Fleeing and Pursing
1 Timothy 6:11

     By Paul Robison

Plato made this observation: “Conversion is not implanting the eyes, for they already exist; but it is giving them direction, which they do not have” (Plato in Rowell).  There's an interesting story about Albert Einstein: “He boarded a train, and everyone is his car recognized him and knew who he was.  Prior to the train leaving the station, the conductor made his routine inspection to ensure that each passenger had their tickets.  The conductor noticed Einstein fumbling through his things, in his pockets, and papers.  When the conductor reached him, Einstein admitted that he had lost his ticket and could not remember his stop! "That's no problem Mr. Einstein," the conductor replied, "we know who you are."  Einstein responded, "I know who I am too, but I do not know where I am going" (Bowen)!  Knowing your direction can be very important.  Just ask the 75 convicts who tried to escape from Mexico's Satillo Prison.  “In November, 1975, they started digging a secret tunnel designed to bring them up at the other side of the prison's wall.  On April 18, 1976, guided by pure genius, they tunneled up to the surface, which came to the nearby courtroom in which many of them had been sentenced.  The surprised judges returned all 75 to jail again” (Campus Life, Sept. 1980)!  Not knowing your direction can really get you off course.  We've been preaching from the book of 1 Timothy.  Paul's letter is trying to help Timothy do deal with a congregation which has experienced great chaos because some of the church leaders there shipwrecked their faith and began teaching beliefs and practices which were contrary to those of Jesus.  In our last sermon, we saw that Paul admonished the members to develop spiritual strength by applying three challenges: identify and withdraw from heretics; realize true gain (godliness with contentment); understand the dangers of wealth.  Today's text will help us to develop spiritual direction because the verbs it uses are very interesting.  Paul exhorts in 1 Timothy 6:11: “But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness!”  The verbs are “flee” and “pursue”; those are opposites aren't they?  “Flee” literally means “to run away from”, and figuratively, it means “to avoid or to shun”.  Now “pursue” means literally “to run towards”, and figuratively, it means “to strive for or to aspire to”.  So, Timothy, as God's man, is told by the inspired apostle Paul to shun some things and to pursue some things.  Now both of these verbs are also present commands, and this means that they have a continual force, and can be translated “Keep on shunning ...” and “Keep on pursuing ...” The strategy of retreating in one direction and advancing in another is given here.  So, how many other times are “fleeing” and “pursuing” used in the New Testament?  You see, when we know what we should keep fleeing from and what we should keep running toward, our life develops a sense of spiritual direction.  So, this morning, let's look first at passages that deal with fleeing.  And then we'll look at passages that deal with pursuing.  And lastly, we'll zero in on this passage in Timothy.
Here are three sins that a Christian should continually flee from or shun. The first is found in 1 Corinthians 6:18: “Flee sexual immorality.  Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18).  Continually keep away from sexual immorality!  Make it a habit to avoid forbidden flesh!  Don't let your hormones control you!  We have to be very counter-cultural here because our media glorifies sex, and our society no longer sees sexual encounters as sinful.  Our media preaches full indulgence without any restraints.  Our society's wrapped reasoning is that immoral sex can't be wrong when it feels so right.  With those messages bombarding us, it is hard for us to remember God's will: Flee or shun sexual immorality!  Why?  The apostle Paul tells us that sexual encounters outside of marriage are a sin against our bodies.  Sexual sins are unique in their character.  “[They rise] from within a body bent on personal gratification.  [They drive] like no other impulse and when fulfilled [they affect] the body like no other sin.  [They have] a way of internally destroying a person that no other sin has.  Because sexual intimacy is the deepest uniting of two persons, its misuse corrupts on the deepest human level.  [Isn't this truth the reason Paul commands us to flee sexual immorality?]  You see, sexual immorality is far more destructive than alcohol, far more destructive than drugs, far more destructive than crime” (MacAuthur).  What our media fails to show us are ruined bodies of those who have given themselves to prostitution.  Men and women in their twenties will appear to be in their forties.  When are we going to learn?  Immoral sexual encounters are destructive fires that eventually char our bodies?  Don't let our culture deceive you!  Brothers and sisters, make it a habit to flee from sexual fantasizing and to shun sexual immorality!
