1 Timothy: Guard What God Has Given You

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on November 14, 2004

1 Timothy 6:20-21

The Lord’s Day Morning

November 14, 2004

I Timothy 6:20-21

“Guard What God Has Given You”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to
First Timothy, chapter six, and the twentieth verse. We have been working our
way through First Timothy. It’s the first of the Pastoral Epistles: I Timothy,
II Timothy, and Titus are those pastoral letters written by Paul to early
churches in Asia Minor to two young ministers, those who were faithful in
planting and establishing churches with the Apostle Paul.

But we have said all along in our study of I
Timothy that this is a book that is clearly not simply descriptive of how things
were in the early church–it doesn’t give us a mere historical picture of what
life would have been like in the early church–it’s designed to show us how we
are to live and minister together in the local church today. And that theme
runs throughout the Pastoral Epistles: not only I Timothy, but II Timothy and
Titus, and we are going to go next into a study of Titus, and then come back to
II Timothy, to follow something of the chronological order of these letters (II
Timothy being the final letter of the Apostle Paul before the Lord gave him the
privilege of being a martyr for the Lord Jesus Christ).

And today we’ve come to the very final verses. It
was Paul’s habit to sign his letters so that the people of the church who were
receiving these letters would know that it was Paul who was writing to them.
Typically a secretary would have been employed, and Paul would have dictated the
words of the letter, and then at the end of the writing of the letter, Paul
would have taken the pen in his own hand to sign it himself. But what Paul
often did, when he did this, was give some final phrase or sentence of
exhortation to the people to whom he was writing, and that’s what we have before
us today. Paul has taken up the pen in his own hand. The secretary has written
exactly what Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit had told the
secretary to write down, but now Paul in his own hand is going to give one final
exhortation to Timothy and to us, and then he’s going to pronounce a
benediction. And we’re going to look at that today.

Before we do, look at verses 17-19, because the last
time we were together we were looking at Paul’s exhortation to wealthy
Christians, and we acknowledged that all of us qualify for that particular
title. We have been exceedingly blessed by God. And what does Paul say? Well,
he first of all tells us not to be prideful because of what He has given us in
terms of our worldly wealth, and he tells us not to fix our hope on that worldly
wealth. It can go away, and if our hope and security is in that wealth being
permanent, then we’ll never have hope and security in this world.

And positively, Paul goes on to say that in contrast
to fixing our hope on present wealth, we should instead fix our hope on God, and
remember that everything that we have comes from God, and use all the resources
that He has given us to do good, and not simply for selfish purposes; and strive
to be rich in good works; and cultivate our generosity, so that we not only have
an attitude of generosity, but we have a practice of generosity; and lay up for
ourselves treasures in heaven, and not on this earth; and take hold of real
life, not that which merely appears to be the life; or [what] those who pander
materialism to us would say is the life, but the real life, which is in Jesus

And in those three verses, he’s given very helpful
exhortations to those of us who have been entrusted with more resources than
most Christians have had in the history of the world.

And then he comes to this final word. So, before we
come to this final word, let’s look to Him in prayer and ask for His help.

Our Lord and our God, we thank You for Your
word. We confess that we sometimes take it for granted. We are coming to the
end of the study of a book of the Bible. We do this frequently here, and so
perhaps we think that it is not anything of any great occasion, but there are
very few people around this world who have ever had the privilege of meeting
together Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day and studying through a book of the Bible.
Heavenly Father, what a glorious privilege it is that we have, to hear Your word
Sunday after Sunday; to hear Your word proclaimed Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day.
We pray that we would not take for granted one moment, one iota of the privilege
we have. We know this is Your word; You have revealed Yourself in it; You have
revealed Your will in it; You have revealed our sin to us in it; and You have
revealed to us our Savior. We pray, O God, that You would reveal these things to
us today, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

This is the word of God; hear it.

“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 thus gone astray from the faith. Grace be with you.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
inerrant and authoritative word. May He add His blessing to it.

In this brief sentence and benediction, the
Apostle Paul sums up in two phrases all his concern for the integrity of the
gospel, and all of his horror of the danger of deviating from the truth of God’s
And he gives an exhortation not simply to Timothy, we will see, but to
us in this passage: an exhortation that involves four things:

Paul calls on Timothy to retain the truth;

To refrain from dabbling and arguing and
speculating with false teaching;

To realize the danger of false teaching;

And, to rely on the grace of God.

Those four things in these two little phrases…I’d like to
spend some time with you this morning looking at those exhortations.

I. Retain the truth.

In verse 20, Paul says, “O
Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you….” There Paul says, ‘Timothy,
retain the truth which I have entrusted to you.’ He’s telling Timothy that he
has the responsibility to value, and protect, and defend, and retain the truth
of the Christian faith. Paul is serious about orthodoxy. He’s serious about us
holding on to those great truths of the Christian faith which have been
expounded through Jesus and His apostles, and have been enscripturated in the
word of God.

What is this…the fifth or
sixth time in this letter that Paul has stopped to exhort Timothy to hold fast
to sound teaching, and to oppose false teaching in the church?

