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… 1 Timothy 6:11-12
As Paul gets towards the end of this letter to his protégé Timothy, he reels off a list of four things he wants him to do in order to be an effective pastor. But they don’t just apply to pastors: no, they are for anyone at all who wants to follow Jesus. In each case he uses a strong, muscular verb, and I think they are all worth focussing on…
- “Flee from all this…”
Imagine you’ve popped up to the local shops to buy a loaf of bread. As you turn the corner you find that a lion is barring your way, and it’s looking rather hungry. What do you do? Answer: you run; and you run as you have never run in your life before. You flee.
When danger threatens, the natural instinct is to get away as quickly as possible. This is what Joseph did when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him (Genesis 39); it’s what the young man did in Gethsemane when he slithered out of his tunic to escape the lynch-mob (Mark 14:51-52).
And this, Paul tells Timothy, is what he must do when spiritual danger threatens: “flee from all this…”
What does he mean by “all this”? The immediate context is about money and its seductive power, with the famous and ever-relevant warning that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (verses 9-10). But if you go back a few verses you find him warning also about stupid arguments and discussions, the kind of windy disagreements that lead to tensions and unpleasantness.
“Run a mile!” he says. “You’re in danger!”
So… a word perhaps for some of us who are a bit dazzled by money? or prone to be rather argumentative…?
- “… pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness…”
Now imagine, as you reach the shops, that you notice not a lion but an old friend heading in the opposite direction, someone you haven’t seen for a long time. You’re so surprised and pleased that there’s no way you can ignore them or just let them walk off; so you pursue them. Perhaps puffing and panting, you catch up with them; it’s worth the effort.
And that, Paul tells Timothy, is how he must treat every beautiful, Christlike quality.
Well, I’m sure we all approve of the qualities he mentions: “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness”. Of course! But do we perhaps vaguely hope that they will fall nice and conveniently into our laps, like ripe fruit off a tree? – rather than that we make the effort to chase them and make them our own?
Well, they won’t, so we’d better get used to the idea. Growth in godliness calls for discipline, prayer, self-examination and self-discipline; it calls for a serious intention to be the best that we can be for Jesus’ sake. Christianity is a sleeves-rolled-up faith.
A word, then, perhaps, for some of us who have become a bit sluggish and lazy when it comes to imitating Jesus…?
- Fight the good fight of the faith…
The word Paul uses here is one that gives us our English word “agony” – think perhaps of the weight-lifter straining to get that bar above his head, or the runner stretching every muscle to touch the tape.
“Timothy,” Paul is saying, “the Christian life is a battle. There is an enemy, a tempter, and he loves nothing more than to get the victory. True, we don’t have to fight him on our own – oh no! we are given the weapons for spiritual warfare, and the armour we need to protect us. But what use are weapons that we don’t pick up? What use is armour that we don’t put on? What use is an army where the soldiers don’t fight?”
How do you think of the church? A club where we can feel at home? A hospital where we can find healing? A holiday camp where we can rest and recuperate? There’s an element of truth in all of these, thank God. But let’s get it into our heads too – the church is a barracks. And guess who the soldiers are…?
- Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called…
“Get a grip!” we sometimes say, when perhaps someone is guilty of rather pussyfooting around. And this too is something Paul tells Timothy – and us.
Eternal life is the gift of God’s grace to all who put their trust in Christ. If you’ve done that, then it’s yours already, here and now, not something that has to wait till after death.
But… have you got a grip on it? Do you, every day, “take hold” of it? Are you energetically working it out as a practical reality in the normal business of life?
Four simple but strong and challenging verbs. I invite us all to ponder them for a few minutes…
Lord God, inspire me by your word, and energise me by your Spirit, so that every day I will follow Jesus in a purposeful, effective and fulfilling way. Amen.