An Attitude of Repentance
So, we are nearing the end of 1 Timothy. Isn’t that wild? To me, it feels like only a couple weeks ago that we started this whole series in the Pastoral Epistles. But today, we’re going to look at one of the final passages in the first letter that Paul wrote to Timothy. Last week, we looked at 1 Timothy 6:2b-10, and we learned that there were people in Ephesus who were pursuing godliness for the wrong reasons. They thought that godliness was a means to gain, a way to acquire the things they wanted or needed in this life.
But what Paul contended is that godliness in and of itself is great gain, for it holds value in the life to come. Yet, there were people in the Ephesian church who desired to be rich, and because of that, they wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many pangs. This morning is very much a continuation of that topic, but our passage for today takes it in a little bit of a different direction, and focuses on something a bit different.
And so, our passage for today begins with the word, “But.” Already, we’re seeing a contrast. Paul is saying, “Timothy, these people are pursuing the wrong things! But you, Timothy…” He’s contrasting what Timothy should do with what those other people were doing.
And this contrast couldn’t be made more clear by what Paul calls Timothy. He says, “But as for you, O man of God.” What a wonderful phrase that is. “Man of God.”
Man of God
There are several references to a “man of God” in the Old Testament, which Paul and Timothy would both have been familiar with (Paul was a Pharisee, and Timothy was taught the Scriptures from a young age). They certainly knew what it referred to.
So who was this man of God in the Old Testament? Well, it refers to a few people. The earliest reference is to Moses, who led God’s people out of Egypt and through the wilderness. It’s used to refer to angels who appear to people in dreams. It’s used to refer to prophets like Shemaiah, Elijah, and Elisha, and it’s used to describe King David!
The phrase, “Man of God,” was used in the Old Testament to refer to someone who brought a message to the people from God. Each of the men I just mentioned were used by God to bring His message to His people. So when Paul calls Timothy a “man of God,” he’s saying that Timothy, as a faithful preacher of the truth, speaks for God, and stands in the line of Old Testament prophets.
And what this tells us is that preaching is one of the main ways that God speaks to His people today. A man faithfully teaching God’s Word, the Bible, to God’s people, is instrumental in the life of a Christian. So each of us should approach a Sunday morning sermon with the same expectation that we’ll hear from God as the Old Testament saints would have had when they listened to the prophets.
Flee These Things
But that’s not the main point of this passage, is it? Paul didn’t write 1 Timothy to tell Timothy how amazing he is. No, the point of the passage is in what surrounds the “man of God” statement. “But you . . . flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.” What are “these things” that Timothy is supposed to flee?
This is where last week’s sermon comes in. The things that Timothy (and through his example, all of us) is commanded to flee, are the things we discussed last week. In last week’s sermon, we heard that not agreeing with sound doctrine can make someone become puffed up with conceit. And this leads to envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction. And more than that, “these things” refers to the desire to be rich. Notice that it wasn’t being rich itself that Paul warns Timothy about. It’s the desire to be rich that Paul warns against. For it is the desire to be rich that leads to sin.
Here we see a principal for daily Christian life. Paul commands Timothy to flee these things, and that’s a strong command. Because to flee means to notice sin at its very inception in our minds and in our hearts, and to stop it dead in its tracks.
James tells us that “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, . . .” And then he says that “sin, when it has conceived, brings forth death.” Sin is a serious thing, isn’t it? It’s perilous for us to willingly participate in sin.
So what Paul commands here is vigilance. And it’s repentance. Repentance is one word that represents two actions. It involves turning away form one thing, and it involves turning toward something else.
And this is describing repentance, because not only are we turning away from (or fleeing) sin. We’re also pursuing (or turning toward) righteousness. It’s like if you were in the forest, and suddenly came across a cougar. You’d probably start running away from it, right? You’d flee from it, because you know that it could very easily kill you. But, if you aimlessly run, you won’t really get anywhere, and you’d get tired. So, you have to know where it would be safe from this cougar, and run toward that place. Then, you’d have a chance at surviving.
In the same way, our fleeing from sin can’t stay at fleeing. We need to reposition our life, our hearts, our thoughts, toward something greater.
Which is why Paul tells Timothy to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness. These six actions, are Paul’s way of telling Timothy how to act. Timothy was to act with righteousness, with godliness, with faith, with love, with steadfastness, and with gentleness.
These bear a striking resemblance to the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5: “but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” And that similarity probably wasn’t accidental. This list of characteristics is a reminder to all of us of what we should strive for as people who walk in step with the Spirit. Each of us should be pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness. Just like we should be striving to have the fruit of the Spirit.
Fight the Good Fight
The next image Paul uses for this is to fight. He commands Timothy to “fight the good fight of the faith.” Now, most of you likely know that I’m a good Mennonite at heart, and so physical fighting isn’t really my thing. But, this is a really helpful image for our struggle against sin.
