What do you do when 49% of clergy in the Church of England do not believe that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way by which we can be saved? What do you do when children as young as 13 are testing positively for sexually transmitted diseases? What do you do when the Home Secretary, as I report in the Vicar's Note in this month's Newsletter, equates some evangelicals with Islamic terrorists?
Well, it was like that in Timothy's day, in Ephesus in Asia Minor. He was the young leader of the Church in that city where there was false teaching, immorality and opposition to the gospel. And on these Sunday evenings in July and early August we are studying Paul's advice to Timothy as you find it in 1 Timothy chapter 6. Tonight we've reached verse 11. And my headings are very straightforward: first, PRESENTING PROBLEMS; secondly, PAUL'S CHARGE and thirdly, DIVINE REALITY.
First, PRESENTING PROBLEMS
Let me just tell you a bit about Ephesus. Ancient Ephesus contained one on the Seven Wonders of the World - the Temple of the goddess Artemis (or Diana to use her Latin name). Artemis religion was widespread. Her followers bought miniature shrines with Artemis replicas in them to dedicate in her temple. Archaeologists have discovered some of these shrines made out of cheap terra-cotta. But Acts 19 tells us that there was a significant trade in more expensive silver-shrines. And because Paul, when he himself was in Ephesus, taught "that man-made gods are no gods at all" (Acts 19.26), the silversmiths weren't any too happy. In fact, their spokesman Demetrius said, verse 27 of Acts 19:
" There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshipped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty."
A riot and an attack on the Christians then followed. Indeed, there was great opposition to early Christianity in Ephesus and Asia Minor. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15.32:
" If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained?"
And in 2 Corinthians 1.8 he writes:
" We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life."
Ephesus was not an easy place for a Christian. But this was where Timothy was having to exercise leadership. And Timothy, we know, was not a robust man. He is called "timid Timothy". He probably found it very difficult confronting people and saying, "No! That is not right." And he was tempted to be discouraged. Do you feel like that? Do you feel discouraged about the world around you? Well, learn from Timothy.
Now, the particular presenting problems he was facing, as we have seen in previous weeks, were related to "false teaching". This is what Timothy had particularly to be on his guard against. Look back to chapter 1 of this epistle and verse 3. Paul writes:
" As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer."
This was Timothy's main job - to combat false teaching. And as we have already seen in this chapter, false teaching leads to three things. It did in Timothy's time. It does today. Look at verse 10 - the immediate context for tonight's passage:
" For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs."
First, false teaching leads to materialism and greed ("the love of money"); secondly, to spiritual drifting ("wandering from the faith"); then, thirdly, to personal and societal problems ("many griefs"). Jonathan Pryke was talking about all that last week. Well, this was Timothy's world and church and problems. And in this situation Timothy was to focus on the second coming of Christ. Chapter 6 verse 14 refers to "the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, [verse 15] which God will bring about in his own time." No date for that appearance is given. So don't believe people when they tell you they know when Christ will return and give you definite times. All you can know is that Christ will return. The answer to the question "when?" is simple: "in God's own time". The key question is not "when will Christ return?" but "how are you to live in the meantime?" The answer to that question is given in Paul's charge to Timothy - our subject for tonight. So ...
... secondly, PAUL'S CHARGE
Look at verses 11- 14:
" But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ."
There are four things in this command.
First, in situations like ours and like Timothy's, be active and not passive. And be active and not passive, both negatively and positively. Timothy, in verse 11, is told to "flee from all this" - "the love of money" and "wandering from the faith" with that tragic result of being "pierced ... with many griefs", of verse 10. Also, presumably, he is to flee from all the other temptations and wrongs Paul has been addressing in earlier chapters.
We can thank God that in this country we seldom have, physically, to flee anything. But you have been seeing awful pictures on your TV screens of the Sudanese who've had to flee the massacring Sudanese militias. The TV cameras are not there when word gets to a village that it is time actually to flee. But you've seen those pictures of raging fires in Australia, or hurricanes in the US, when people have to flee. People pack essential valuables into cars as fast as possible and drive away as fast as possible. These Sudanese people have no cars. But they have to move fast and leave. That is what it means to flee. So Paul is saying "Run away - flee - from these things. Say 'No!' in a definite way to temptation." But the Christian is not only negatively to "flee". He or she is positively to "pursue" what is good. And in verse 11 you are given a list of six things to pursue:
" righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness."
Righteousness relates to your life now in society with your fellow human beings. You are to "pursue" energetically a right ordering of society as a whole; you are to make sure that there is righteousness in you own small corner at home or at work; and you are to live in a right relationship with others personally.
Then you are to "pursue ... godliness". Godliness concerns your relationship with God. Is there anyone here tonight who has still to get right with God? You can only be in a right relationship with God through faith in Christ. That is the teaching of the Bible. First, you face up to the fact that you have been rejecting God, intentionally or by ignoring him - that is what the Bible means by "sin". We all, by nature, do that - ignore God. And the result is disaster, sooner or later. But Christ saves from sin through his Cross where he took the judgment you and I deserve. He now offers forgiveness, if you confess your sin. And he will give you new life through his Holy Spirit. You can receive that forgiveness and new life tonight. Why not? So that is how "godliness" has to start - with faith in Christ.
But when you become a believer you can't leave faith standing still. You must continue actively to "pursue ... faith." Until Christ returns, you have to walk by faith and not by sight (as the Bible says). That is why you have, so to speak, to "feed your faith". Otherwise this world of sight will swamp your faith. And you feed your faith, in the first place, by studying God's word, which you have now in the Bible, and absorbing it. Jesus said, "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matt 4.4).
