Our time focusing on 1 Timothy is nearing its end. For most of a year, we have considered the counsel of Paul to Timothy in this first letter that we have in the Bible. Paul has spoken to Timothy about why he needs to stay in Ephesus, about grace versus the law, about matters of worship, qualifications for elders and deacons, treatment of widows and much, much more.
As we approach the end of the letter, there is one last big subject to deal with: what, Timothy, will you pursue? What will you make your goal, your focus, the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning and drives you as work through the day? What will you seek, above all else?
Paul draws two pictures for Timothy, two potential paths for him to follow, and calls him without hesitation to reject one and choose the other.
The first path is the path of self gratification, and it starts with a rejection of the gospel. Notice in verse 3 that Paul talks about this path as involving both rejecting the good instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and accepting and teaching false doctrines. There is no sitting on the fence. If you are teaching people something, it is either the truth or it is lies. It is either sound Christian doctrine that leads to godliness, or it isn't.
Fair enough, you might say. But what would lead someone to start teaching lies? Surely a person doesn't wake up one morning and say “I'm going to start teaching people lies.”
Paul describes the basic issue with such a person in verse 4, and it begins with pride. Pride is appreciation for the abilities or talents a person has, and it's not always bad. We might say “I'm proud of my child”. But in a situation like this, pride is a bad thing. It is thinking more highly of yourself than you ought – having a greater estimation of your own wisdom, your own knowledge and insight – than is justifiable. Pride in this context is a preacher or a teacher imagining that they know better than Christ; that they can rightly say things and teach things that Christ would not teach.
So our first call to pause and check our own hearts and minds this morning comes in this area: Do you, do I, suffer from pride like this? Let's put it in very practical terms. If you're trying to decide the best course of action in some situation, what's your first port of call? Do you turn first to the word of God and see what it tells you about what God would find good and pleasing in your situation? Or do you imagine that you'll come up with the best outcome without any input from God at all? Notice that it's precisely at this point that Paul talks about the words of “our Lord Jesus Christ”. If we call Jesus Christ our “Lord”, shouldn't we seek to listen to His will?
Paul says that a person who is willing to teach lies in this way doesn't only suffer from pride. They also understand nothing. They might appear to understand it. Perhaps they use big words, or you can have an intelligent conversation with them about related topics, or they in other ways sound like they know what they're talking about, but the truth is that they just don't understand the gospel at all. At best, they have head knowledge of the gospel, and mere head knowledge is not understanding.
I've got a bit of an interest in apologetics and over the years, I've interacted from time to time with some very intelligent atheists. But their intelligence is never the issue. Try as they might, they can never fully understand the gospel, let alone believe it of their own accord. It is, as Paul says elsewhere, nonsense to them. And that is what is happening here, in someone who preaches lies. They might call themselves a Christian. They might live a moral life in some respects. But they understand nothing. If they knew the truth, they would preach the truth.
What about you and I? Do you understand the gospel? Do I? Or are we just pretending?
Paul talks about this pride and lack of understanding as having particular fruit. There is an unhealthy interest – literally a sickness – in regard to controversies and disputes about words. Now there is certainly a place for being careful in picking your words. The early church put a lot of effort, for example, into honing their understanding of Christ's humanity and His divinity. But that sort of effort didn't result in the envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction that's spoken of here, because it wasn't the work of men of corrupt mind who have been robbed of the truth and think that godliness is a way of obtaining financial gain. But in the kind of person Paul is thinking of here, that is exactly where such things lead. Because to a proud person who understands none of the gospel, it is all about me being proven right, all about me gaining the ascendency over others, all about me appearing to be successful and using the appearance of goodness to further my interests – of course they might not put it that bluntly, but that's what it comes down to.
Paul says in verse 6 that godliness is a means to gain, but not financial gain. He is thinking particularly of the godly trait of being content with God's providence.
Fancy houses, nice cars, big TVs and so on might be nice to have, but they're all ultimately just tools that either help us in our service of God or distract us from what really matters. At the end of the day, Paul is perfectly right when he says that we brought nothing into this world and we can take nothing out of it. Being content simply to have clothes on your back and food in your stomach is a good thing.