Consider a soldier who’s called out to war against his nation’s enemies. If he was on the front lines, and was just sitting there, would that be helpful to his country? Not at all! If he just sat there, doing nothing, the enemy would be able to just walk all over them, and they would be defeated instantly. So what is Paul commanding here? He’s commanding us to fight! One commentator pointed out that the Greek words here can be translated literally as “agonize the good agony.” Fighting isn’t fun. It’s agonizing. And if it is fun for you, then I’m praying for you.
But the idea here is that this struggle isn’t going to be easy. We’ll need to contend with this for a long time. Like a boxer whose opponent never goes down, or a runner who always has one more race to run. That runner is never going to stop training. His limbs will be in agony many times as he pushes himself to his limit and beyond. That boxer will always be in pain because of the blows he’ll take in the ring. But he never stops fighting.
And our fight is for so much more than a runner’s or a boxer’s fight. Because, as Paul has said before, we fight for a reward that is eternal. We won’t see it in this life here on earth. But when Jesus returns and defeats all of His enemies, our reward for fighting the good fight of the faith will be so much greater than any reward we could imagine on earth.
But our struggle is not against flesh and blood. Paul says that our struggle is against rulers, authorities, powers, principalities (Eph 6:12). Our battle is against the Enemy—the devil—and his schemes. So our agony is not necessarily going to be physical pain. Rather, our agony is going to be felt through not getting what we desire. If we strongly desire something, but we know it would be sin to indulge in it, or it could lead to sin, our agony is going to be not having that thing that we want. We’ll be disappointed because our hunger for more food than we need will not be satisfied.
But our agony will be worth it compared to the reward we’ll receive in heaven. Because the satisfaction from eating more than we should will actually cause us more pain in the long run. Our desire for an abundance of money will leave us constantly dissatisfied with what we have, even though we have so much. And our greed could lead us to do things that are unethical, just so that we can have more money. The fight will not be easy.
Take Hold of Eternal Life
Paul then told Timothy to “take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.” This just means that Timothy was to contend for that which he was called to. Just like Paul was called heavenward, Timothy was also called to eternal life. The original word used for “take hold” had a rather violent undertone to it.
I read a story once about a hunter who shot an eagle down from the sky. When he went and found the eagle, he found that there was something attached to the eagle’s throat. Do you know what it was? It was the skull of a weasel. We can only assume that the eagle had hunted this weasel, and that the weasel, in its fight to survive, bit the eagle’s throat, and never let go. Obviously, the weasel died, but its grip on the eagle never loosened (story in Hughes & Chapell, p166). That’s the kind of idea Paul is going for here. Violently holding on to something, even unto death.
And we are to hold on to the eternal life to which we were called. This goes hand in hand with fighting the good fight of the faith. We need to hold onto the truth of the gospel as tightly as that weasel was grasping the throat of that eagle.
Let’s think of all of this in another way. Every year, salmon swim from the ocean up rivers, to get to their ancestral breeding place, so that they can lay their eggs and hatch their young. The only thing is that to get there, they have to swim a long distance, upstream. I’m sure you all know that, and you’ve likely seen videos of them jumping up steep rapids. In some spots of the river, the water’s current is especially strong, and in other places, there are rapids to jump over.
Now, imagine that the salmon didn’t want to try hard enough to get to their destination. That they just hung limp in the water. They wouldn’t actually get to where they’re trying to go, would they? Of course they wouldn’t, because the current would carry them downstream.
But if the salmon were anything like us, and if you asked them why they were going downstream, they’d probably say something like, “Well, we’re not doing it on purpose. We aren’t trying to go downstream. It just happened.” And I don’t need to tell you that the reason they’re going downstream, is because they aren’t actually trying to go upstream. And they aren’t even trying to not go downstream.
You see, for a salmon to successfully make it upstream, it has to swim hard. It has to put in a lot of effort. It has to point itself away from downstream, toward upstream, and it has to fight. Otherwise, the current will take it where it doesn’t want to go.
And it’s the same with us. Often, when we feel far from God, or when we find ourselves trapped in habitual sin, it’s because we aren’t trying very hard to flee from it, to pursue righteousness, and to fight the good fight of the faith. Our carelessness will almost always take us away from where we actually want to be. Where the apostle Paul wants us to be. Where the Lord wants us to be.
The Purpose of Fleeing
And what’s the purpose of all this? Why do we flee, pursue, fight, and take hold? What’s the reason?
Well, the answer to that comes in the next verse. Paul wrote, “I charge you . . . to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach.” We’ve heard this before haven’t we? Timothy was to keep these commandments unstained and free from reproach. Which means, that he was supposed to live a life that was so pure that nobody could look down on the gospel. So that nobody had reason to scorn the gospel.
