Endurance by Contrast
Endurance by contrast.
That’s the phrase that I think summarizes the theme of 1 Timothy 6, verses 11–16, and we see it in the combining together of two ideas that we find here.
First, look at the idea of endurance. If we were step back for a minute and look at what Paul is doing here, we can see that he’s at the end of this letter and he’s giving his final charge to Timothy, and therefore the imperatives in his passage have a sense of urgency to them. These are things that Timothy must do until the “appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 14). So these are highly important.
And then in verse 12 Paul says, “Fight the good fight of faith,” and that’s a loaded phrase because in Second Timothy 4:7, when Paul is at the end of his life, he looks back on his life and says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” That’s the way Paul describes his own endurance in faith. And so, if the apostle Paul describes his own endurance as “I have fought the good fight” then when he commands Timothy to “fight the good fight” it means he is commanding Timothy to endure. Endurance is the big idea of these verses.
But also, there’s this idea of contrast. Paul starts verse 11 with “But as for you…” which means: “Now in contrast to what I have just said…” Paul has been talking about the topic of money in verses 9–10 — and he’s not done with that topic because he picks it back up in verse 17 — but before he can even get to verse 17 he has to stop and charge Timothy to not be like those Paul describes in verse 10: Do not be like those who wander from the faith. Timothy, be different!
In contrast to those who have fallen away, endure.
Endure by contrast to those who have fallen away.
That’s what is going on here: Endurance by contrast.
And Paul gives us a five-fold strategy in these verses that both explains what this is and how’s it done. So there are five points here in this passage , but I’m only going to mention three tonight. In a first draft of this sermon, I had all five, but it was too much, so I’m going to save two for later and I’m going to try to slow down on just three.
So from this passage, for this sermon, here are three ways that we endure by contrast:
Know Your No
Fight the Good Fight
And each of these have a special kind of relevance and urgency. These are things that we should take to heart. Paul is trying to help Timothy here, and he’s trying to help us. Paul wants us to make it in Christian life, and so do I. So let’s pray and then we’ll get started.
God Almighty, our Father in Christ, thank you for your Word and for its clarity. In this moment we remember that you are not only the God who speaks, but you speak such that we can understand you. You have leaned down to us, in your grace, and you given us the truth in Jesus, and so now we ask, with your Word open, lead us by your Spirit of truth, in Jesus’s name, amen.
#1. Know Your No
It’s the first thing we see here in verse 11, which again, puts this entire passage in contrast to what Paul has said previously. Look at verse 11 again. Paul says: “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things.”
“But as for you” — which means, not like the others. “Flee these things” — now what does Paul have in mind here when he says “these things”?
Well, take a look back at verses 9–10. These are the last people that Paul has talked about. He says, verse 9:
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
So flee these. Avoid these things, which are not, in this instance, sinful actions. Notice that.
Paul, in verses 9–10, has not listed out ungodly actions or trespasses like he does in other places. For example, in Galatians 5 Paul lays out a whole list of sins he calls “works of the flesh” (this is Galatians 5:19ff) — he lists out: “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealously, fits of anger, rivalries, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” These are things you do. They are sins of practice, sins that have an outward orientation.
But here in 1 Timothy 6 when Paul talks about sin, he doesn’t talk about outward acts, but instead he talks about inward desires. He mentions three things in verses 9 and 10: the desire to be rich; the love of money; and then this word craving. Each of these are inward, invisible longings. They are sins at the level of desire and through them some have wandered away from the faith.
So get this: Paul doesn’t just want Timothy to flee from sin, he wants Timothy to flee from sinful desires that lead to sin.
And this is a game-changer. This means that our battle against sin doesn’t just happen out here with our hands and feet and mouths, but it happens in here, in our hearts.
And this is where you need to know your no. When we turn from our sin and trust in Jesus we are not just saying No to certain behaviors, but we are saying No to certain desires.
Desiring the Good Life
See, I think one of the problems with the church in America is that you have many Christians who for the most part don’t want to sin, but who still desire everything that the world desires. We want to avoid certain behaviors, but when you look inside we have the same cravings as those who reject the gospel.
And the focus here really gets down to what you really want in life. Desire is always connected to an object. Desire always has some goal in mind. One way to say it is that everybody has some vision of the “good life” and whatever that vision is, that is what you will desire. We all desire the “good life.”
Every Christian wants “the good life” but our problem is that, for many of us, our vision of the “good life” doesn’t come from the Bible, it comes from Instagram. Our vision of the “good life” is not shaped by Scripture, it’s formed by Facebook. Look, if we’re honest, much of what we want for our lives is the same thing people who are going to Hell want for their lives. And therefore, no wonder why some have wandered from the faith.
And a big part of this, I think, is how the church at large has come to treat the Bible. There was a change that happened in our country in the late twentieth century, and others have written about this at the historical level, but basically the Bible lost its prominence in the everyday life of a Christian. But here’s he thing: it wasn’t that droves of Christians stopped believing the Bible, but it’s that the Bible’s influence became more regulated. People began to treat the Bible more like self-help wisdom, but not as an actual vision for life. And this is still just in the air of our society. Many think about the Bible like it’s a convenient resource, but not as the authority for how we live. We can tend to give lip-service to the Bible’s value, but we don’t let the Bible actually shape the way we see.
