Take Hold of Eternal Life
Passage: 1 Timothy 6:11-16
It’s often been said that in ministry the people in whom you invest the most oftentimes end up hurting you the most. Everyone who has invested a lot of time in people probably has a story about someone in whom they poured lots of time, energy, and affection only to have that person experience a serious fall from grace.
I’ve got a few of those stories. But maybe the most shocking one concerns an intern I worked with. David was a kind-hearted, ministry minded guy, and I was excited about his potential. I spent a lot of time with David because in addition to all of the normal time I spent with interns, he also lived with us for the summer. David did a wonderful job, especially with the teens. They loved him, and he poured himself into their lives. Things went so well that he ended up coming back a second summer.
David had quite a bit of college debt, and so he moved home after his second summer to pay it off before pursuing ministry. For the first couple of months, I maintained pretty good contact with him, but I heard less and less from him. I hadn’t heard from David in a couple of months, when one day I learned that he had moved across country to pursue a very immoral lifestyle. It was shocking, considering how passionate about God and ministry David had been.
We know from Paul’s epistles that he had similar experiences. Paul spent more time at Ephesus than at any other city; therefore, I’m sure he knew some of the men who were causing problems at Ephesus. He may have led a couple of them to Christ or trained them for ministry, and his heart was clearly grieved over what had taken place.
This grief is apparent in our text. In vv. 3–10 Paul contemplated the sin and deception of the false teachers. As he considered their fall and ultimately the frailty of the human spirit, he turned his attention to Timothy.
As he has done a couple of times in this epistle, he speaks in a fatherly tone to his beloved son urging him to guard his own faith by aggressively pursuing godliness. You can really feel both his urgency and his compassion in how he opens v. 11. It’s like Paul is pointing his finger directly at Timothy, and with pride he calls him a “man of God,” which was a common OT name for someone specially chosen of God for a task. God had called Timothy to a very important job. Therefore Paul says, “You are a man of God, so don’t make the same mistake. Run from sin and pursue godliness.
Paul begins with four commands in vv. 11–12 to aggressively pursue godliness. He follows in vv. 13–14 with another challenge that is framed by God’s glory and power. And he concludes in vv. 15–16 with a rich doxology that turns the attention from man’s strength to God’s infinite power.
Let’s begin by looking at the three-fold challenge in vv. 11–12.
The Challenge (vv. 11–12):
The first challenge is to…
Replace evil with godliness (v. 11).
As I already said, there is a high degree of urgency in this verse. Both verbs command a continual action. Therefore, the idea of the first command is that we must continually flee or run from evil, in particular, the pride, greed, and deception that had ruined the false teachers.
This is an important challenge because Christians will sometimes argue that we need to put ourselves in tempting situations occasionally in order to test our faith. For example, they will argue someone recovering from substance abuse needs to occasionally be around drugs to see what he does. Or you should watch a cruddy movie occasionally to see if your faith can withstand it. And we all have a natural bent toward staying as close to the line of sin as possible.
But the Bible never encourages us to put ourselves in tempting situations or to get as close to the line as possible; instead, it always challenges us to flee temptation. That’s exactly what Paul tells Timothy to do here. He is to run as far away as possible from sin.
But it’s not enough to merely run from sin; we must also replace it with godliness. In particular, we must constantly pursue these six virtues and, by implication, every other virtue that accords with godliness.
Righteousness and godliness are broad terms that summarize a life of obedience in conformity to God’s character. They remind us that God demands more than a sincere heart. He expects us to do right and to work hard at developing a heart and life that reflects God’s nature.
“Faith” and “love” typically appear together in these kinds of lists, and they represent the fundamental virtues of Christianity. Faith is foundational for everything we do. Your view of God and your confidence in his character and promises will drives your entire Christian experience. And love for others is the foundational virtue of all human relationships.
The fifth term “patience” or “perseverance” is a compound term that literally means to remain under. It describes the strength to endure the pain that comes with life with other sinners or any kind of suffering. Relationships are hard; life is hard. It is full of suffering, and you simply cannot honor God without learning to patiently endure hardship and the faults of people.
The final item, “gentleness,” is also essential to good relationships. The Greek term is a rare compound word that combines the typical term for gentleness with a term for suffering. Therefore, Paul is challenging Timothy to develop the strength to continue loving and serving people even when it’s hard, even when they return your love with unkindness.
And so v. 11 commands us flee sinful practices and to pursue hard after godliness that demonstrates love for God and love for others. Again, we aren’t just to do this on occasion; this has to be a lifelong pursuit. So are your fleeing sin and pursuing godliness? Do not grow weary or comfortable with where you are. Keep running hard because one of Satan’s greatest strategies is to deceive you into getting comfortable and slowing down.
The second challenge is…
Fight the good fight.
In light of the context, the fight Paul has in mind is the struggle for personal godliness and for ministering to others. It’s worth emphasizing that Paul pictures the Christian life as a fight or a struggle. Paul compares it to a bitter athletic contest where the contestants are pushing the limits of their bodies.
