Are you a Jellyfish or Dolphin?

1 Timothy 6:11-16

18 January 2009

Blenheim Free Church, Maidenhead

Morning service

[Hmmm. Perhaps better headings might be something like: the Energy of the man of God; the Encouragers of the man of God; the End of the man of God...]


There is a creature called a Portuguese Man-o-War. It's not technically a jellyfish, but I'm not going to bother about fine distinctions. It has an air-filled float above water and stinging tentacles that hang down below.

The point is, to quote an encyclopedia, "It has no means of propulsion, but is moved by a combination of winds, currents, and tides." The Portuguese Man-o-war just drifts along, going with the flow. It has no goal, no purpose. Just a nasty sting. Doesn't that sound like a lot of the world around us? A lot of the church around us?

In this passage we are looking at not a man-o-war type jellyfish, but a man of God as described by Paul. As we shall see, the man of God is the opposite of a jellyfish in every respect. Remember that image; we will be coming back to it.

In these verses Paul is directly addressing Timothy, and he calls him man of God. He calls Timothy this to set him apart from the false teachers. Timothy is to teach right doctrine; he is to live an upright life; he is to set an example to others.

And yet, this is the calling for all of us. It is not only church leaders who need to be men of God. A healthy church should be packed with men and women of God: those who have made some progress in the Christian life; those who can lead and guide and mentor others. We should all aspire to be men and women of God, and as we listen in to Paul's command to Timothy, we would do well to apply it to ourselves.

I've split the text up into three main points, with the first point being by far the longest, so please don't panic if time seems to be passing slowly! The first heading is The get up and go of the man of God.

The Get up and Go of the Man of God

In verses 11 and 12, Paul urges Timothy not to be passive, but to live an active Christian life.

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called...ref

The man of God is to have some get-up-and-go about him. He is not to drift passively along with the currents of the world like a jellyfish. He is to flee, to pursue, to fight and to take hold.

Things to Flee from

Paul commands Timothy to flee from all this. In context "all this" means, in the first instance, the love of money. Timothy is not to be seduced by the love of money as the false teachers have been; he is to flee from it.

The love of money is a trap that leads to many foolish and harmful desires. It is the root of all evil. It leads people away from faith, and pierces them with many griefs, irrespective of whether they actually have any or not.

So, Paul says, flee from all this! Don't flirt with the love of money. Don't drift with the other jellyfish into the love of money. There's a waterfall ahead; start swimming for your life in the opposite direction!

The love of money is so seductive that unless we actually make some movement in the opposite direction, unless we start to flee, we're going to get trapped.

And the best antidote I know to the love of money is just to give it away. If you want to obey God's word here and flee from the love of money, then simply start giving it away.

[Pause...] How do you react to that statement? If the first thing that has come into your mind is a bunch of reasons why you can't possibly give away any more, then ask yourself, how hard are you really fleeing from the love of money?

Things to Pursue

Along with something to run away from, Paul gives the man of God something to pursue. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness, he says.

These are all characteristics of the godly person, but none of them happen to us by accident. If, like jellyfish, we simply drift along with the culture we will never become men and women of God. The world around us is not pursuing righteousness or godliness or faith or love or endurance or gentleness. It all seems very strange to them.

We are fighting a tide. We need to strive for righteousness and godliness. We need to learn faith and love. We need to practise endurance and gentleness. None of them will grow in our lives by accident.

What are you doing to pursue righteous and godliness in your life? Do you ever turn off the television in order to read your Bible? Do you ever put aside the crummy novel or magazine and read a good Christian book?

What are you doing to pursue faith and love in your life? Do you carve out times to pray each day? Do you go out of your way to spend time serving others in the church?

What are you doing to pursue endurance and gentleness in your life? Do you persist in the fight against sin, even when it is hard? Do you make an effort to be be gentle and Christlike at work? The Portuguese man-o-war has a nasty sting because it can only drift. It is easy prey. The man of God does not need a sting; he strives to be gentle.

Faith to fight for

So the man of God flees and pursues, and he also fights. Fight the good fight of the faith, Paul urges.

To be a man of God is a daily struggle. We need to fight our old sinful natures that would love to reassert themselves in our lives. We need to fight against the world that is so bright and glittering and attractive. And we need to fight against the devil, who would love us to lower our guard so he can get us to fall into disgrace.

