Guarding What Has Been Entrusted

1 Timothy 6:12-21

 

Coming to the end of this first letter to Timothy, Paul again exhorts his "true child in the faith" (1:2), challenging him again to "fight the good fight." As we've seen previously from the letter's context, this fight was to keep the true Gospel alive in the church at Ephesus and to rebuke and remove leaders who would teach to the contrary. It is a fight that continues into Paul's next letter (2 Timothy, which we will begin studying through next month), and indeed in churches around the world to this day.

In the preceding verses of chapter 6, Paul calls out the false teachers misuse of church leadership and teaching for the sake of monetary gain, which leads him to passionately remind Timothy to "flee from these things" and pursue a ministry marked by "righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness" (6:11). This echoes his statement that true ministry is not motivated by earthly considerations, but that "the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1:5).

Here, he renews his plea, reminding Timothy of his own calling and the stakes of battle. "Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses" (6:12). Whereas the words Paul chose in the first occurrence of this phrase (derived from strateuomai) described big-picture warfare for the sake of the church, here he uses a more localized term (agōnizomai-which often specifically referred to sports) that reflects more of a personal struggle to keep the faith. Likewise, it seems that Timothy's "good confession" here has less to do with his call or ordination (as referenced in 1:18 and 4:14) and more to do with his public profession of personal faith. Paul warns Timothy to guard not just the church, but his own heart as well.

Paul then intensifies his exhortation, urging Timothy to continue in faithful obedience for the long haul, with a challenge that morphs into a unique doxology. "I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time" (6:13-15a). In a nutshell, Paul pleads with Timothy to live in unashamed obedience to God's call in his life until his death or the Lord's return, but the doctrinal elements he includes serve to give pastoral weight to his encouragement.

First, he offers his charge "in the presence of God", essentially saying God is witness of his words; that it is not his exhortation but God's. Second, Paul references God's authority as creator and sustainer of life, which shows both His authority and His love and concern for His creatures. Third, he likens Timothy's faithfulness to Christ's testimony before Pilate, calling to mind both the reality of persecution for the witness of the Gospel and the work of Christ in going to the cross according to God's perfect plan. Lastly, Paul says that pursuit of righteousness continues until the return of Christ, which will come according to God's perfect will. This gives urgency to the command (no one knows the day or the hour of the Lord's return), but also, presumably refutes one of the messages of the false teachers-that the final resurrection had already occurred (cf. 2 Tim. 2:18).

At this point, Paul transitions to full doxology, extolling God as the undisputed sovereign of the universe before whom all idols, emperors, and false teachings will fall, and who justly demands worship from all men. "He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possess immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen" (6:15b-16). As with other statements of faith and praise in this letter, Paul's words are carefully chosen to repudiate the false teachings about the nature of God and His interaction with men that had been spread through the church. He wants to be sure that Timothy, and by extension, the whole congregation at Ephesus, remembers just who it is that has saved and called them.

At the crescendo of this hymn to God's power and glory, we would expect the letter to wrap up nicely. Instead, Paul adds one more layer of instruction for Timothy to pass on to the church. This fits more with his commands from earlier chapters, and is included here almost as if he says "Oh yes, one more thing." He writes: "Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed" (6:17-19).

The command's placement here perhaps flows from his warning against the love of money in 6:5-10-he wants to be clear that those who have been given much by God are not worthy of condemnation simply because of their wealth, but that they have a special need to trust God fully. He reminds the wealthy that their riches are given to be used and enjoyed according to God's perspective. Wealthy believers must be careful not to be proud (as though they were worth more to God) or to "fix their hope" in something as fleeting as money, but to rely on Christ in all things. They must use their earthly riches to be "rich in good works," giving generously as the Lord leads with eternity in view.

In an especially poignant message for Western Christians today, where nearly every member of every church is "wealthy" according to ancient standards, Paul ties good works to generosity-the ways we spend our time and money reveal more about our commitment to Christ than what we say or sing in church.

In closing, Paul affectionately calls on Timothy to guard the Gospel and to continue in faithful ministry with purity of heart and mind. "O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called knowledge'-which some have professed and gone astray from the faith. Grace be with you" (6:20-21).

As he so often does in his letters (Eph. 5:6, Col. 2:8, etc.), Paul warns Timothy against the seductive power of the world's wisdom, "what is falsely called knowledge'," and tells him to avoid that path. He knew, as a student both of Greek thought and the graceless law of the Pharisees, that any wisdom apart from Christ leads only to destruction. A life marked "a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" comes from being washed in Christ's blood, marinating in God's Word, and living unashamed of the truth (Rom. 1:16-17) in word and deed.

Paul closes his letter by commending the grace of God to his friend and protégé. Even in his thorough teaching and trust in Timothy's faithfulness, he knows that it is only by God's power that any of us stand. As we move next month into studying 2 Timothy, we will see that trust in God's grace on full display at the end of Paul's life when everyone and everything else has been stripped away.

Justin Lonas is editor of Disciple Magazine for AMG International in Chattanooga, Tennessee. 

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