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Things worth fighting for

A sermon by Rod Benson

American poet and novelist Charles Bukowski once said, “People are strange: They are constantly angered by trivial things, but on a major matter like totally wasting their lives, they hardly seem to notice.”

We might, in our weaker moments, be tempted to criticize the Apostle Paul for several apparent faults or blind spots, from our privileged perspective in twenty-first century Australia, but one thing he is not guilty of is encouraging people to waste their lives.

Every day counts, every moment counts, as we move through our days and face the double challenge of the end of our mortal lives on Earth, and the divine judgment to come. The New Testament is filled with exhortation and encouragement to press on, to focus on spiritual priorities, and to use our time wisely. Paul’s advice to Timothy, in 1 Timothy 6:11-16, is no exception.

But notice how he addresses the younger man in verse 11: “But you, man of God…” In the Old Testament, this phrase was reserved for Israel’s leaders. Moses, Samuel, David, the prophets Elijah, Elisha, Shemaiah, and three anonymous prophets, and Igdaliah the Rechabite were all designated “men of God” (Deut 33:1; 1 Sam 9:6; Neh 12:24, 36; 1 Kg 17:18; 2 Kg 4:7; 1 Kg 12:22; 1 Sam 2:27; Jer 35:4).

In the New Testament, the term “man of God” is used only here, of Timothy, and in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 in a general sense, when Paul teaches that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God [NIV 2011 renders the Greek words, “servant of God”] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  The term applies equally to “women of God.”

What an awesome title for a Christian! As a man of God, Timothy is to reflect those attributes of God to which mere humans can aspire.

And we are to do likewise. Each of us has a choice every morning, when we wake from sleep: will I be a man (or woman) of God, or of the world? Will I follow Jesus today, or please myself?

Will I allow myself to be shaped by the Scriptures and by faithful Christians in my community, or by the world and its passions?

What do I need to do today in order to be less like the world, and more like Jesus?

Through the preceding six chapters, Paul has outlined various challenges and temptations that threaten to drag us away from God, and squeeze us into the world’s shallow mold. We could add more. Now he says to Timothy, and to us, “Flee from all this!” (v. 11a). Take evasive action! Don’t become entangled! Don’t be distracted! Run for your life!

That’s the negative aspect, but the positive follows: “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (v. 11b).

None of those virtues is easily grasped. All of them require the breaking of old habits, the application of uncommon courage, and the discipline to keep going amid criticism, social pressure to conform, perhaps ridicule. But these things should not surprise us.

In Mark 8:34, Jesus said to the crowd, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

To apply that command in our daily lives is a profound challenge. But we are not left to our own devices. Paul’s advice in Titus 2:12-14 is also pertinent:

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Don’t underestimate the power of the grace of God to lift you up, and ease your burden, and light your path, every day, as you ask God for help and guidance.

As well as pursuing Christian virtues, Timothy is to “Fight the good fight of the faith” (v. 12a). Timothy needs to know the truth, as it is in Jesus. He needs to be able to discern doctrinal truth from error, encouragement from deception, light from darkness.

And it’s a fight. It’s a battle. Indeed, it is a war that requires diligence and courage and wisdom if he is to emerge victorious, and stand before God in the afterlife, and know that by God’s grace he prevailed.

Alongside the practice of Christian virtues, the knowledge and promotion of correct doctrine is one of the essential foundations of the mission of God, the expansion of God’s kingdom, and the Christian life.

Faithful, godly, ethical living, based on confident and humble application of biblical principles, is also essential to Christian living.

Verse 12b says, “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called…” – probably a reference to Timothy’s conversion and baptism.

Paul is not urging Timothy to think pleasant thoughts about heaven. He is referring to the new age which Jesus has inaugurated through his death and resurrection, and which those who put their trust in him have begun to experience.

Eternal life is both a future hope and a present possession. As Jesus said in John 5:24, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”

What Paul is urging Timothy, and all of us, to do in verse 12 is to fully experience and employ what we now possess by God’s grace: eternal life, and all that flows from it into the here and now. Verses 13-14a refer either to the appeal of verses 11-12, or to all of the ethical instruction given in 1 Timothy. This is serious stuff. It’s a big deal. The present and future quality and success of the church of Jesus Christ rests, in one sense, on getting this right. And now, for the first time in the letter, Paul mentions his conviction that Jesus will return to this world, as he promised (v. 14b; cf Jn 14:1-3).

No matter what global horrors, or local trials, or personal failures we are faced with, we can be absolutely certain that God is sovereign, and God’s plan is unfolding according to his will, and Jesus will return at precisely the appointed time.

Verse 14 was a direct challenge to the authority of the Roman emperor. When an emperor died, his successor would arrange a staged “appearing” or “epiphany,” an extravagant, unforgettable public spectacle designed to reinforce the new emperor’s authority, and to etch the moment into collective memory.

Here, Paul uses the adjective in relation to Jesus (“the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ”) – a daring and subversive act that his readers would be unlikely to miss.

Jesus is God. He alone deserves our ultimate allegiance. To him belongs all “power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise” (Rev 5:12).

Life isn’t easy. Christian discipleship isn’t easy. Christian parenting isn’t easy. Christian leadership isn’t easy. But we do what God has called us to do, leaving our worries and weaknesses in God’s hands, confident in God’s promise to help us because of the kind of God he is (vv. 15-16).

And who is the God in whom Paul trusts? He is “the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (v. 15b; cf Rev 17:14; 19:16). He is the God “who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see” (v. 16a).

Paul has already challenged Rome; now he scuttles the Greek philosophical boat, which asserted that every person possesses an immortal “soul,”

an inner, non-physical life which will live on after bodily death no matter what they do … [Paul] does indeed believe in an afterlife for all people, and in a judgment at or after death which will determine the happiness or misery of the life to come … But he never states this in terms of people having an immortal soul.[1]

In view of the judgment to come, and the priority of the mission of God to which we are all called, don’t be distracted by trivial things, Don’t waste your life. Fight the good fight, serve God well, follow Jesus.

And Paul closes his charge to Timothy, and to each of us, with this brief but beautiful doxology: “To him be honour and might forever” (v. 16c). Amen.


Sermon 644 copyright © 2015 Rod Benson. Preached at Lithgow Baptist Church, Australia, on Sunday 15 November 2015. Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).


References

[1] Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Pastoral Letters (London: SPCK, 2003), p. 74.

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Rod Benson

Theologian, researcher, teacher, writer, foodie, husband, dad. Works at Moore Theological College.

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