Meditations in 1 Timothy: 40: On Guard
1 Tim 6:20 Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care.
As Paul draws this letter to a close he presents Timothy with two further instructions, a primary one and then a secondary one. He tells him, in the primary instruction, to “guard” something and the something is that which “has been entrusted” into Timothy’s “care”. Each of these words is significant.
When you ‘guard’ something you watch over it, protect it, make sure it comes to no harm, keep it safe and defend it. When someone speaks of having ‘entrusted’ something into your care there is behind this the feeling that whatever it is, it is valuable and worthy of care and protection. In your ‘care’ signifies under your protection. All these things say the same thing: Something has been given to Timothy and whatever it is, it needs protecting and it needs guarding and he needs to take care of it. Now you may think this paragraph is unnecessary but these words are vital to describe Timothy’s ministry and are critical in the face of a warning that has come twice so far in this letter.
So what is it that has been entrusted into Timothy’s care? Ultimately it is the truth, it is the Gospel in its widest sense and it is that which has been conveyed by the apostles of the Lord, it is the truth about God and about Jesus. Now in an earlier meditation we commented that there were various attacks against the early church and one of them was in respect of heresies, false versions of the Gospel, distortions of the truth. There were well over half a dozen such things, Gnosticism being the best known.
Perhaps to understand the battles that were going on and the importance of Paul’s instructions to Timothy, it maybe well to examine this a little more. With Gnosticism there was a hostility between this world and God’s kingdom, one evil and one good (dualism), seeing no good in the created world, only in the spirit. Gnosticism rejected any notion of God’s disclosure of Himself. It saw two ‘God’s – a harsh God of the Old Testament who created the world (which was bad) and the unknown supreme God of the New Testament. Jesus was first a human being and a heavenly ruler descended on this human and deserted him at his Passion. Salvation came through gnosis, knowledge – a mystic knowledge revealed by the God of the New Testament (the good God) to the teacher of the sect. Now as Christians today we might find this amazing, that people would believe and follow these people, but they did! There was a major battle to preserve the apostolic truth. Thus the significance of this little sentence: “Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care.”
Do you remember when Paul went to Athens, we find the comment on what he found there: “All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.” (Acts 17:21) This tendency wasn’t just among the Greeks but was also a tendency of the church then because Paul goes on, “Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge.” Godless chatter? Talk that focuses on the world, on the news, on ideas that other people have. With Television today how true this still is. And how often do you hear God mentioned in it? Virtually never! No, we live in a world that is largely godless and the thinking of men and rulers is largely godless. No, Timothy, this is not what you have been called to!
The “opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge” is probably as subtle reference to Gnosticism that we referred to earlier that placed great store in ‘special knowledge’ that only the group or sect held. It was a ‘knowledge’ that competed with the Gospel and was different from it. Maybe we might parallel it to the ‘knowledge’ that such groups as the Freemasons have or the Mormons have with their book of Mormon, add-ons or extra knowledge that in fact denigrates the Gospel and takes from it the power of God.
This knowledge has a detrimental effect, says Paul for “some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith.” (v.21) Some had been seduced by these ‘new’ things and had got involved with them and taken them on and in so doing had drifted or wandered from the true faith and (by implication) no longer trusted in the finished work of Christ on the Cross. That is the outcome of getting caught up with these new ideas, these alternative teachings, these exciting new mysteries. They existed then and they still exist and they are not the truth and they do not bring salvation. Steer well clear of them, was Paul’s instruction to Timothy. It was there at the beginning of the letter as a problem to be challenged and it is there at the end as a thing to be avoided.
Paul ends with a simple, “Grace be with you.” i.e. may you know the ongoing saving grace of God, the goodness of God through Jesus Christ, the goodness that comes by the Spirit. May you know that grace to keep you and hold you, to strengthen you and hold you. Those, I suspect, are the things implied in those simple words in the light of the teaching of this letter. It was true for Timothy; may it be true for us.