“How Can A Ministry Remain Faithful?” – 1 Timothy 6:20-21
“O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge”— which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith. Grace be with you.”
These are the final words that the apostle Paul writes to Timothy, his son in the faith, in this letter. These final words capture the heart of the letter and contain just one single command – To guard what has been entrusted. That is the command given to every pastor and every ministry. We are to guard what has been entrusted to us. There’s no need to reinvent or repackage or improve what has been entrusted to us. We are to guard it, protect it, and proclaim it. Very plainly stated, this is a call to remain faithful.
Just the phrase – remain faithful – assumes so much. The concept of faithfulness implies conscientious, consistent, and continuous action. A faithful custodian is one who cleans every toilet and mops every floor each and every shift without fail. Faithfulness is a pattern of a job well done. But what is Timothy to remain faithful in? How is he to go about this pursuit of faithfulness?
The command to guard (φύλαξον) means more than to simply keep an eye on. It captures the duty of a sentinel, an armed guard, and the soldier in the LP/OP (Listening post/Observation post). The point is not only to keep an eye on things but to sound the alarm and give warning when there is danger. The point is protection. The apostle calls Timothy to protect what has been given him. Timothy is charged to remain faithful. What follows are four steps to faithfulness, four means of protecting what was given, four procedures for the church to remain faithful.
Identify & Understand What Has Been Entrusted (v. 20a)
“O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you”
We’ve already discussed the meaning and importance of the command, to guard, but what is it that Timothy is supposed to guard? The phrase what has been entrusted translates a simple term in the Greek (τήν παραθήκη) the deposit. These two terms, guard and deposit are commonly used together. The term is often found as a banking term indicating something of value that belongs to someone else and is entrusted for safekeeping. But again, what is Paul speaking about?
The context alone (the conclusion of a letter full of instruction) demands that the term points to at least the contents of this letter. All that Paul has commanded thus far must be guarded and kept safe. But this command does more than simply charge Timothy to guard the contents. It summarizes the letter. This command echoes several other points of this letter.
Paul has already entrusted (synonymous term) Timothy with the command to instruct false teachers to stop peddling their heresy (1:3; 18). In pointing out the apostasy that follows heresy, Timothy will be a good servant of Jesus Christ (4:1-16). And in fleeing worldliness and fighting the good fight of the faith, Timothy will be living consistently with his good confession (6:11-16). All of these references point back to the entirety of the Christian faith.
This whole letter is a defense of the gospel. The strange/different teachings of heretics were undermining the gospel (ch. 1). Men failing to lead and women usurping their place was undermining the gospel (ch. 2). Unqualified leadership undermines the gospel (ch. 3). Ministry that is not focused on teaching and preaching undermines the gospel (ch. 4). The body that does not honor its members undermines the gospel (ch. 5). Worshiping, pursuing, and misusing wealth undermines the gospel (ch. 6). So while we can accurately say that this charge is to guard and protect everything within this letter, it also goes beyond what is written here to encompass anything and everything that does not conform to the redeeming message of salvation through Jesus Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, for the glory of God alone.
The message does not belong to us in the sense that we have rights over it. It is not ours to change, reinvent, or repackage. It has been entrusted to the church to guard and to proclaim. We cannot change the recipe to make it more palatable. In doing so we rob the message of salvation of its potency. It has been entrusted to us to guard it from contamination so that it might be proclaimed and obeyed to the glory of God. Understand what has been entrusted.
Separate From Everything That Is Contrary (v. 20b)
“Avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge””
The verb avoiding (ἐκτρεπόμενος) here provides the means by which Timothy is to obey the command to guard the gospel. This is a very strong term that means to turn away from something or someone. But this “turn” is not a passive idea. This same root can be used to describe a violent dislocation of joints. The idea is not to avoid a pothole by swerving out of the way. The word picture is more aggressive. It means to fully separate and have nothing to do with what follows.
Timothy is to fully separate from two things: empty chatter and opposing arguments. Both terms are called worldly. That word can also be translated as profane or useless. It describes something that is completely void of value.
John Calvin wrote of this empty chatter that Paul speaks of the “bombastic talk that pours out of ambitious people who are more concerned to gain recognition for themselves than they are about helping people in the church to make progress” (1&2 Timothy & Titus. Crossway Books, p. 110). Paul has already referred to this kind of speech as fruitless discussion (1:6), worldly fables fit only for old women (4:7), and disputes about words (6:4). Timothy must guard the truth by dislocating himself from such meaningless drivel.
