The Lord's Day Morning
November 14, 2004
I Timothy 6:20-21
“Guard What God Has Given You”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to First Timothy, chapter six, and the twentieth verse. We have been working our way through First Timothy. It's the first of the Pastoral Epistles: I Timothy, II Timothy, and Titus are those pastoral letters written by Paul to early churches in Asia Minor to two young ministers, those who were faithful in planting and establishing churches with the Apostle Paul.
But we have said all along in our study of I Timothy that this is a book that is clearly not simply descriptive of how things were in the early church–it doesn't give us a mere historical picture of what life would have been like in the early church–it's designed to show us how we are to live and minister together in the local church today. And that theme runs throughout the Pastoral Epistles: not only I Timothy, but II Timothy and Titus, and we are going to go next into a study of Titus, and then come back to II Timothy, to follow something of the chronological order of these letters (II Timothy being the final letter of the Apostle Paul before the Lord gave him the privilege of being a martyr for the Lord Jesus Christ).
And today we've come to the very final verses. It was Paul's habit to sign his letters so that the people of the church who were receiving these letters would know that it was Paul who was writing to them. Typically a secretary would have been employed, and Paul would have dictated the words of the letter, and then at the end of the writing of the letter, Paul would have taken the pen in his own hand to sign it himself. But what Paul often did, when he did this, was give some final phrase or sentence of exhortation to the people to whom he was writing, and that's what we have before us today. Paul has taken up the pen in his own hand. The secretary has written exactly what Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit had told the secretary to write down, but now Paul in his own hand is going to give one final exhortation to Timothy and to us, and then he's going to pronounce a benediction. And we're going to look at that today.
Before we do, look at verses 17-19, because the last time we were together we were looking at Paul's exhortation to wealthy Christians, and we acknowledged that all of us qualify for that particular title. We have been exceedingly blessed by God. And what does Paul say? Well, he first of all tells us not to be prideful because of what He has given us in terms of our worldly wealth, and he tells us not to fix our hope on that worldly wealth. It can go away, and if our hope and security is in that wealth being permanent, then we’ll never have hope and security in this world.
And positively, Paul goes on to say that in contrast to fixing our hope on present wealth, we should instead fix our hope on God, and remember that everything that we have comes from God, and use all the resources that He has given us to do good, and not simply for selfish purposes; and strive to be rich in good works; and cultivate our generosity, so that we not only have an attitude of generosity, but we have a practice of generosity; and lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven, and not on this earth; and take hold of real life, not that which merely appears to be the life; or [what] those who pander materialism to us would say is the life, but the real life, which is in Jesus Christ.
And in those three verses, he's given very helpful exhortations to those of us who have been entrusted with more resources than most Christians have had in the history of the world.
And then he comes to this final word. So, before we come to this final word, let's look to Him in prayer and ask for His help.
Our Lord and our God, we thank You for Your word. We confess that we sometimes take it for granted. We are coming to the end of the study of a book of the Bible. We do this frequently here, and so perhaps we think that it is not anything of any great occasion, but there are very few people around this world who have ever had the privilege of meeting together Lord's Day after Lord's Day and studying through a book of the Bible. Heavenly Father, what a glorious privilege it is that we have, to hear Your word Sunday after Sunday; to hear Your word proclaimed Lord's Day after Lord's Day. We pray that we would not take for granted one moment, one iota of the privilege we have. We know this is Your word; You have revealed Yourself in it; You have revealed Your will in it; You have revealed our sin to us in it; and You have revealed to us our Savior. We pray, O God, that You would reveal these things to us today, for we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is the word of God; hear it.
“O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’–which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith. Grace be with you.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, inerrant and authoritative word. May He add His blessing to it.
In this brief sentence and benediction, the Apostle Paul sums up in two phrases all his concern for the integrity of the gospel, and all of his horror of the danger of deviating from the truth of God's word. And he gives an exhortation not simply to Timothy, we will see, but to us in this passage: an exhortation that involves four things:
Paul calls on Timothy to retain the truth;
To refrain from dabbling and arguing and speculating with false teaching;
To realize the danger of false teaching;
And, to rely on the grace of God.
Those four things in these two little phrases…I'd like to spend some time with you this morning looking at those exhortations.
I. Retain the truth.
In verse 20, Paul says, “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you….” There Paul says, ‘Timothy, retain the truth which I have entrusted to you.’ He's telling Timothy that he has the responsibility to value, and protect, and defend, and retain the truth of the Christian faith. Paul is serious about orthodoxy. He's serious about us holding on to those great truths of the Christian faith which have been expounded through Jesus and His apostles, and have been enscripturated in the word of God.
What is this…the fifth or sixth time in this letter that Paul has stopped to exhort Timothy to hold fast to sound teaching, and to oppose false teaching in the church?
