Guard the Deposit
1 Timothy 6.11-21
We have finally reached the end of Paul’s first letter to Timothy, which we began in the month of March. In our very first message on this letter, I said the following sentence: “At the core of this letter is a theological framework that Paul sets up, and that framework is essentially this: the gospel, rightly understood, will always produce godliness in God’s children; so the motor for the growth of the church, and the framework in which that growth happens, is the gospel itself.”
And indeed, this is what we’ve seen all along. Paul has addressed such varied issues in the life of the church as false teaching, prayer, the way we speak to one another, the way the church is governed, how we relate to other Christians, and how we relate to money. In all of those cases we saw the exact same thing, over and over again—if we truly understand the gospel, that gospel will produce change in us. It will change the way we deal with money, the way we see other Christians, the way we deal with authority, the way we integrate or reject certain teachings, and every other aspect of our lives.
And now, with that conviction in mind, Paul is going to give Timothy a series of imperatives. And these imperatives are a kind of summary statement of all he’s said so far: now that you know the effects the gospel will have on those who belong to God, now that you know the effects of the gospel on the church, be faithful in your charge to pursue that change.
And we’ll see that the end of Paul’s letter is deeply personal: he does give some imperatives to Timothy concerning the church and his ministry, but for the most part the imperatives he gives are personal in nature. In other words, the church in Ephesus as a whole is not his only concern; he is not purely pragmatic. In addition to his concern for the church in Ephesus and the gospel, Paul simply loves Timothy, and wants him to be happy. So he reminds him of the fleeting pleasures those who reject Christ seek, and exhorts Timothy to pursue his true treasure where it can be found. This is not just a theological treatise: it is a letter from one man to his son in the faith, whom he loves dearly, and for whom he wishes the greatest joy possible. So with that motivation in mind, what does Paul tell Timothy to do?
1) Guard Yourself (v. 11-13)
11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. So just as a reminder, this is not a new passage; we’re picking up this text in the middle of a longer section. When Paul says, “Flee these things,” these things are the things he mentioned just before, which we saw last week. Remember, there are those in Timothy’s church who are rejecting the true gospel in favor of a gospel of their own making, and in our previous text Paul told Timothy what is motivating these false teachers—namely, the love of money and a thirst for controversy and division in the church. Paul said that those who reject the gospel of Christ are all craving something—approval or security or comfort—and that Timothy should flee making these things his ultimate goals, not because they’re bad in themselves, but rather because they can’t satisfy. This is why just before, he warned Timothy about the love of money (which he’ll come back to in a minute)—money is not bad in itself, but the love of money is a dangerous thing, because it can never satisfy and can actually lead one into desires that are even more harmful.
And this question of satisfaction, of contentment in Christ, is very important, because it shows why Paul says what he does now. He told Timothy just before (v. 6) that godliness with contentment is great gain. The person who is godly knows God for who he is, and is satisfied in God; so he can be content, he doesn’t need to pursue satisfaction elsewhere. So Paul doesn’t just tell Timothy to flee these things that can’t satisfy him—he tells Timothy what to pursue.
V. 11: But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Timothy is to pursue righteousness—righteousness is Christlike character, loving the things he loves and hating the things he hates. The more righteous we grow, the more God is glorified, and the happier we become, for we find ourselves more and more in line with how he created us to be.
Timothy is to pursue godliness—godliness is the love for God and the fear of God. The more we love God and fear him, the more God is glorified, and the happier we become, because we have set our eyes and hearts on the one thing he created us to love: himself.
Timothy is to pursue faith—faith is belief in Christ for salvation, and trust in him for all we need. The more our faith grows, the more God is glorified in our faith in him, and the more our satisfaction grows as well, for we know who our God is, and what kind of God he is; and we have seen that our trust in him has always been proven right in the past, and will continue to be proven right in the future.
Timothy is to pursue love—love for God and love for others. If we know how God has loved us, and how he has shown his love to us in Christ Jesus, our natural response is love for God; and if we know how he has loved us, this will birth in us love for others.
Timothy is to pursue steadfastness—steadfastness is persistence and faithfulness in obedience. The more steadfast we are, the more glorified God is (because he is proven to be worth that steadfastness) and the happier we are in him, for we are more and more stable and unwavering in our commitment to him: we see the evidence of his work in our lives.
Timothy is to pursue gentleness—Timothy is surrounded by adversaries, and should respond to them gently rather than angrily. The gentler we are, the more God is glorified—for he has proven himself to be more satisfying than being right and having the last word; and the more satisfied we are, for we don’t have to have the last word. There is a peace to gentleness—it is rest to be gentle. So Timothy is called to pursue these things—with everything in him.
