“But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.”
We make such a big deal about remembering the context of any given passage in order to keep the author’s intention in view. Blessedly, this text demands that we do just that. Paul begins v. 11 by commanding Timothy to flee these things. That natural question is, what things? It is obvious that Paul, at the very least, means the evil, harmful, and foolish fruit of greed and the love of money as mentioned in vv. 9-10. Timothy is to flee these desires that lead only to death and destruction. It is possible, however, to include all of vv. 6-10 or even vv. 3-10 as the referent to these things. At the very least, Paul is commanding Timothy to flee from the love of money. At the very most, Paul is commanding Timothy to flee from every aspect of foolish ungodliness that has been made manifest by these false teachers.
As we read and study the verses before us, it does not seem fitting that Paul gives no less than four imperatives aimed at keeping Timothy from the love of money. That is obviously included, but the focus of this text is wider than that. These verses call Timothy to separate himself completely and totally from these false teachers and to ground himself in his calling (vv. 11-12) and in his confession (vv. 13-16). The common theme running through these verses is perseverance. In light of Timothy’s calling and confession, Paul gives Timothy 5 reasons to persevere.
Timothy’s Calling (vv. 11-12)
“But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”
These two verses contain four imperatives; two in v. 11 and two in v. 12. Both are purposefully paired and both provide different yet connected reasons why Timothy is to persevere at his post.
Perseverance Separates Believers from Apostates
Paul begins by calling Timothy to completely and utterly separate himself from the false teachers who have been plaguing the Ephesian church. The two imperatives in v. 11 work together to form a single idea. Paul begins by telling Timothy to flee everything that describes, designates, and defines false teachers.
The Greek φεὐγε (flee) does not need further explanation. It means to seek safety from perceived or potential danger by means of flight. Timothy is to run away from their different teachings, their morbid understanding of godliness, their greed and love of money. Timothy, the man of God, must flee these things.
I think it’s extremely interesting that Paul calls Timothy a man of God. This term was widely used in the Old Testament of men like Moses, Samuel, David, Elijah, Elisha, as well as several other unnamed prophets. But in the New Testament, this term is only used twice. The first time is here, used of Timothy. The second time appears in 2 Timothy 3:17 with the more general reference of all believers. As Paul’s apostolic representative to the Ephesian believers, Paul uses a weighty term to grab Timothy’s attention. To place Timothy in the same class as men like David and Moses, with mighty prophets like Elijah and Elisha, is not to puff up his ego. Rather, Paul’s intention is to bring a sense of gravity to the conversation.
Timothy has been placed in Ephesus with a serious task, to defend the gospel of Jesus Christ and do single combat with those who seek to undermine its message and ministry. In this task, the man of God cannot be seen flirting with the same evils that he is supposed to be fighting. He must flee from them.
I am so thankful for Paul’s next command. Anyone can cease and desist from any particular sin without reaping the benefits of obedience. In Paul’s earlier letters to the Ephesians (his current audience) as well as the Colossians, Paul uses the imagery of clothing to teach that as we put off sin we must also put on righteousness. It is one thing to flee from all sorts of evils. It is quite another to pursue righteousness.
And pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.
Both the command to flee and the command to pursue assume haste and speed. As Timothy runs away from all the wickedness that indicates false teachers, he is to run headlong in the direction of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.
These six virtues come in three pairs and are a sort of shorthand for the whole of the Christian’s life. Righteousness and godliness refer to objective obedience. Either we are living righteously and in devotion to God or we are not. The second two, faith and love, look at active obedience. Here faith is the simple trust that God is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do. Do we trust Him? That is demonstrated first and foremost by our love. It is by our love that all men will know that we are Christ’s disciples. The last pair, perseverance and gentleness, describe submissive obedience. Perseverance brings with it an attitude of submissive endurance. The word gentleness (πραϋπαθία) is found only here in the Bible. While it doesn’t change the way we translate it, the term indicates not only a gentle demeanor, but a gentle response in the face of aggressive and even violent offense.
Perseverance begins with obedience; objective, active, and submissive obedience. Perseverance is the antithesis of apostasy. The basic meaning of an apostate is one who has fallen away or someone who did not persevere. They have no desire or drive to obey. Timothy’s charge to persevere in his calling begins with obedience.
Perseverance Part of Our Calling
Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
Two more imperatives are given here. The first of which assumes a long and continuous struggle. Commentators debate about the exact picture that Paul is bringing to the bear with the command to fight the good fight. Some insist that the imagery is combative. Paul is commanding Timothy to stand tall in the face of battle and never turn his back. Some insist that the idea is taken exclusively from the athletic arena and the emphasis is on the hard work and struggle. I find the debate laughable. Since the dawn of time athletics have always been nothing but simulated combat. To separate the two ideas is to assume that the two ideas can be separated. The point is simple enough: Continue to struggle and fight the good fight.
The present tense indicates that this fight is not going to be over in a single battle or match. Timothy needs to anticipate that this struggle will last him the rest of his life. But in the end, he will take hold of the eternal life.
