The Lord’s Day Morning
October 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
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?
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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