Everything Timothy is called to pursue is worthy of pursuit, and is promised to those who belong to God. We’ve seen on multiple occasions in this letter that the gospel changes us, produces in us right attitudes and right desires. We might imagine that because the gospel does this in us through the work of the Holy Spirit, we wouldn’t need to pursue it. But it’s the exact opposite: it would be cruel for God to command us to pursue something, then hold it out of our reach like the proverbial carrot on the end of the stick. But the fact that the Spirit gives us new hearts and new desires frees us to go after those things which will help us know Christ better, love him more deeply, and be happier in him. Precisely because the Spirit produces these things in us by applying the gospel to our hearts, we are invited to pursue them, and we are able to do so.
The next imperative (v. 12): Fight the good fight of the faith (that is, the faith of the gospel, the Christian faith). This is a tough verse, because it takes something essentially negative (a fight), and calls it good. And it is almost ironic that this instruction directly follows an appeal to Timothy’s gentleness. If he had stopped at gentleness, it would seem that Paul is calling Timothy to be a pushover, to let these false teachers and opponents steamroll him in the name of being “gentle”. But this couldn’t be further from the truth: Paul calls Timothy to defend the faith. To fight. To not let these opponents corrupt the good news of the gospel; to not stand idly by while they say things about Jesus which are untrue.
There is a strong notion of difficulty in this word “fight”—the verb in Greek is agōnizomai, in which we can clearly see our words “agony” or “agonize.” It’s often going to be painful, and it’s often going to be unpleasant. John Stott wrote about this verse, “Nobody enjoys a fight, unless of course the person concerned is pugnacious by temperament. Fighting is an unpleasant business—undignified, bloody, painful and dangerous. So is controversy, that is, fighting for truth and goodness. It should be distasteful to all sensitive spirits. There is something sick about those who relish it. Nevertheless, it is a ‘good fight’; it has to be fought. For truth is precious, even sacred. Being truth from God, we cannot neglect it without affronting him. It is also essential for the health and growth of the church. So whenever truth is imperiled by false teachers, to defend it is a painful necessity.”
This fight is essential; it is necessary. We can see that fairly easily. What’s harder for us to imagine is this: how could a “fight” be “good”? Many years ago Loanne found herself face to face with a guy who was accosting her. By the time I caught up with her, she was face to face with this huge, heavily muscled guy, who had his giant hand on her arm (in my memory his hand was the size of a small dog). I saw red—I grabbed his hand and took it off of her arm and put myself between him and her. I got a head-butt in the eye for my troubles, but I went to bed that night satisfied; I had defended my wife. Because I love her, I couldn’t not defend her. The whole experience was wildly unpleasant; I would not like to repeat it; but it was a good fight.
Now to be fair, Loanne didn’t really need defending. I hadn’t seen what caused her to do it, but it turned out that she had started this altercation with him, because she had seen him beating his girlfriend, who was nearby; she was defending this girl who clearly couldn’t defend herself. And she was ferocious—it was terrifying, and although he was twice her size, I doubt very much that she needed me to protect her. Here’s my point: I didn’t come to Loanne’s defense because she was helpless; I did it because I love her.
When we are called to fight the good fight of the faith, to defend the gospel, it is not because God is helpless and can’t defend himself. Obviously he can—he’s not afraid of heresy, and can defend himself infinitely better than we ever could. No—we are called to fight the good fight of the faith, we are called to defend the gospel, because we love him, and we love the gospel. The gospel is what God used to save us! The gospel is what God uses to make us like him! The gospel is the most precious news we have ever received or will ever receive; so we cannot stand for anyone bringing discredit on it. Our love for our God and for his gospel compels us to defend it. When those who claim to be Christians attempt to draw people away from the faith that we love, we are called and compelled to defend that faith, to refute their arguments, to show why their attempts are ungodly and unworthy. It’s unpleasant, every time. But it is a good fight.
Next (second half of v. 12): Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. Once again, here we see the tension: eternal life is given to us; it is a gift. Not only is it a gift, it is assured; the Bible contains a multitude of promises that if God has saved us, he will keep us to the end and will not let us fall away from faith—eternal life is promised to those who have been given faith in God.
So then, why must Timothy “take hold” of eternal life, if he already has it? There is a great scene towards the end of the film When Harry Met Sally… Harry approaches Sally on New Year’s Eve to tell her how much he loves her. She accuses him of saying what he’s saying because he’s lonely, and because it’s New Year’s Eve, and he says that no, “the reason I came here tonight is because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to begin as soon as possible.”
How many Christians content themselves with the idea of eternal life, sometime in the future, after they die, and make no effort to enjoy the happiness of that eternal life now, in the present, as soon as possible? This is what Paul is saying to Timothy: you can be assured of your future with Christ, and that’s good. But eternal life is not just a future reality; it starts now. All the benefits in which you will delight for the rest of eternity are yours today. But of course, you’re not in heaven yet, so this corrupted earth will fight against you! So take hold of it—seize that eternal life to which you were called! You’ve told people about this; you’ve preached about this; you’ve made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. So don’t let it just be something you say. Pursue Christ today, love him today, live your eternal life today, and look forward to continue living it for all eternity! Take hold of eternal life.