Then, next and supremely, you have to "pursue ... love". Faith without love can just be a hard and arid intellectual exercise. Remember those words from 1 Corinthians 13 verse 2:
" if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing."
Then "pursue ... endurance". Endurance is standing firm under sufferings. As we've seen, you must expect life to be hard as a Christian. That is why you need to stand firm - against all the pressures of the world, and the world abusing you and mis-representing you.
And, finally "pursue ... gentleness". Biblical gentleness is not soft or sentimental. The root word in the original can suggest self-control - being in control of your emotions when you have to correct someone who is wrong. On the one hand you must suppress your own fear of confronting someone; on the other hand you must suppress any desire for vengeance or for working out a personal grudge.
So that is the first thing Paul says in his charge to Timothy (and us) - be active and not passive. Negatively flee what is wrong and positively pursue what is right - those virtues of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.
Secondly, Paul tells Timothy to "fight the good fight of the faith" (verse 12).
This fight is not like a Muslim jihad - an earthly warfare. It is a spiritual warfare. 2 Cor 10:4-5 says:
" The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they [our weapons] have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."
And the great weapon is God's word. Hebrews 4:12 says ...
" ... the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."
That is so true to experience. If you assert, politely but firmly, God's word, it has powerful effects. Oh, people will argue against you especially in public. But when they go home and they lie awake in bed, they say to themselves, "I wonder if the Bible teaching so and so follows is right." Late tonight on ITV 1, I'm in a debate. This has already been recorded. But I know that whatever was said that is right and true to God's word, will have effect, however much it is opposed.
Then, thirdly, Paul says (verse 12):
" take hold of the eternal life to when you were called."
What is "eternal life"? Yes, it is life that lasts for ever in heaven. But it is also the quality of that life - it is the life of the real "new age" that Christ inaugurated with his first coming. Jesus defined eternal life like this:
" Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" (John 17.3).
It is life in fellowship with God though Christ. And that begins now. So eternal life is a present possession as well as a future hope. But you say, "isn't this a bit odd? Isn't Timothy already a believer and enjoying eternal life? How can he be told to take possession of it." Well, it is perfectly possible to have something without really taking possession of it.
Two birthdays ago I was given a light-weight, petrol, garden strimmer. It sat blocking our hall-way for I don't know how long. Then I put it away somewhere. It is only this year, two years later, that I opened the box and started to use the thing. And it is excellent. No flexes to cut through and much tougher nylon cord and so on. And you have the fun of trying to make the thing work when you flood the carburettor. I had the strimmer but I wasn't using it or enjoying it. That can be true of the Christian life. God gives you his Holy Spirit. You do have that power to fight and to live for Christ but it is possible for you never to rely on it in any practical way. You then don't launch out, in faith, for God. So you never discover what happens when you start to obey. You never discover the good things that are waiting for you. When you "take hold of eternal life", even at the human level there are good things - new friends, new opportunities, and you have a purpose in life that really motivates you. So you don't get bored - yes, busy but not bored. And you look forward to eternity.
So thirdly, Paul says, "take hold of the eternal life to which you were called."
Fourthly, Paul tells Timothy to take all this very seriously. Look at verse 14:
" I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame."
Imagine someone lends you a brand new, very expensive car for the weekend. But you are told it is to remain in immaculate condition. You would treat the car with great care and seriousness. For the car is wanted back "without spot or blame" - you being blamed for anything going wrong. Paul is telling Timothy this is how he is to treat this charge, only infinitely more so - with great seriousness.
Paul knows that it is hard to persevere and continue being active and not passive (fleeing what is wrong and pursuing what is right); fighting the good fight of the faith; taking hold of eternal life; and taking the whole thing seriously throughout your life to your dying day (or Christ's return if that comes first). That is why he makes this solemn charge. And if he has to charge Timothy - because there was nothing automatic about Timothy doing all this - of course, he needs to charge you and me in the same way But you say, "I'm just not up to this. How can I do all these things?"
Well, finally, and my third heading tonight, recognise the DIVINE REALITY
Yes, the immediate context of this charge is pagan Ephesus and the surrounding region of Asia Minor and all the pressures that Christians then had to face and always will have to face. But the ultimate and all important context is the reality that the God of the Bible is over all. He is sovereign over all. He is providentially ordering all that happens. Nothing happens without his permission. And "in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Rom 8.28). Look at the second part of verse 15:
" God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honour and might forever. Amen."
Do you believe that? If so, be confident. And remember, our God is all seeing. He sees all the problems you see; but he sees the opportunities that come from those problems. He sees that you need to go through the difficult circumstance you are going through at the moment. It will help you succeed in something else that you don't see and is far more important and that is for your good. That is why he allows it to happen. Paul's charge is, verse 13, "in the sight of God".
Paul reminds Timothy that God is all seeing.
And then he reminds Timothy that God is the "life giver" - verse 13 - he "gives life to everything". Our God is not someone who is "death dealing" like some Middle Eastern terrorist, or Doctor Shipman who killed so many of his patients. He gives you new life to enable you to obey and fulfil this charge.
So, to conclude - Timothy, and we, are then to remember that our great God, the "only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see", comes to us in the person of God the Son, Jesus Christ, who has seen God the Father. He, however, completely understands us and knows what it is like to be under attack in this world from first hand. He can sympathize. He, verse 13, testified ...
" ... before Pontius Pilate [and] made the good confession."
So trust him and rely on his strength and the strength of the Holy Spirit as you fight that good fight for the faith.