These verses are a charge from the apostle Paul to Timothy his son in the faith. There’s something very powerful that happens when a father speaks to his child. The Scriptures teach us that death and life are in the power of the tongue. With our tongues we can speak deadly hurtful words that wound people unnecessarily. Likewise, with our tongues we can speak life-giving words that challenge and encourage and motivate people.
Paul has used a lot of words so far in his letter to Timothy. And as he draws this letter to a close he has just used his words in a very confrontational way with Timothy. He’s urged Timothy to courageously teach and to unwaveringly preach in a way that would stir up conflict in the Ephesian church. He doesn’t want Timothy to shrink back in fear of false teachers. On the contrary he has urged Timothy to pull up his bootstraps and draw clear attention to those fallen leaders who were wandering away from the faith and seeking to take others with them.
Paul’s goal here in this section of Scripture seems to be twofold. He wants to protect the church from false teachers and he wants to stir up the courage of her faithful leaders. On the one hand Paul knows that if he stays silent on the topic of false teachers then those wolves will ravage the flock for everything she’s worth. And on the other hand he knows every well that it takes every ounce of courage and then some for the churches leaders to remain faithfully courageous in the face of intense conflict.
And Paul’s words, backed up and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, will be the difference maker for the Ephesian church and her leaders. So what do you say to a church that stands in danger of being ravaged by savage wolves? How do you warn them? How do you encourage them to fight the good fight? What do you remind them of to help them remain faithful in the midst of the heretical chaos lighting up the sky like Fourth of July fireworks?
#1: You Belong To God (11)
Paul begins to encourage Timothy by reminding him that he belongs to God by saying, “as for you, O Man of God, flee these things.” This is a profound way to shift Timothy’s focus off of the fearful task of confronting wandering heretics and on to his identity as a man of God. There is no better way to bolster our courage to do what’s right than to be reminded of our unshakeable identity in Christ. All of the moralistic preaching in the world will not produce the right behavior that God desires if it is not first founded on who and whose we are.
This phrase that Paul uses is an extremely powerful phrase. At first glance it may be easy to miss the power in the punch of the apostle’s words. But for Timothy, this phrase would have stopped him dead in his tracks. This phrase “O Man of God” is a throwback phrase to some of the giants of the faith in the Old Testament.
The giants of the faith that this phrase conjures up were men like Abraham who was a friend of God, and Moses who was the prophetic redeemer of Israel, and David who was the great shepherd king of God’s people. These men were powerful leaders of God’s family here on Earth. But the power of their leadership didn’t rest in their human strength or their human abilities. In fact, all of these men had some severe weaknesses. Abraham was a coward, Moses was a murderer and David was a lustful murderer of his best friend.
So Paul’s use of this phrase “O Man of God” would have drawn Timothy’s attention not to the abilities of these heroes of the faith but to the power of the God whom they belonged to. Their power and their courage and their ability flowed out of their identity as sons of God. Likewise, your power and your ability rests not in your human strength but in the foundational truth that if you’ve trusted in Christ as your Lord and Savior then you belong to God and since you belong to God you are called to live for God.
#2: You Are Called To Live For God (11-12)
Paul says, “But as for you, O Man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” In these words, Paul, like a good spiritual father, instructs his young son in the faith to remember that since he belongs to God he is called to live for God.
But what does it mean to live for God? How would Timothy and the Ephesian church live for God in the midst of all the heretical chaos of the Ephesian culture? Likewise, how are you and I called to live for God in the midst of an American culture that is off its rocker? Paul’s answer to those questions is that we are called to run away from some things. We are called to pursue some things. We are called to fight for some things and we are called to hold on to some things.
There are some things we need to run away from in this life. Timothy needed to “flee these things” just as Joseph ran away from Potifer’s wife. False doctrine, conceit, craving for controversial conversations, quarreling about words, envy, dissention, slander, evil suspicions, constant friction, depravity of mind and deprivation of truth. Timothy needed to run away from these things and we need to run away from these things like the cheating harlots that they really are.
There are some things we need to pursue in this life. Timothy needed to “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness (and) gentleness.” He needed to pursue these things with the same kind of commitment that Jacob chased Rachel. Seven years of hard work for Jacob to earn the right and the privilege to have the wife he always wanted. Timothy needed to exhibit the same kind of commitment to pursuing the fruit of the Holy Spirit in his life because he was called to live for God and not for his fleshly desires to hide from conflict. We need to pursue the fruit of the Spirit with every ounce of energy and resource that we have at our finger tips because we are called to live for God because we belong to God.
