Millennial Madness: Y2K and Paul’s Admonition to Timothy
(Even though this message deals with the Y2K histeria 10 years ago, I felt the message is still valid and pertains to events that we face on a regular basis.)
INTRODUCTION: The year 2000, in the minds of many folks, has an ominous, apocalyptic aura. The countdown to Armageddon, we are repeatedly warned, has already begun. Life on planet earth seems increasingly precarious and it is not surprising therefore to find a great many Christians turning their eyes upward looking for the return of Christ-and seeking to find hidden clues in the Scriptures to determine the time of His return. The Bible is treated like a crystal ball or some sort of fortune-telling device that will predict tomorrow’s headlines.
Over the past year, we have seen dozens and dozens of books dealing with Y2K and Biblical prophecy. The vast majority of these are based on shoddy research, sensationalism, reliance on unbiblical sources (like The National Enquirer), ignorance, fear mongering, spurious personal claims to revelations and visions from God, deliberate dishonesty, and misinterpretation of Scripture. Some have parlayed their speculation regarding Biblical prophecy into lucrative businesses (this is especially the case with those writing prophecy “novels”-a relatively recent genre).
Y2K has been on everyone’s mind for sometime now. There are popular internet sites devoted to this subject as well as Christian radio programs, the Discovery channel, and practically every major magazine and newspaper have all, at one time or another, sounded the doomsday alarm (some have toned down their rhetoric over the last few weeks while others have only increased the volume as we draw ever closer to the New Year). I personally do not think Christians should become pre-occupied with either Y2K or with end-time prognosticators that clamor for attention. We have far more important things to be concerned about as we face the future.
The Apostle Paul thought of the Christian life as one that is infused with a mighty striving (1 Cor. 9:24-27; II Cor. 4:1,16; Phil. 3:8-14; II Tim. 4:7). Paul did not merely find rest in what he had accomplished or received-he set his sights on a goal. Throughout his epistles, as Schlatter observes, “ He made ample use of the idea of an athletic contest with the related images of race, prize, crown or judge because he needed terms that described the necessity and industry of Christian striving.” In the passage before us Paul exhorts Timothy with a threefold injunction: Flee, Follow, and Fight. These are first and foremost attitudes or convictions apart from which the necessary action would not occur.
I. WHAT TO FLEE: (6:11a)
Timothy is a man of God (the expression is also found in II Tim. 3:16,17). According to Berkouwer this expression is taken over from the OT and refers to a close relationship with God-a special relationship of belonging to God, of being covenantly yoked. The word trans. flee is PHEUGE. It is in the words of A.T. Robertson a very vivid verb that expresses flight. Paul puts it in the present active imperative which is best trans. “Keep on running away”. What is it that Timothy is to flee from? The immediate context makes clear that what Paul has in mind has primarily to do with the worldly preoccupation with wealth (6:9-10). It also encompasses teachings and life-styles that are at odds with the Christian faith (6:3-5). Note Paul’s remarks on how some people use religion as a means of gaining wealth (6:5).
II. WHAT TO FOLLOW (6:11b-12)
The negative precept is now followed by the positive. Follow (or pursue) is from the Greek word DIOKE which means to follow after as in a pursuit. What are the objects of this pursuit?
A. A Specific Conduct Righteousness and godliness. Here and in Titus 2:12 these are used to express a religious disposition. Our hearts, minds, and wills are to reflect God’s standard.
B. A Specific Character. The virtues listed here (faith, love, meekness, and perseverance) correspond to the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). “Everyone,” remarked Calvin, “who devotes himself to the pursuit of righteousness, who aims at godliness, faith and love and follows patience and meekness, cannot but abhor avarice and its fruits.”
III. WHAT TO FIGHT (6:12)
As in the two previous injunctions, this one is also a present active imperative, lit. keep on fighting. The word for fight is AGONIZOMAI from which we derive our word agony (the same word is found in 4:10). The thought is that of exerting one’s energy in order to prevail. The fight of faith may mean first, the fight that faith wages; in which faith is one of the contending parties; the world, the flesh, and the devil is the other party. In this case, faith is to be taken in the subjective sense. It is an inward organ by which we perceive things unseen and eternal, and through which we experience their favor. In this view the fight of faith is that spiritual conflict which is so fully described in Gal. 5 and Eph. 6 and elsewhere.
Second, it may mean the fight for the faith. The command, then, is the same as in Jude v. 3: “Contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered to the saints.” In this case, faith is used objectively for the doctrines believed. Paul speaks of those who have “erred from the faith.” He speaks of himself as having “kept the faith.” He draws a broad distinction between the “wisdom of the world,” and the “wisdom of God.” By the former, he means the opinions or convictions which men arrive at by speculation. These may be either true or false. In neither case do they belong to the category of faith. By the wisdom of God he means the truths supernaturally revealed by God; things which “Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit.” These constitute the faith for which we are to contend. They are objects of faith, because they are received on testimony, the testimony of God. The faith therefore delivered to the saints and which we are to preserve, propagate, and transmit, is the truth supernaturally revealed which is contained in the Scriptures. Three important convictions are essential to this fight.
A. The first necessary condition of contention for the faith is the firm conviction that the Bible is the infallible rule of faith, i.e., that whatever the Bible teaches God teaches, and therefore is infallibly true, and consequently no man can reject it without rejecting the testimony of God. If a man allows himself to depart from what he sees the Bible teaches, there is no security for him.
B. A firm conviction of the importance of the things thus revealed. Without holiness, no man can see God, and without truth there can be no believers. Our own salvation and that of others depends on the truth. Look at the heathen world and those once Christian countries, which have lost the truth.
C. An inward experience of the power of the truth. No man contends for anything which he does not value. The want of this experience is the great source of error. The way to contend for the truth is, First, to confess it, to proclaim it. The power is in the truth. Second, to answer misrepresentation and gainsayers. This should be done with meekness, speaking the truth in love, remembering that Paul may plant and Apollos water, but it is God who gives the increase.
CONCLUSION: The New Testament often describes the Christian life as a constant battle against sin. Believers are enjoined to put on the full armor of God so that they may be victorious in their struggle against evil powers (Eph. 6:11-13), to fight the good fight of the faith (1Tim. 6:12; cf. 2 Tim. 4:7), not to gratify fleshly desires (Gal. 5:16), and to resist sin to the point of shedding their blood (Heb. 12:4). In 1 Corinthians 9:26-27 Paul describes his own fierce struggle against sin as if he were a boxer. “I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” Old Bishop Ryle put it in these words, “Sanctification…does not prevent a man having a great deal of inward spiritual conflict. By conflict I mean a struggle within the heart between the old nature and the new, the flesh and the spirit, which are to be found together in every believer (Gal. 5:17). A deep sense of that struggle, and a vast amount of mental discomfort from it, are no proof that a man is not sanctified. Nay, rather, I believe they are healthy symptoms of our condition, and prove that we are not dead, but alive.”
Adolf Schlatter, The Theology of the Apostles trans. A.J. Köstenberger, (Baker, 1999), p. 227.
G.C. Berkouwer, Studies In Dogmatics: Man the Image of God (Eerdmans, 1962), p. 344.
A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures In the New Testament IV (Broadman, 1932), p. 594.
Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries X (Eerdmans, 1964), p. 276.
C. Hodge, Conference Papers (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1879), p. 372.
A.A. Hoekema, Saved By Grace (Eerdmans, 1989), p. 213.
J.C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots (rpt. Evangelical Press, 1979), p. 20.