1 Timothy 3: 16; 6: 3-11, 17; 4: 1-6
2 Timothy 3: 1-5, 10-15
I felt led, dear brethren, to say a little about piety, but I want to say something first in general about these two letters to Timothy. Most will know that they were written to a younger man, and there are many younger men here this afternoon; and they were written by the apostle Paul, a man who on any view - even in the view of those who hated him - had given his life to the interests of Christ and the interests of Christianity. He did not have the domestic happiness that most of us have - he had no wife or family, or permanent home or local brethren. In 2 Corinthians 11 he lists his suffering, under pressure, as though he otherwise would not have mentioned it. (But we do have it mentioned, and we get it with intent from the Spirit of God). What this beloved servant went through, including things such as, “a night and a day I passed in the deep ... in perils of rivers, in perils of robbers...” and receiving a scourging, v 23-27. We were reminded in the meetings nearby, a little while back, of the cost at which the testimony has reached this part of the world. I believe the Spirit of God would underline that, that others have laboured, and we this afternoon are privileged to enter into their labours, John 4: 38. We are not called upon to undergo what heunderwent. What the apostle, and indeed the twelve as well, had as their mission was pioneer work. In the beginning of the Acts, Christ having gone up on high and the Spirit having come, you see the Spirit’s thrust in the testimony. First of all, primarily through Peter, the testimony went first to the Jew. The Lord’s commission to him was to feed His sheep and to feed His lambs (John 21: 15, 17), and great blessing attended the labours of that servant of God; but great suffering attended them also. And, of course, he undertook that work with a peculiar discipline from the Lord upon him. He had been told by the Lord that he would live to be an old man but that his life would not end naturally; he would not die, as men say, of natural causes, but his life would end in martyrdom, John 21: 18, 19. You see him in prison, with his execution set for the next day, restful because the Lord had told him that he would live to be an old man, Acts 12: 6. The circumstances made it look as though that was not going to happen, but it did. He laboured through great suffering and under a peculiar discipline from the Lord in order that the Jewish brethren might receive the glad tidings, and the other apostles did too.
But then you come to the apostle Paul and he was peculiarly sent to the nations, to the gentiles. (All this is known by most here, but perhaps not all, which is why I go over it.) He was sent to the gentiles and to Europe; and into the part of the world where we are. He too was engaged in pioneer work. Whereas Peter was combating the religious pride of the Jew, Paul was confronted with heathendom and idolatry and all sorts of licentious practices that were associated with that. He was securing assembly material. But the Lord had imposed upon him too a peculiar discipline. “For I will shew to him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9: 16); the Lord showed him that. A man who, in his time, had persecuted the assembly of God. One thinks of the way that he writes about that and the grief that that must have been to him as he more than any came to learn what the assembly was to the heart of Christ. He speaks of his intelligence in the mystery (Eph 3: 4), and must have thought that that was, at one time, what he was set against. In the ways of God - inscrutable and unfathomable in their wisdom - he was shown how much he must suffer for the Lord's Name’s sake. And that did not put him off; the effect of the love of Christ upon him was such that he devoted his life to Christ. He says, “having judged this: that one died for all, then all have died; and he died for all, that they who live should no longer live to themselves, but to him who died for them and has been raised”, 2 Cor 5: 14, 15. You get a glimpse, I think, in those words, not only of what is helpful for us, but of the prevailing principle in the life of that apostle. He had judged this that Christ had died for him, and he was no longer going to live to himself, but he was going to live to Him who had died for him and has been raised. Now I think that very simply is the principle of piety, as a principle of living, that his life was not going to be with self as an object any more, but his object in his life was going to be Christ. And it was going to be Christ whatever the consequences. He was prepared to commit himself to have Christ as his object and to leave the consequences of that to Him. This is the basis, dear brethren, on which the testimony has reached this part of the world.
Now as he takes up his pen to write to this young man, Paul has in prospect, particularly, and more particularly in the second epistle, the prospect that he is going to pass off the scene, and the question clearly pressed upon him as to how this young man, his protégé, would manage in his absence. More pressing was the question how what he had devoted his life to here was to be maintained, in view of the increasing cloud of opposition to it. What you find running through these letters is the urgent appeal that there might be personal godliness and holiness with Timothy in his life. Indeed, he was not only to be so personally, but as he says in 1 Timothy 4: 6, “Laying these things before the brethren, thou wilt be a good minister of Christ Jesus”. That is, he was not only to be personally pious but he was to lay that before the brethren. He could not very well lay it before the brethren if he was not so himself personally. So there is a great deal in the epistle as to his personal holiness. He is urged, for example, to keep himself pure. Not simply to rely on others, or even to rely on God, in a sense. He would need divine help as we all do, but the responsibility to keep himself pure is pressed upon him, 1 Tim 5: 22.