There are some things we need to fight for in this life. Paul instructs Timothy to “Fight the good fight of the faith.” He needed to fight for the right things just like Paul who contended for the truth of the gospel against legalists and false teachers in the church. We live in a day and age of social media consumption. We hide out behind our keyboards and our mobile devices and we click and we post things from the safety of our seclusion from one another. And we think we are fighting the good fight of the faith by doing these things while our private lives are full of corruption and our hearts are consumed with evil desires. Better to fight like David for a fruit-filled heart when he preaches to his own downcast heart to hope in God alone in Psalm 42. We need to fight the good fight of the faith deep within the hallways of our own wayward hearts before we ever click share on a social media post.
There is something we need to hold on to in this life. Paul instructs Timothy to “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” Timothy needed to hold on to his confession of salvation. He needed to remember that because he had believed the gospel and had confessed his belief in that gospel in the public presence of many witnesses that he needed to hold on to it. He needed to cling to it with all of his energy. Living a life for God is useless and impossible if we fail to hold on to the assurance of salvation that we have in Christ’s work at the cross and the empty tomb. We need to hold on to our confession of the gospel just like all of the disciples in the New Testament did.
So you and I are called to live our lives for God because we belong to God. And the only way we will live our lives for God is if we run away from the things that are not of God. We will live our lives for God if we pursue the things that are of God (namely the fruit of the Spirit). We will live our lives for God if we fight the good fight of the faith deep within the hallways of our hearts. We will live our lives for God if we hold on to our confession of the gospel in the midst of a dark and perverse world. And all of this living for God because we belong to God will require a deep and abiding trust in our good and faithful Father in Heaven.
#3: You Can Trust In God (13-16)
In these final verses we learn that our belonging to God and our living for God is only going to be as good as the God we trust in. This is the reason that Paul tells Timothy “I charge you 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, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time – he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.” Let me say this again: Your sense of belonging to God and your living for God is only going to be as good as the God you trust in. The verses we just read paint the picture of a God so massive, so good and so faithful that he is almost unimaginable because no eye has ever seen the complete fullness of him.
Can I just pause and ask you a question that I love to ask? What is your picture of God right now? In what ways does your vision of our Father in Heaven fall terribly short of the person he really is? A small vision of God will always result in a small life lived for God. Do you want to overcome some barrier today? Do you want to step into some deeper place of freedom today? Then I pray that the Spirit of the living God would increase your vision of your Father in Heaven right now.
Paul is charging Timothy to remember that he belongs to God and that he has been called to live for God. Yet he knows the impossibility of what he is charging Timothy with. Some of his closest brothers in the ministry were becoming false teachers. They had become shipwrecked believers. They were departed disciples. They were wandering heretics. If Timothy didn’t pay close attention to his own heart he would become consumed with doubt and despair and fear as he surveyed the landscape of the battlefield that was littered with the bodies of his fallen brothers.
What will encourage a weary heart when the people you once counted on have now become casualties of war? How will you rest in the assurance that you belong to God when your closest friends have become traitors? How will you live the life that God has called you to live when the lives of your trusted brothers have become shipwrecked on the shores of spiritual warfare? The only answer Paul can give to Timothy is the very same answer every one of us needs. You can trust in God. He is alone is faithful. Your sense of belonging to God and your living for God is only going to be as good as the God you trust in.
This is why Paul paints such an almost unexplainable picture of the God we can trust in. He is the ever-present God that this charge flows from. He will never leave you or forsake you. In Christ we have a Savior and a King who faced down his enemies while never losing his grip on the good confession of our good Father. Because of Christ our sin-stains have been washed white as snow. Though we once played the harlot and though we once were covered in the sins of scarlet, his work at the cross washes us clean and seals our identity as adopted children of God.
Out of this identity as perfect sons and daughters of God we are able to live lives that are unstained and free from reproach as we look forward to the return of Christ and the hope of Heaven. We trust in this returning King of kings and Lord of lords because we know that at the right time every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that he is who he says he is and therefore we are who he says we are. He alone is blessed. He alone is completely sovereign and in control when the world is spinning out in chaos.
This life is not all there is to our existence. We serve a King who is immortal. Therefore we look forward to perfect immortality in Heaven. Though we struggle with our broken lives now we look forward to Heaven where every broken person will be completely healed once and for all. God is so glorious that the light he inhabits cannot be approached or seen by mere humans. Remember that Moses was nearly consumed by the glory of God’s backside. This is the God you can trust. This is the God you live your life to honor because he has complete authority over everything.
In conclusion, I only want to ask one question: Have you given God the honor he deserves by surrendering your life to his authority? If you have then you belong to God and you can live your life for God because you trust in God. – Amen?