Tonight we conclude our sermons in 1 Timothy; next Lord’s Day evening, God willing, we will begin 2 Timothy.
“Man of God” is a title often used of prophets in the OT but may be used in 2 Tim. 3:17 of any mature Christian. It is the kind of title that is reflected in the old use of “divine” for a Christian minister or theologian. Think, for example, of the “Westminster Divines.” They were men who, to a peculiar degree, were supposed to be men of God, men who knew God and knew about God.
Timothy is to be the furthest thing from the false teachers Paul has been talking about in the previous verses: greedy for financial gain, quarrelsome, and disloyal to the apostolic faith.
The life he is to take hold of he has had for some time, since he first publicly declared his faith in Jesus or since first he became a minister. What we begin to do when first we are Christians we must do for the rest of our lives. The question bandied in the commentaries is whether this is a reference to Timothy’s baptism or his ordination. It is hard to know. [Mounce, 356]
In other words, he is to imitate Christ who did not hesitate to confess his faith and remain faithful to it even under the greatest pressure or most severe persecution.
We are to live our lives sub specie aeternitatis, with a view to eternity and how our behavior will be judged on the great day.
This description of the Lord Christ is part doxology and part a reminder to Timothy that the God he serves is incomparably great, deserves the loyalty of his people, and will brook no disloyalty. If you compare this doxology with the one in 1:17 you will immediately notice how similar they are.
The charge to Timothy in vv. 11-16, it now appears, was something of a digression. Paul now returns to the subject of money which he had been speaking about in vv. 5-10. There he had dealt with the desire for wealth, the peculiar temptation of those without lots of money, though hardly unknown to people who do; here he deals with the particular responsibilities of the wealthy.
Paul’s advice to the rich is two-fold: be particularly mindful of the temptations peculiar to rich folk — to think yourself better than others, to count on your money instead of the Lord, and to forget the one who gave it to you — and to make the most of your opportunity — to bless others with your money and to employ it in good works that will be rewarded in the world to come, that world to which you cannot take your money, but to which you can take your good works.
We often sing in morning worship at the time of the offering:
“We lose what on ourselves we spend,
We have as treasure without end,
Whatever Lord to thee we lend,
Giver of all.”
Notice the Apostle’s characteristically healthy balance in all of this. Against a desire for wealth and a comfortable life, he sets a simple lifestyle and spiritual contentment. Against asceticism, on the other hand, he sets the enjoyment of God’s gifts. Against the desire for money he sets gratitude for what we have been given. Against selfishness with what we have been given he sets generosity in imitation of God. Simplicity, gratitude, contentment, and generosity: a healthy, happy, and well-balanced life that will have its reward in the world to come! [Stott, 162-163]
Notice, by the way, once again the concept of reward and more or less reward in heaven, the subject of our consideration of the parable of the minas from Luke 19 in the morning service several Lord’s Days ago. I mentioned then that the idea of reward permeates the biblical doctrines of judgment and the world to come, but has virtually disappeared from the Christian consciousness. A serious loss!
The Christian minister is not supposed to be a virtuoso of creativity, adjusting his message to meet the tastes and requirements of his audience. He is not to work out his message for himself; he is not entitled to add to it or take from it. He is responsible to guard the divine revelation that has been entrusted to the church and to its ministry and to pass that revelation on unchanged to others. [Kelly in Mounce, 373]
I read an interesting article from the Christian Century this last week, written by one of the members of the committee that recently produced a new hymnal for the Presbyterian Church USA. Among other items of note, she mentioned that the committee had rejected the Getty/Townend hymn In Christ Alone, no matter its popularity, because a majority of the committee was offended by the line:
“Till on that Cross, as Jesus died the wrath of God was satisfied”
The idea of God being a God of wrath has long since disappeared from the mind of the PCUSA leadership. But, of course, the Bible has a great deal to say about the wrath of God. Paul’s point is precisely that the church and her ministers are not free to remove any article of biblical teaching because it offends people’s sensibilities.
A final exhortation and a final reminder of the high stakes for which Timothy is playing in his contest with the false teachers: people are losing their faith and with that faith their hope of salvation and the world to come because of the beguiling teaching of these heretics.
I just received a few days ago and have already begun to devour a new biography of the great Dutch churchman, politician, educator, and journalist Abraham Kuyper. [James D. Bratt, Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat, 2013.] Kuyper is a fascinating figure for many reasons, but not least because he is one of the principal figures who inspired the revival of Reformed Christianity in the 20th century. His advocacy of Calvinism as not only a theological but a cultural program — what has come to be called neo-Calvinism — lies beneath the educational philosophy of an institution such as our own Covenant College and has inspired two or three generations of Christian thinkers to consider all of human knowledge and endeavor as subject to the lordship of Jesus Christ. A significant number of the most influential Christian scholars of recent times — apologist Cornelius van Til, philosophers Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff, historian George Marsden and art historian Hans Rookmaker and through him Francis Schaeffer, and many others — look back to Kuyper for instruction and inspiration. Key concepts in Reformed social and philosophical thought, ideas such as “the antithesis” and “sphere sovereignty” originate in Kuyper’s genius.
