about when he said, “I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known sin except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (Rom. 7:7). In other words the reason for the absence of godliness in the nation is not because of TV programmes and ‘girlie’ magazines and secular education. It is first that the salt has lost its savour. Congregations have not been taught God’s standards of righteous living, and have not been exhorted to hunger for righteousness and pursue godliness. We will patiently teach depravity, inability, providence, the person and work of Christ. We will hem our congregations in to the necessity of a sovereign new birth, and then exhort all those whom the Spirit regenerates to make the pursuit of godliness their happy lifelong task.
I was reading the prison letters of Dr Poh Boon Sing written in 1988 during the eleven months he spent incarcerated for allegedly “christianising the Malays.” He is a godly man, and there is one evening when the other prisoners are watching the video “Kraemer Versus Kraemer” and he feels wearied and repulsed by what he watches. He later writes to his wife, “The only thing I fear is sin. As the years pass, I seem to become more conscious of the danger of Satan’s attack from this angle.” Those are the sentiments of a godly heart. Pursue godliness. Read Jerry Bridges’ book of the title, “The Pursuit of Godliness.” It is delightfully easy to read and will clarify for you the implications of this great pursuit.
The word here means trust in God. You remember the troubles that the patriarch Job passed through, and though health and possessions and loved ones were all taken from him he still trusted God even though God had the right to take away his life. The believer says, “Though he slay me yet will I trust him.” Job said that the Lord who had given him so much was the same Lord who had also taken away those precious things. “Blessed be the name of the Lord,” he said. That is the faith Paul is speaking of here.
We trust God in the big and little things of life, when letters do not arrive, and the expected telephone does not ring to tell us that our loved ones have arrived safely, and we are getting anxious. We trust God when we remain single, when the gift of children does not come – which we long for, when our plans don’t work out as we wished, when we face a future dependent upon medication, when we are not sure what God’s will for us may be – we trust in God.
There is a small unpretentious tombstone in Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland. Carved upon it is the epitaph to the great Christian leader who lies buried there since 1937. The words are in Greek, and they come from Revelation 2:10, “Faithful unto death.” The stone marks the resting place of the body of J. Gresham Machen, a preacher who trusted God even when it meant the loss of some very grand things that were dearly loved by him, but unappreciated by those who marched in and possessed them. Machen did not break his ordination vows. He did not turn a blind eye to the Confession of Faith of his church. He suffered much for his convictions, and so he died prematurely, but he did not stop trusting God.
Think of the early Protestant Christians in Lincolnshire. Their lives had been transformed by the preaching of Wycliffe and number of them spread through the countryside telling others the good news of the Lord Jesus. When the bishop of Lincoln heard of this in December 1521 he had every Christian he could find arrested. Some were forced to carry wood around the market place as a warning that next time they would be burned, others were branded on the cheek with a red-hot iron, but four of them were burned at the stake, including the colporteur John Scrivener. By burning him to ashes the clergy made sure he would sell no more Christian books. But to their everlasting shame and judgment they did a most terrible act, they forced his own children to light the fire that consumed him. But through all his agony he and they had faith in God. They knew that it is easier for their bodies to be burned than it was to quench the Spirit of Heaven. Those fires could not consume the faith that was in the hearts of Lincoln Christians. Pursue faith! Read Hebrews chapter 11 and let the example of all those men and women of faith stir you.
This grace is not in primary place here as we might expect, but it is not omitted either. Christ has given us a new commandment, that we love one another as he has loved us. In other words, we speak to other Christians with the same affection as if it were the Lord Jesus talking to them. When they are in need our attitude to them is to be the same as Jesus’. Our thoughts of them are as his thoughts would be. We say to ourselves, “I live, yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me” (Gals.2:20).
The love of Christ is quite different from anything else of which you can think. If you had money and began to give it away you would have less for yourself. If you had clothes and began to give them away your wardrobe and chest of drawers would grow increasingly empty. But this does not hold true of the love of Christ. The more you express it to other people the more of it you get for yourself. The more it flows out of you, the more it flows into you.