2) Guard the Commandment (v. 13-16)
Paul now brings in two witnesses for his next imperative: the Father and the Son. 13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession… The fact that he is giving this charge in the presence of God and Jesus Christ is not meant to intimidate Timothy, but rather to encourage him: they are the ones who called you to this; they are the ones who have made you able to do it. So with the Father and Son in your corner (v. 14), keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach… “The commandment” includes what Paul has admonished Timothy to do so far: admonish the church to pray (2.1-2); set up the church as God intended (chapter 3); train yourself in godliness (4.7); command and teach these things with confidence, despite your youth (4.11-12); set an example for the believers (4.12); Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers (4.16). If Timothy does these things, if he is faithful to his charge, then the commandment will be fulfilled in him; he will not be liable to reproach before God.
It’s a heavy calling, but which comes with a promise (v. 14): keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
Have you ever made a trip which seemed long, in order to get to your favorite restaurant and eat a meal you just can’t wait to eat? That’s what’s happening here. We have received our treasure, but we haven’t received all of it yet. We’ve had a foretaste, and with this foretaste still in our mouths, we keep going, waiting for the day when we’ll sit down at the feast and eat to our hearts’ content.
3) Guard the Church (v. 17-19)
Now Paul makes a quick aside, to remind Timothy of his responsibility toward those in the church. And rather than going back over everything he’s said before, he stays within the context of material gain as an example. 17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches… So, Paul reminds Timothy once again of what he was saying just before: he reminds him of the futility of material wealth, of how unsatisfying it is, and contrasts it with what these people should pursue: charge the rich not to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up TREASURE for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. If their treasure is truly in God, then they are free with the wealth that they have, free to not hoard it for themselves but to be generous with it. They can give what they have because what they have is a gift.
This is a great example of everything Paul has said in this letter: if Christians understand and accept the gospel, they will be changed. They will see their lives different; they will see their relationships differently; they will see their money differently. Rather than being focused on what they don’t have, they will keep their eyes on what they have already received, and what is already waiting for them.
4) Guard the Deposit (v. 20-21)
Now Paul gives Timothy one final exhortation: 20 O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” 21 for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you. The word “deposit” was used as a legal term to describe money or valuables entrusted to someone else for safekeeping—in this case, the valuable in question is the faith of the gospel. So Timothy is once again called to guard it: to protect it against slander, to not deviate from it, no matter how reasonable the “knowledge” of these false teachers may seem. The gospel is far more precious, far more reasonable, far more lasting—protect it. This is the treasure which you have received, and which has been entrusted to you—so treasure it. Keep it safe, so that when you give it to others, you can give it to them intact and unstained.
5) Promises and Calling
If there is one big idea which is central to this letter, it is that the gospel produces a practical and visible change in the lives of those who believe it. However, unfortunately, many Christians today have not had this experience. They believe that God exists, they believe (at least intellectually) that Jesus has died for them, but these realities seem to have little impact on their lives—they still want the same things, they still think the same things, they still do the same things…and they wonder why God isn’t working in them more.
We talk a lot about grace, and we try to feel this grace more in our lives. But strangely, we often forget the fact that one of the main ways which God gave us to feel his grace more is his commandments. Loanne’s parents bought her a new camera one year for her birthday. It was a beautiful camera, an expensive camera—we were thrilled. In fact, we were so thrilled to use it that we barely read the instruction manual, which told us how to use it. So we stuck to three functions out of several dozen. We used it, but not really efficiently.
God’s commandments are his instruction manual for how to live out the gospel. But since we see them more as things which will make our lives harder, we ignore them and brush them aside. It’s not surprising that we have a hard time believing the gospel will really produce a change in us, if we never use the means God gave us to put that change into practice!
The Bible gives us promises, and the Bible calls us to action. The Bible promises that if we belong to God, certain things will happen in us; and then at the same time, it tells us to do those things which have been promised. Timothy knows he has eternal life, but Paul tells him to pursue eternal life; Timothy knows he has Christ, but Paul tells him to pursue Christ. (And, we assume, Timothy will go on to exhort his church to do the same.)
The gospel presents us with our treasure, tells us the treasure is ours, and invites us to pursue it. “Flee from these things, because they will rob you of your treasure. Pursue these things, because they will help you love your treasure. Fight the good fight for the gospel, because the gospel taught you of your treasure. Take hold of eternal life, because it is the framework in which you receive your treasure. Guard the deposit, because it is how others will come to know that same treasure.”
Brothers and sisters, this is our calling, and this is our promise. It won’t often feel like God is working in us; often it will feel like a fight, like a war being raged inside of us, like we’re barely hanging on. But we fight all the same, because we have this promise: the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords will build his church. He will make his children grow in their faith. He will glorify himself in us. Let us trust it for the truth that it is, and let us guard the deposit that has been entrusted to us. Christ is our all-satisfying treasure; so let us lay hold of him, to keep the gospel central and unstained from error, so that others may share in the treasure that he is.