“But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:11). It is as if he said, “As a man of God, you must live toward a definite end.” In the previous verses Paul had described a lifestyle marked by self-centeredness, envy, strife, and materialism. His advice to his protégé was, “Flee these things.” Noah Webster defined flee as “running with rapidity from danger.” So the image we should see is Timothy running with rapidity from these sins.
Recently, I dropped by a friend’s house. He met me at the door with the news that his wife and children had a stomach virus and that he was not feeling well himself. I did not offer to stay and help him — I fled the premises! Paul would tell me, “John, that is the attitude you need to have about sin.” I must confess that I regularly have a greater fear of a physical virus than an unholy indulgence.
Paul’s second command in the admonition sends the Christian in the opposite direction. As he flees he doesn’t run randomly. He chases a Christ-centered righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness. We have all witnessed church members fastidiously avoiding lust and materialism while pompously displaying a self-righteous pride. Amos described a man fleeing aimlessly from a lion only to come face to face with a bear (Amos 5:19). We will go terribly astray in another wrong direction if there is not a deliberate pursuit of the virtues inspired by the Holy Spirit.
One cannot physically walk in opposite directions at the same time. I learned that lesson while I was hunting grouse with two friends in the mountains of Virginia. We had been walking for two hours, having left our vehicle on a dirt road on the east side of the mountain. It was late in the afternoon when we decided we should begin our return trek. However, my friends started in a new direction that I was certain would not take us to our starting point. In fact, we were walking deeper into the mountains. When I questioned them, my friends assured me they knew this was the right direction. After another half hour of walking, I suggested that we take a new route. They relented and we turned in the direction that my compass indicated would lead us out. The sun had already set when we finally emerged on that back country road and saw our truck. When you are in the wilderness your safety lies in moving toward the right point.
It is impossible to pursue sin and godliness simultaneously. When we were wandering in that rough country, my friends and I were either walking deeper into the mountains and away from our vehicle, or toward our vehicle and away from the mountains. We could not move in both directions at the same time. However, that is often what I attempt to do as a Christian. I follow Christ with my mouth, while my heart and habits chase after sin. When that is my behavior, I am neither fleeing sin nor pursuing godliness — I am simply pursuing sin. James shouts to me: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8). The double-minded man puts on a charade. On the stage he plays the part of a Christian, but then he leaves the theater and takes up his real life. Reader, this should not be. We cannot live in opposite directions at the same time. “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?” (James 3:10–11).
Paul follows the “flee and pursue” charge to Timothy by telling him to “fight the good fight” (1 Tim. 6:12). When we are fleeing sin and pursuing godliness, even on our best days there will be a battle in our lives. We must understand that this will be a constant struggle. Many Christians are “perfectionists” in their thinking. They believe that when they truly obey Paul’s admonitions, there will be no struggle between sin and righteousness in their lives. Dear friend, as we flee sin and pursue righteousness, there will always be temptation — the “pull” of the remnant of the sin nature in our lives. The very man who gave this admonition to Timothy also wrote, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Rom. 7:21–24). The double-minded man deliberately living a charade knows nothing of this struggle. He has rationalized a peace between sin and righteousness — a peace that in reality does not exist. So to the end, brother, we will struggle as we flee sin and pursue righteousness. Therefore, we should remember the resolution of Jonathan Edwards: “Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken, my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.”