We don’t typically like struggles. We like things to be easy. But we must resist the urge to look for an easy route through the Christian life because there isn’t one. God commands us here to keep fighting, keep pushing because that’s what the Christian life is.
And we must do so understanding that it is worth all of the sacrifice and pain. Paul says it is a “good fight.” Resisting sin is hard. Ministering to people is painful. Growing godly patterns is work, but don’t run from the hardship. Godliness is worth it because God is worth it, people are worth it, and because we have a great hope as is mentioned in the next command.
The third challenge is…
Persevere to eternal life.
This command might strike us as odd. After all, Paul is talking to Timothy, who clearly was a believer. Paul notes this fact at the end of the verse when he says that Timothy had “confessed the good confession.” This is a reference to Timothy’s conversion made public at his baptism, since baptism is a public confession of Christ. Timothy was a Christian. Romans 10:9 states, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” In other words you will inherit eternal life.
So why does Paul command Timothy to “lay hold on eternal life? Why does Timothy need to pursue something God has already promised? What we have here is a classic example of the mystery of how God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility interact. It is vitally important that we understand this command in light of God’s sovereignty and promises.
Paul mentions God’s sovereignty when he says that ultimately this eternal life is not dependent on us but on God’s call. In this context, God’s call does not refer to the universal invitation to all people to come to him for salvation but to his particular call of the elect, which always effectively brings the person to faith and repentance. Romans 8:30 promises that those whom God has predestined, he calls, and all who receive this particular call, will be justified and ultimately glorified.
In other words, everyone that God calls will receive eternal life. It’s a guaranteed fact. But the Scriptures never teach that we should use this promise as an excuse for laziness. Rather we are responsible to persevere.
We see that in this command to a strong Christian that he is to “lay hold on eternal life.” The idea is that we must continually watch ourselves. We must flee from sin, pursue godliness, and minister to others in keeping with our profession; otherwise, we will miss the eternal prize. Paul could even say of himself in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”
Now, I want to be clear that salvation is always by grace. No one will earn heaven by their perseverance. Perseverance does not earn us eternal life; it is a fruit of eternal life. Eternal life is by grace alone, and it is absolutely secure.
But folks, the NT is very clear that God’s promise of eternal life should never be used to excuse spiritual laziness. We must go forward understanding the importance of perseverance. Take hold of eternal life.
And so where have you grown lazy in your own faith? What sins have you begun to tolerate? Do you pray and run to the Scriptures like someone who is in a life or death struggle with sin? Do not neglect the eternal prize. Pursue hard after it.
It’s always very sad to hear when a professing Christian falls away from Christ. It’s heartbreaking. Paul was heartbroken when he thought about people he knew who had fallen. But it is also God’s gracious way of reminding us how deceptive the human heart is and of how we need to watch ourselves. Don’t ever believe Satan’s lie that you are above failure. Flee from sin and pursue godliness.
That’s the challenge. Verses 13–14 follow with…
The Encouragement (vv. 13–15a)
The center of these two verses is the challenge to “keep the commandment…” This challenge essentially reiterates vv. 11–12. But here Paul drives home the challenge by viewing it in light of God’s character and promises. First he reminds Timothy that…
God is sufficient to sustain me.
This is a powerful statement of God’s sovereignty over creation, and it reminds us that all of creation is dependent on God. He made all things, and every living creature receives its life from the hand of God. And Paul’s point is that if God can hang the stars and maintain this vast universe, he is surely sufficient to sustain me. We serve a mighty God, but in an incredible twist, the second person of the Trinity came down to our level.
The second aspect of our accountability is that…
Jesus has been where I am.
Luke 23:3 tells us that when Jesus appeared before Pilate, he asked Jesus, “Are You the King of the Jews?” to which Jesus replied, “It is as you say.” That may not sound like any grand confession, but it was very significant because it was costly. If Jesus had answered no and had conceded to the Sanhedrin’s demands, he could have walked away unscathed. But he would have been lying, he would have failed to fulfill his Father’s mission, and we would have no hope of forgiveness Therefore, Jesus boldly confessed his identity, knowing it would cost him his life.
It’s significant that he uses the word confession in both vv. 12 and 13 because our confession will be costly just as Christ’s confession was. Giving your life to Christ is no easy sacrifice. Fighting the flesh and obeying God’s Word are hard. And ministering to sinners is very rewarding but also very painful.
And sometimes we can look at the demands that Christ makes and think they are too big. “I can’t possibly forgive that person.” “Getting involved in people’s lives is too painful.” Or “Obeying this command will require giving up too much.” It’s good for us to remember that Jesus never asks more of us than he already gave for us. Jesus obeyed to the point of giving his life. And this fact adds tremendous weight to the charge Paul gives in this passage. We NEED to live up to the example of our Savior.
The third aspect of our accountability is that…
Jesus will reward my service (vv. 14b–15a).