This is the prize and the victorious outcome of the Christian’s life long struggle. The command to take hold/seize/grab hold of is different than the command to fight. Rather than looking at an action that is to be continued and repeated, it looks at one single event. In the end, our victory will be realized all at once. In a single sweep, eternal life will be ours. Paul adds two thoughts to this thought of victory.
He first reminds Timothy that it was with this purpose that he was called. God predestined Timothy, as He has all believers, from before the foundations of the earth for eternal life. This is his path. It ends only in victory.
Then Paul reminds Timothy that the victory of eternal life, the end result of the good fight, is part of the good confession that he had already made before many witnesses. This is a reference to his profession of faith. The early church knew nothing about Christians who lived a quiet faith in complete isolation from other believers. All Christian’s made a public profession of faith and confessed Jesus as Lord. Paul points Timothy back to his own confession as a reminder. He has to keep going. He has to keep fighting. The struggle will end in victory. God has called him to this victory. Timothy himself publically confessed this victory before many witnesses.
The man of God must persevere. It is part of his calling.
Timothy’s Confession (vv. 13-16)
“I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen”
Paul get’s very personal with Timothy at this point. As he calls Almighty God the Father and Christ Jesus as witnesses, Paul charges Timothy to persevere. The basis for perseverance in vv. 11-12 was Timothy’s divine and effectual calling. The basis for perseverance in these verses is the confession already mentioned.
Perseverance Proves our Confession
I love how Paul introduces God the Father and God the Son. The Father is here to be known as the one who gives life to all things. This is obvious from our understanding of creation. But more to the point, it is God who gives eternal life. It is that very confession to which Paul points Timothy.
God the Son, Jesus Christ, is introduced as the one who testified the good confession. This is the exact same wording Paul used to describe Timothy’s good confession. The way he forms these words makes us think that Paul has a very specific confession in mind. But to what specific confession is he referring? Paul gives us a clue by what follows.
Before Pontius Pilate
We are all familiar with Christ’s passion and the events leading up to His atoning death on the cross. Where does Pontius Pilate fit into those events? What did Jesus confess before Pontius Pilate?
“Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor questioned Him, saying, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘It is as you say.’” – Matthew 27:11
Jesus made it clear to Pilate that He is King! This is the common and good confession that every believer has made since Jesus rose from the dead: Jesus is Lord! Ἰησοῦ Κύριoῦ! This is the exact formula that Paul mentions in Romans 10:9 “that if you confess [same word here] with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Not only does Christ live, but HE REIGNS! Do you believe that?
If Christ is indeed LORD, then what reason do we have to not persevere?
Perseverance Submits to this Confession
That you keep the commandment without stain or reproach
Here we finally have the content of Paul’s charge. The verb here translated as keep has a wide range that implies obedience/adherence but also to guard/watch over. The second idea is present here, but that would clearly imply obedience as well. Timothy’s charge is to watch over and to guard the commandment.
What is the commandment? Paul is not speaking about a single commandment from the 10 Commandments, but the single charge that Jesus has left His disciples: To make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20). The commandment is the gospel and all that goes with it. This whole letter has been a polemic, a defense of the gospel. The range of this charge includes literally everything that Paul has stated thus far, but includes far more. The gospel of Jesus Christ must be protected and kept from anything that will stain it or bring reproach upon it. The term without reproach is the same term used of overseers in 3:2 and of believing families in 5:7. The gospel must be free of anything that will cause distraction from its life-giving message.
If Timothy is to endure and persevere, he must submit to the confession that he has already made. If Jesus is indeed Lord, then He must be obeyed and His message of good news to a lost and dying world must be kept free from stain.
Perseverance Believes the Confession
Until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen!
The gospel is a message of hope. The gospel is not a message that tells us, “hang in there.” The gospel states that victory is coming! Timothy is told, in no uncertain terms, to persevere and toe the line until his master returns. Because He is coming!
The timing is not important, nor is it for us to know. God will reveal His Christ when the timing suits Him. It is HE, not us nor any other man, who is the blessed and only Sovereign.
God alone is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. It is God and God alone who possesses immortality and thus it is He alone who can make us immortal with the gift of everlasting life.
We cannot approach Him because no man has seen the face of God and lived (Ex. 33:20). All honor (we’re back to honor again) and all dominion are His and His ALONE! Do you believe that?
Paul has nowhere to go other than to say, Amen, let it be!
Perseverance is not just expected of all believers, it’s the fruit that proves all believers. Those who fall away are not those who lost their faith. They never believed in the first place. But I would suggest that this is a passage that we must preach to ourselves each and every day.
Do we truly believe our confession? Do we live as if Jesus is indeed Lord? Do we hope for and anticipate His return? Do we desire for God to be glorified and receive the honor that is due His name?
We must understand that each and every time we fail, it is because we doubt this confession. We do what pleases us, because we doubt that Jesus is indeed Lord and that it is He who reigns. We grow spiritually fat and lazy because we doubt that He will return and we give no thought as to the state in which He will find His bride.
Perseverance is not an option. But if we rest in our calling and hold tight our confession, perseverance will not be a burden.