Love makes us responsible and fair and just in all we do. So we should never rip off other people in any way. In fact, we would rather let ourselves be taken advantage of than do that. We find a great Christian rule applies here, that the more we give the more we get. My old teacher, John Sanderson, was once given change for five dollars even though he had given the woman at the check-out counter only a single dollar bill. He called this to her attention, and she thanked him and said, “You’re certainly going to heaven.” He told her he believed he was, but not the way she thought. She was surprised at ordinary honesty. Christians should surprise people with their practical love.
We may call at a house on a routine visit and stumble into a certain atmosphere there which we were not prepared for. Something had happened an hour earlier. A child had been knocked down by a car and was now in the Intensive Care Unit in the local hospital. Or someone had had a stroke and they were waiting for the ambulance to arrive. You were not in the house two minutes before hearing of all this, because of the power of love. A beloved member of the family was in trouble, and all the commonplace things of our chatter were of no interest to a nyone at all. There was something far nearer their hearts than such matters. So it is with the Christian, he knows the love of Jesus Christ and this constrains him to live in a special way.
“Let me give you an illustration of my meaning. You take up your newspaper and may read of a house on fire and of a mother, a poor fragile woman, being restrained by the police and the firemen from entering into the burning building to get her child out of it. What does she care for her body? Why does she rush into a burning building? Is that insanity? Not at all! It is the power of love. She cannot help it, something is pulling her – the love of her child, her compassion is urging her on” (Donald MacDonald, “Christian Experience,” p.99, Banner of Truth, 1988).
So it is with the Christian. He pursues love. He has it in the gospel of Christ, but more of it he longs for. He has it in his heart by the Spirit of Christ, but he longs for more. That alone can keep him going through difficulties of all kinds. The love of Christ! The love of Christ! It constrains us to live in a new and elevated way. That will deliver the services from being boring, and the sermons from seeming tedious, and it will give strength to our witness-bearing, and dissolve our coldness. The love of Christ does it. Pursue it! Love doesn’t quit. Love labours, in the gospel, for Jesus Christ, for the church itself. You don’t give up evangelising the world despite its hostility, ingratitude, misunderstanding and persecution. You will stick to this whole business of loving the world. And you will love the people of God with all their failings, and ingratitude, and deformities, you keep on serving them in love. Pursue love.
I think of endurance in small duties and also in the great. The Saviour often spoke of faithfulness in little things. I think of Dr Van Til, noted professor and Christian apologist, writing a letter every single Sunday afternoon to a beloved old friend and his wife. I think of a preacher who each day would video a certain programme in a minority language and send it away to his grandchildren who did not have access in their country to programmes in that language. I think of my mother going for years once a fortnight to a home for the mentally-handicapped to visit her old brother where he had lived for fifty years. Endurance in little duties.
Then there is the sort of heroic endurance in gospel service that the apostle Paul refers to when he speaks of his sufferings and crosses for the Lord Jesus. In the eighteenth century the great John Berridge travelled throughout the counties of Cambridge, Bedford, Hertfordshire and Huntingdon preaching a dozen times a week, moving from place to place on horseback. He described the conditions in which he travelled in a letter to a friend, “Long rides and miry roads in sharp weather. Cold houses to sit in, with very moderate fuel, and three or four children roaring or rocking about you. Coarse food and meagre liquor; lumpy beds to lie on and too short for the feet; and stiff blankets like boards for a covering. Rise at five in the morning to preach; at seven breakfast on tea that smells sickly; at eight mount a horse, with boots never cleaned, and then ride home, praising God for all his mercies.” He was hated by the clergy and the gentry who stirred up mobs against him. These all referred to him by one name for thirty years – “the old devil!” But the common people heard him gladly because what you saw in Berridge was what you got, year after year. He was earnest, plain and lucid. The ploughman was glad to hear the gospel preached in a way he understood without being patronised. He was not like a minister whom Rowland Hill complained about, who seemed afraid to preach the gospel: “He preaches the truth as a donkey munching a thistle – very cautiously.” Pursue endurance. Keep on and on, walking with God, loving the Saviour, serving the church, forgiving those who despitefully use you, turning the other cheek. Pursue endurance.