This statement jumps from Christ’s first coming to the Rapture. Paul thought that Jesus could return at any moment. He even thought it was possible that he may return during Timothy’s lifetime, since he says Timothy was to stay faithful until his appearing. However, he didn’t assume this was true because he says that ultimately the return of Christ will happen in God’s time, not man’s.
But regardless of when it will be, Jesus is coming again, and when he comes, he will make all things right. He will bring justice to the wicked, and he will reward our faithful service. Is serving Christ hard? Absolutely? Does Jesus demand a lot? Yes. Does he ever demand too much? Never.
You will never give more to God than he will give to you in eternity. He sees every sacrifice, and Jesus sympathizes with every struggle. He knows what you are enduring, and he will not forget. He will richly reward your faithfulness to him.
And so in light of the fact that God is sufficient to sustain me, that Jesus has been where I have been, and that Jesus will reward my service, Paul urges Timothy and us to…
Keep the command.
Again, it’s important that we feel the urgency in this charge. There are so many forces working against our obedience to God. Living for God in this broken world is truly impossible in our strength. Paul felt the weight of the battle, and so he is pleading with Timothy to stay in the battle and not lose heart. He urges him to remain pure and to obey everything that God demands.
And God is urging us to do the same. If you know Christ, you are in the battle of your life, and it is of eternal significance. And so keep the commandment, and praise the Lord that you can because God is sufficient. His grace will always be more than enough. And even when the battle gets incredibly dark, Jesus understands. And God will reward you in the end. Keep the commandment.
The passage then concludes with a…
The Doxology (vv. 15b–16):
Paul was a lover of God, and in vv. 13–14 he touched on God’s glory and grace. But he couldn’t just pass over God’s glory, and so in vv. 15–16, he pauses for a moment to give praise to God, just as he did in chapter 1 where he wrote a similar doxology.
It’s important to note that the doxology describes God the Father. I say that because a couple of the descriptions in v. 16 do not apply to Jesus following the incarnation. This is a jam-packed statement that drives home two attributes of God’s greatness. First…
God is sovereign (v. 15b).
The word translated “potentate” simply means power. In this context, it describes God as possessing exclusive sovereignty over the universe. The next two phrases continue this emphasis. They are used together a number of times in the OT to emphasize the fact that God is the only sovereign Lord.
This was an important truth to emphasize in the ancient world when most people believed in many gods who all had limited power and goodness. But Jehovah God is very different. The Law declared that there is one God who is the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords.
We’ve talked a lot this morning about the fact that the Christian life is a struggle and that in ourselves it is impossible. But what a blessing it is to know that we have not been left alone. Not only have we not been left alone; we have the strength of the sovereign Lord on our side who is able to give much, much more grace than we could ever need. Why can we face the fight without fear? Because the only sovereign is on our side.
Verse 16 then drives home the fact that God is also transcendent.
God is transcendent.
Transcendent simply means that God is not like us. He is set apart as perfectly holy and as high above us in all his ways. Paul notes that we see this first in the fact that only God is immortal. First Corinthians 15 states that God will be make believers immortal when he glorifies us, but only God possesses immortality in himself. God is entirely self-sufficient. He does not need anything outside himself for his existence.
The 2nd and 3rd descriptions both draw on language from Israel’s experience of God at Mt. Sinai. Israel saw that God “dwells in unapproachable light” when his glory came down on Mt. Sinai. When God’s glory came down, Moses set up a perimeter around the mountain, and God said, “You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. Not a hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot with an arrow; whether man or beast, he shall not live.’” God made it very clear to Israel that he was not like them and that they must not take his glory lightly.
The next phrase comes from an account that is recorded in Exodus 33–34 where Moses asked God to show him his glory. God replied, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live” (Ex 33:20). Folks, God is high, high above us.
And John 1 uses this fact to point out the incredible beauty of the incarnation. Verse 18 states, No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” In other words, God’s glory and holiness is so high that no sinner could ever approach him, and so God came down to us in the person of Christ. Verse 14 states that Jesus, “Became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” When Jesus lived a perfect life here on earth and taught the Father’s will, and then died a perfect death, he revealed God to us. And not only that, he provided a way to God. As v. 14 states, his incarnation was characterized by grace and truth. This is because when Jesus died on the cross he took the punishment for our sins so that those who believe on him for salvation will never have to face the judgment they deserve. They will be saved from the wrath of God, and instead, they have received grace.
If you have never believed on Christ for salvation, I pray that you will see today that God dwells in unapproachable light, not because he is stuck up but because sinners cannot be in the presence of such holiness. There is nothing you can do to get yourself to him. And I pray that you will run to Christ for grace. Believe on what Jesus did on the cross, and you can have your sins forgiven, and you can be sure of your home with him. If you have questions, please talk with me after the service. I would love to talk with you more about how you can know this wonderful Savior.
For those of us who are saved, let’s leave today challenged to fight the good fight God has set before us. Don’t fall asleep, and don’t lose heart, because God is sufficient, and he will reward every sacrifice when Christ appears.