The Lord's Day MorningOctober 24, 2004
I Timothy 6:11-16
“Fight the Good Fight”
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Now turn with me, if you would, to I Timothy, chapter six, and we’ll be reading from verse eleven through to the sixteenth verse. I Timothy 6:11-16. Before we read this passage together, let's look to God once again in prayer. Let us pray.
Our Father in heaven, we bow in Your presence acknowledging that in and of ourselves we are nothing. We cannot even discern the meaning of these words, or of the gospel of which they speak, unless by Your Spirit You come and open our hearts and open our understandings, and bend our wills in the way of Your commandments. So come and fill us by Your Spirit; enable us to see Jesus and to see Him only; and forgive us our sins. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.
This is God's holy and inerrant word.
“But flee from these things, you man of God; and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 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–He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords; who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.”
Thus far God's holy and inerrant word.
Now as we continue in these expositions of I Timothy that Ligon has been engaging in in these past number of months, we come now to a concluding section in the epistle. This is Paul the Apostle writing to his son in the faith, a young man with whom the apostle had an extraordinary bond and sense of fellowship, but also a young man over whom the apostle felt a certain amount of responsibility. In his Second Epistle to Timothy, there will appear very definitely overtones of the apostle, as it were, writing his swan song; writing, that is to say, those things that he wants Timothy especially to remember once the Apostle Paul is gone. And we may ask ourselves the question this morning, “What is it that is uppermost in the apostle's mind and thought as he writes to young Timothy, and he brings his letter to a conclusion, and perhaps to something of a climax?” And as we read that passage this morning, surely you discerned something of the climactic nature of what Paul is saying, particularly with that beautiful doxology with which he ended that portion: “To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.”
What is it, then, that is uppermost in the apostle's thought? And the answer to that question is “sanctification.” It is the holiness of young Timothy that is the apostle's chief concern. Above and beyond every other consideration, he wants Timothy to give attention to his holiness, to his sanctification.
Now, as we shall see, the Apostle Paul does so in terms of five imperatives, five verbs that he employs: flee; pursue; fight; take hold; and, keep. And as we unfold what the apostle is saying to Timothy along those five lines of thought, there are two things by way of preliminary remarks that perhaps would be helpful for us, in order to understand what it is that the Apostle Paul is actually doing here.
He's saying that there are two essential things that you and I need to keep in mind when we think of sanctification or holiness as regards our testimony, the first of which is that holiness is an active thing. It's an active thing. It's something that you and I are obligated to do. As we shall see in a minute, Paul employs five imperatives, five things that we need to do: that Timothy needs to do, and that you and I need to do. Now, it is true that there is an aspect of sanctification that we might call passive. We are in union with Christ. We are to be what we are, those who have been brought out of darkness and into light; those for whom the rigors and demands of the law have been met in Christ Jesus; those who have been adopted into the household and family of God. We are heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. Those things are true of us already.
But there is a sense also in which we are obligated to do something. We are to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that it is God that worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” There's an aspect of sanctification that is active.
But secondly, there is another factor that we need to bear in mind, and that is that there are both negative and positive dimensions to holiness. There are things that we need to avoid as well as things that we need to cultivate. We are to run away from certain things, and we are to run towards other things. There is mortification and there is vivification–putting on those graces and fruits of the Spirit that demonstrate life in Christ Jesus.
Now let's, with those two preliminary thoughts in mind, let's look now at these five imperatives that the Apostle Paul employs here.
The first of which is “flee.” “Flee from these things,” he says in verse 11. Now, the “things” that we are to flee from are things that he's already mentioned in chapter six in the earlier verses; for example, in verse four he talks about unhealthy craving for controversy, for quarrels about words which produce envy and dissention, and slander and evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind, and so on and so forth. There are certain things that we need to flee from. And it might be useful for us this morning to understand the picture that the Apostle Paul is actually employing here. He's saying that the Christian, the man of God, the woman of God, is a person who has his back to sin. He has turned his back towards sin. He is fleeing from sin.
Some of you are in my Sunday School class, and we've been looking at John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress. We haven't got very far in the book, but you remember right at the very beginning of the allegory that Bunyan tells (a book, you remember, that he wrote when he was in prison, being there for his faith). He describes for us how Christian (who has been reading the Scriptures, has been convicted about his sin, has a burden now upon his back) meets Evangelist, who says to him, “Flee from the City of Destruction...” [the city in which he lived] “...flee from the City of Destruction and flee towards the Wicket Gate.” At first, you remember, he can't see the Wicket Gate, and Evangelist asks him, “Do you see yonder light that shines? Run in that direction.” Now, do you see what Bunyan in doing? He's doing exactly what the Apostle Paul says is true of every Christian. Every Christian turns his back to sin, and flees and runs.
You remember the story of Joseph in the Old Testament–a young man sold into slavery by the Midianites to the house of the soldier/general in the Egyptian army, Potiphar. Away from home, Potiphar's wife, you remember, tries to entice and seduce this young handsome Joseph. And you remember Moses describes a certain incident. Joseph fled from her clutches, leaving the garment that she had taken hold of behind. He fled from sin, and that, men and women, is the stance of every Christian, of every child of God. We flee sin, we run away from sin.