The battle is constant. Our bodies have immune systems that operate constantly to fight off disease. If my immune system were to give up even briefly then I would face all kinds of deeply nasty diseases, and even death.

Like germs, there are many evils around that would love to destroy the faith. We need to fight constantly to remain faithful, and keep our defences up.

Life to take hold of

The fourth activity of the man of God is to take hold: Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

The phrase "take hold" here means to seize, to grab tightly, to hang on to. God has called the man of God to eternal life. He has given him a gift. Like my younger daughter given a gift she loves, we must clutch it to us and not let anyone snatch it away — especially not our elder sister.

The gift of eternal life which God has given us is not so much a quantity of life (simply going on forever), it is a quality of life. It is "abundant life" as Jesus puts it, or looking down to verse 19 of chapter 6 in front of us, life that is truly liferef.

So many Christians live unsatisfied and feeble lives because they have failed to grasp the gift that God has given them. They hold onto eternal life feebly. They have no idea of the preciousness of what they have. They make no effort to live a life that is truly life. They hold on more tightly to careers and houses and relationships.

Imagine you are standing on the wing of a plane that's crash-landed in the middle of the Hudson River. The plane is slowly, but inevitably sinking. The freezing water is coming up to your knees. At last someone on a ferry throws you rope, a lifeline. How are you going to hold it? Are you going to take it feeble and limply, or are you going to let go of everything else and grasp on to it with all your might and every ounce of strength you have?

God has given you life to the full. So grasp it! Treasure it! Live it!

So, we see the get-up-and-go of the man of God. He is not a jellyfish, drifting along with the currents of the world. He is more like a dolphin, leaping over the waves; gliding through the water. He lives an active life: he flees, he pursues, he fights, he takes hold.

But what sustains him as he does all this? Is being a man of God really all down to us and our efforts? Well, of course not. Next I want to look at the Guardians and Guides of the man of God. Spot the "G"s!

The Guardians and Guides of the Man of God

In verse 13, Paul gives Timothy a charge, and he does it In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confessionref.

There are two great encouraging truths here: the man of God is in the presence of God the Father; and the man of God is in the presence of Christ Jesus. He does not travel alone, he has guardians and guides in the form of God the Father who sustains him, and Jesus Christ who has gone before him.

God the Father is not a spectator in our lives, he is present and active. He is not watching from afar, waiting to see the man of God fail, he is right beside him, present and accessible every moment.

If God gives life to everything, then how much more will he make sure that the man of God is sustained for eternal life?

So God protects us when we are unable to flee; he gives us the energy to pursue good things; he arms us for the fight. If it were up to our own efforts we would never make it to the end.

The man of God makes it his habit to turn to God in every situation. To ask him to preserve and sustain him. He knows he relies on God for every step. But that help is available: the presence of God is never far away.

And the man of God is always in the presence of Christ Jesus as well. Which is an immense encouragement!

Paul deliberately draws a parallel between Jesus' life and that of the man of God. Just as Timothy made his good confession in the presence of many witnesses in verse 12, presumably at his baptism, so Jesus while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession. This was the statement that he is King of the Jews. They needn't both have made exactly the same good confession, but Paul's point is that they both formally made public professions of faith.

Jesus' confession led directly to his crucifixion. And so Timothy, the man of God, can expect challenges, difficulties, pain and persecution. Life for the man of God can be hard!

But there is an encouragement in verse 14. There is an end in sight: the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus made it to the end! He has finished the journey! He got there before us!

A journey with an end in sight is so much easier to endure. Especially when we know that there is joy beyond the suffering.

But more than this, Paul says that the man of God is actually in the presence of this Jesus. The first time anyone climbed Everest was the hardest; who knew if it could even be done? But now we have a guide and guardian; someone who has been there and done it before us is with us. Someone who has made it is now alongside us. He comforts us and encourages us. He knows the way ahead.

We need to listen to him and trust him. Jesus is the role-model for the man of God. He is with us; let's learn from him.