Now he speaks to Timothy (especially in the second epistle) in view of his departure and that is what made me think of the peculiar appropriateness of this to our own day; because Paul was the last of the apostles, 1 Cor 15: 8. “He has given some apostles”, (Eph 4: 11); how thankful we are for them! But Timothy was not an apostle. He was left to occupy the ground that had been won. The pioneer work had been done by others at tremendous cost, and the question now is not exactly the pioneer work. The question is whether there is the heart to maintain what has been won at such cost, or is it all to be surrendered? That is the question, and the Spirit of God draws attention in His faithfulness and in His grace to the fact that there are great forces at work to destroy what has been won. He speaks of the mystery of piety as we have read about it in the reading. Each of those statements in verse 16 is profound. There is a depth of meaning in them. They deserve reflection, each of those statements in verse 16, and they are spoken of as the mystery of piety, what is known to piety. It is what is not known, or taken account of, or given much credence, in the world but is known to faith, that God has been manifested here in flesh in the person of Jesus, and justified in the Spirit, and seen of angels. How amazing that is. It has been preached among the nations: that had gone on, and he is urging Timothy elsewhere to “do the work of an evangelist”, that the work might go on - “believed on in the world, has been received up in glory”. Received up in glory.
That is the great end, it was the end for him and it is the great end for the church, that it will be received up in glory. It may be despised here and rejected, but it is appreciated there. Peter says of Christ, “cast away indeed as worthless by men, but with God chosen, precious”, 1 Pet 2: 4. The Lord Jesus is spoken of as the pious man, “Jehovah hath set apart the pious man for himself” (Ps 4: 3) and it says of Jesus that He was “heard because of his piety” (Heb 5: 7), or “in that he feared” (AV). He was heard. How affecting it is to think of One who said, “Lo, I come (in the roll of the book it is written of me) to do, O God, thy will”, Heb 10: 7. A committal was made to complete the will of God in the knowledge that that will would involve the sacrifice of Himself - the laying down of His own life and the shedding of His life’s blood. But then the Spirit speaks expressly that some shall apostatise from the faith. I just want to draw attention to the grace of that, that the Spirit of God should protest against that. It is not His usual work. His usual service is to draw attention to Christ, to speak of Him, to receive of the things of Christ and to show them to those who love Him, and to announce to them what is coming, John 16: 13, 14. Only the Spirit of God can do that. Only the Spirit of God can announce what is coming. Many people try to speak about the future but - I say this for the benefit of those who are younger here - the great hallmark of the Bible, this book that you are greatly privileged to hold in your hands, one proof that it is the word of God, is that it contains prophecy. You will find in it prophecies that have been fulfilled already, and yet they were foretold long before they took place; and you will find prophecies there that are awaiting fulfilment but are just as reliable as the ones that have already been fulfilled. The Lord Jesus spoke of His own death. He spoke of the manner of it, and it had been spoken of by prophets long before. The detail of His sufferings had been spoken of by prophets long, long before. “They gave me vinegar to drink”, Ps 69: 21. “They parted my garments among themselves, and on my vesture they cast lots”, John 19: 24, Ps 22: 18. The Spirit of God goes to great lengths in relation to the life of Jesus, and particularly to His sufferings, to show how every detail that He had indited so long before was fulfilled. What a precious thing to have the Scriptures in our hands. What a precious thing to have a divine Person here, alerting us as to the course of the testimony and influences abroad that would seek to destroy its character beyond recovery.
