By David Anderson
“But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue • righteousness • godliness • faith • love • patience • gentleness.” —1 Timothy 6:11 NKJV
As Timothy’s spiritual father, Paul wrote two letters to encourage him to persevere in the faith and the work that God had assigned to him. In these letters, Paul made many “charges” to Timothy. But in 1 Timothy 6:11 Paul used, for the first time, the emphatic Greek pronoun for “you.” 1 This meant it was very important for Timothy2 to give careful attention to what Paul was writing, and by extension it becomes important to anyone who would aspire to be a man or woman of God.
The Lord had used Paul to establish the testimony at Ephesus, the place where the apostle’s missionary work reached its climax (Acts 19:10,20). The apostle had tearfully warned the Ephesian church elders about false shepherds who would lead the believers astray after he departed (20:28-31). Hence he left Timothy there to continue the work (1 Tim. 1:3; Acts 20:20,27). In his first letter Paul explained to Timothy how he should confront these false teachers by teaching and demonstrating the truth through proper, godly conduct in the church (3:14-16).
As he ended his letter, Paul became more direct in his exhortations to Timothy: not “you ought” (3:15) but “you must” (6:11), followed by “I urge you” (v.13) and ending with the personal appeal “O Timothy” (v.20). Continuous personal application to godliness was the only way Timothy would succeed in the hostile situation developing at Ephesus. “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 ESV).
By using “follow” (KJV) in 1 Timothy 6:11 instead of “pursue” (NKJV), Paul’s charge condensed into two main issues: “flee these things” and “follow after” other things.
“But you, O man of God, flee3 these things.”
I remember a preacher speaking about Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. He said, “There are situations in life where you must run away! That day, Joseph found himself in one of those situations and he fled.” Paul’s instruction to Timothy was like that. You and I are not to confront “these things,” we are to run away as far as possible from them.
In the immediate context “these things” are greed and covetousness with all their attendant evils, of which the love of money is a prime example. Covetousness is idolatry (Col. 3:5), meaning it replaces God’s supreme place in a believer’s life. The Lord Jesus said, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Lk. 16:13 ESV). King Money reigns supreme in our world. People are not content with their wages or what they have. They want more money to get more possessions and extend their leisure pursuits. Hence gambling and lotteries are very popular. By contrast, Paul advised Timothy of the great gain in godliness with contentment (1 Tim. 6:6-8).
In the wider context of 1 Timothy 6, “these things” include false teachings, which are contrary to the spiritually healthy teachings of the Lord and His apostles (v.3). These “different doctrines” have the potential to lead believers away from the practice of godliness. They:
- Manifest themselves in rules and regulations which starve believers of the true liberty they have in Christ (4:1-7),
- Are fundamentally evil in origin, and
- Suggest there is financial gain by practicing their kind of godliness (6:5).
Other things Timothy had to flee from were the conceit and the associated evils of self-centered teachers (v.4), the corruption and impurity they bring (v.5), a discontented spirit (vv.6-8) and foolish and harmful lusts (v.9).
In the context of the letter as a whole, “these things” include all of the deceiving and misleading teachings with their accompanying bad practices that the church at Ephesus was being exposed to by the “some.” 4 Therefore, “these things” can be defined as any teaching or practice which does not have the pure motive of promoting the stewardship from God that is by faith (1:4). Spiritually healthy teaching always has the objective of producing love that “issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1:5). At first, Timothy had to confront the false teachers and use his God-given authority to charge them not to teach other doctrines (1:3). If they did not heed his injunctions, then he had to “flee” from them. He had to have nothing to do with them; and he was to reject (4:7), refuse (5:11), withdraw from (6:5), avoid (6:20; 2 Tim. 2:16) and purge, or cleanse, himself from (2:21) these teachers. But all the while he was to continue teaching in the things he had learned from Paul (3:14).