I can’t tell you enough how important this is. I want so badly ant for our church to be see with the eyes of Scripture. I want us to be shaped by Scripture, not society. And this is a paradigm shift. It means we stop trying to figure out how to fit the Bible into our world, and instead we ask: how does this world line up with the Bible? The question is not on the Word of God; the question is on everything else!
Fork in the Road
And this is a fork-in-the-road kind of decision that we have to make over and over again.
It reminds me of a time in the history of Israel, in the Book of Joshua, when the people of Israel had finally settled in the Promised Land. God gave them the land he promised to Abraham, and in Chapter 24, Joshua is reminding Israel about God’s faithfulness to them, and he calls all of Israel to trust in God. He says to Israel to put away their idols, to stop worshiping and serving these false gods. Stop looking to all these wrong ideas of the good life. And Joshua puts the fork in the road. Joshua says to Israel, “Choose this day whom you will serve … but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). But as for me, says Joshua. But as for you, Paul says to Timothy. But as for us, church. We will serve the Lord.
We want what God wants. We will not desire what the world desires — the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, the pride of possessions (see 1 John 2:16). We will flee these things. We will know our no. That is endurance by contrast.
And then, of course, there is the whole positive side in verse 11. It’s not just that we flee, but we also pursue. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness — in other words, pursue Christlikeness. I’ll say more about this next week. But here’s the second point. How do we endure by contrast?
#2. Fight the good fight.
This is verse 12: “Fight the good fight of faith.”
And fight is both a verb and a noun. It’s an action and a thing. People fight in fights.
And it’s a good idea before you have to fight to know that you’re actually in a fight. I know we’ve got some former fighters in here, but anybody ever been in a fight before and didn’t know it?
Look, I have never thrown a punch in my life. I’ve never been in a fight, except almost one time in high school. I was 15 and after a high school basketball game one night a big group of kids, classmates, mostly friends, were meeting for dinner at El Charros (which was the best Mexican restaurant attached to a Days Inn motel), but apparently, during the game, while I was just watching the game, this one guy found out I talked to this one girl— and I won’t bore you with the details — but basically the guy, as the basketball game was happening, was premeditating a fight with me at El Charros, and all these people were getting in on it, and I had no clue.
And so later that night, after the game, we all headed down the road, and when my sister and I pulled into the parking lot at El Charros, there was this circle of kids in the parking lot, under the lights, and they were all amped up. There was a lot of energy, and this one guy was in the middle and he was like beating his chest and yelling and all that, and I wanted to see what was going on, and so I jump out of the car and go running to this crowd, and no joke, as I got closer to all these kids they all got quiet and it was like the sea just parted. They all stepped back and I was like ushered into the middle of this circle of people that had then enclosed back around me, and I was standing right in front of this guy, and he was very angry with me. And that’s when I found out he wanted to fight me. Now of course, I tried to diffuse the situation. Listen, buddy, there’s been a misunderstanding here! And we were able to work it out. But here’s the deal: I found myself in the middle of a fight I didn’t even know I was in — and that’s the same problem some of you have when it comes to the Christian life.
The apostle Paul calls the Christian life “the good fight of faith.” The fight of faith. That is, faith is a fight. This whole thing is a fight, and did you think this was a cruise?
Church, you are in a fight, and that’s why it’s not easy. And if Paul’s metaphor here is a boxing match, it makes sense, right? Because in a boxing match you cannot win unless you last. Which means, you have to stay on your feet, but it’s not easy to stay on your feet when the world, the flesh, and the devil are swinging at you. So how do you do it? How do you fight this fight? How do you last?
Well, Paul’s second imperative here explains how. Notice in verse 12, after Paul says “Fight the good fight of faith” he says “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called…” “Take hold” is a command — it’s an imperative — just like “fight.” It is Paul again telling Timothy something he should do, and so we should ask: how are these two commands connected? Pauls says do this and do this.
Well, I think the second command is extending the first. “Take hold” or “seize” is explaining how to fight. We fight the fight of faith by seizing, by taking hold of, the eternal life that is our future.
And this is the mechanics of faith. It means we embrace the things hoped for. We have a deep conviction about things presently unseen (see Hebrews 11:1) — but that one day will be seen. And although they are not seen now, they are no less real, and so we grip them. We take our future reality and we bring it to bear on the here and now. We seize the assurance of our eternal life and we apply it to our present life.
This is actually the opposite of carpe diem. Y’all know about carpe diem — seize the day. Well, the whole ideology behind “seize the day” is that the day is all you have. Carpe diem because tomorrow we die and it’s all over — that is a pagan slogan. But for the Christian, it’s not “seize the day” but it’s actually seize tomorrow! That’s what Paul is saying here. Fight the good fight of faith by seizing the eternal life that is yours — the eternal life that you have in Jesus, the eternal life to which you have been called.
It’s not simply that the things we do in the present will impact our future, but it’s that the future God has promised us should impact our present. Christian, this world is not your home. The life you have in Jesus will last forever. So lay hold of that life now to fight the good fight of faith.
