A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy 6:12b. c). The experiential appeal.
Paul’s third appeal to Timothy advances beyond doctrine and ethics to experience: *Take hold of…eternal life…* (12a). Much misunderstanding surrounds the concept of ‘eternal life’, and many would accept the young girl’s definition that ‘God has given us life, so now we are stuck with it’. The emphasis is not on its duration, however, but on its quality. Eternal life means the life of the age to come, the new age which Jesus inaugurated. He defined its life in terms of knowing him and knowing the Father (Jn.17:3). Consequently it is both a present possession and a future hope, as the Pastorals make clear. For the present possession see 1:16 and 2 Timothy 1:10, and for the future hope see Titus 1:2; 3:17. Those who think that in verses 12 and 19 the eternal life Timothy must grasp is future do so because they believe Paul is continuing his athletic metaphor and is alluding to the prize at the end of the race.
It seems more probable, however, that eternal life is here a present possession, because Paul describes it to Timothy as something *to which you are called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses* (12b). The reference to ‘many witnesses’ has suggested to some that the occasion recalled is not Timothy’s baptism but his ordination (cf. 4:14; 2 Tim.2:2). But the combination of the calling (inward and private) and the confession (outward and public) more naturally refers to Timothy’s conversion and baptism. Every convert was expected to make a solemn public affirmation of faith (Rom.10:9ff.).
It may seem strange, however, that a Christian leader of Timothy’s stature should need to be exhorted to ‘take hold of’ eternal life. Had he not been a Christian for many years? Had he not therefore received eternal life long ago? Then why did Paul tell him to lay hold of what he already possessed? The probable answer is that it is possible to possess something without embracing and enjoying it. *Epilambanomai* means to ‘take hold of, grasp…something with violence’ and to ‘take hold of, in order to make one’s own’ (BAGD). The ‘violence’ is seen in Jesus catching Peter when he was beginning to sink (Mt.14:31), in the soldiers seizing Simon of Cyrene (Lk.23:26), in the crowd seizing Paul (Acts 21:30), and in the tribune arresting him (Acts 21:33; cf.Phil.3:12). Just so, although Timothy had already received eternal life, Paul urged him to seize it, grasp it, lay hold of it, make it completely his own, enjoy it and live it to the full.
Here then is Paul’s threefold charge to Timothy – ethical (to flee from evil and pursue goodness), doctrinal (to turn from error and fight for the truth), and experiential (to lay hold of the life he has already received). It is good in our relativistic age to have truth, goodness and life set before us as absolute goals. They also constitute a healthy balance. Some fight for truth but neglect holiness. Others pursue holiness but have no comparable concern for truth. Yet others disregard both doctrine and ethics in their search for religious experience. The man or woman of God combines all three.
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 6:13-16. d). The grounds of the appeal.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.