It is significant that he ends with this grace. It is amongst the most powerful of graces. Who has not been impressed seeing a giant athlete nursing his baby daughter? There was an elderly mother and her son who lived in a row-house neighbourhood in Philadelphia. The mother was paralysed; the son had given up his struggle to live and just stayed at home and ate. As a result he weighed so much he couldn’t bend down and lace up his shoes.
Two elderly Christian ladies who were sisters lived next door to them. They cared for that mother, bathing her and nursing her, but the son wouldn’t let them do anything with him. They told their pastor about this home and he called there, but the son disdained him. He did not give up on him, he returned and returned, and one day he brought with him a pair of nail clippers and he cut the son’s toenails. All the time he did it the man cursed the pastor, heaping all sorts of abuse on him. It didn’t stop him. Nothing stops gentleness. “Blessed are the meek,” said the Lord, “for they shall inherit the earth.” That son doesn’t curse the pastor any more when he calls and speaks of the one he calls ‘his Saviour.’
Think of Christ dealing with a broken sinner who is drowning in despair. When Christ the Maker of the universe lays his hands on that bruised reed of a man he wont be further broken. When Jesus is at hand, no one is beyond hope. Christ knows the real value of that man, that he is more valuable than all the world. How gently will he deal with the flickering, almost extinguished, wick. Gentleness is the powerful weapon in God’s hands to accomplish his purposes. So Paul tells Timothy, “the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance” (2 Tim. 2:24&25). Pursue gentleness. Cry that every aggressive power within you – all pride, and sensitivity, and resentment, and bitterness, and retaliation – might be mortified, and sing to God, “Let holy charity, Mine outward vesture be, And lowliness become mine inner clothing; True lowliness of heart, Which takes another’s part. And o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.”
3. Fight the Good Fight.
How are you doing in this great fight? How has the battle been this past week? Have you had many skirmishes these last days? How are your wounds? Are they healing? Have you seen your enemies turn tail? Have you been singing the conquerors’ song? Have you known some temporary set-backs? Does the strife make you long deeply for the final peace to be realised? How are the other soldiers doing? Some are on the frontiers and it is tough for them. How are your generals? Are they brave and fearless? Are you ready to return to the battle? Remember, “Fight the good fight of faith.”
Do you know what I am talking about? Every Christian is called to be a good soldier of Jesus Christ. We are battling with the world – fallen mankind in rebellion against its Creator God. The system of which we are a part which disdains and ignores the living God. It operates under other rules, is motivated by other goals, and never wants to be reminded of the claims of Christ the Lord. If it could it would kill God. “Let us break his bonds asunder,” it cries. But we must witness to the world that we are the servants of their God, and he is angry with their attitude to him, and so we find ourselves at war with the world in which we live.
We are also at war with Satan and all his devices, the suffering and troubles he brings into our lives. The accusations he brings against us, the fearful temptations he arouses, the thorns in the flesh he inserts, the sudden sicknesses that erupt without warning – so many of these things are orchestrated by the enemy of our souls. Their perverse nature can be seen in their timing, and their cruelty, and their duration. We are at war. Every true Christian without exception.
And the fiercest battle is within us. We are fighting against remaining sin, the flesh, another law within us which is not at all divine, inner pollution – those are some of the ways the Bible describes this inner battle.
Let me ask you again, how are you doing in this great fight? Do you know what I am talking about? Did you know once? Did there used to be a consciousness of the struggle? Have you made a truce with sin? Is the reason you are no longer conscious of a fight that you have become a prisoner of war? The Devil has taken you captive. I fear with some in the congregation that this is so. I do not see an urgency to be a good soldier of Jesus Christ. Where is your armour? Where is the shield of faith? Where is the sword of the Spirit? Where is the breastplate of righteousness? You are not in a fight or you would be wearing God’s provided equipment.
