1 Timothy 6:11-21 “Swerving Christ”
“You, man of God, you!” Paul writes to Timothy. Believe it or not this is non-gender specific in the Greek. The word for “man” being the generic “ανθροπος,” like in “anthropology” is the study of humankind, not just “men.” “You, human one of God, You!” What a great way to end your thoughts to a treasured brother or sister in Christ while writing a really long letter.
And, I should point out that the “You,” or “Συ” in the Greek, makes it quite emphatic. One does not include the pronoun except to emphasize the person being spoken of in the sentence. “YOU” all caps in English might be an equivalent. In reading this, we should raise pitch, lengthen our vowels, and be clear. All of this makes the point that this is indeed a personal letter to Timothy in its conception. Just keep that in mind until we get to the very end.
This letter is not a letter of evaluation, but rather simply “valuation.” Paul is telling Timothy how much he values him as his protégé. This is a great thing for all of us to learn in our dealing with others. “You, I value you!” You are righteous, godly, faithful, loving, steadfast, and gentle! So this letter is not just about honoring God and Jesus Christ, but also it stands for the valuing of our co-workers in ministry. This is about praising others while we praise God. Thank you, Saint Paul. You, man of God, You!
Do you see the word “shun” in verse 11? I want you to mentally erase that word as a very poor translation. Paul is talking about shunning the worldly quests for money and glory that was discussed in the sermon last week. Yet the word in the Greek really means “flee away from.” It is φέυγε, and the word is still used in modern Greek to mean “leave behind.” So, when I got on the boat and left the island of Alonissos, I left the island behind me. It is not really “shun.” Leave that world behind. Flee from it. Grab onto something else.
Paul says to Timothy in verse 12 to “take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.” The word in Greek “to take hold” is επιλαμβανομαι and literally means to snatch up and make something one’s own. You can think about this word in this way: You go into the hardware superstore and you see that pipe fitting that you need and you know it is the last one in the store—probably on the island—so, you snatch it up! You check around to see if anyone else wants that part or is noticing that you have it. Then, you stealthily take it up to the checkout. That is what Paul is telling Timothy to do. Grab up and checkout with eternal life in your grasp!
Actually Paul does not just tell Timothy to snatch and grab eternal life, he tells Timothy that this life is “to what he has been called.” The word that is used here “to be called” is εκληθην in the Greek. It is related to the Greek word for the Christian Church itself, εκκλησια. The whole idea of the very church itself is that it is a “calling out of those who will follow Christ.” Here Paul is telling Timothy that those who are of the church are “called out by Christ to snatch up eternal life.” That is for Paul the very definition of what church is. It is not a gathering of people in a money-oriented institution. It is a calling out of the followers by Christ to take hold of eternal life. Another way to look at it is that Timothy is standing outside the store and Jesus calls him out of the crowd to go in and snatch up eternal life—to come back out and share it with others.
Again there is some irony in what Paul is telling Timothy. You will surely recall that the context of this letter is that Timothy had sent notice to Paul that he was ready to call it quits in Ephesus. Timothy was about to resign from the church and go elsewhere. So, Paul reminds Timothy that the very essence of church is to be called out to take on eternal life. “Timothy you are thinking about leaving Ephesus, but Jesus Christ has already called you to leave this entire world behind and to take as many with you as you can because you are called to eternal life with Christ!” “Don’t leave Ephesus! Just leave everything that Ephesus stands for as you reach out for that eternal life with Christ!” What a message for us today!
But, what about those poor lost souls who really do love money more than eternal life with Christ? Paul tells Timothy in no uncertain terms to “command them not to be arrogant or put their hope in wealth in this world.” They must be commanded to put their hope in God! God richly provides everything “for our enjoyment.”
I get chided sometimes because I say such things as “Good thing God invented instant coffee” or “Isn’t that why God invented the microwave?” Honestly, I get tired of hearing the response: “God did not invent the microwave! Boy, you are strange, Olaf.” But, it says right here in our text for this morning that God provides us with everything for our enjoyment. And, God really was the first one to make coffee in an instant—He thought it, and there the coffee bush was instantly! And, God did invent the microwave. He does not have the patent on the technology, but He created the wave, didn’t He? Let’s give credit where credit is due!
We need to stop thinking so much about the limited world that says that money is an object to be loved and pursued. Look at the bigger picture. God created money for our enjoyment, so that we can do good with it! As it says in verse 18 of today’s Scripture: “to be generous and willing to share” it! Verse 19, money when it is used properly can create the foundation for a new life in the coming age. It can help us to grab onto the eternal life with Christ that is the true life given to us by God.
Let us look carefully at the verse that is almost at the end of the letter. We see in verse 21, “but by professing it some have missed the mark in regards to faith. What should be noted here is that “missing the mark” is a euphemism for sin elsewhere in the Bible. You have probably all heard that first-year-in-seminary sermon about sin that points out the term “harmatia” in the Greek means to miss the mark, id est sin is missing the mark God has set for us.
Well, that is not what Paul is writing about here at all! So, I am not so happy with this translation by the editor of the text. The word here is not just about missing a mark but rather about “swerving” out of control. We have a swinging bridge here over the Waimea River. Sometimes you see the kids on the bridge trying to make it swing back and forth. It swings pretty good in the wind already, so with a little weight shifting around it can sway quite far.
This is not just missing the mark. This is swerving off the road and causing an accident. This is about swaying so far over that the bridge fails or you are simply flung off. We see it happening around us all the time, so it should be a warning to us.
This last week I was driving back to Waimea when I passed a Toyota Corolla on the side of the road with its emergency blinkers on. It was moving slowly. I looked to see there were a real emergency, and it did not seem so to me. I carefully crossed over the middle line and proceeded to pass. Then, in the rearview mirrors I saw a red Jeep also try to pass but at that very moment the Toyota swerved out into traffic to make an illegal u-turn as if wanting to head back to Hanapepe. The Jeep collided and lost its front fender as it also swerved. Both vehicles did this incredible ballet as they were both out of control in tandem heading through the on-coming traffic lane to final rest on the other side of the road facing the opposite direction.
I drove ahead to turn around in Kaumakani to make sure everyone was all right. By that time, the Jeep was back on the road to Waimea and the Toyota was off back to Hanapepe. Thank God nobody was hurt.
I think that this is what Paul is trying to tell Timothy. “Don’t swerve Christ.” That would be a catastrophe. Don’t pull a u-turn in the middle of the road. Just follow Christ. It is a straight and narrow way.
So, Paul finishes this fascinating letter to Timothy. Does Timothy stay on in Ephesus? Yes. Eventually he wins sainthood for his efforts in ministry there. To be sure, in the end today we remember the richness of Timothy’s Faith, the wealth he discovered in Christ and the steadfast path he followed in Christ.
Final note: The tag reads “Grace be to you.” Now, you recall that the you at the start of our reading was singular as Paul was writing to Timothy specifically. Yet, this “you” is now plural. This message is for all the Christians in Ephesus. It is for all Christians everywhere and in all times. We need to serve Christ and not swerve from Christ.