Today’s New Testament lesson could not more pertinent for contemporary Christians. These verses come as the conclusion to the Apostle Paul’s letter to a young pastor in Ephesus, Timothy. The epistle is filled with encouragements, exhortations, and warnings of how to go about conducting ministry. Paul left Timothy with some pointed instruction to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness. These are the qualities that ought to inform every practice in the church and the Christian life. Paul also goes on to say that he entrusted Timothy with a sacred trust, to guard the message of faith in Christ given to him. This good news of forgiveness and grace through Jesus must be continually upheld because there will always be others distorting and diluting this wondrous salvation.
These two exhortations, to both pursue and to guard need to be held together at all times. To only pursue virtuous practices apart from guarding the message will cause slow erosion and compromise of the faith entrusted to us – to only guard the gospel without any attention to the pursuit of godly virtues will lead to ornery and combative attitudes and behavior that completely undermines the very gospel we seek to uphold.
So, then, we must fight the good fight of the faith keeping in mind what and why we are fighting. We are battling for the hearts, minds, and souls of people who need the life-giving message of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. We are to carefully apply the poultice of grace to the incredible need of the world’s people, using all the virtues of righteousness and godliness at our disposal. Badgering, bullying, and bludgeoning people with the truth are unbiblical because it ignores the virtuous practices that are integral to faith. On the other hand, love without careful gospel proclamation misses a central thrust of Paul’s letter to Timothy.
We are to make sure we are fighting for the right things, through always upholding the faith delivered to us through sacred Scripture, and through always using love and gentleness in everything we say and do. Pursue and guard; think about both words today as you interact with a variety of people, and see what God does in and through you.
King Jesus, Lord of all, help me to keep your commandments in ways that are consistent with the gospel of grace so that your church is encouraged and your world is blessed with both the message and the medium. Amen.