The next sin is found in 1 Corinthians 10:14 and 20: “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. … I do not want you to have fellowship with demons”!  In Corinth, there was a huge temple to the goddess Aphrodite, and it employed some one thousand sacred prostitutes.  Now if that wasn't enough temptation, temples often had dining areas, and pagan worshipers would often ask their relatives, co-workers, and friends to eat meat with them that had been offered to an idol.  So what is Paul's advice to the Corinthian members when they were tempted to return to their idolatrous past?  Notice, flee from idolatry!  Don't stand around dillydallying on this issue, and don't expect God to wisk you from this situation.  Don't see how far you can go and still be safe!  No, get out of there, distance yourselves from the pagan temple, and see how far away you can stay from them!  And make this a continuous habit as well. Idolatry is the worship of an idol, but idolatry can also be devotion or reverence to someone, something, or some cause.  Idolatry is anything that will steal your devotion to God.  Now why is idolatry such a serious sin that Paul commands us to stay away from it?  It's because Satan and his forces are behind idolatry (verse 20).  They want us to take our eyes off of Christ, and put them on to something else.  Instead of serving others and Christ, they want us to serve ourselves and our modern idol. The only wise course with any idol, ancient or modern, is to have nothing to do with it.  Brothers and sisters, make it a habit not to let anything become more important to you than Jesus, and shun whatever modern idol will take you away from Him!
The next sin is found in 2 Timothy 2:22: “Flee also youthful lusts ...!” When you first hear that, the natural inclination is to think of sexual temptations.  But the word translated “lusts” just basically means “desires”.  Stay away from youthful desires, such as ambition, love for novelties, favoritism, and quickness of temper.  Paul wants Timothy to avoid bad “traits of character which headstrong young men are liable to display” (Kelly).  Brothers and sisters, make it a habit to shun immature behaviors.
Now that we've seen what other passages say about fleeing.  Let's turn to what we are to pursue.  The first passage is 1 Thessalonians 5:15: “See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all!”  The verb “pursue” in this case is a plural.  So Paul wants all the members in the congregation to work together to pursue goodness.  That goodness is the opposite of what is evil and means that which will be helpful to the one that wronged us.  “It is the attitude of returning blessing for cursing, of being friendly in the face of hostility” (Morris).  Notice that we habitually seek to act in this way because of the adverb “always”, “always run toward doing good to all people, both believers and unbelievers.”  “Non-retaliation must be cultivated [and practiced], difficult as it may be to do so” (Coffman). Brothers and sisters, let's work together to make it a habit to repay evil with goodness!
Another passage is Hebrews 12:14: “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord!”  Again we have plural verb here.  We are all to work together to pursue peace with all people and holiness.  Of course, true holiness, sometimes makes attaining peace difficult, if not impossible.  But we should make every effort possible to live in peace with others.  Why is this?  Well, since the God of peace (Hebrews 13:20) through the Prince of peace (Hebrews 7:2) brought us reconciliation and peace; we should strive to pass on His peace to others in all our daily relationships.  “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9).  “Be at peace with one another” (Mark 9:50).  It is interesting that we are admonished to pursue peace also in 2 Timothy 2:22 and 1 Peter 3:11, so the pursuit of peace with others is very important to God.  We are also to pursue holiness.  God's absolute holiness hates that which is impure.  God wants to raise us up to the same level as He Himself!  Just as it takes energy to live peacefully, so it takes energy to obtain holiness.  Holiness is inward and private, and its good deeds are done privately (Hughes).  “This kind of holiness, which reflects the pure goodness of God, springs from single-minded love [for] God, not from love of human applause, and it is consistent with a longing to see God, who is all holy, not with a lust to be seen by men” (Ibid.).  This is a practical holiness manifested by a pure and virtuous life (Coffman).  Brothers and sister, let's work together to make it a habit to strive for peace and to capture holiness!
