“But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life...” I Timothy 6:11, 12 NKJV
Flee! Follow! Fight! This exhortation likely begs the questions, “Flee what? Follow whom? Fight what?”
In these current times, it is not a hard thing to realize that we need to guard our hearts carefully, that we need to turn from evil things and cast down our idols (even, if these idols are ourselves). When Paul wrote this letter to Timothy, he was warning him about the troubles of a church, and culture that struggles with very much the same things as we do today. Mind-numbing moral pragmatism has greatly disabled us from being the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. Sadly, this has crept into the church even from the very leadership, and has shot through the veins of the congregation as effectively as Novocaine.
Paul’s warnings to Timothy include, “avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge—by professing it, some have strayed concerning the faith.” (I Timothy 6:20, 21 NKJV)
What was going on in Ephesus? Spiritual teachers were claiming that Christ had already come, and we were in the eternal already, that Christ was not actually God, and that hell did not exist. This town sounds familiar to me. The struggles that young Timothy encountered sound familiar to me as well.
Flee these things! In his letter to Timothy, Paul (who evidently regarded Timothy as a son) tells him, flat-out, to reject these things. Flee from even the appearance of evil. Paul is very comfortable even naming some of these people who are teaching these false teachings and leading people astray. To flee from these things takes awareness, and having quicker reaction times, spiritually, to the things around you that are counterfeit. To flee, however, is not the last action. We flee, in order that we may follow!
In the text in Timothy, we read the word “pursue”. A list then follows, of what we are to pursue. It reads:
These, of course, are made manifest in Jesus Christ. It is Jesus we follow after and His righteousness that we pursue. Jesus says, in Matthew 10:38, “He who does not take his cross and follow after Me, is not worthy of Me.” It is by God’s grace alone that we are able to do this (Eph. 2:8), but that should not inhibit our trying! I would argue that we even have an inward longing for this pursuit. We chase after worldly merriments, temporal though they be, because they so often offer a glimpse at that which is to come. Even the unbeliever deals with this internal struggle. It is even evident in our natural inclinations. C.S. Lewis writes of it this way:
“Do what they will, then, we remain conscious of a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy. But is there any reason to suppose that reality offers any satisfaction to it? “Nor does the being hungry prove that we have bread.” But I think it may be urged that this misses the point. A man’s physical hunger does not prove that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist.”
- C.S. Lewis, ‘The Weight of Glory’
Our hunger for pleasure and joy indicate that we exist for a habitation in which that will be our appropriate reward. As a pupil, we are rightly pleased when we receive praise for a “job well done”; rightly, because this is the appropriate reward for that desire. We exist for a world beyond that which we can experience now, but that does not stop our pursuit of the feelings that will exist there. The problem is that our affectations are misplaced. The larger problem is that we are not instructed properly on what things will lead us to that true existence. The characteristics of Jesus Christ, listed above, are the very things that we should follow after, in order to gain that eternal reward in Heaven and to experience joy properly whilst here on Earth.
This means we will have to fight! Pacifists beware; you are currently engaged in battle. The very same town that Paul was warning Timothy about also inspired him to write, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 NKJV). The battle rages on. It is all around us and always around us. The collateral damage is our children, our marriages and our churches. This enemy is fighting hard. The outcome has no such temporal consequences as the borders of nations, but the weight of eternity. My pastor always says that when you read the word “therefore” in the scriptures, you have to ask yourself what it’s ‘there for’!
The next line in Ephesians chapter 6 says, “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day...” Have the helmet of Salvation, that which Christ has done for you, literally on your mind always. Arm yourself with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, which rightly divides the truth from a lie, and is Jesus Christ Himself! (John 1:1, and v.14).
Commit yourself to having courageous enthusiasm for Church, prepare yourself for shameless suffering for the Gospel and spiritual loyalty towards those that are co-laborers with you for the work of the Gospel. These words from Paul lose some of their strength in the translation to English, but they were really written in very militaristic terms. These were charges! As a commanding officer charges his soldiers, we are to “endure hardship” and not become “entangled in the affairs of this life” (II Timothy 2:3, 4). We are to be certain of what we are fighting for.
Flee from evil! Follow after righteousness! Fight the good fight!