Run For Your Lives
In August of 2005, a group of tourists were on a safari in Zimbabwe, and they were parked some distance away from a group of lions. One of the ladies in the group really wanted a picture, and so against all warnings, while the tour guide wan’t looking she snuck out of the truck and approached the big cats for a better picture.
And as she turned to walk back to the truck, one of the lionesses chased her and attacked her and mauled her to death with everybody in the truck watching in horror.1Story from https://www.gracechurch.org/sermons/604
She thought she was safe. She thought she was the one person who would ignore the warnings. She thought that all the scary stories were about everybody else, but not her. She thought those big cats just looked so harmless and how dangerous could it be?
And so she got close, and paid the price in the worst way possible.
Throughout 2 Timothy it’s been clear that Paul is concerned for Timothy. Not just that Timothy shut down the false teachers, which was more the focus of 1 Timothy. But in this letter what comes out is Paul’s concern that Timothy stay clean himself. That he himself doesn’t get sucked into the vortex of wasted words. That he himself stays faithful.
That’s why, in last week’s passage, Paul not only told Timothy to tell the other guys to stop quarrelling about words (2 Timothy 2:14), but that Timothy himself would “avoid irreverent babble” himself (2 Timothy 2:16). And that idea is developed more in today’s passage which is all about Timothy staying away from the false teachers and their garbage.
And Timothy doesn’t need to just stay away from it, he needs to flee from it, as if it was a lion coming to get him. If he gets close, if he just stands there, it will be the end of him.
So that’s where our passage today is going. But we should notice, that today’s passage, which is full of instruction for Timothy, does start with an encouragement. Verse 19 begins by saying “But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ’The Lord knows those who are his.” This would have been a big encouragement to Timothy as he thinks about Hymenaeus and Philetus, who, after all of his hard work in Ephesus, are still pumping out their sewage and are still “upsetting the faith of some” (v. 18).
The encouragement is that God’s firm foundation still stands. This “firm foundation” could refer to the church itself (1 Timothy 3:15) or could refer to the apostle’s teaching upon which the church is build (1 Corinthians 3:10-12, Ephesians 2:10), but the most important thing for Timothy to know is that it is God’s firm foundation, and it’s not moving. Hymenaeus and Philetus can throw rocks through the windows, they can light the dumpster out back on fire, they can paint graffiti on the doors, they might even be able to turn some furniture over, but they can’t move the foundation.
And that foundation has a seal on it, kind of like the inscription you’ll see on the cornerstones of old buildings and it says, “The Lord knows those who are his.” God is not fooled by these guys. And even if some other people are, God knows who His people are. And it will become clear in time.
Now these words about God knowing who are His are meaningful and important but they are even richer when we realize that they come from somewhere else in the Bible. “The Lord knows those who are his” is actually a direct quote from the Greek Old Testament of Numbers 16, where Korah had rallied together 250 other leaders to attack Moses and try to challenge his leadership.
And Moses fell on his face before the Lord and said to Korah, “In the morning the Lord will show who is his, and who is holy, and will bring him near to him. The one whom he chooses he will bring near to him’” (Numbers 16:5).
Moses didn’t fight, he didn’t debate, he didn’t defend himself. But he did say, “God is going to show who is his.” And when that got translated from Hebrew into Greek, the way they rendered it was “The Lord knows those who are his.” Which makes sense—if He’s going to show who is His, that means he knows who is His.
And the next morning God destroyed those false leaders with an earthquake and a fire.
So this would be an encouragement to Timothy. God’s firm foundation stands, and He knows who are His, and He can deal with those who try to attack the foundation. So Timothy doesn’t need to get sucked into defending himself.
But “The Lord knows those who are his” are not the only words on this firm foundation. There’s another sentence on there, which reads, as verse 19 goes on to say, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”
That last sentence is not a direct quote but like points back to Numbers 16, when Moses told the people to get away “from the tents of those wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest you be swept away with all their sins.” Yes, God knows those who are His. Timothy didn’t have to defend himself. But like Israel of long ago, he did have a responsibility to not get sucked in by these guys and swept away with their sin.
So, along with the encouragement comes an exhortation: “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” Get away form these guys and their sin. Because if he didn’t he could find himself sucked in and swept away in their judgement.
The Great House
And this is the idea that Paul really leans into in the rest of this passage: Timothy’s urgent responsibility to run for his life. And next he illustrates this truth with a word-picture about a great house belonging to a rich master. Look at verse 20: “Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable” (2 Timothy 2:20).