The useless and empty chatter is not the only thing that is void of value, but also the opposing arguments. The Greek word here is ἀντιθέσεις and is where we get our English word antithesis. This term was used in the 1st century in the context of a formal debate for the counter proposition. Paul does not mince his words. He calls Timothy to dislocate himself from the counter point, the antithesis of the gospel.
The world may try to pass off their meaningless drivel as knowledge, but is a pseudonym. Just because you call something wisdom or knowledge does not make it so. It is wisdom to the world to make the pulpit an equal opportunity position, to change the good confession to something less than “Jesus is Lord,” or to promote a self-serving lifestyle of wealth. Paul calls this the antithesis of the gospel.
Take Warning From Those Who Have Strayed (v. 21a)
“Which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith”
The little pronoun “which” points back to the antithesis of the gospel; that pseudo-knowledge and useless babbling. Some people have actually made that their profession, their confession, the object of their hope and trust. These are the same men that Timothy was first instructed to instruct to stop teaching their heresy (1:3) and the same individuals who have already fallen away/apostatized from the faith (4:1-5). These were individuals who were once counted among the members of the local church that have since adopted something other than and contrary to the gospel and have since turned their back on the Savior and His bride.
This is not a hard connection to make. But understand the logic of Paul’s statement. The profession, the proposition that they adopted as knowledge, is the means of their apostasy. People don’t just wake up one morning and decide to turn their back on Christianity and then adopt another belief system. The order of events runs in the other direction. By adopting views or beliefs that run contrary to the gospel one will stray away from the faith.
Christians, those who have been bought by the blood of Jesus, are those who have heard, understood, accepted as true, and placed their trust in the true gospel of Jesus Christ. They will never fall away (Romans 8:28-30). So if people within the church fall away or stray away from the faith, it is because there was a break down somewhere in that chain. Either they never heard the gospel, never understood the gospel, never accepted the gospel as truth, or never placed their hope and trust in the gospel. If people in the church fall away, it is because they were never Christians to begin with (1 John 2:19).
This last statement is a warning. Timothy must guard the gospel of Jesus Christ and every single implication therein because apostasy is the product of heresy. No matter how subtle, false teaching, if brewed on low heat long enough, will produce only apostates.
The one single dogma that seems to be consistent in churches, regardless of denominational ties, is: don’t teach doctrine. They claim that doctrine causes strife and division. To that I say “Yes!” and “Amen!” Doctrine divides between truth and error. Doctrine causes strife between sheep and goats. The church of Jesus Christ has been lulled to sleep by hypnotic false teachers that don’t want people to know what Scripture clearly teaches or at least don’t want to make a big deal about what Scripture clearly teaches. If the church understood sound doctrine conforming to godliness (6:3), then the church may notice that their pastor is teaching something that is actually the antithesis of the gospel.
Trust In God’s Grace (v. 21b)
“Grace be with you.”
This simple statement speaks volumes. We may be inclined to read it and move on. Paul concludes every single one of his letters with this statement. The word grace (χάρις) means favor. It cannot be bought or earned. Paul’s final word to Timothy is a prayer for God’s unmerited favor to be with him, support him, and carry him as he pursues faithfulness.
Most letters written in the 1st century ended with a wish for the reader to be strong. But for the Christian, we stand not in our own strength and obey not by our own might, but we are what we are by the grace of God alone (1 Cor. 15:10). This is a gentle reminder to Timothy where his strength comes from. But not only to Timothy.
Our English word “you” can either be plural or singular. Our southern brothers help us out when they use the word “y’all.” The Greek is more specific and uses a plural pronoun (y’all) here. While this letter was addresses specifically to Timothy, Paul knew and designed this letter to be read to the church. His final charge for faithfulness is directed at Timothy so that he can take the helm, but it also includes the entire body.
A faithful church needs a faithful pastor in the pulpit, but just because the man proclaiming the unchanging gospel of Jesus Christ is faithful does not make the body faithful. A sound mind attached to a dying body is still dying. Timothy must take the lead, but the whole body must embrace this charge to remain faithful.
There are several general orders that apply to every soldier at all times. It does not matter if the soldier is deployed to a combat zone or is stationed in garrison, these orders apply. The first general concerns guard duty: I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved. To the soldier, nothing is more sacred and important than guard duty.
The same is true of every pastor and every minister of the gospel. 1 Timothy 6:20 is the first general order of every man that fills a pulpit and every church that claims to represent Christ: guard what has been entrusted to you.