The manifesto of this influential movement in modern evangelical Reformed Christianity is Kuyper’s Stone Lectures, delivered at Princeton University in 1898 and later published as Lectures on Calvinism. The notions that you can serve the Lord in your vocation, whatever that vocation may be, that you have a calling to consecrate your work to God, whatever that work may be, that the Bible has something to say about science, the arts, politics, and so on, commonplace ideas among us nowadays, I say these notions owe a great deal to the influence and the example of this great man. It was Kuyper who taught the modern Christian world what it had largely forgotten, “that the Reformed genius was to ‘unite organically the natural and the spiritual life…the realm of nature and that of grace.” [Bratt, 105] To Kuyper as well goes much of the credit for the widespread acceptance of the need for Christian schools in a rapidly secularizing culture.
Kuyper is famous for the remark — in many ways the principle of his life’s work — made in his inaugural address at the founding of the Free University of Amsterdam — another of Kuyper’s achievements — “There exists not the breadth of a thumb in all the universe but Christ says ‘It is mine!’” Founder of the first national daily newspaper in the Netherlands, of a major university, of a Christian labor union, of a political party that was to dominate Dutch politics for a generation, for many years a member of Parliament, for four years at the beginning of the 20th century Prime Minister of the Netherlands; an eminent theologian and professor of theology, an eminent churchman and leader of the evangelical Reformed church in his country for most of his life, the author of a great many books, both scholarly and popular; it is hard to find any other man of so many parts in human history, much less Christian history. One can think, for example, of Pascal, whose influence in mathematics, physics, literature, technological invention, and Christian apologetics are perhaps unmatched in cultural history by any other single figure. But even Pascal wasn’t a politician, nor did he edit and write for a major daily newspaper, nor did he found a university.
All of that to introduce you to Abraham Kuyper. I have already come across in my reading of this new book a piece of the Kuyper story with which I was unfamiliar, or, at least, I hadn’t remembered from my previous reading of the man’s life. Kuyper, as some of you may remember, was raised in a liberal minister’s home and educated in theological liberalism at the University of Leiden, Max Rogland’s alma mater. He was first converted to evangelical Christianity and then shortly thereafter to what was to become a life-long love affair with the Reformed faith as it was articulated by John Calvin and the other magisterial reformers of the sixteenth century.
But relatively early in his professional life, he faced something of a personal crisis. He had become a leader of the conservative party in the state Reformed Church, he had entered politics and had, as a result, become the object of persistent public personal attacks. He was married with little children, was unsure how he would support his growing family, and he was suffering from poor health, really something like a physical and emotional breakdown. It was at this point that Kuyper was invited to attend an international gathering of Protestants at the British beach resort town of Brighton. The meeting was sponsored by leaders of the new “holiness” movement, also known as the “higher life” movement, the movement that would later be associated with the famous annual Christian convention held at the town of Keswick in the English Lake District.
Kuyper came back from Brighton glowing with new found spiritual vigor. He called it a “Bethel experience” after Jacob’s encounter with God at Bethel, for that was what Kuyper thought it had been: “a life-changing encounter with the immediate presence of God.” [Bratt, 87] It was, however, to prove a false start in Kuyper’s life, one that would lead to the most severe collapse of his life, one from which it would take him more than a year to recover.
The leaders of this holiness movement that was to exert tremendous influence in Western, especially English speaking Christianity for the next century, were two Americans: Robert Pearsall Smith and his wife, Hannah Whithall Smith, whose book The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life became the manifesto of the movement. Pearsall Smith had been a Pennsylvania glass manufacturer, but had left his business to become a traveling spokesman for the higher Christian life. He held great meetings in America, Great Britain, and Europe — as Dwight Moody would — and gathered an impressive list of Christian supporters everywhere he went: from European royalty, to prominent political men such as Kuyper.
You may remember that key to the holiness teaching popularized by the Smiths was the notion of resting or trusting in Christ as the means of victory over sin. Almost all Christians, they pointed out, have only a partial victory over sin; but that cannot be Christ’s will. He didn’t save us to flounder and to fail as often as we succeed. No, he intends for us to achieve victory, sustained, even permanent victory. But to do so, they argued, we must realize what our part in that victory must be. As Hannah Whithall Smith put it in her book, “To state it in brief, I would say, that man’s part is to trust and God’s part is to work…”  Indeed, the problem with Christians, they taught, was that they thought themselves strong enough to work for their sanctification. If only they would accept and confess their helplessness and surrender to Jesus (the term “yield” would also be used) they would find their victory. Victory over sin would come when they stopped working and let Christ work in them.
