Today’s read is Paul’s first letter to his young son in the faith, Timothy. Paul has been released from prison in Rome and takes this opportunity to give advice to a young pastor. He has left Timothy to pastor the church at Ephesus, and his letter is full of practical advice for those leading in ministry but has great wisdom for all believers as we pursue personal spiritual maturity.
As I read through this letter, I found myself marking two things. First, references to falling away or abandoning the faith, and second, the words Paul stressed that keep us committed and devoted to the faith.
In 4:1, Paul tells us “the Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” In 1:18-20, some have “suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith.” In 3:7, Paul warns that new converts are susceptible to “fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.” In 6:6-10, teaching on the love of money and pursuit of wealth, some have “wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” In 6:20-21, some professed “opposing ideas” of what is “falsely called knowledge” and have “departed from the faith.”
I think it’s pretty clear that it is possible for a person who once believed the truth, the gospel, to turn away from it. One thing I see is that it happens “passively.”
Shipwreck. Life gets hard, and you can’t navigate through it.
Falling. Stumbling over things you don’t understand or don’t like.
Wandering. Straying away…staying away.
Following. Mindlessly going along with wrong thinking or actions.
If you’re curious about some of the things that were hindering the believers, read 1:8-11. Paul mentions a few of those things that are “taught by deceiving spirits and demons,” – things that are “contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel.” They include but are not limited to, murder, sexual immorality, and homosexuality. Isn’t it interesting that those are the very things that are so prevalent in our culture today, and also are issues that the professing church is struggling with?
In contrast, listen to the words Paul uses when instructing Timothy how to remain faithful:
Fight the battle well.
Holding on to faith and a good conscience.
Keep hold of (truth).
Train yourself to be godly.
Labor and strive.
Devote yourself (to Scripture, preaching, teaching).
Do not neglect (spiritual gifts).
Give yourself wholly.
Watch your life and doctrine closely.
Flee (from pursuing wealth).
Fight the good fight of the faith.
Take hold of the eternal life.
Guard what has been entrusted to you.
All these words convey the exact opposite of passiveness. If we want to remain faithful and live godly, purposeful lives that please God, we must pursue it. There is no standing still in our Christian faith. Either we will move forward in spiritual maturity, or we will slide back into worldly thinking and ungodliness, and find ourselves saying, thinking, and doing things we never thought we would. Our witness for Christ will be shipwrecked, and as Paul has referenced before, God may allow our physical lives to be destroyed in order to save our souls.
What’s the takeaway? Let’s stop allowing the enemy to distract and hinder us. Let’s pursue Christ with intentionality, and experience all of the spiritual blessings He desires for us. I don’t want to slink into heaven, ashamed and regretful for a wasted life. I want to enter with a heart full of joy, anxious to meet the Savior who has sustained me in this life. How about you?