1 Timothy 6:12-16 – Fight the Good Fight

Paul charges Timothy with the task of to faithfully keep the commands of this letter. This is a solemn charge made before two witnesses: the presence of God and Christ Jesus. Paul uses two metaphors for this pursuit of godliness: fight the good fight and take hold of eternal life.

Boxing GlovesThis may be a sports metaphor since the verb translated “fight” (ἀγωνίζομαι) used for competing in a context ( Cor 9:25). But it can also be used in the context of warfare (John 18:36, 2 Macc 8:16). Paul uses the verb to describe his own ministry (Col 1:29), and Epaphras is described as “struggling in prayer” for the church at Colossae (Col 4:12, cf. 1 Tim4:10)). In 2 Tim 4:7 Paul uses a similar phrase when looking back over his ministry (he has fought the good fight).

“Taking hold” (ἐπιλαμβάνομαι) sometimes has a violent implication as well. It was used when the Romans pressed Simon of Cyrene into carrying the cross of Jesus and twice in Acts for someone being seized or arrested ( Acts 16:19; 18:17). The LXX uses this verb in Prov 4:13, the wise person takes hold of instruction. (There are violent connotations often in LXX Judges, 2 Sam 13:11 it is used for a rape). Taken along with “fight the good fight,” Paul is telling Timothy to compete in a way that will “win the prize.” The victory is not really won until the competitor takes the prize, an Olympic crown, for example.

Timothy is reminded his public confession of faith. What does Paul have in mind with this “confession”? There are three options (Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 355-6).  One possibility is Timothy was arrested at some point prior to this and he made a confession of faith before some civil tribunal. This would explain the reference to Jesus making ‘the good confession” before Pilate. The witnesses were those at the court who heard Timothy confess his faith in the face of persecution. The most significant problem with this view is there is not clear reference to Timothy’s arrest in any New Testament literature.

On the other hand, Paul may refer to Timothy’s commission to ministry. In this case, the witnesses are other elders and leaders of the church who heard Timothy make a public commitment to ministry. Paul has referred to Timothy’s commission (1:18-20) and his gift “given by prophecy” (4:14). If this is true, then Paul is saying to Timothy, do not be like Hymenaeus and Alexander, who shipwrecked their faith (1:20), follow through on your commission to ministry.

But Paul may be looking even further back than Timothy’s commission to ministry. Since the “prize” that awaits him for finishing the contest is eternal life, it is most likely that Paul has in mind Timothy’s initial confession of faith in Jesus. If this is the case, then the people in the church who witnessed this confession are the “many witnesses.”

Just as the letter began with a charge to Timothy to guard the faith which was entrusted to him, now Paul once again solemnly charges Timothy to remember what he has already committed to when he began his ministry. Timothy is to keep these commands are to be kept perfectly. Unstained (ἄσπιλος) is sometimes translated as “spotless” in the context of a sacrifice (Lev 4:3, for example). In 1 Peter 1:19 Jesus is described as the “pure spotless lamb.” A “blemish” (σπίλος) is used as a character fault in Hermas, Similitudes 9.4.4. The verb cognate of this word refers to a stain or defilement.

Free from reproach (ἀνεπίληπτος). Paul has already used this word in 1 Tim 3:2 (the overseer must be above reproach) and in 5:7 (widows have to be above reproach). The word has the sense of “above criticism” (Cf., Titus 2:8). L&N suggests the word here means that Timothy ought to keep the commands of this letter “in such a way that no one can criticize it.”

This is a very high goal set for Timothy, but if he is fulfill his commission from God, he cannot have anything when ruins his reputation. Everyone can think an example of someone who was an excellent preacher and servant of God, but they had some behavior or character flaw that changed the way people thought of them and hindered their ministry. Paul tells Timothy here that he has to live his life so perfectly that there is no stain or blemish on his character which drives people away from the gospel.

1 Timothy 6:11 – Pursue Righteousness

There are many examples of people who seem to have started the Christian faith well, but seem to have deviated from the course at some point. In the context of 1 Timothy, these would be the opponents who are troubling Paul’s churches. They stared well, but they have not competed well and are in danger of not finishing the race. When Jesus appears, they face ruin (6:10).

But this collapse of faith is not what Paul expects from Timothy. In the conclusion to 1 Timothy, Paul uses a few sports metaphors to encourage Timothy to continue with endurance to the end of the race and receive the prize to which he was called. Timothy started well by making a public confession of faith, and he has been faithful to that confession as he carried out the ministry to which God had called him. But Paul wants him to also look forward to the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, when he will finally “finish the race.”