And they meant victory. There was, as there would continue to be, a perfectionist streak in this teaching. Yielding to Jesus would bring entire consecration and a victory over sin so complete that the Christian would no longer struggle with temptation. Kuyper was enthralled with this teaching and in De Standaard, his national newspaper, gave glowing reports of the teaching, the wonderful spiritually uplifting atmosphere, and the unity that was fostered among Christians of various traditions who had gathered in Brighton. When Kuyper returned home he began spreading the message of the higher life in his own teaching and preaching.
“The secret of Brighton’s success, he explained, came in its ‘making all the promises of God real from eternity to time, in this moment.” [Bratt, 93]
Indeed, he made it clear in his Dutch Reformed world that Reformed teaching had been inadequate in respect to sanctification and the Christian life.
“An open acknowledgement…that a new revelation must come to the soul is necessary…. There must be and develop what the English express so crisply and aptly with the word consecration, a surrendering to the Lord, laying one’s very self upon the altar…” [Bratt, 94]
He was talking about what was called and has since been called “the second blessing,” or “sealing” or “the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” It seemed to Kuyper — a very learned man in the theology of the Reformed faith — that here was something that he had not been taught and that the Christians he knew did not have and desperately needed: real victory over sin, real devotion to Jesus and confidence in him, and real spiritual power.
But then it all began to unravel. Kuyper had been deeply impressed by Robert Pearsall Smith’s spiritual energy that he had seen on display in Brighton because he was so bereft of energy at this time in his life. But now he heard from Smith himself that he was prostrate from exhaustion and couldn’t work. As J.I. Packer would discover as a new Christian and university student, the claims made for this approach to holiness didn’t always prove out in experience.
To make matters worse, Kuyper himself discovered that he had less power and less victory than he imagined he would have. As J.I. Packer was to discover half a century later, “yielding,” whatever that meant (Packer reminds us in his autobiographical reflections on this period of his life that he tried to yield to the Lord in every way he could think of) didn’t make one’s temptations disappear or suddenly stop sin in its tracks. Then Kuyper’s health took another turn for the worse and soon he collapsed altogether. Worse was still to come. He received the devastating news that Robert Pearsall Smith hadn’t been sent home from England to America because of physical afflictions alone but because of sexual dalliances he had had with young women at his meetings. Apparently a so-called Christian therapist, who associated the baptism of the Holy Spirit with a kind of erotic thrill, had recommended to Smith that because he was sufficiently sanctified and able to understand this, he should re-enact the unity of the Bridegroom and the church, with Smith as the Lord and attractive young women as the church. At Brighton he was discovered sharing a “holy kiss” with a devoted convert. [Bratt, 96-97]
The more Kuyper thought about his Brighton experience and the higher life teaching, the more skeptical he became. He had never completely accepted the perfectionist teaching of the movement, but now he realized how important that promise of sustained victory over sin was to the movement’s popularity. He ran articles in his paper that admitted that many of the claims and the stories of success — stories that were so much a part of the movement’s appeal — were exaggerated, sometimes wildly so. He concluded: “Of the holiness of God they have much too low, and of the corruption of sin much too light, a view.” [Bratt, 102]
He was willing to say publicly, and this would have been hard for a man like Abraham Kuyper, that he had been duped.
“Indeed, we wish to state openly, with deep sorrow before God and men, that our understanding of this entire revival was partly in error and, being in error, sinful.” [Bratt, 103]
And so it was that he returned to the theology of the Christian life that he had learned from Calvin and the other Reformed fathers. His personal history has, of course, been duplicated by large numbers of Christians, learned and unlearned alike, over the past century: initial enthusiasm at the thought of the prospect of Christ, by your yielding to him, achieving total victory over sin in your heart and life with little to no effort on your part, eventually giving way to the painful reality of a life-time of necessary struggle, hard-work, and constant repentance.
All of that to introduce and place in a context Paul’s famous exhortation to Timothy and to us to be up and doing in the Christian life. True enough, Paul would never deny that without Jesus we can do nothing and achieve nothing in the Christian life. It was Paul, after all, who wrote that Christ’s strength is made perfect in our weakness! But in Paul, as in the rest of the Bible, faith in Jesus at work in the Christian life is not a yielding but a doing, not a resting but a working, not a surrender but a waging war!
Notice the terms that Paul uses to describe how Timothy is to go on in his Christian life. He is first to flee from all that is sinful. Someone who flees is someone who runs hard and fast in the opposite direction of his temptation. Then he is to pursue. Someone who pursues follows hard after something tries to catch it, grasp it, acquire it. Then he is to fight. Someone who fights engages in battle. Then he is to take hold. Someone who takes hold grabs on and won’t let go. The Christian life that Paul is teaching us here is not yielding or resting, but energetic activity.
