Discern, flee, pursue!

2 Timothy 2:20-24

There are times in life when advice from trusted friends is good and true, but leaves us feeling inadequate, or deflated, or perhaps even conflicted. Some of Paul’s advice in his letters to the younger Timothy may fall into this category. After all, Timothy is no teenager. He is a leader among God’s people, well known, with valuable experience under his belt.

So, when Paul instructs him to “flee from youthful passions” (v. 22), Timothy may well have wondered what he meant. On the other hand, he may have thought, “Ah, that. He’s on about that issue again.”

Paul has spent more than 30 years preaching and teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, and some time before that, prior to his conversion, trying to stop its spread. He’s a keen observer of people, and personalities, and motivations. He knows the human heart well, especially his own.

In each of us, there is potential for great good, and for great evil, or perhaps mundane evil. Paul is aware that “youthful passions,” if left unchecked, are not only the province of “youths.” Each of us, as day follows day, needs to grow in self-awareness and wholeness.

Paul uses a general term here, referring not only to sexual lust but to other “passions of the flesh”: self-indulgence, selfish ambition, obstinacy, arrogance, and anything that distracts us from pursuing what is right and good and true.

Elsewhere, Paul urges his readers to flee from sexual immorality (1 Cor 6:18), from idolatry (1 Cor 10:14), and from the excessive pursuit of wealth (1 Tim 6:11). The term almost always refers to negative impulses or behaviours – expressions of the sin that rules us unless and until we seek God’s help.

In verse 21, as in verse 5, Paul widens the scope of his advice to include “anyone,” by implication including you and me today. In every aspect of our lives, “We are to recognize sin as something dangerous to the soul. We are not to come to terms with it, or even negotiate with it… On the contrary, we are to get as far away from it as possible as quickly as possible.”[1]

But Paul has positive advice for us too. As well as doing our best, with God’s help, to flee malign passions or desires, Paul urges us to pursue four key virtues: righteousness, faith, love and peace.

Instead of pursuing my will, I need to learn to pursue God’s will for my life. Like Paul, I need to “press on toward the goal” (Php 3:12, 14). Run away from what is bad and destructive, and run toward their opposite: thoughts and practices shaped by ideals of righteousness, faith, love and peace. Or, as Paul puts it in Romans 12:21, “Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.”

This, says John Stott in his commentary on 2 Timothy 2:22, is the “double duty of Christians”:

To deny ourselves and to follow Christ. We are to put off what belongs to our old life and to put on what belongs to our new life. We are to put to death our earthly members and to set our minds on heavenly things. We are to crucify the flesh and to walk in the Spirit. It is the ruthless rejection of the one in combination with the relentless pursuit of the other which Scripture enjoins upon us as the secret of holiness. Only so can we hope to be fit for the Master’s use.[2]

Talk 780 copyright © 2022 Rod Benson. Preached at staff devotions, Moore Theological College, Australia, on 7 February 2022. Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from The Christian Standard Bible (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2020).


[1] John Stott, The Message of 2 Timothy (Leicester: IVP, 1973), 74.

[2] Ibid., 75.

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