Paul is saying here that a rich person has all kinds of containers in their home. Some are expensive, and some are cheap. You might have one pitcher made of silver that you use to serve wine to your guests, and you might have another bowl made of clay that you use to go to the bathroom in.
And so the word picture here is that some people, like the false teachers, were cheap pots full of sewage or garbage. Others, like Paul, were full of the glory of the gospel.
And if Timothy wanted to be useful to God for more than just collecting garbage or holding waste, then he had some responsibility in the matter. As verse 21 says, “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonourable, he will be a vessel for honourable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.”
If Timothy wants God to use him for good and noble work, he needs to cleanse himself from what’s dishonourable—which is another way of saying “depart from iniquity” from verse 19 or “avoid irreverent babble” from verse 16. Like Israel in the desert, he needs to get away from these false leaders and their garbage.
And if he does that—if he stays clean from those sinful behaviours, then he will be a vessel for honourable use—like a silver cup—set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
I remember visiting someone once and we were preparing some food and they had a fork in their sink with some old food on it, and we were just going to rinse it off and use it to eat. Until we used our noses and realized that it wasn’t old food on the fork—it was cat poop. They had been using that fork to scrape the sides of their litter box. And so we quickly found some better utensils to eat with.
What does Timothy want to be? A dirty fork that gets thrown away in disgust or a clean fork that can be used by the master or his guests? Timothy has a choice in the matter. He can cleanse himself from the filth and get away from it and stay away from it and make sure that he’s clean and ready to be used.
Run for Your Lives
And that’s the idea that Paul makes super clear in the final verse we’re going to consider today in verse 22. “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”
Paul has used a lot of word pictures and illustrations so far but here he speaks plainly: Timothy needs to flee from sinful cravings and run towards what is right together with God’s people.
There’s a few phrases in this verse we need to consider in more depth to really understand what’s being said here. The first is this phrase “youthful passions” in verse 22. That word for passions is the same word that is often translated as “lusts.” That’s why the KJV and NKJV and NASB translate this phrase as “youthful lusts.”
And that’s a great way to translate this work, but the problem is that when we hear the word “lusts” we assume it’s talking specifically about sexual lusts. When instead, it’s talking about any kind of sinful craving, such as a craving for money like Paul talks about in 1 Timothy 6.
And if we pay attention to the context here in 2 Timothy 2, I’d suggest that when Paul thinks about youthful passions, what he specifically has in mind is the youthful passions that would lead Timothy to be argumentative and to get him caught up in pointless debates with the false teachers.
That’s what this whole section has been about—going back to v. 14 (“quarrelling about words”), v. 16 (“irreverent babble”), and then v. 23, which we’ll get to next week, talking about being “quarrelsome” and “foolish, ignorant controversies.”
I think that Paul understood that these foolish arguments were being driven by sinful cravings that tend to go with young men. The sinful craving to be right at all costs. The sinful craving to look like you know everything. The sinful craving to be smarter than everybody else. The sinful craving to pick a fight just so you can make someone else look stupid. The sinful craving to be the guy who delivers the mic-drop one-liner that goes viral on YouTube.
And I think Paul understands that Timothy is vulnerable to these sinful cravings. That’s why he’s warning him again and again to stay away from debating with these guys. He knows that Timothy is so going to want to prove himself as a young man and it’s going to turn into a bunch of chest thumping and it’s just going to ruin him.
So he tells him to get away. To flee youthful lusts. To run. Note the urgency here. Lust of any sort is not something you can just step around. It is a deadly lion, pounced to attack you. If you get close, it will come and get you. So you need to run for your life.
But Timothy isn’t supposed to run in any direction. As he runs from his sinful cravings, he needs to pursue some other things—namely, righteousness, faith, love, and peace.
Notice here that righteousness, faith, love, and peace are just the basic bread-and-butter of the Christian life. Upright, holy living; trust in God and His words; love for God and His people; and peace with God and others. These are just the basics.
But one of the big points in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus is that these Christian basics aren’t something we can just assume. We can’t just think “I’m a Christian, these people are Christians, so we’ve got righteousness covered, we’re good in the faith department, we don’t need to worry about love, and we can just count on peace.”
No, these Christian basics were the very things being threatened by the false teachers and their teaching. These Christian basics are the very things that get eclipsed by our sinful passions. These Christian basics will not be ours without deliberate action. And so they need to be pursued. As Timothy runs from youthful passions, he need to chase after righteousness, faith, life and peace.
Some of you have bene to airports where they have those moving sidewalks, like a big conveyor belt. You just stand on it and it moves you in one direction.