But you know, there's another way you see how serious Paul is about retaining hold of the Christian faith, and it's in the very way he addresses Timothy. You notice how he speaks to Timothy? He speaks the little word “O” in front of “Timothy”. “O Timothy…” he has picked up the pen himself now. This isn't the secretary transcribing Paul's words, this is Paul himself: “O Timothy.” It's filled with emotion and exhortation, and command. He's exclaiming, and repeating his concern that Timothy would hold fast to the truth, and he says to him, “Guard what has been entrusted to you.”
And immediately what comes to your mind is the question, “Well, what has been entrusted to Timothy? What is this deposit that Timothy is supposed to guard?” Well, of course, in this book already Paul has talked about the gifts of the Spirit that had been entrusted to Timothy. He's been given certain abilities; those things have been entrusted to him, but that doesn't seem to be what Paul has in view here. Instead, Paul has clearly in view here Timothy holding fast to the truth of the Christian faith, not merely to his spiritual endowments, but to the very truth of the Christian faith.
Let me demonstrate that for you. Turn forward just 14 verses in your Bibles to
2 Timothy 1:13, and look at what Paul says there:
“Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.”
You see the same language that is being repeated there in II Timothy. Paul is calling on Timothy to hold fast to the sum of religion and sound doctrine, to the standard of sound words that he had received from Paul; to hold fast to the total truth content of the Christian faith summarized in the preaching of the apostles. And Paul is saying, “Timothy, value that truth. Protect that truth. Defend that truth. Retain that truth.”
You see, Timothy didn't invent this faith. He received it. It was first passed on to him from his grandmother and from his mother, and Paul taught this truth to him. Timothy didn't invent this as he was going along. He had received a message. He had received truth from God, and Paul is saying, “Timothy, hold onto it.”
One of the early church fathers, in commenting on this passage and teaching the church from it, asks the question, “What is meant here by ‘the deposit’; what has been entrusted to you?” And he answers this way:
“…That which is committed to you, not that which is invented by you. The deposit is that which you have received, not that which you have devised. It is not a thing of your wit, but of your learning. It is not a thing of private assumption, but a public teaching. It is not a thing brought forth from you, but a thing brought to you. You are not its author, but its keeper; you are not its leader, but a follower.”
You see, the Christian message is not something which the church's minister works out for himself, or is entitled to add to. It is a divine revelation which has been committed to his care, and which is his bounden duty to pass on unimpaired to others. And Paul is saying, ‘Timothy, you didn't invent this message, but your job is to guard it. Hold onto it; retain it,” Paul says.
And notice how he tells him to treat it. “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you.” The word deposit, or that which has been entrusted to you, meant in Paul and Timothy's day something that was a treasured possession entrusted to someone else.
Can you imagine a scene on a battlefield, where two buddies who have been fighting side by side are speaking to one another. One of them is dying; he has been mortally wounded. From his pocket he pulls a watch, a family heirloom which has been in his family for five generations, and he says to his friend, “If you get back home, take this to my mother. This watch has been in my family for five generations, and I cannot take it home to her. This is an entrusted heirloom, a possession–take care of it.”
Paul is saying to Timothy, “You have been entrusted with something far more precious than a family heirloom. You have been entrusted with the word of salvation, with the word of truth, with the very revelation of God; so, Timothy, value it; protect it; defend it; retain it; hold on to it.” And I want to say, my friends, it is easy for us to shortchange the significance of our having been entrusted with the truth of God from a series of faithful ministers and elders in this congregation for 170 years, and we should not undervalue it, because until the truth is deeply valued by each one of us, we will not protect it. And if we do not protect it, it will not be in danger, we will be in danger. God's truth will endure. It is truth unchanged and unchanging. It is unconquerable truth. It will endure when the worlds are not more. But if we do not value it and protect it, we
are in danger of losing it. And so, Paul says not just to Timothy, but to you and to me, we have to value, and protect, and defend and retain the truth of the Christian faith, which has been entrusted to us.
II. Refrain from world talk.
But Paul doesn't stop there. He goes on to say in verse 20 that we are to refrain from something. He says, “Timothy, you’re to guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’.” He tells Timothy, in other words, that he is to refrain from being entangled in empty and speculative theological chatter. He's to avoid this kind of empty and speculative teaching. He's to avoid this kind of vain speaking, theological or otherwise.
Now, it's very interesting: the people who were propounding this ‘new and deep and spiritual teaching’ in the Christian church do doubt thought of themselves as exceedingly wise: wiser than Timothy; wiser than Paul; and, certainly, wiser than mere Christians in the congregation. They were intelligent! They had insights that none other could grasp! They knew truth that nobody could understand, and yet….
