In warfare, a tactical withdrawal is when an army retreats while continuing to engage the enemy. Sometimes it is a sign that the retreating army is outmatched. But in the spiritual warfare of the Christian life, it is an offensive measure. We defeat the enemy by fleeing from him and pursuing God instead.
The “all this” that Paul tells Timothy to flee is described in verses 4–10. Although the internet hadn’t been invented yet, Paul’s list sounds uncomfortably like much of what we read on social media! It includes spiritual pride, frivolous spiritual controversies, envy, discord, malicious talk, evil suspicion, irritability, and greed. Instead, Paul urged Timothy to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (v. 11).
This is a strategic withdrawal during which Timothy is to fight the “good fight of the faith” (v. 12). It is a battle carried out by holding fast to the truth both in word and in action.
We tend to think of fighting for the truth as primarily a battle of words. The apostle makes it clear that it is also a matter of living out the truth. “The apostle gives us no teaching on holiness and how to attain it,” John Stott observes. “We are simply to run from evil as we run from danger, and to run after goodness as we run after success.”
When Paul tells Timothy to “take hold of eternal life,” he is not talking about earning but acting in faith. Timothy is to act in accordance with his confession of faith. The language of confession is probably an allusion to baptism, which 1 Peter 3:21 calls “the pledge of a clear conscience toward God.” The truth that baptism symbolizes is that we have been cleansed from sin by Christ’s death and given new life by His resurrection.
>> How do we pursue righteousness? The key is to keep your eyes on Jesus Christ. We confess Christ by agreeing with Jesus’ testimony about Himself. He is our King and Savior.
“Fairest Lord Jesus, Ruler of all nature, O Thou of God and man the Son, Thee will I cherish, Thee will I honor, Thou, my soul’s glory, joy, and crown” (Joseph Seiss, “Fairest Lord Jesus”).