A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy 6:13-16. d). The grounds for the appeal.
Paul does more than appeal to Timothy, for he knows about human apathy and our consequent need for incentives. So he buttresses his appeal with strong arguments, namely the presence of God and the coming of Christ. First, it is impressive that Paul lived in the conscious presence of God, so that it was natural for him to write: *In the sight of God….and of Christ Jesus…I charge you* (13; cf. 2 Tim.4:1). Moreover, he reminded himself and Timothy of an appropriate truth about each, God he describes as the one *who gives life to everything* (Cf. Act 14:15; 17:28ff.). As the giver and sustainer of the life of all living creatures, he is intimately involved in their affairs. Christ, on the other hand is described as the one *who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made a good confession*, by acknowledging that he was indeed a king (Jn.18:33-34; cf. Mk.15:2). His disciples never forgot the historical precedent of bold testimony which he set. He was, beyond comparison, ‘the faithful and true witness’ (Rev.3:14; cf. 1:5). The ‘good confession’ expected of us was first made by him (12, 13). It is in the sight of God the life-giver and of Christ the witness that Paul issues his charge.
*I charge you*, he writes, *to keep this command without spot or blame* (13b-14a). There is a difference of opinion whether *this command* refers to the threefold appeal which Paul has just made in verses 11 and 12, or to the ethical instruction of the whole letter, or – more widely still – to ‘the whole law of Christ, the rule of faith and life enjoined by the gospel’. Commentators also differ whether the words *without spot or blame* apply to Timothy or to the command. Perhaps the REB is best: ‘I charge you to obey your orders without fault or failure.’
The second ground on which the apostle bases his charge is the second coming of Christ. Timothy is to keep the command without fault *until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ* (14b). It is evident that Paul is still as certain about the event as he is uncertain about its time (Cf. Mk.13:32; Acts 1:7; 1 Jn.5:1). Yet he knows that this too is in God’s hands, since he *will bring it about in his own time* (15a), or ‘in his own good time’ (REB). This assurance about the divine timetable is a notable feature of the Pastorals. Whether Paul is alluding to the first coming of Christ (past), the proclamation of the gospel (present) or his appearing (future), each event occurs in God’s ‘own’, ‘proper’ or ‘appointed’ time (2:6; 6:15; Tit.1:3).
Moreover, our confidence in God’s perfect timing, and our consequent willingness to leave things in his hands, arise from the kind of God we know him to be. This Paul goes on to unfold, probably drawing on the words of an early Christian hymn, in a doxology similar to that in 1:17. He affirms four truths about God’s sovereign power, four ways in which he is altogether beyond human control or manipulation.
First, God is invincible, beyond all interference by earthly powers; for he is *God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords* (15b). In the Old Testament Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon liked to be designated ‘king of kings’ (Ezk.26:7; Dan.2:37), but Yahweh was acknowledged as ‘God of gods and Lord of lords’ (Dt.10:17; Ps.136:2-3; cf.2 Macc.13:4). In the New Testament Christ is given the combined title ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’ (Rev.17:14; 19:16), in opposition no doubt to the blasphemies of the emperor cult. No human rule can challenge his authority.
Secondly, God is immortal, not subject to the changes caused by time, death or dissolution; he and he *alone in immortal*, literally ‘possesses immortality’ (16b, REB). True, human beings also are immortal, in the sense that we survive death. But only God ‘has life in himself’ (Jn.5:26). Our immortality constitutes an endowment, not an innate property’.
Thirdly, God is inaccessible, beyond the reach of sinful people, *dwelling in unapproachable light*. Darkness in any shape or form, whether falsehood or evil, cannot enter his presence, let alone overcome him (E.g. Jn.1:5; 1 Jn.1:5).
Fourthly, God is invisible, beyond human sight and so beyond human apprehension, for *no-one has seen or can see* him. All that human eyes have been allowed to behold is his ‘glory’ (E.g. Ex.24:9ff.; Is.6:1ff.; Ezk.1:28), his back not his face (Ex 33:18ff.), his appearing as a theophany (E.g. Gn.16:7ff.; 18:1ff.; 32:24ff.), or his image in his incarnate Son (Jn.1:18; 14:6; Col.1:15). Being in himself invisible, we can come to know him only in so far as he has been pleased to make himself known. Otherwise, he is wholly beyond us.
To this great God, invincible, immortal, inaccessible and invisible, *be honour and might forever. Amen* (16b). It is natural for Paul, when is writing about God, to break into a doxology, whether he is praising God for his mercy (as in 1:17) or for his power (as here). It was in the presence of this God, and in anticipation of his bringing about Christ’s appearing, that Paul has given Timothy his solemn charge. And in doing so, his mind has encompassed creation (God the life-giver, 13a), history (Christ before Pontius Pilate, 13b) and consummation (Christ’s appearing, 14). Still today the presence of God and the appearing of Christ are two major incentives to faithfulness.
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 6:17-19. 4). A charge to the Christian rich.
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.