And so He draws attention to these apostasies that would come in. The particular ones that he is speaking of here are the forbidding - the forbidding to marry, the forbidding of certain foods. It is well to remember that some people advertise, or advocate, vegetarianism. If people choose to eat vegetables and not meat, that is their choice. There may be a medical reason why they do it, but to teach that it is wrong to eat meat is error. We want to be clear about that. It is one of the apostasies that the Scriptures speak of here. Things that God has given can never harm you; what comes from Him is infinitely benevolent. Everything that God gives to man is for his good. It was so in the law, it was so creatorially in the Garden of Eden, and it remains the same, that every good and every perfect gift comes from Him. Nothing that God would give you will harm you. What man may do to it may corrupt it, may be damaging, but even that can be met by this scripture that says that the very food we eat “is sanctified by God’s word and freely addressing him.” That is comforting in a day when persons are concerned about climate change, and pollution in the environment, and damage to the food chain, so much so that you begin to wonder if anything is safe to eat at all. You come back to this scripture, that in simple piety you can take what God puts within your reach, in the knowledge that as you turn to Him in thankfulness for it, it is “sanctified by God’s word and freely addressing him”. How simple Christianity is, is it not? How simple it becomes! How complicated life is, but how simple the life of piety is. One feels the challenge of it for oneself in speaking of it, the responsibility, indeed, in speaking of such a thing that it might mark us more. It has been said before that former generations were more marked by this feature perhaps than we are. Generations that suffered material deprivation, generations that, for example, went through the war years and wondered where their food was coming from, learnt to trust and rely upon God and found resource in the most unlikely ways and avenues. Needs were met in the most unexpected ways. The result was that, through very real experience through years of adversity, God was proved. God says in the scripture, “prove me now”, Mal 3: 10. He invites us, dear brethren, to put Him to the test as to whether He is able. He says in 2 Corinthians 6: 17, 18, “come out from the midst of them … and I will be to you for a Father, and ye shall be to me for sons and daughters”. Now that is not teaching, as I understand it, the great truth of sonship. That is teaching that if we come out from what is obnoxious to God, and we throw ourselves upon the mercy of God in simple trust upon Him, He undertakes to be a Father to us. The great feature of a father is that he is responsible for his household. He is responsible to put the food on the table and to pay the bills, so that the water is hot, and there is heating when it is cold and that everything runs smoothly. It is his responsibility to provide. Children are not wondering where the meal is coming from or if the heating is going to work; father is there, it is his responsibility to do it. You think of God coming down to a simple figure like that and saying, 'if you come out' - and you think of Jewish believers coming out of Judaism, facing complete isolation from those upon whom they might previously have relied. God says, “I will be to you for a Father, and ye shall be to me for sons and daughters”. He will provide what is needed. He might not provide always what is wanted, fathers do not always do that. Many requests are made of fathers. They do not always provide what is wanted, but a father worthy of the name will provide what is needed as far as he is able to. The Lord Jesus said that of the Father of heaven, He said “If therefore ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much rather shall the Father who is of heaven give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?”, Luke 11: 13. He spoke of fathers. If your son asks for an egg would you give him a scorpion, or a loaf of bread would you give him a stone, v 11, 12? Which father would do that? You would do the very best within your ability for your children. I speak with the greatest reverence - you think of the ability of the Father who is of heaven to bless, “no good thing will he withhold”, Ps 84: 11. These things are written for us in the scriptures, poor untrusting creatures that we are, that we might be prepared to let go the moorings and cast ourselves upon the love that “marked us out beforehand for adoption ... to himself” (Eph 1: 5) and has eternally “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ”, v 3. What a God He is! And so Paul speaks about piety that it is not on the line of false holiness, as some would say, a great professing system that lays great store on celibacy. We have seen humbly - how humbling it is to see it - the great exposure of moral corruption in that system. A false holiness, or a system that would promote the rejection of mercies freely given of God. Piety takes what is provided of God with thankfulness and blesses Him for it.
But then in the passages that I have read there is a warning against covetousness. There is a warning against the power of money. There must be something, dear brethren, for us to reflect upon as to that, in the days in which we are, when we are not in the war years, nor in the years of material deprivation. We are in very different times, times of relative plenty, economically, and there is not only much more available to have but there is the means, generally speaking, to have it. That can be a very pernicious influence. You read about the rich man who said, “Thou hast much good things laid by for many years”, Luke 12: 19. He spoke to his soul in those terms, “much good things laid by for many years” and he was going to knock down his barns and build greater so that there would be even more, and the word is, “Fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee; and whose shall be what thou hast prepared?”, Luke 12: 20. It is a reminder, as far as material things are concerned, that we can be taken from them or they can be taken from us, and the question remains, 'What have you got?' But the great principle of the world in which we live, the great lie abroad, is that the more you have the happier you will be. There never was a greater fallacy than that. I have had occasion to meet persons, some of them who have wealth beyond the imagination of many of us, and have discovered the misery and unhappiness that lies behind it. Do not envy the rich of this world, they are not to be envied: “piety is profitable”, it says, “for everything”, 1 Tim 4: 8. “Bodily exercise is profitable for a little, but piety is profitable for everything”. It is a great principle of life now, and it has “promise of life, of the present one, and of that to come”.