Timothy is told to flee from the sorts of evil Paul described in the previous few verses and to pursue virtues that are reminiscent of the Fruit of the Spirit. “Fleeing evil” and “pursuing righteousness” is common in the Hebrew Bible. Both are very active metaphors, implying that there are things which can hinder reaching a goal. Flee and pursue are common in both Plato and Aristotle, but Paul reflects several Jewish texts (Flee, Sirach 21:2; Tobit 4:21, and 2 Tim 2:22, flee youthful passions; Pursue Prov 15:19, T.Reub 5:5).

Righteousness (δικαιοσύνη) is one of the most important terms in Paul, in the context of a series of descriptions of ethical expectations Paul probably has “moral uprightness” in mind. To “pursue righteousness” appears in Deut 16:20 and Prov 15:9 (cf., Sir 27:8, but also Herodotus 1.96.2). The righteous person on Judaism was the person who was faithful to the covenant in tangible ways, they doing acts of righteousness.

Godliness (εὐσέβεια) is a very general term which has been used often in the Pastoral letters. Like righteousness, godliness refers to observable responses to God.

Faith (πίστις) and love (ἀγάπη) often appear as a pair in Paul’s letters (1 Tim 1:5, for example). Faith/faithfulness refers to being consistent, keeping one’s promises and commitments. Perhaps the combination of the two terms is more or less the Hebrew idea of hesed, covenant faithfulness. This would be important in the context of Paul calling Timothy to recall the commitments he made when he first began his ministry.

Steadfastness or endurance (ὑπομονή) is occasionally added to faith and love (1 Cor 13:3), the word highlights the sort of attitude one must have in order to complete a task. It is one thing to begin strong, but the one who endures also finishes strong. Again, this is particularly appropriate if Paul is reminding Timothy of his initial commitments.

Gentleness (πραϋπαθία) is rare word in the New Testament although it is related to other words which have the same sense of meaning (πραΰτης is used in Gal 5:23). The word refers to courtesy and humility. In 2 Tim 2:25 Timothy is told to gently correct opponents, and in Gal 6:1 the believer is to gently help another with their burdens. “a willingness to waive an undoubted right” (Martin, Colossians and Philemon, 111).

Like the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, Paul sets a very high goal for Timothy. But if he is going to fulfill the commission given to him by God, he has to be a model leader in the Ephesian churches.  Timothy must make sure his character is virtuous and that he is living his life in order to bring honor to the household of God.

1 Timothy 6:6-10 – Money and the Root of All Evil

Paul stands in the tradition of Judaism in warning about the folly of relying on riches. Godliness itself can be of great gain (the same word is repeated), but only if it is combined with contentment (αὐτάρκεια). The book of Ecclesiastes warns against relying on one’s wealth in this world.

Having sufficient blessings from God is found also in Psalms of Solomon 5:18-20. Having too much wealth can cause a person to sin

Psalms of Solomon 5:18–20 (LES)  Blessed is he whom God remembers in due proportion to sufficiency; 19 if the person abounds too much, he sins. 20 Moderation in righteousness is sufficient, and in this is the blessing of the Lord for satisfaction in righteousness.

Moderation and self-sufficiency was also a virtue among philosophers, the Cynics, Stoics and Epicureans. Describing the views of Epicurus, for example, Diogenes Laertius says:

 Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, 10.130-131 Again, we regard independence of outward things (αὐτάρκεια) as a great good, not so as in all cases to use little, but so as to be contented with little if we have not much, being honestly persuaded that they have the sweetest enjoyment of luxury who stand least in need of it, and that whatever is natural is easily procured and only the vain and worthless hard to win. Plain fare gives as much pleasure as a costly diet, when once the pain of want has been removed, [131] while bread and water confer the highest possible pleasure when they are brought to hungry lips. To habituate one’s self, therefore, to simple and inexpensive diet supplies all that is needful for health, and enables a man to meet the necessary requirements of life without shrinking, and it places us in a better condition when we approach at intervals a costly fare and renders us fearless of fortune.

Paul says that having food and shelter (σκέπασμα can refer to clothing or a house) we will be content.  This is not far from Phil 4:10-13, where Paul says that he has know what it is to have much, or very little.  The secret to contentment (αὐτάρκης, same root as the word in 1 Tim 6:6) is the realization that he can do all things through Christ.

But Paul is not teaching self-sufficiency like a Stoic or a Cynic, rather he is consistent with Philippians 4:10-13, he emphasizing “Christ-sufficiency.”  If your motivation is money, then you are in danger.  If your motivation is being “in Christ,” then personal gain is not relevant.

Grubbing for MoneyThe real problem with wealth is that the desire for wealth is a snare. Notice that it is the person who desires to be rich that will fall into temptation. As with the proverb which follows, wealth itself is not condemned, but the desire is a snare.  The second word Paul uses here (παγίς) is a trap used to catch animals, the same word which he used in 3:7 to describe the “snares of the devil.” This is perhaps another hint that Paul is dealing with leaders appointed too soon (Cf. 2 Tim 2:26).