But you know, there’s another
way you see how serious Paul is about retaining hold of the Christian faith, and
it’s in the very way he addresses Timothy. You notice how he speaks to
Timothy? He speaks the little word “O” in front of “Timothy”. “O Timothy…”
he has picked up the pen himself now. This isn’t the secretary transcribing
Paul’s words, this is Paul himself: “O Timothy.” It’s filled with emotion and
exhortation, and command. He’s exclaiming, and repeating his concern that
Timothy would hold fast to the truth, and he says to him, “Guard what has been
entrusted to you.”

And immediately what comes to
your mind is the question, “Well, what has been entrusted to Timothy? What is
this deposit that Timothy is supposed to guard?” Well, of course, in this book
already Paul has talked about the gifts of the Spirit that had been entrusted to
Timothy. He’s been given certain abilities; those things have been entrusted to
him, but that doesn’t seem to be what Paul has in view here. Instead, Paul has
clearly in view here Timothy holding fast to the truth of the Christian faith,
not merely to his spiritual endowments, but to the very truth of the Christian

Let me demonstrate that for
you. Turn forward just 14 verses in your Bibles to

2 Timothy 1:13, and look at
what Paul says there:

“Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith
and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard through the Holy Spirit who dwells in
us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.”

You see the same language that
is being repeated there in II Timothy. Paul is calling on Timothy to hold fast
to the sum of religion and sound doctrine, to the standard of sound words that
he had received from Paul; to hold fast to the total truth content of the
Christian faith summarized in the preaching of the apostles. And Paul is saying,
“Timothy, value that truth. Protect that truth. Defend that truth. Retain
that truth.”

You see, Timothy didn’t invent
this faith. He received it. It was first passed on to him from his grandmother
and from his mother, and Paul taught this truth to him. Timothy didn’t invent
this as he was going along. He had received a message. He had received truth
from God, and Paul is saying, “Timothy, hold onto it.”

One of the early church
fathers, in commenting on this passage and teaching the church from it, asks the
question, “What is meant here by ‘the deposit’; what has been entrusted to
you?” And he answers this way:

“…That which is committed to you, not that which is invented by you. The
deposit is that which you have received, not that which you have devised. It is
not a thing of your wit, but of your learning. It is not a thing of private
assumption, but a public teaching. It is not a thing brought forth from you,
but a thing brought to you. You are not its author, but its keeper; you are not
its leader, but a follower.”

You see,
the Christian message is not something which the church’s minister works out for
himself, or is entitled to add to. It is a divine revelation which has been
committed to his care, and which is his bounden duty to pass on unimpaired to
others. And Paul is saying, ‘Timothy, you didn’t invent this message, but your
job is to guard it. Hold onto it; retain it,” Paul says.

And notice
how he tells him to treat it. “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to
you.” The word deposit, or that which has been entrusted to you,
meant in Paul and Timothy’s day something that was a treasured possession
entrusted to someone else.

Can you
imagine a scene on a battlefield, where two buddies who have been fighting side
by side are speaking to one another. One of them is dying; he has been mortally
wounded. From his pocket he pulls a watch, a family heirloom which has been in
his family for five generations, and he says to his friend, “If you get back
home, take this to my mother. This watch has been in my family for five
generations, and I cannot take it home to her. This is an entrusted heirloom, a
possession–take care of it.”

Paul is
saying to Timothy, “You have been entrusted with something far more precious
than a family heirloom. You have been entrusted with the word of salvation,
with the word of truth, with the very revelation of God; so, Timothy, value it;
protect it; defend it; retain it; hold on to it.” And I want to say, my
friends, it is easy for us to shortchange the significance of our having been
entrusted with the truth of God from a series of faithful ministers and elders
in this congregation for 170 years, and we should not undervalue it, because
until the truth is deeply valued by each one of us, we will not protect it. And
if we do not protect it, it will not be in danger, we will be in danger.
God’s truth will endure. It is truth unchanged and unchanging. It is
unconquerable truth. It will endure when the worlds are not more. But if we do
not value it and protect it, we

are in danger of losing it. And so, Paul says not just to
Timothy, but to you and to me, we have to value, and protect, and defend and
retain the truth of the Christian faith, which has been entrusted to us.

II. Refrain from world talk.

But Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes on to
say in verse 20 that we are to refrain from something. He says, “Timothy,
you’re to guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty
chatter and opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’.” He tells
Timothy, in other words, that he is to refrain from being entangled in empty and
speculative theological chatter. He’s to avoid this kind of empty and
speculative teaching. He’s to avoid this kind of vain speaking, theological or

Now, it’s very interesting: the
people who were propounding this ‘new and deep and spiritual teaching’ in the
Christian church do doubt thought of themselves as exceedingly wise: wiser than
Timothy; wiser than Paul; and, certainly, wiser than mere Christians in the
congregation. They were intelligent! They had insights that none other could
grasp! They knew truth that nobody could understand, and yet….