But this is so out of step with life today, isn't it? We have advertising in our letter boxes, advertising on bus shelters, advertising on the side of the motorway and advertising on the side of sports ovals. The vast majority of this advertising encourages us to spend money on things that claim to make us healthier, happier, smarter, richer, more fulfilled or such like. When we turn on the radio or the TV, we hear the cost or the value of everything in terms of money. We are told that money makes the world go round.
But is it true?
“Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a trap, and into many foolish and harmful desires that drown men in ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” – not every evil that there is, but all kinds of evil.
We cannot chase after riches and rightly claim at the same time to be seeking first Christ's kingdom. We heard Jesus himself say exactly the same thing in our earlier passage. We must pick one or the other; only one can own our hearts.
And Paul makes the consequences of making the wrong choice abundantly clear: some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. Think of a man who, chasing financial riches, neglects his wife and family and ends up with neither the riches or his loved ones. Or the person who ruins their life through gambling and all that goes along with it. Think just of the people who imagined that life would be so much better if they won Lotto, and discovered when they did that it only added to their fights and arguments.
A good portion of the secret to happiness in this life is not having more, but being content with what you already have.
This is why Timothy, as a true son in the faith and as a faithful preacher of God's word, is called to flee from all this. The minister of the gospel you call in the future should be a man who flees from this. Your elders, your deacons; you yourself... every one of God's people should flee from a love of money and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, live, patience and gentleness. We need, by God's grace and because of His love for us in Christ, to live like the gospel hope lives in us. Our priorities, our plans, our focus, our hope should reflect that fact that the five minutes we have on this earth is just preparation for the rest of eternity. It should reflect the fact that we are not our own, and belong – body and soul – in life and in death – to our faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ. It should reflect the work of His Spirit in us and a desire in us to love and please God more and more. This is why Paul gets so carried away at this point. In contrast to mere money, he is talking about the things that really matter; the things that really excite and motivate him, and should excite and motivate us. And so he says:
“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. 13 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 14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.”
Ultimately, Timothy... ultimately, Don. Ultimately, Margaret and Alisdair and Gordon, this is what is important. Ultimately, what matters is our reliance upon the one who said “Yes, I am the Son of God”, who died and rose and ascended into heaven, who will return to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom will know no end. Ultimately, what matters above all else is the glory and honour and praise of God Almighty.
But we're not finished, because Paul is not finished yet.
You see, in verses 17-19, Paul addresses a group that need specific attention in the light of what he has already said. It's all very well to encourage people not to chase after riches, and instead chase after Christ and His kingdom. What if you already are rich?
The thrust of these verses is simple and straight forward. If by God's grace you have an abundance of money, don't hoard it. Live in keeping with Kingdom principles, putting your hope and confidence not in your bank account balance but in God's riches in grace. Be rich in doing good deeds, generous and willing to share. Use the blessings God has given you to be a blessing to others. In this way, Paul assures us, the rich will store up for themselves treasure in the coming age, and they will also lay hold of eternal life.
Are you rich? It's important to remember that “rich” is relative. You and I may not have millions in the bank account. We may not even have a greater bank balance than your average Australian but we do have much more than many people in other countries.
This paragraph applies to us then. We need to be careful not to rely upon our riches. We need to do good to those who have less than us, be rich in good works, ready to give and willing to share. We don't have to go to poorer countries to do it. There are so many schemes nowadays through which we can sponsor children, give toward cleanup efforts after natural disasters and so on. Of course we could also go, and physically help as well. But the point is that we shouldn't imagine that there's nothing we can do to help others.
And in doing so, Paul assures us, God's people store up for themselves treasure in heaven, taking hold of the life that is truly life.
We have two more verses left in 1 Timothy. I'm going to leave them for next time, Lord willing. For now, our calling is to put into practice what we've heard from God's Word today. Like Timothy, our take home question from this section of the letter is the question of what we are pursuing and will pursue in this life. Has our perspective become distorted, so that we are seeking first not the kingdom of God, but our own little kingdom on this earth? Are our lives and what we teach others based in sound Christian doctrine or self confidence and a lack of real understanding of the gospel? Are we focused on material posessions or more on being content with God's providence and care? Are we fighting the good fight, taking hold of the eternal life to which we were called, keeping Paul's command without spot or blemish and storing up for ourselves treasures in heaven?
Brothers and sisters, don't let your answer be that you are getting sidetracked or have been sidetracked into making your primary focus the things of this world. By God's grace, through the empowering work of Christ's Spirit, seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and look eagerly for the coming of our Lord, above all else.