So picture it that way. Because of the fallen world we live in and the way that sin pulls at our hearts, it’s like we’re all standing on a moving sidewalk that, all the time, is moving us closer towards sinful cravings and further away from a holy, gospel-driven life. If we just stand there, our situation is going to get worse and worse.
And so Paul tells Timothy to get moving. He needs to move away from youthful passions and he needs to move towards righteousness, faith, love and peace. Because if he just stands still, he’s a goner.
But notice one more important part of verse 22. This run from sin and towards the truth is not a solo race. He is to “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). This Christian race is a group effort. He needs the fellowship and companionship and the encouragement of others in order to do this well.
I think all of us know that doing hard things is so much easier when we do them together. God wired us for community. And Timothy is no exception. Just because he’s a pastor and a leader doesn’t mean that he doesn’t need other people. He needs other people to stir him up to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24) as much as anybody else.
And so, as we step back and look at this passage as a whole, let’s sum up what we’ve seen. Timothy, facing discouragement from the false teachers, can rest assured that God’s firm foundation stands, and that God knows who are His. But what that means for Timothy is that he has a responsibility to get away from these harmful people and their harmful behaviours. If he wants to be useful for good and honourable work, then he has to stay clean from the garbage.
And so Timothy needs to flee from sinful desires and link arms with other pure-hearted people so that they can chase after godliness together.
That’s the big picture here. And what we want to do here is ask what all of this has to say to us. Paul wrote these words for Timothy, but what can we pull out of here that applies to all of God’s people in all of time?
And I want to point to four lessons or four truths that speak to each one of us today.
Lesson 1: God Uses Holy People
The first lesson is that God uses holy people. This is why Timothy needed to depart from iniquity, like verse 19 said. This is why Timothy needed to “cleanse himself from what was dishonourable,” like verse 21 says. So that he could continue to be used by God. It is only a holy vessel which will be “useful to the master of the house.”
That’s why all of this talk about running from sin matters. It’s not just so that we avoid bad stuff. It’s so that God can use us. Robert Murray McCheyne gave this powerful illustration of this truth when he wrote a letter to a younger missionary:
“How diligently the calvary officer keeps his sabre clean and sharp; every stain he rubs off with the greatest care. Remember you are God’s sword, his instrument– I trust, a chosen vessel unto Him to bear His name…It is not great talents God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.”2Robert Murray M’Cheyne, as quoted in Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1875-94/2008), 2.
And of course by “awful” he doesn’t mean bad but in the real sense of full of awe. God uses holy people to do His good works.
Now none of us can force Him to use us. This isn’t about manipulating God. But it is about being useful and ready, as verse 21 says.
And I’ve seen way too many people pray and beg God to use them while at the same time they are filling their lives with unholiness.
The kind of vessel that God can use for His good and honourable work is a vessel that is holy and pure and set apart for Him. And you and I do have a part to play in becoming that kind of vessel. So this is our first lesson. God uses holy people.
Lesson 2: Lust is Bigger Than We Think
The second lesson we find in this passage is that lust is bigger than we think. Like we saw, lust is not just about a particular kind of desire. Lust is any sinful craving, including the kids of cravings that lead people into becoming argumentative hotheads.
So, some young men satisfy their youthful lusts with pornography. Others satisfy their youthful lusts by starting a blog or a YouTube channel which they use to pick fights with people and show off how smart they are. And even if everything they are saying is right, if it’s being driven by a desire to be the mic-dropping know-it-all, then it’s being driven by lust. By youthful passions.
And maybe that particular lust isn’t a temptation to you, but if not then it’s going to be something else. And if you want to grow in holiness, which every child of God does, then don’t just watch your behaviour. Watch your cravings. Watch what you want. What you do think about and long for?
Even a desire for a good thing can become a sinful craving when it gets unhitched from God and His word and His fatherly love for us. Like Israel in the desert, craving meat. Meat isn’t bad in-and-of-itself, but their craving turned into grumbling and complaining and all-out rebellion against Moses and the God who sent him.
Let me give one more examdhat’s not wrong. But do you think it’s possible for that desire to turn into a craving that starts demanding for things to happen our way on our timeline?
Or what about the attitude we see all over the place these days that says “Don’t tell me what to do, and the more you tell me to do something, the less I’m going to do it.” Do you think that might be an example of an immature, sinful, youthful passion?
I think so. And the big idea I’m pointing to here is that lust is a bigger problem than we think. If we’re going to grow in holiness, we need to pay attention not just to our actions but to our cravings and our desires. Because that’s where it all starts.
Lesson 3: You Have to Run from Lust
And that leads us into the third lesson here, which is that lust is something you need to run from. You don’t play games with lust. You flee from it.