Do you notice the four qualities that Paul uses to describe what they no doubt thought as profound teaching? He calls it worldly, empty, contradictory, and false. He says, ‘Let me tell you about this ‘wisdom’, this ‘knowledge’ that is being taught by false teachers. It's worldly. It doesn't come from God, it's worldly. It comes from this world. And it's not only worldly, it's empty. It claims to be profound and weighty, but it's a vapor–it's vain, it's empty. There's nothing to it, and it's contradictory. It contradicts the clear teaching of God's word.
III. Refrain from false knowledge.
And, it's false knowledge. Paul isn't mad at it because it's knowledge. No, he's mad at it because it's false knowledge. He's not saying, “Well, we shouldn't get hung up about what you believe, it's just how you live.” That's not what he's saying. He's saying that what it being claimed is wrong; it's false knowledge. And Paul is telling Timothy that these types of things must be avoided. The minister of the gospel must not become entangled in studying, and following after, and discussing, and contemplating all these opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’. Timothy, he's saying, ignore that out of existence. Don't spend a minute of your time meditating on these “new truths” that are being brought in opposition to the sound teaching of God's word.
And then he says, realize something. Look at verse 21. Paul says that some have claimed to have this false knowledge, and even though they've professed faith in Jesus Christ, they've gone astray. Look at what he says in verse 21: “…which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith.” You see what Paul is saying. Paul is saying that there are some people in this congregation who have professed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. They've professed to believe the Christian truths which had been taught by Paul and the apostles. And yet, because they became entangled in these false teachings, because they began to stray, in curiosity embracing these false teachings, they had gone astray from the faith.
You see, Paul is saying that bad theology leads to spiritual destruction. And he's saying, “Timothy, the reason that I warn you against false teaching is because I'm concerned for the lives and the souls of men and women, and boys and girls.” This is not the first time that Paul has given this warning, but isn't it urgent? It's in his own hand, it's the last thing that he's going to say in this letter to Timothy and to his church, and he's saying false teaching will lead to spiritual disaster. And that's why we need to retain the truth and refrain from becoming entangled in the study and the curious discussion of these false teachings, and we need to realize that this false teaching leads to spiritual disaster.
IV. Rely on God's grace.
But Paul's not done. If you look at verse 21, Paul concludes with a benediction: “Grace be with you”, in which he calls on Timothy to rely upon the grace of God. Indeed, he calls upon the whole congregation to rely upon the grace of God, to depend upon God's unmerited and strengthening favor. “Grace be with you.” This little phrase indicates the greatest blessing of them all: God's favor to us through Jesus Christ; his blessing on those who are undeserving of that blessing, purchased at the cost of the death of His own Son.
This grace Paul pronounces on Timothy. Why? Because for the ongoing life of the believer, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is essential. There is nothing that we are able to do apart from the grace of God, and there is nothing that God cannot do through us by His own grace. And so Paul, even in pronouncing this blessing, is reminding Timothy and that congregation (and you and me) that we are always dependent upon the grace of God. That's very important for us to remember in this season of this life of this congregation. We have tremendous opportunities and challenges for ministry and service before us, but we must be dependent upon the grace of God, because we can do absolutely nothing without it.
But notice what Paul says: “Grace be with you.” Now, you can't pick it up in your English translation, but he's not saying “Grace be with you (singular), Timothy.” He's saying here, “Grace be with …y’all!” It's a plural! Paul's speaking this benediction on the whole congregation. It is yet another indication that this book has two audiences in mind. It has Timothy in mind, the elders in mind; but it has the congregation of the people of God in mind. And this blessing is not simply on Timothy, it's on the whole congregation of the people of God, because in the realities of life in this fallen world, and of life and ministry in an imperfect church, the only hope we have is the grace of God.
Paul calls on Timothy and his congregation, and us, to retain the truth, to hold fast to it; to refrain from dabbling in worldly speculation and false teaching; to realize that false teaching will lead sheep over the edge into destruction; and to be utterly dependent, as we hold fast to that truth, on the only thing that can hold us up, which is the grace of God.
And what a rich blessing it is! The Aaronic priests, you remember, in the Old Testament had a blessing for the people of God: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.” The Lord lifting up His face and making it to shine upon you, and being gracious to you, is giving you His favor. And receiving the Lord's favor creates the reality of the enjoyment of peace; not cessation of physical warfare in this world, but peace with God, reconciliation with Him wherein we receive all the benefits which He has intended for us in His mercy.
And when Paul says “Grace be with you” he's reminding you of that gift which God has given to all those who trust in Jesus Christ, and he's reminding us that that message of grace is not just for those who are as yet unbelievers. It's a message for us, too. Just as those who are apart from Christ need the grace of God if they would be saved, so we need the grace of God if we will live the Christian life. It's the same message: rely on God's grace. May the Lord bless His word. Let's pray.
Our Lord and our God, we thank You for the mercy that You have given us in Jesus Christ, and for the truth which You have committed to us in Your word. Grant that we would hold on to that truth, and that we would rely on Your mercy and grace. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Grace be with you. Amen.