Wealth tempts people into senseless and harmful desires.  Senseless (ἀνόητος) is a softer translation, the word means dull-witted or unintelligent.  It is sometimes translated as “fool” (Gal 3:1; Prov 17:28; 1 Clement 21:5; 4 Macc 8:17).  But these desired are not merely foolish, they are harmful (βλαβερός). Someone might do something foolish that does no harm, to rely on wealth will lead to some sort of disaster.

The ultimate end of the person that desires great wealth is to sink into ruin and destruction.  Paul uses the rather picturesque metaphor of sinking (βυθίζω). The word was used to describe the utter ruin of Sparta (Philostrat., Vi. Apoll. 4, 32). Destruction (ὄλεθρος) is used by Paul in 2 Thess 1:9 “eternal death” (Cf. T.Reuben 6:3, the destruction of Beliar;” “Destruction brought about by Satan” IEph 13:1).

The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. While this saying sounds like a proverb and is common in contemporary culture, there is no real source for the line.  There is no exact form of this saying in the Hebrew Bible or in Greco-Roman philosophy.   The Hebrew Bible warns that desire for wealth corrupts (Exod 23:8, Deut 16:19). This is another hint that the opponents are elders or deacons in Paul’s churches, since in 3:3 he said that the elder is not to be a “lover of money.” (Luke 16:14, Pharisees are called “lovers of money.”)

Paul’s concern is not that Christians have wealth, but that Christians are motivated to serve in order to enrich themselves.  It is the use of godliness, religion, “the Faith” to become rich that is the problem.  He does not appear to be condemning wealth, but the love of wealth.

Paul concludes by saying that some of those who have “wandered away from the faith” did so because they craved wealth.  Rather than gaining wealth, the opponents in Ephesus have destroyed themselves. The opponents have “pierced themselves” (περιπείρω), a rather violent metaphor, the word is usually used in military contexts, they impale themselves!

It is easy to read this passage and think about “someone else.” You may not really consider yourself “wealthy.” In America, from the perspective of history, we are the most wealthy, prosperous people who have ever lived!  The American church over all is wealthy and most Americans are the 99%, from a global perspective.

To what extent does the American church “use religion as a means to gain wealth?”

1 Timothy 6:2b-5 – What is Healthy Doctrine?

In 1 Tim 6:2b-5, Paul contrasts his teaching in chapter 5 (and the whole letter) with that of the opponent in 1 Timothy. Paul started the letter to Timothy by charging him to confront those people in Ephesus who are teaching a “different doctrine” (ἑτεροδιδασκαλέω). The word only appears in 1 Timothy, and it may have been coined by Paul. The word appears in contrast to “healthy” or sound doctrine. This description of correct teaching appears often in the Pastoral letters (cf., 1:10; 2 Tim 4:3;Titus 1:13, 2:2).

Sound TheologyThe “sound words” come from “our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul’s teaching (doctrine and practice) are correct because they come from Jesus himself. Paul does not claim here that these words come from his own theological imagination, rather, he claims that the teaching comes from Jesus. On the one hand, this might refer to the traditions of the actual teaching of Jesus found in the gospels, but there is no real allusion to Gospels in this letter. It is more likely that Paul is claiming to be inspired by Jesus to write the content of this letter. Timothy is to treat the principles found in the letter as if they are the words of Jesus, since they are the words of Jesus!

Several times in the letter, Timothy is told to ensure that there is healthy teaching in the Ephesian churches. Paul’s opponents, on the other hand, are unhealthy both in doctrine and practice. They are “puffed up” with conceit, yet understand nothing. The verb (τυφόω) is a perfect passive, they “have been puffed up,” although BDAG comments that the verb almost always appears in the passive. Perhaps one does not make themselves conceited, other factors effect a person to make them arrogant. The word has the sense of “becloud, delude,” although in this case it is a self delusion. Marshall points out that the REB translates this phrase as “a pompous ignoramus” (The Pastoral Epistles, 640).

In 1 Tim 3:6 Paul said that a potential deacon ought not be a recent convert because they might become conceited, using the same word as this passage. It is possible, therefore, that these opponents are people who had risen to leadership in local churches too quickly and have consequently become conceited.

While the opponents think that they understand things better than Paul, they actually do not understand anything. The word that Paul uses (ἐπίσταμαι) has the sense of grasping things in your mind. This is like someone who uses big words in order to sound educated, but they are really not sure what the words mean.