Let me just break this down and make it crystal clear: fleeing lust means that we are putting active distance between us and the lusts that tempt us. We are never staying in one spot but are always working to increase the distance between us and that sinful craving.
And so many people do the opposite. Like the lady in the safari, they see how close they can get. They think that the warning signs are for everybody else but not them. And that’s how so many people get destroyed.
Sinful lusts are more dangerous than lions. They’re even more dangerous than Satan. That’s true. Twice the New Testament tells us to resist the devil. To stand firm, so that he will flee from us (James 4:7, 1 Peter 5:9). But when it comes to lust, we are to run.
I remember when we were dating, a guy was giving me advice on how to stay pure, and he told me that if we were ever watching a movie together alone late at night we should sit under separate blankets. And I told him that Aimee and I would never, ever ever watch a movie together alone late at night before we were married because that would not be fleeing from lust.
I think of another time where this came up for me when someone mailed me a lottery ticket as a gift. And I put it in the shredder without scratching it. I know that I could probably argue that scratching that ticket wasn’t technically a sin. But I also knew that 1 Timothy 6:9 says that “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation.” And that scratching that ticket would be taking a step towards the love of money instead of running from that temptation.
Now I don’t share that to brag. It’s the opposite. I’m confessing that I’m vulnerable to the love of money. And so, in that instance, God gave me the grace to flee from that lust and put the lottery ticket in the shredder.
So let me ask you all, straight up: what are the lusts, the sinful cravings, that are temptations to you? What trips you up? And how are you fleeing from the lusts? What are you doing to actively put distance between you and these sinful cravings?
Because if you’re not putting distance between you and those lusts, if you’re not fleeing, you’re already disobeying. Do you get that? The command is to flee. So if you’re snuggling up to your lusts, even if you haven’t “done anything wrong,” you actually have already sinned because you’re disobeying the command to flee.
And people refuse to flee and then wonder why they keep “struggling” with certain things over and over again. It’s like setting up a tent right outside the den of a hungry bear and wondering why you keep waking up in the morning with bloody wounds all over you. You need to get away from there!
And this means taking actual action. For Timothy, it meant avoiding those conversations with those guys. Just straight-up staying away from a conversation where he could get sucked in to a worthless argument.
What does it mean for you to flee your lusts? Are there people you need to avoid, situations you need to stay away from?
I remember reading an article by a women who was watching a show with her husband and said that she found the lead actor to be distractingly charming. And so she turned it off. And what she said was “entertainment is optional. Protecting my marriage isn’t.”
And that is such a great phrase that captures so much of what it looks like to flee from sinful passions. So much of this stuff that trips us up is optional. We don’t need it. But pursuing holiness is not optional.
So, does Instagram make you feel jealous of other people or dissatisfied with your life? Then don’t use it. You don’t need it. Is Facebook making you grumpy and argumentative? You don’t need to use it.
I’ve heard from a number of people who said that Christian romance novels were stirring up sinful desires for them, and they had to just stop reading them. And it’s not hard for me to see that, apart for the sexual innuendo, a steady stream of stories about perfect-looking young people falling in passionate love with each other could provoke all manner of sinful desires in someone, not the least being dissatisfaction with the real life that God has given them.
You know what we need more of? Stories about ordinary-looking people who have been married for 25 years and who go through a hard time together and who choose to stay faithful to each other despite the way they feel. That would be a helpful book to read. But if romance novels aren’t helping you, which they probably aren’t, then stop reading them. Get rid of them.
Now I’ve touched on media here but there’s so many other examples I could give, and my very counsel to you today is to go home and think—is there a particular sinful craving, or two, or three, that has been hounding me lately? And if so, then how am I fleeing? What practical steps am I taking to put distance between me and that craving?
You can ignore what God has said in His word here today. You can pretend that you’re the first person to be stronger than lust, and the first person who can ignore the warning signs. But don’t be surprised when the lion pounces on you. And just know that, even if you are “strong enough” to cuddle up with your lusts, you are already disobeying the moment that you stop fleeing.
Lesson 4: This is a Community Project
Now very quickly, the fourth lesson here is that fleeing sin and pursing righteousness is a community project. Timothy wasn’t to do this alone but with other people. And so let me just ask you: who are the people, the kind of people who call on the Lord with pure hearts, with whom you are actively pursuing righteousness, faith, love, and peace?
Notice that I didn’t ask you if you had friends from church. I asked you who the people are that you are actually running with?
And if you don’t have an answer to that question, and you don’t know where to start, I encourage you to join a small group and make it a priority in your life. Start to build some real relationships with people that can link arms with you and help you as you run towards Jesus together.