Some of you will remember in the sixties on television, The Fugitive, that ran for years and years. I remember being away on vacation when the final episode was being aired, and I can remember to this day a store in High Street that had a TV in it. And there were crowds (including myself!)–there were crowds of people wanting to see the final episode as everything in this massive denouement was finally resolved. Some of you will remember the remake by Harrison Ford, but it wasn't as good as the original! The fugitive: always running, always fleeing from sin...that's the stance of every Christian. My friend, this morning is that your stance? Are you fleeing away from sin? Are you fleeing away from it?II. Pursue
The second word that Paul employs is the word “pursue,” and he gives a list of things that we are to pursue in verse 11: Righteousness; godliness; faith; love; perseverance; and, gentleness.
Righteousness, first of all. Pride of place is given to the pursuit of righteousness. You remember the wonderful words of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness....” Integrity, uprightness, conformity in one's life to the standards of the moral law of God, that's what we must pursue. Righteousness.
Secondly, Godliness. It's a word that's cropped up several times before in this chapter. Some of you will have read Jerry Bridges’ extraordinary little book, The Pursuit of Godliness. It's a wonderful little book; I commend it heartily to you. There's a sense in which (and I think we've lost it)–there's a sense in which we ought to employ what used to be employed in church when certain individuals were spoken of as “godly men” and “godly women.” Of all the things that you must pursue, of all the things that you should strive for, I want to be a godly man, a godly young man, a godly young woman.
I see some of our friends are back from college and university here this morning. Let me ask you, dear friends, when you’re away from home and when you’re at Starkville or Ole Miss or wherever it is that you are this morning, is that what you are, a godly young man, and a godly young woman? Paul says pursue that.
Thirdly, Faith. Faith here, I think, in the sense of trust. There's a small unpretentious tombstone in Green Mont Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland. And carved as an epitaph on a stone in Greek are the words of Revelation 2:10: “Faithful unto death.” Faithful unto death. It's the tombstone of Gresham Machen. That's how they wanted to remember him, as a man who was full of faith, and pursued faith all of his life.
Fourthly, Love. Ah, were you listening to the exquisite way in which the choir sang
I Corinthians 13 this morning to that beautiful, beautiful melody? Love, Paul says, love that is kind and isn't jealous; and does not brag, and isn't arrogant; and does not act unbecomingly; that does not seek its own; that isn't easily provoked; that doesn't take into account a wrong suffered; that doesn't rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; that bears all things, and believes all things, and hopes all things and endures all things. Love! Pursue it!
And Perseverance, perseverance in the sense that we sometimes think of with regard to Job, a man who persevered. You've heard of the perseverance of Job, a man who kept on going like [Eveready] batteries that keep on going. Christians are to keep on going, no matter what.
And sixthly, Gentleness. Isn't that surprising? Isn't that surprising? Gentleness. Paul says pursue gentleness. Men! Southern men! NASCAR-liking men! Truck-driving men! You've seen those pictures of sportsmen and they’re holding their little son or their little daughter. They’re powerful images. Great big muscular foot-ball-ers or whatever, and they’re gently nursing their little son or little daughter. Gentleness. It's an attribute of Jesus. “I am gentle and humble in heart,” Jesus said. Pursue that quality which was a mark of Jesus.
Well, the third word that Paul employs is “Fight.” We’re in a war, you and I. I sometimes think that we go about our lives from day to day and sometimes from week to week, ignorant of the fact that we're in a war. We’re in a battle. We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal but spiritual, mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds!
As I fired up my laptop early, early, early this morning, came onto the BBC news page as it always does, my eye caught this story: the Royal Navy, the British Navy has allowed into its ranks this week a 23-year-old practicing, card-carrying Satanist. And he is allowed to practice his satanic rituals on board the ship. And lest you think that's some quirky thing over there in Europe, the headquarters of this organization is, of course, in this country, in San Francisco...right in San Francisco. We wrestle not against flesh and blood, my friends; we wrestle against principalities and powers. This is a war. It is a war against the flesh and indwelling sin. It's a war against the world and its hostility towards God. It's a war against Satan and all of his hosts, and that means you and I, we are to put on the whole armor of God. We’re to put on the breastplate of faith, and we're to have our loins girded with truth, and we're to have that breastplate of righteousness, and our feet shod for the preparation of the gospel of peace, and the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, and praying with all prayer and supplication. It's a war. My friends, did you put on gospel armor this morning as you thought about what dress to wear or what suit to put on? Or what tie would go with this shirt? Did you think about, "Have I put on the pieces of gospel armor?" because today, today, my friends, you and I will be called upon to engage in war.