We’ve heard that before. Paul commanded slaves to obey their earthly masters, so that the gospel would be seen as good. In the same way, we should be avoiding sin and pursuing righteousness, etc., to such an extent that others would see our lives, and give glory to God.
Our lives are supposed to display the gospel. We don’t flee sin and pursue righteousness so that we can be saved, like some people believe. We are saved by grace through faith alone.
But, we’re expected to live good godly lives so that others would have no reason to scorn the gospel.
And what does Paul do after his stern warnings about this? He goes into a doxology.
I love when Paul does this. Because it reminds us who we pursue holiness for. His doxologies remind us of who Jesus is and what He did and still does for us.
Listen to what he said in the middle of his last charge. “In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Jesus Christ, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession . . .” Timothy was to take hold of the faith about which he made the good confession. And what does Paul say? That Jesus himself made the good confession before Pilate.
So what does this tell us? Do we worship a God who has no idea what we’re going through, who has no sympathy for us? No! We worship a God who has experienced what He is commanding us to do. Jesus, in having made the good confession himself, will help each of us in making the good confession. He sent us the Holy Spirit so that we could fulfill our duties as believers.
And who is this who makes this task so important? Well, Paul tells us, He is the blessed and only sovereign. An affront to polytheism if ever there was one. Paul emphasizes this by saying that He is the King of kings, and Lord of lords. Meaning that he rules over the kings of the earth, He has dominion over them, and they will pay homage to Him one day. He is the Master to whom all earthly masters must answer.
He is the only one who has immortality. “Now hold on a minute,” you might say. “Aren’t we immortal beings, too?” Well, the answer is yes, and no. God is inherently immortal. Meaning that immortality, or not being subject to death, is part of who He is, and how He always has been. Nobody gave Him His immortality. He possesses it by His very nature.
But we, mere humans, were created by God. He gave us our immortality, our soul’s eternal nature. We possess it only as a gift we’ve received from God.
And not all people are immortal in the same sense. Every person is immortal in that each of us will exist eternally. But some people will exist in eternal glory, in the presence of the Son of God. And others, those who don’t believe in Christ as their Lord and Saviour, will spend eternity in agony. In pain, in darkness. In hell.
Which brings us to the next point. God dwells in unapproachable light. We’re reminded here of Paul, who was blinded on the road to Damascus when the Lord appeared to him to give him his apostolic mission.
And He has never been seen, nor can anyone see Him. We’re reminded of Moses, who on the mountain, asked God to show Himself to him. And God walked past Him so that Moses could see his back, but Moses needed to have a veil over his face so that God’s glory would not blind him. And when Moses went back down to be with the people, he had to keep the veil over his face, because it shone so brightly after seeing the back of the Lord.
This is the One to whom all honour and eternal dominion belongs. This is the One who makes our holiness matter. This is the One our holiness, our repentance, will glorify.
So let’s apply this to our lives. How can you and I effectively flee sin, and pursue righteousness?
Well, one way we can do that is to recognize that we are not in this alone. Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit to help us live godly lives. So, when we notice that we are being tempted to sin, one of the first things we should do is pray. And the Holy Spirit will help us in our time of need.
Another thing we should do is simply, flee. When we notice that something is making us desire something we know we shouldn’t have or do, we should flee that situation as soon as we notice it.
For example, if you’re watching a show on TV, and something in the show makes you desire something sinful, our first reaction should be to turn it off, right then and there. Or if we’re reading a book, or listening to music, we should stop what we’re doing right there.
And if this means that we need to physically move to a different place, then we should do that. If we need to go to a different room, or get out of our house, or whatever, that shouldn’t stop us from fleeing sinful desires.
A third way we can do this practically, is by confessing to each other what it is that we struggle with, and asking them to help us. We are the church, the body of Christ, and we are called to build each other up in truth and in love. So, tell someone what it is that you’re desiring, and ask them to keep you accountable to it.
And if someone asks you to do that for them, ask them how they’re doing. You can ask them, “Hey, how are you doing with that thing you told me about a little while ago? Have you been fighting against those temptations?”
We should be active in our fight together. This is part of why we’re gathered here this morning. To build each other up for the work of ministry.
So these are three ways we can work at fleeing our desires.
But what about pursuing righteousness? What are some ways we can do that, practically?
Well, this answer is quite simple. We should pursue and think about things that are righteous. Like Paul tells us in Philippians, “Whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8).
So instead of that TV show, pick up a book about the gospel, or about the church, or about faith. Listen to more sermons from godly preachers. Listen to music that fills your mind with righteous thoughts. Anything that makes you think about the Lord, and not about that desire that you have, think about that. And again, we’re not in this alone. We have our part to play, our fight to fight, but the Holy Spirit is our helper, and we can depend on Him in our times of weakness.
We’re going to end this morning by singing “Lord, I Need You.” It’s a prayer from us to God that we need His help each day to fight this fight.