They have an unhealthy craving for “controversy and quarrels.” In contrast to “healthy teaching,” Paul describes the opponent as sick. They desire to argue over “myths,” but this desire is making them more unhealthy (νοσέω, to be diseased, BDAG suggests “morbid craving”). “Controversies” (cf., 2 Tim 2:23; Titus 3:9; 2 Tim 2:13 uses the verb) can refer to a simple discussion or debate, but along with “quarrels” (λογομαχία; literally, word-battles) it is clear that the opponents are picking fights over minutia. The words are rare in secular Greek, although one writer describes debate between the Stoics and Epicureans as a λογομαχία (TDNT 4:143). These quarrels produce envy, dissension, slander and evil suspicions. This is something of a generic sin-list, but in the context of 1 Timothy, these are public debates that create chaos in the congregation. Marshall suggests that “evil suspicions” (ὑπόνοια) might be translated as “innuendo,” in the context of slander (641).

They are a “constant friction.” This noun (διαπαρατριβή) is a compound form of a word which means “irritation” (παρατριβή). They are like a pebble in your shoe! The opponents cause discord among those who have already had their minds corrupted and have already been “turned from the truth. This means that the opponents have already made followers, both verbs are perfect and passive. The second verb (ἀποστερέω) has the connotation of taking something through illicit means – the followers of the opponents were defrauded, robbed for the truth through false teachings.

They imagine that godliness is a “means of gain.” The noun πορισμός is the word which might describe how one makes a living. The verb is used in an Aesop’s Fable for a “swindling magician” (BDAG). The word appears in inscriptions dating to A.D. 44 Ephesus complaining about the misuse of funds coming from Rome by the Artemesion, which were used for the personal gain of the management of the Temple (NewDocs 4, 169).

In each case, Paul’s opponents are the opposite of a qualified leader for the church (1 Tim 3). It is easy enough to draw applications from this description of the opponents, and point fingers at any number of irritating people who claim to be leaders of the Church but are in fact unhealthy in doctrine and in practice.  There are websites dedicated to pointing out the most inane attempts by pastors and evangelists to get rich from the Gospel.  It does not take long to find Christians who love “constant friction” on the Internet!  All we need is for Rob Bell to write a book denying some important doctrine and everybody goes a bit crazy. Controversy sells books and makes everyone a little more money.

But I really do not think that Paul intended this list as an opportunity to mock “those other people.” In every sin-list there is a chance for introspection – to what extent am I a person that loves controversy and friction? Do I have an “unhealthy desire” for quarreling? Does my church have that sort of a reputation?

Paul is dealing with a real danger in the Ephesian churches, but it is a danger which every person who serves in any kind of a ministry encounters in their own life.

1 Timothy 6:2b-10 – Love of Money

There is nothing new about people trying to get rich from religion. There are many examples in the Hebrew Bible of priests who abused their role for personal gain, the sons of Eli for example. The prophets regularly condemn priests who take bribes or other prophets who give their messages for a price (Micah 3:11, for example). The practices of indulgences in the medieval church is one of the worst examples of money extorted to generate extreme wealth for religious leaders.

In modern America, this is a real problem. There are many evangelists and media preachers who have made obscene amounts of money from their religious practices. Most educated people laugh off the conspiracy-laden evangelist who sells buckets of survival seeds so his viewers can make it through the great tribulation, but the fact is these scam artists continue to extort money from the elderly and the gullible. I would also include sub-Christian groups here as well; cults form around a central, charismatic teacher who has the real truth” (everything else is “fake news,” let the reader understand). The true follower donates all their money to the leader in order to learn the real mysteries of the universe!

Elmer GantryPaul faces a similar problem with the opponents in Ephesus. Some of the elders and deacons in the churches are teaching things that deviate from Paul’s gospel in both doctrine and practice. It appears from this passage that at least one motivation for this deviation is personal gain. Perhaps the wealthy women who were the subject of serious correction in chapter 2 are patrons for these opponents. Patronage was a standard way for a philosopher to support himself in the Roman world, so it is not too far-fetched to think that some of the elders and deacons who have rejected Paul’s gospel have found some patronage among the wealthy in the church.

Paul is not against supporting those who teach in the church. Only a few lines prior to this passage Paul stated the elders who teach ought to be paid because they are worthy of “double honor” (1 Tim 5:17-18). The problem is the elders who are teaching unhealthy doctrine are doing so for personal gain. Just as in the modern world, it is likely that the unhealthy doctrine taught by these teachers was more popular that the Pauline gospel.

This is such a serious problem that Paul calls this a “different doctrine” which causes those who teach it to be “depraved in their minds” and “deprived of the truth” (v. 5). Paul is not dealing with a difference of opinion on serious theological or practical issues, he is dealing with a defection from the gospel which prevents people from hearing the truth.