There was a man who had a shrub in his garden and its leaves were poisonous. He had some little children who used to put anything in their mouths, so he cut down the shrub. But the roots of the bush went down deeply and it sent up new shoots and still more shoots. Part of his duties were to keep an eye on those poison leaves and clip them and dig up the roots to protect the lives of those in his home. Our hearts are like that. Every day there are sins that need to be mortified. They wont die unless they are constantly weakened. Spare them, ignore them, forget about them, and they will recover their strength. Keep your eyes open. Watch and pray in all you do.
This is a “good fight”, Paul tells us. We have the best of all generals, our blessed Saviour who is the Captain of our Salvation. We have the best of helps, the Holy Spirit the Comforter. The result is sure – we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. The battle is good because our cause is just. It is good because those soldiers who fight in this war do not grow coarser, or more violent and more cruel men, but more holy, just and true. What good this warfare is accomplishing in the world today. What a terrible state the nations would be in if it were not for the soldiers of the Lord Jesus who battle against sin and Satan.
Fight the good fight. Never give up. Keep under your bodies: discipline and strengthen them. Endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. Put on your armour every day, and study how to use each weapon.
4. Take Hold of Eternal Life.
The Christian has eternal life. He has believed on God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and so does not perish but has everlasting life. This has happened to Timothy. At his baptismal service he made his “good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (v.12). They heard his words, and knew that God had called him effectually from death to life. You could not explain what had happened to Timothy in terms only of Lois and Eunice, his mother and grandmother. You could not explain it only in terms of the influence of this powerful man whom he had come under. You could not explain Timothy in terms of his temperament and education. His trust, and hope, and love, and obedience, and longsuffering could only be explained in relationship to eternity. Timothy was living a life which could only be explained in terms of the grace of God.
You know the way that John saw this in the Revelation. He saw the river of the Water of Life; and where did it come from? It came, he says, out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. Timothy’s life could only be explained in terms of the sovereignty of God, only in terms of the life flowing out of God into his own personal life. You find it also in Psalm 46:5 “God is within her, she will not fall.” Earlier the psalmist is contemplating the situation in Jerusalem and the condition of a siege. The inhabitants are parched and dying of thirst. But then he says, “There is a river” (Ps. 46:4). There was no great natural reservoir in the city to give any kind of security when an army marched into the land, but he says, “There is a river!” What is it? “God is within her.” And it is true for every one of us today who has Jesus Christ, “There is a river of life.” God lives in us. His strength is made perfect in our weakness, and his grace is sufficient for us. Are we living new, different, transformed lives?
Life you have, Timothy. Life, you enjoy in the privileges of Christian faith, but there is more to have. You want that same life more and more. “Grasp it, Timothy,” Paul is saying, “so that you don’t let go of it.” The same word is used of the Lord Jesus grasping Peter as he began to sink into the sea, and he lifted him right out. “Seize it every day for yourself, Timothy,” Paul exhorts. Eternal life is precious. You are walking along the edge of a thundering road full of busy traffic and you have your little girl with you. How do you hold her hand? Very firmly. She is too precious to hold casually. So it is with the life of heaven. Paul is holding before Timothy the absolute absurdity of a man or a woman who has the life of eternity and treats it casually. He lets it go to grasp money. He lets it go to take the forbidden fruit. He lets it go to beckon to illicit pleasure to come to him. “Never let it go,” says Paul.
You have it, but you are absolutely desperate not to lose it. You are fleeing from all kinds of sin, and you are pursuing every kind of grace, and you are bravely fighting away in the good fight, and above all not letting go of the life of eternity which comes from the throne of God. That is the absolute dominant longing in the Christian soul. I let go of many other vain ambitions. I let go of home, and mother, and father, and wife, and children if I have to. I will go of reputation, and friendships, and promotion if I have to. But I cling to Christ and never let him go.
7th May 2000 GEOFF THOMAS