Of course, there is nothing unique in any of this. The entire Bible teaches an activist sanctification. We are absolutely to depend upon the Lord for grace and help and power. That is why prayer is so fundamental to godliness and growth in grace. But prayer is everywhere in the Bible the foundation of obedience, of spiritual warfare, and of resisting temptation.
That was the life Paul himself lived, as we know. As much a man of prayer as he was, he writes of his own practice this way.
“…I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” [1 Cor. 9:26-27]
In Ephesians 6:12 he likens the Christian life to a wrestling match. Young people, don’t think of Wrestlemania! We’re not talking Hulk Hogan here, but real wrestling, the hard work that is required to wrestle with an opponent who is strong and skillful.
In Philippians 2, as you remember, he speaks of working out our salvation in fear and trembling. In Philippians 3 he talks about “pressing on” and “straining forward” to the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. In 2 Timothy 4 he talks about the Christian life as running a race, a metaphor employed as well in Hebrews 12. In James we read of resisting the Devil to make him flee from us, Peter urges us to purify our souls by obedience to the truth and to make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and so on. He goes on to say that if we practice these qualities we will never fall. And, as you know, we could multiply statements like that many times over.
Dr. Packer, whose own experience of higher life teaching early in his Christian life convinced him of the wisdom to be found in the activist Puritan teaching about holiness — the sort of teaching one found in John Owen’s famous works on sin and temptation, in Thomas Watson’s Heaven Taken by Storm, and later in Bishop J.C. Ryle’s classic book, Holiness — I say in a study of the book of Nehemiah, Dr. Packer gave a simple summary of the biblical technique of sanctification. I’ve always remembered this summary as a particularly helpful way of encapsulating a great deal of biblical teaching. Dr. Packer put it this way:
“Nehemiah’s rule of action seems to have been: first pray, then act, then pray again.” [A Passion for Faithfulness, 80]
In another work he elaborated that brief outline a bit further. The order he said is this:
“Pray, expect, work, thank, pray, expect, work, thank…”
It is hard to improve on anything Dr. Packer has written, but we might add another element:
“Pray, expect, work, give thanks, repent, pray, expect, work, give thanks, repent…”
To maintain such a biblically balanced approach to Christian living, to growing in holiness and obedience, has proved a perennial problem for the church. Some have fallen into a mentality of self-accomplishment, forgot their dependence upon the Lord, and, inevitably, contented themselves with something far less than real godliness because self-effort can never get you to real godliness. Others have been beguiled by higher life theories into thinking that they can achieve great heights of holiness without much effort on their part, without the fleeing, pursuing, fighting, and taking hold that Paul urges upon us here in 1 Timothy 6.
Every Christian must remain conscious of his or her dependence upon the presence and the help of Christ by his Holy Spirit, but, at the same time, he or she must actively work to obey the Lord and to serve him. That involves thinking hard about what I should say or do, summoning up the will to do what I ought to do, and persevering in doing it no matter the difficulty, indeed no matter my frequent failures. We must bring to bear on our own consciences the fear of the Lord, the reality of judgment, to be sure — we will be held accountable for the lives we live; there is greater or lesser reward in heaven depending upon the faithfulness of our lives — but, even more, we must ponder, daily, our immeasurable debt to God for his great love, to Christ for his terrible sacrifice for us, and to the Holy Spirit for the connection he has established between us and God and eternal life. It is ours to remember and to respond in our hearts and lives to the privilege of having God as our father, Christ as our savior, and the Holy Spirit as our advocate and helper.
Paul here sets before us Jesus as an example of this Christian life we are to live. No one was as dependent upon his Father’s help and the Spirit’s presence as Jesus was. It was for this reason that he was so much a man of prayer. But no one worked harder to obey and serve the Lord than he did. His was a life of immense and unflagging effort: mental, physical, and spiritual. We are to be like him: always looking up and always bending every effort to obey and to serve the Lord and to grow in knowledge, love, purity, and every form of obedience.
As in salvation as a whole so in sanctification, one of its parts: to say that God does half and man does half is wrong; to say that God does all and man does all is right. So, take to heart the Lord’s promises:
- And, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age;
- Call upon me and I will answer;
- Delight yourself in me and I will give you the desires of your heart;
- He who honors me I will honor;
- Who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all, how shall he not shall together with him freely, freely give us all things;
- Whatever you ask in my name, it will be given to you; ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you; surely the Lord will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.
- I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me;
- His strength is made perfect in our weakness;
And then with those promises resting in your heart and ringing in your ear get going: flee, pursue, fight, and take hold and don’t stop until your last breath.