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The servant of God must also fulfill the calling of ministry. The charge issued in 1:18 is repeated here. Paul has changed the metaphor, however, from ministry in terms of a military struggle to ministry in terms of an athletic contest (see also 2 Tim 4:7). Thus the need for perseverance, sustained effort and training dominate in this charge (compare 1 Cor 9:24-27; 2 Tim 2:5). Like a skillful coach, Paul supplies ample motivation for maintaining the struggle.
1. Eternal reward (6:12). Especially for the minister, to "finish the race" is no mere option. The command tone (take hold) reminds us of the real element of human responsibility in the salvation process, as it also implies the real possibility of success. Though the cost is great, the Christian leader can arrive at the goal of personal salvation, eternal life.
But while the athletic imagery emphasizes the human side, it is the prior action of "calling" that establishes the believer's future success. In the passive, the verb refers clearly to God's call to eternal life. Yet as we have just seen, divine sovereignty does not preclude human responsibility. Timothy had an obligation to participate in his salvation. We too must view faithful Christian living and service, in whatever context God places us, as our necessary responsibility to God.
2. Past promises (6:12). The Greek sentence continues without a break, and attention shifts to Timothy's past commitment to God. It may be (as the NIV interprets it) that the phrase good confession in the presence of many witnesses relates directly to God's calling (to eternal life), indicating the time when realization of this occurred. In this case, the event in mind would probably be Timothy's baptism. However, the phrase may be linked more directly to the parallel commands to fight and to take hold, making the event grounds for obedience to those ministerial commands. In this case, the allusion would be to a commissioning ceremony of some sort. The two ceremonies would have been similar in tone, each including a confession of faith, a charge and a vow of commitment.
To judge from the ministry context here and probable allusions to the event elsewhere (1:18; 4:14), Paul may have had in mind Timothy's commissioning (similar to the more modern ordination). Then his reasoning is that the two commands of verse 12 are in keeping with the promises of God's selection of one for ministry. The ceremony that bound the congregation to acknowledge the authority of the new minister also bound the minister to faithful service.
Today the binding force of one's word is often questioned, but before God that is not so. The minister's pledge to serve must not be taken lightly. But it takes discipline as well as forceful reminders from coworkers or from God's Spirit to bring us back to first promises that bind. Yet what the servant must recall are not only human commitments to God but also God's commitments to his servants.
3. Present promises (6:13). This comes more clearly into view as Paul reminds Timothy of his present situation. Christian service is not something God initiates, like the christening of a ship, then leaves to run its own course. It begins with God's choice and continues in his presence and fellowship. So when Paul repeats the solemn charge, which begins in verse 13 and ends in verse 14, he emphasizes Timothy's continuing fellowship with God and Christ.
In this fellowship, too, obligation and promise are combined. To be in the sight of God (5:21; 2 Tim 4:1) is cause for reverent fear. The Hebrews were terrified of God's presence, which, as Moses explained, was to keep them from sinning (Ex 20:20). But God's presence meant for them also his faithful care—guidance, food, clothing (Deut 8:1-5). And the description of God as life-giver means the same for Paul's readers. God's constant presence should spur the Christian on to excellent service. Equally, this truth provides encouragement and strength, for the ever-present God is the one who gives and sustains life.
At the same time Timothy is reminded of his fellowship with Christ. He is our ever-present Lord (compare Mt 28:20). This comforting promise of continual fellowship, however, ought to compel us to the heights of faithfulness, for our Lord is also our judge (2 Tim 4:8; Rev 3:15-16).
Christian leaders in difficult situations have always found encouragement in Christ's experience. In fact, God has called us to participate in the very ministry Christ initiated. He made the good confession first, before Pontius Pilate. Paul's allusion is difficult to ascertain. Probably the reference is to Jesus' trial and to the supreme testimony he gave in his death. He authenticated his calling and commitment to serve God before the representative of this world, despite great danger and temptations to denial (see Jn 18:28-37). The one called to serve God makes a confession and commitment to continue Christ's own mission at any personal cost. Christ's commitment to his servants is continual fellowship.
4. Future promises (6:14). It is equally important for Timothy to concentrate on the promise of Christ's return, for two reasons. First is the promise of relief. The term Paul chose to describe the Second Coming here (the appearing) pictures the event as a glorious intervention to bring help. In fact, Paul uses the same term to refer to Christ's first advent (2 Tim 1:10; Tit 2:11; 3:4); this shows how the present age is to be understood in relation to Christ's two "appearances"—what began with Christ will end with Christ. When God's appointed time arrives, relief will come to the minister. A Christian's earthly duties will cease.
Second is a note of urgency. The obligations connected with the call to service (the command, vv. 11-12, to lead an exemplary Christian life) must be kept, the course must be finished in all faithfulness (without spot or blame), for Christ comes to judge (2 Tim 4:1, 8). In light of the certainty of this future event, without spot or blame stresses the need for a life that expresses godliness consistently and in all respects. The early Christians lived as if Christ's return would occur during their lifetime. We for the most part do not, and we are the weaker for it. This confident hope of consummation and evaluation can sustain us when days are long, bodies grow weary and results seem few.
5. Sovereign God (6:15-16). Last of all in the charge to Timothy, Paul calls to mind the sovereign and majestic God. A clear vision of the true nature of God is a strong motivation for holy living and service for all Christians. Paul declares that God has ordered all events (v. 15), including the appearance of Christ. But what a God! The Greek makes it clear that Paul has actually inserted a doxology, which celebrates the majesty and mystery of God, to describe the subject of the verb of execution (bring about) in verse 15. The force of Paul's artistry is to close the charge to God's servant in adoration and worship (compare 1:17).
The God whom Christians serve is the blessed and only Ruler. This description comes out of intertestamental Judaism. God's oneness and sovereignty (Ruler means "sovereign"), which might suggest transcendence and "otherness," are balanced by the blessing he intimately bestows on his people. The phrases King of kings and Lord of lords ascribe to God absolute sovereignty. This powerful combination appears in Revelation 17:14 and 19:16 in reference to Christ.
Majesty gives way to mystery in verse 16 as the doxology next declares God to be "the only one having immortality" (1:17). The meaning is that God is the source of eternal life, that life which is proper to him alone, which he has chosen to bestow on others. His dwelling place is unapproachable light (Ex 24:15-17; 34:29-35; 1 Jn 1:5-7), which speaks symbolically of his absolute holiness. The mystery becomes complete in the reference to his "invisibility" (1:17). The actual phrase, whom no one has seen or can see, recalls God's response to Moses, who in preparation for leading God's people requested to see God: "no one may see me and live" (Ex 33:20). Still, enough was shown to Moses to carry him through in confidence.
Finally, the doxology closes in praise, ascribing honor and might forever to the sovereign God (Rev 5:13). In the end, God's servants must set their concentration upon the invincible God. Turning the thought to praise, Paul reminds his readers that Christian life and ministry together form the appropriate response to the blessing of God.