Now having seen passages outside our text, dealing with fleeing and pursuing, let's see again what Paul admonishes Timothy and the members at Ephesus to do: “But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11)!”  “But you” is an emphatic contrast that Timothy should display in opposition to the heretics.  “O man of God” was an expression used often in the Old Testament for the Jewish prophets (1 Kgs. 17:24; 2 Kgs. 7:17). Similar to their ministries, Timothy is to teach, reprove, correct, and train God's people (Spain).  Now notice the verb flee, which means keep on shunning.  You know, our feet can sometimes be one of the best influences for others to see.  Keep on avoiding these things.  What things? The things that Paul has just mentioned in talking about the heretics: their pride, love of disputes, envy, strife, slander, evil suspicions, parties, useless debates, and their using religion as a means to pad their pockets.  You know, fleecing ordinary people in the name of religion does more to discredit Christianity than many grosser sins.  Brothers and sisters, let's follow Paul's advice to Timothy and make it a habit to shun being arrogant, loving disputes, being contentious and divisive, and commercializing our faith for money.  But now Paul tells Timothy what to pursue or run towards: righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.  Let's look at each of these six virtues more closely. Pursue righteousness.  Do you remember when King Saul was so jealous that he actually tried to hunt down David and kill him?  David had a chance to kill Saul when he entered into a cave where David was hiding, but he spares Saul's life.  In 2 Samuel 24:17, Saul says these words to David: “You are more righteous than I; for you have rewarded me with good, whereas I have rewarded you with evil.”  David did not practice his men's advice nor did he take matters into his own hands.  He knew it was God's will that Saul be spared, and he did God's will.  He did what was good and let God determine when Saul would die.  Pursuing righteousness means doing God's will and doing what is good.  Pursue godliness. Godliness is not just our worship.  It includes that, but it goes beyond it. Godliness is living according to Christ's teachings and honoring God as Creator and Redeemer in all our daily conduct.  Being godly has benefits both in this life and in the hereafter (1 Timothy 4:8)!  Next, we are to pursue faith.  As men of materialism, the heretics had strayed from the faith (1 Timothy 6:10), but the man of God is to pursue faith.  “Now faith is substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).  And then that great chapter shows us that by faith, we believe in God as the Creator of all things, by faith, we worship, obey, and follow God.  By faith, we refuse evil, gain freedom, and overcome enemies.  By faith, we become mature disciples.  “But without faith, it is impossible to please God, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).  Pursue righteousness, godliness, and faith.  Then pursue love.  “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:10-11).  “True love is a splendid host.  There is love whose measure is that of an umbrella.  There is love who inclusiveness is that of a great mansion.  And there is love whose comprehension is that the immeasurable sky.  The aim of the New Testament is the conversion of the umbrella into a tent and then the conversion of the mansion into the sky's canopy.  Push back the walls of family love until they include the neighbor; again push the walls until they include the stranger and foreigner; and again push back the walls until they [embrace] the foe” (Jowett in Swindoll).  Pursue patience or endurance.  “Your have heard of the patience or perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful” (James 5:10).  Job was that man who was unswerving in his devotion to God despite all the losses, hardships, and pains that Satan threw at him.  “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).  Patience is holding onto God's hand no matter what may be your persecutions or trials.  Pursue gentleness or composure in the face of wrongs.  “But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.  For to this you were called, because Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow in His steps: 'Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth'; Who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:20-23). At Jesus' trials and crucifixion, we see great composure in the face of wrongs; there is true gentleness.  Someone has observed: “The test of good manners [and great composure] is to put up pleasantly with those who have bad manners [and harsh dispositions]” (Willkie in Rowell). Pursue love, patience or endurance, and gentleness or composure.  If we would be people of God going in the direction of God, 1 Timothy 6:11 certainly gives us a great challenge: “But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11)!”
“There is a way that seems right to man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12).  Whether we want to admit it or not, the modern ideas of our American culture can often lead us in the wrong direction.  Isn't it wonderful how God's Word has revealed the behaviors that can harm our lives and those which can help our lives?  God wants to bless us, and if we will obey Him, we will reap the benefits that His guidance has to offer. The words given to the Jews can be applied to us today: “I call heaven and earth as a witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore, choose life, that both you and you descendants may live, that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days ...” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).
Do you want to develop some spiritual direction in your life?  Then flee, run from, or shun these sins: sexual immorality, idolatry, youthful desires or immature behaviors (like ambition, love for novelties, favoritism, and quickness of temper), and false teachers' evil behaviors (like arrogance, disputes, contentions, and commercialism)!  Then pursue, run toward, or put in practice these virtues: goodness, peace, holiness, righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience or endurance, and gentleness or composure.  God has revealed what we should keep working to avoid and what we should keep trying to make become habitual!  Will we put into practice His instructions?
Did you notice that some of these good behaviors are exactly the same as those called the fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23?  You see, the Holy Spirit can help you to flee from sinful conduct, to pursue virtuous conduct, and to develop spiritual direction.  But you can only have the Holy Spirit if you make Jesus your Lord.  Peter told a group of Jews: “Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).  Do you see how baptism in Jesus' name brings not only forgiveness of sins but also the gift of God's indwelling Spirit?  Put on Jesus through baptism in His name and receive both forgiveness and God's Spirit this morning!  Let's the Holy Spirit help you to develop spiritual direction!