IV. Take hold
The fourth word that the apostle employs is to “Take hold.” The fourth imperative is to take hold, “...take hold [verse 12] of eternal life.” Paul makes reference to a confession that Timothy probably made at the time of his baptism, when he professed his faith. “Take hold of eternal life.” Grasp it! If you have your back to the City of Destruction, have before you eternal life and the pearly gates, and the City of Jerusalem that comes down from above, and hold on to it!
Sometimes you’re out, maybe walking with your grandchildren (or, if it's me, it's the dog...), and someone is coming in an SUV faster than they should be, and my dog has no road sense whatsoever. He thinks everybody's there to feed him. And he wouldn't think twice about standing in the middle of the road with an SUV coming down at him at sixty miles an hour. So what do I do? I hold on to that rein, and I hold it tight! And some of you have held on to your grandchildren when cars are passing by, and you've held on to them tight, and sometimes they’re wriggling, but you hold on to them tight! And Paul is saying hold on to eternal life.
On this very day in 1740, a 25- year-old George Whitefield, the greatest evangelist/preacher of his day, preached in Middletown, Connecticut. And a farmer named Nathan Cole, heard him and recorded his experience in a diary. He's a farmer. Let me read it to you.
“In the morning about 8 or 9 of the clock there came a messenger and said Mr. Whitefield preached at Hartford and Wethersfield yesterday and is so to preach at Middletown this morning at ten of the clock. I was in my field at work. I dropped my tool that I had in my hand and ran home to my wife, telling her to make ready quickly to go and hear Mr. Whitefield preach at Middletown, then ran to my pasture for my horse with all my might, fearing that I should be too late. Having my horse, I with my wife soon mounted the horse and went forward as fast as I thought the horse could bear; and when my horse got much out of breath, I would get down and put my wife in the saddle and bid her ride...and so I would run until I was much out of breath and then mount my horse again, and so I did several times to favor my horse....for we have twelve miles to ride double in little more than an hour....And when we came within about half a mile or a mile of the road that comes from Hartford...to Middletown, on high land I saw before me a cloud of fog arising. I first thought it came from the great river, but as I came neared the road I heard a noise of horses’ feet coming down the road, and this cloud was a cloud of dust made by the horses’ feet. It arose some rods into the air over the tops of hills and trees; and when I came within about 20 rods of the road, I could see men and horses clipping along in the cloud like shadows, and as I drew nearer it seemed like a steady stream of horses and their riders, scarcely a horse more than his length behind another, all of a lather and foam with sweat, their breath rolling out of their nostrils every jump. Every horse seemed to go with all his might to carry his rider to hear news from heaven for the saving of souls. When we got to Middletown old meeting house, there was a great multitude, it was said to be 3 or 4,000 people, assembled together. We dismounted and shook off our dust...When I saw Mr. Whitefield come upon the scaffold, he looked almost angelical; a young, slim, slender youth, before thousands of people with a bold undaunted countenance....He looked as if he was clothed with authority from the Great God, and a sweet solemn solemnity sat upon his brow, and my hearing him preach gave me a heart wound. By God's blessing, my old foundation was broken up, and I saw that my righteousness would not save me.”
Isn't that a beautiful description of thousands of people on horses going to hear the word of life? Lay hold of eternal life with that kind of picture before you, Paul is saying.V. Keep the commandments
And lastly, fifthly, the fifth imperative: “Keep the commandments.” “Keep the commandment” (verse 14). Now, it's not clear what specific commandment Paul has in mind, and he may well be summarizing all of what he has said by using the term “commandment.” Keep it! Keep it! He summons two witnesses. He summons Jesus Christ, who, Paul says, made a good confession before Pontius Pilate.
My friends, is the going tough? Is the way wearisome? Are you bloodied and sore from the battle? Are the wounds open before you as you wrestle with Satan, and strive to lay hold of eternal life? Then look to Jesus! Paul is saying, look to Jesus who made a good confession before Pontius Pilate. As He was scourged, as He was buffeted, as He was ridiculed, as He was sent to His death, let the vision of Jesus Christ be ever before you, Who stands beside you to encourage you in the battle.
And then Paul summons God the Father, whom he describes in this way:… as having made everything, who gives life to everything; He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; who alone possesses immortality, and dwells in un approachable light; who no man has seen or can see, and there's a series of sermons in and of itself.
But what is Paul doing? He's saying, ‘Have before you a vision of the greatness and the glory and the majesty and the immensity and the unfathomabilty of God. You say to me this morning that I can't put one foot in front of another because I feel my weakness so. Then draw your strength, my friend, from Him who is Sovereign and sits upon the throne, and who can do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or ever think.
And how long must I be engaged in this battle? How long must I pursue and lay hold of eternal life? How long must I flee and turn my back upon sin? Until Jesus comes, Paul says. There's no respite here. There's no stopping here. There's no “little folding of the hands and perhaps a little more sleep” here. But until Jesus comes....in other words, throughout the course of all of our lives, yours and mine, this is to be a picture of us. Fleeing, laying hold, engaging in a warfare, and ...and keeping the commandment of God. And may God give us strength, and may God so enable us, and may God make us ever to persevere even to the end, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
Now receive the Lord's benediction.
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
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