Endurance by contrast means fight the good fight.
#3. Worship God.
This is in verses 15–16, but it starts in verses 13–14. Notice there that Paul charges Timothy to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach. And when he says “commandment,” he means, overall, the Way of Jesus. Remember the church in the book of Acts was called “the Way.” The Way was shorthand for the entire Christian system. It’s all of life under the lordship of Jesus. When Jesus says in the Great Commission to “teach them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20), that is what Paul has in mind here. The commandment is essential following Jesus as Lord. Keep that commandment unstained and free from reproach, but notice that this command is temporary. Verse 14:
… keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This means, faith will not always be a fight, because one day, it will be sight. One day Jesus will return, and Paul actually tells us when. It will happen at “the proper time.” And I love that phrase. The return of Jesus, his appearing, will be displayed exactly when “he” chooses — and the “he” in verse 15 is God the Father. And at this point in the passage, Paul just takes us to the heights. He, God the Father, is
he who is the blessed and only Sovereign,
the King of kings and Lord of lords,
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.
Paul is so overcome with the reality of God that he just takes off in worship. He’s not making an argument here. He’s not giving Timothy another charge — he’s just doing what you do when you remember who God is and what this is all about. Paul is not telling Timothy what to do, he’s showing him — Timothy, worship God, like this!
Do you want to endure to the end? Do you want to know how endurance by contrast happens?
Always keep God at the center. Remember God. Be amazed by God. Live in the realness of God, and do now what you were created to do forever — worship God.
And God, of course, is the triune God. He is YHWH, the God of Israel, the Maker of heaven and earth, the God who is “one God in trinity, and trinity in unity.” And here, in verses 15–16, Paul focuses on the first person the trinity, God the Father.
He is the blessed and only Sovereign! And that word “blessed” is same word used in Chapter 1, verse 11, which means happy. God, remember, is a happy God! He is essentially glad in his trinitarian fellowship. He is joyful down to the depths of his heart, and in fact, he is overflowing with delight.
And he’s sovereign, which means that the God of ultimate and highest gladness is also the God of ultimate and highest power. He is over every king and ever lord. There is no one who ranks higher than him because there is no one greater than him. Nothing can go over his head and nothing can slip under his eyes. God is sovereign.
And he alone has immortality, which means that our greatest enemy is no match to him. Death cannot touch him. God is completely indestructible, and he dwells in unapproachable light, which means he is not known unless he makes himself known. Nobody discovers God. In fact, no one has ever seen him. And no one can ever see him. God the Father, who is Spirit, is outside our imagination and so beyond our wildest dreams that we could not fathom him. Our minds cannot conceive him. God is bigger than us, and we need to remember that, and when we do it leads us to worship. To this God — this God who is greater than that which we can imagine — this God deserves all the honor. To this God be all honor and eternal dominion. God Almighty, it’s yours! We worship you!
Church, worship God! Endure by contrast, worship God.
And not just when you feel like it. We are emotional beings, and emotions matter. Emotions impact the condition of our hearts, but they do not determine the praiseworthiness of God. Whether we feel it or not, whether things are clear or clouded, we can worship God because of who he is.
Sometimes we can think that once we get through our struggles, then we’ll praise him. We can imagine that our worship will happen on the other side of our hardship, but actually, worship is how you get through your hardship. We worship God not just after we endure, but it’s how we endure. We must be stubborn with our songs. You might be in prison, and it might be midnight, and everything might be dark. What do we do? We sing. We sing until the earth shakes and the walls fall down (see Acts 16:25–34). Christian, how will you make it? Worship God.
Endure by contrast, worship God!
Jesus Will Return
And I think it’s important for us to see that what brings Paul to this point goes back to verse 14. It’s the return of Jesus. Paul mentions the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, and then he just gets carried away. It’s the fact that Paul and Timothy and us are going to see Jesus one day.
So the God who is unseen is the God who has made himself seen in Jesus. No one has ever seen or can see God the Father, but many have seen Jesus, who is God the Son, and one day he will be seen again.
And that’s not theoretical. This is an actual event that will happen in the future. Jesus Christ is coming back here, and Christian, you will see him. You will see his face.
Do you ever think about that?
Something I like to do when we’re singing is I look up there at that stained glass window [y’all see that up there, right in the middle.] That is an image of Jesus, who is a real person. And sometimes, when we sing — and we sang this earlier,
And with the ransomed in glory
His face I at last shall see
— and I look up there, and I look at his face — and I don’t know if that’s how Jesus’s face really looks, but I do know he has a face, and I know that one day I’m going to see it.
And I worship him in that hope. We worship God in that hope — we will see the face of Jesus — and that is how we endure by contrast. We know our no; we fight the good fight, and we worship God — with all of our lives, and then each Sunday as we gather here.
And now, as the church gathered here in worship, we come to this Table and remember the death of Jesus for us.
At this Table, when we eat the bread and drink the cup, Paul says we are proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes.
And so tonight, if that is your hope, if you trust in Jesus, we invite you to eat and drink with us. We will serve the bread first. Just hold it, and then I’ll come back up, and we’ll eat it altogether.