“But thou, O man of God … follow3 righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.” — 1 Timothy 6:11 KJV
Paul knew Timothy was a “man of God” who followed in his spiritual father’s footsteps and was already exhibiting these six practical things. But Timothy had to keep doing so. We too must make them our aim in discipleship. The six things divide into three groups:
- Righteousness and godliness, which are God-ward,
- Faith and love, which are inward, and
- Patience and meekness, which are outward.
Righteousness is living in a right way before God and according to what He requires. It is the character of being right in His sight. An example would be using riches in a correct way (vv.17-19). Righteousness is part of godliness – an attitude of always seeking to live in ways pleasing to God – and applies to the whole manner of a believer’s life. It is having a sense or awareness of God and what is due to Him in all that one thinks and does. Lifestyle must be consistent with one’s profession of faith in God. First Timothy 1:5 shows the elements necessary for the pursuit of godliness:
- A pure heart – my mind and will, or motives, must be tuned to God’s will.
- A good conscience – I must be sensitive so there will be nothing in my life which God would disapprove.
- A sincere faith – there must be nothing hypocritical, or fake, about my faith. I cannot fool God. I must not disguise anything toward others. I must be a genuine Christian.
Faith is belief in God and trust in His Word. To pursue faith means I believe that everything in the Scriptures is God breathed (2 Tim. 3:16). I accept they are inerrant – without a single mistake. Therefore if there is any conflict between the philosophies, or “science,” of men and the Scriptures, I believe God not men. I know that God cannot lie and Scripture is all-sufficient for all aspects of belief and practice.
Love is the other inward power of godliness. To pursue love is to be taken over by the love that God has deluged, or poured, into my heart (Rom. 5:5). This love must also be seen in my life. Paul describes how it acts in 1 Corinthians 13. Jointly, faith and love are the salient, or prominent, features which must dominate a believer’s life (1 Th. 3:6, 5:8; 1 Tim. 1:14, 2:15; 2 Tim. 1:13; Rev. 2:19).
Patience means endurance. Thus, to pursue patience is to keep going despite the trials and circumstances of life – whatever their character. Gentleness means to exhibit a meek disposition, and it is especially necessary when opposing false teachers and distracters (2 Tim. 2:24-25).
“Fight3 the good fight of the faith.” —1 Timothy 6:12 ESV
Paul’s charge to Timothy continues in verse 12 with another command requiring continuous action. The apostle had warned him about those who would:
- Depart from the faith (4:1),
- Deny the faith by their lifestyle (5:8),
- Stray or wander away from the faith (6:10),
- Swerve and err from the faith (6:21), or
- Be disqualified (“reprobate” in KJV), having corrupt minds (2 Tim. 3:8).
He also advised that the Christian warfare would continue to intensify and worsen, so Timothy must not cease to fight against them (2 Tim. 3:13-14, 4:1-5). Hence Timothy was to follow all of these commandments from Paul until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 6:13-14). Timothy had to keep the faith by laying hold of eternal life (v.12) and by guarding the deposit of truth entrusted to him (v.20, also consider 2 Tim. 1:13-14). The fight also involved withstanding the irreverent babble and contradictions of all falsely called “know-alls” (vv.20-21).
Finally, To All Men And Women Of God
These charges made to Timothy challenge all the people of God who read Paul’s letters. Like Timothy we must continue to stand and live for God and His truth. “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1).
1. Other usages of the emphatic pronoun in Paul’s letters to Timothy are found in 2 Timothy 1:18, 2:1,3, 3:10,14, 4:5,15. See The English-Greek Testament by Thomas Newberry.
2. Compare “if anyone” (vv.3-5) and “But those … some” (vv.9-10) with “But you, O man of God” (v.11).
3. Literal translations would read: 1) “keep on fleeing,” 2) “keep on following” and 3) “keep on fighting.” See also 2 Timothy 2:22.
4. In 1 Tim. 1:3,6,19, 4:1, 5:15,24, 6:10,21; 2 Tim. 2:18.