But there is a warning in chapter 6 for two classes of persons. The first is those who desire to be rich. You see, I may not be rich but I might have a very great desire to be rich and my energies may be devoted to that, to acquiring more, to getting a bigger and better house or car or job or whatever. There is a warning as to that, and the lie that the apostle is directly meeting here is not that the more you have the happier you will be, but that of those who would actually teach that material gain is the end of piety. You see, that thought had some credibility in the old dispensation where the blessing of God was reflected in flocks and herds and land. In the old dispensation that was rightly recognised as a blessing from God, a sign of His blessing indeed, for persons who dwelt here on the earth and whose outlook was limited to an earthly inheritance. But the warning is that those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many unwise and hurtful lusts. I speak carefully, but we have had examples of this amongst us for us to take account of. I do not go into that, but the Spirit of God not only warns us of these things in His word but we sometimes see examples of it. Persons who, through the pursuit of riches, have pierced themselves with many sorrows. And so it says, ”the love of money”. It is not that the money itself is evil but it is the love of it and the love of it comes very near to us. I venture to say it comes very near to us when we are younger. There is a great pressure to get on in the world and to acquire, and a man is measured in the world by what he has materially. He is not measured like that in God’s world. Pre-eminence in God’s world is based on moral worth. I remember Mr Walkinshaw saying once that in man’s world public prominence and moral corruption go hand in hand, but in God’s world pre-eminence is based on moral worth and that is why Jesus will be supreme. God will have no one else to be supreme in His world because of the moral excellence and worth of that blessed One.
The next exhortation is to those who are rich, and in the ways of God there are persons who have been enriched materially and have used their wealth and means for the support of His testimony. There are persons who I suspect we would be surprised if we knew (perhaps it is just as well we do not know) how much they have devoted materially for the support of the testimony, and to the support in times past of the Lord’s servants, many of whom were in need. Persons of means provided rooms in which meetings could be held and for the needs of those who would travel to them.
All this activity, as we saw in the reading, is characteristic of God’s house, not only the ministry for souls but the ministry that goes on for the bodies and circumstances of the saints. In the ways of God there are such, but such are enjoined “not to be high-minded”, not to think that their wealth entitles them to what they otherwise would not be entitled to, “not to be high-minded nor to trust on the uncertainty of riches; but in the God who affords us all things richly for our enjoyment”.
I only read that other passage in the second epistle because the apostle goes over his own conduct to his child. Timothy knew what Paul had taught but he knew also the life that lay behind it. We often speak of Paul as the great apostle (and he was), and of the greatness of his gift and the greatness of his apostleship, but the scripture does not just give us that side. It gives us the character of the man to whom that apostleship was given, and he lists here things that were well within Timothy’s knowledge; what sufferings happened to him, and he lists the places. We can read about them in the Acts, “what persecutions I endured; and the Lord delivered me out of all”. What an encouragement for this man who was young, which could have been a handicap to him: he was to conduct himself so that his youth should not be despised, but he was to commit himself to the maintenance in simple piety and godliness of what had been entrusted to him, and the ground that had been won at such cost. He should be free from inhibition and a false modesty through his youth, but equally he was not to be high minded. He is reminded that the maintenance of these things would involve courage. Paul says that “God has not given us a spirit of cowardice”, 2 Tim 1: 7. If I am marked by that, God has not given it to me - a spirit of cowardice. The apostle is able to point to a life that this man knew and the detail of it, where he had been courageous in the testimony.
I think it comes down to us in our time, dear brethren, as to whether the great heritage that has come down to us is to be maintained. And whether there is going to be committal to personal holiness and devotion, and a forsaking of personal interest and advancement materially, in order that what is precious to Christ might be held inviolate until the Lord comes. He lists a great long list of ugly features in 2 Timothy 3 that ends with persons being “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God”, v 4.
You see, in days of material stringency there is probably not the opportunity or the time so much for the pursuit of pleasure, but in days of material prosperity there is great opportunity for self pleasing. “Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God”. Be honest about it in the presence of God! You have free time, a few leisure moments? How are they spent? Which way will the pendulum swing? Will I reach out for pleasure, self pleasing, or will I turn my attention in the few moments that are given to me to the things of God? Let each of us be honest about it. We know our failings, the Spirit of God knows them too, but He is here to help us, and if, like me, the pendulum has often swung with you towards self pleasing ask the Spirit of God to give you strength to resist it. As you reach out for what will edify your soul, you will find that the Spirit of God is capable of lifting you in your soul to another realm altogether. The exhortation to this man is to lay hold of eternal life. Do not just read in the Bible that, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes on him may not perish, but have life eternal”, (John 3: 16) but “lay hold of eternal life” (1 Tim 6: 12), for yourself. I think the suggestion is that the enjoyment of it in the soul will eclipse anything else that is on offer. “Lay hold”, he says, “of eternal life”. He warns us as to being “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God”, and then, “having a form of piety but denying the power of it”.
I do feel, dear brethren, that that is the risk that the Spirit of God would alert us to, the outward form. What we speak of sometimes (although it is not a scriptural expression) as to the assembly calendar, the round of meetings, the form is all there. But what about the power of it, the inward communion with God as God is sought and found and proved in the daily details of life? May we be stimulated, dear brethren, on these lines. For His Name’s sake.
30th June 2007