Where is the Holy Spirit in this verse? Well, it is the Spirit who mediates the presence of God the Father and of Jesus Christ in our lives. It is he who brings the sustaining power of God the Father and the encouragement of Jesus into our daily lives. So the whole trinity is active in sustaining and encouraging us. These three are the guardians and guides of the man of God.

The Great God of the Man of God

Lastly, in verses 15 and 16, Paul lifts our eyes to the Great God of the man of God.

God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no-one has seen or can see. To him be honour and might for ever. Amen.ref

Not for the first time in 1 Timothy, Paul breaks into a doxology. Paul just loves to praise God! He simply can't think about the man of God without breaking out into praise of the great God of the man of God.

To be a man of this God is an unimaginably high calling. Why would you want to serve anything else? This God is King of kings and Lord of lords. What's the point in devoting your life to anything less?

When the life of the man of God is hard, and he feels like packing it in, here is the encouragement. This God has shared his immortality with us. One day we shall approach the unapproachable; one day we shall see the unseeable. One day we will enter fully into the presence of his honour and might.

This is our God, and this is our goal.

In the world, people expend their lives on so much lesser things.

At the Olympics, Rebecca Adlington won two gold medals for swimming. She trained for years, two or three times a day. She would often start training at five o' clock in the morning, and she would swim between 65 and 70 kilometres every week. The discipline and the expenditure of effort is just immense. She has a life devoted to swimming. And what is it all for? A couple of gold disks, a bit of fame that will be largely gone in a few years time, and designer shoes, apparently.

How much more worthwhile is it for the man of God to devote his life to this God?

The world just doesn't understand this. Discussing this week the heroic deeds of Chesley B. Sullenberger III with my colleagues, I happened to mention that I have a friend who was a pilot for British Airways, but has given that up to become a vicar. And they just could not understand this at all. Why would anyone give up the money, the prestige, the glamour of being an airline pilot to become a poxy, impoverished vicar? Well, they don't know the great God of the man of God. Whatever we give up in this world is nothing compared to knowing the majesty of this God.

The world is just a flock of jellyfish, drifting wherever the current takes them. We have a goal to swim towards: life forever with the King of kings and Lord of lords. If the life of the man of God seems hard, not worth it, then we need to spend some time in worship. We need to lift our eyes to the all-surpassing glory of our God.


So, do you want to be a jellyfish, or do you want to be a dolphin?

In so much of life we just drift along. We let life just happen to us. We let our careers just happen to us. We let our families just happen without vision or a goal. We so rarely engage with life and decide what we want to do and where we want to go. We just drift wherever the currents take us.

And we are like that in the church as well. We just drift along, never taking charge of our Christian lives. Following the currents of the world.

But the church needs men and women of God!

The challenge to you this morning, whoever you are, is, Will you take responsibility for your Christian life? Will you put some get-up-and-go into your faith? Will you actively flee from danger? Will you energetically pursue what is good? Will you fight the fight of the faith every single day? Will you grasp and cling on to the life that God has given, letting go of everything else?

The church, this church, every church, desperately needs men and women of God. Mature believers who can guide and mentor others. Will you aspire to become one? It won't happen quickly, and it won't happen by accident. We need some put some get-up-and-go into it year after year.

If we will do this then God gives us every resource we need. He is with us, Jesus is with us, the Holy Spirit is in us: they will guard and guide us every step of the way.

Sometimes it will not seem worth it. Sometimes you will simply not have the energy to flee or pursue or fight or hold any more. At these times, just lift your eyes. Meditate on the Great God we have, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is always worth it.

Perhaps you are thinking this morning, I don't know about all this man of God stuff. It all seems like a lot of effort. Can't I just live the quiet life and be an ordinary Christian?

Well, this is the ordinary Christian life. We are called to pursue God with our whole hearts. The alternative is to be a jellyfish, drifting aimlessly through life. If you live like this, you will always be dissatisfied; you will never find true joy and happiness. You will be easy prey for the devil. We are called to so much more! We are called to be men and women of a great God.

So let's take a few moments now to think. Who are you going to give to this week as you seek to flee the love of money? Which TV programme are you going to turn off this week so as to spend some time in prayer? What sin are you going to take up the fight against again today? How are you going to cling on this week to the gift of life that God has given you, investing in it more than you invest in any other activity?

Let's reflect on these things for a moment, and then I'll pray.