Do you notice the four
qualities that Paul uses to describe what they no doubt thought as profound
teaching? He calls it worldly, empty, contradictory, and false. He says, ‘Let
me tell you about this ‘wisdom’, this ‘knowledge’ that is being taught by false
teachers. It’s worldly. It doesn’t come from God, it’s worldly. It comes from
this world. And it’s not only worldly, it’s empty. It claims to be profound
and weighty, but it’s a vapor–it’s vain, it’s empty. There’s nothing to it, and
it’s contradictory. It contradicts the clear teaching of God’s word.

III. Refrain from false knowledge.

And, it’s false knowledge. Paul isn’t mad at it
because it’s knowledge. No, he’s mad at it because it’s false knowledge. He’s
not saying, “Well, we shouldn’t get hung up about what you believe, it’s just
how you live.” That’s not what he’s saying. He’s saying that what it being
claimed is wrong

And then he says, realize
something. Look at verse 21. Paul says that some have claimed to have this
false knowledge, and even though they’ve professed faith in Jesus Christ,
they’ve gone astray. Look at what he says in verse 21: “…which some have
professed and thus gone astray from the faith.” You see what Paul is saying.
Paul is saying that there are some people in this congregation who have
professed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. They’ve professed to believe the
Christian truths which had been taught by Paul and the apostles. And yet,
because they became entangled in these false teachings, because they began to
stray, in curiosity embracing these false teachings, they had gone astray from
the faith.

You see, Paul is saying that
bad theology leads to spiritual destruction. And he’s saying, “Timothy, the
reason that I warn you against false teaching is because I’m concerned for the
lives and the souls of men and women, and boys and girls.” This is not the
first time that Paul has given this warning, but isn’t it urgent? It’s in his
own hand, it’s the last thing that he’s going to say in this letter to Timothy
and to his church, and he’s saying false teaching will lead to spiritual
disaster. And that’s why we need to retain the truth and refrain from becoming
entangled in the study and the curious discussion of these false teachings, and
we need to realize that this false teaching leads to spiritual disaster.

IV. Rely on God’s grace.

But Paul’s not done. If you look at verse
21, Paul concludes with a benediction: “Grace be with you”, in which he calls
on Timothy to rely upon the grace of God. Indeed, he calls upon the whole
congregation to rely upon the grace of God, to depend upon God’s unmerited and
strengthening favor. “Grace be with you.” This little phrase indicates the
greatest blessing of them all: God’s favor to us through Jesus Christ; his
blessing on those who are undeserving of that blessing, purchased at the cost of
the death of His own Son.

This grace Paul pronounces on
Timothy. Why? Because for the ongoing life of the believer, the grace of the
Lord Jesus Christ is essential. There is nothing that we are able to do apart
from the grace of God, and there is nothing that God cannot do through us by His
own grace. And so Paul, even in pronouncing this blessing, is reminding Timothy
and that congregation (and you and me) that we are always dependent upon the
grace of God. That’s very important for us to remember in this season of this
life of this congregation. We have tremendous opportunities and challenges for
ministry and service before us, but we must be dependent upon the grace of
God, because we can do absolutely nothing without it.

But notice what Paul says:
“Grace be with you.” Now, you can’t pick it up in your English
translation, but he’s not saying “Grace be with you (singular), Timothy.” He’s
saying here, “Grace be with …y’all!” It’s a plural! Paul’s speaking this
benediction on the whole congregation. It is yet another indication that this
book has two audiences in mind. It has Timothy in mind, the elders in mind; but
it has the congregation of the people of God in mind. And this blessing is not
simply on Timothy, it’s on the whole congregation of the people of God, because
in the realities of life in this fallen world, and of life and ministry in an
imperfect church, the only hope we have is the grace of God.

Paul calls on Timothy and his
congregation, and us, to retain the truth, to hold fast to it; to refrain from
dabbling in worldly speculation and false teaching; to realize that false
teaching will lead sheep over the edge into destruction; and to be utterly
dependent, as we hold fast to that truth, on the only thing that can hold us up,
which is the grace of God.

And what a rich blessing it
is! The Aaronic priests, you remember, in the Old Testament had a blessing for
the people of God: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to
shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon
you, and give you peace.” The Lord lifting up His face and making it to shine
upon you, and being gracious to you, is giving you His favor. And receiving the
Lord’s favor creates the reality of the enjoyment of peace; not cessation of
physical warfare in this world, but peace with God, reconciliation with Him
wherein we receive all the benefits which He has intended for us in His mercy.

And when Paul says “Grace be
with you” he’s reminding you of that gift which God has given to all those who
trust in Jesus Christ, and he’s reminding us that that message of grace is not
just for those who are as yet unbelievers. It’s a message for us, too. Just as
those who are apart from Christ need the grace of God if they would be saved, so
we need the grace of God if we will live the Christian life. It’s the same
message: rely on God’s grace. May the Lord bless His word. Let’s pray.

Our Lord and our God, we
thank You for the mercy that You have given us in Jesus Christ, and for the
truth which You have committed to us in Your word. Grant that we would hold on
to that truth, and that we would rely on Your mercy and grace. We ask it in
Jesus’ name. Amen.

Grace be with you. Amen.

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