But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. —1 Timothy 6:11–12 (ESV)
Timothy is told to flee and pursue. These two always go together, they must. If you don’t do both, you don’t do either. If you only flee sin, and don’t pursue Christ, then you’re only fleeing from one sin to another. If you only “pursue” Christ, but don’t leave your sin, you’ll find a judge instead of a Savior. These are inseparable twins. They often go by different names in Scripture. In Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3 they go by “put off” and “put on,” as well as “old man” and “new man.” Romans 6 speaks of us dying to sin and being raised in Christ. Jesus tells us to deny ourselves and follow him. Most familiar to us is the language of repentance and faith.
Timothy is to flee the things of the false teachers and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness; which basically means that Timothy is to flee sin and pursue Christ. The righteousness Timothy is to pursue is a righteousness before God and for God. Godliness, by definition, means devotion or piety towards God. The faith Timothy is to pursue, is faith in God. Love may mean love toward man (I don’t think that’s Paul’s intent), but if so, it must mean love toward man as an expression of love toward God. Steadfastness is faithfulness to God and His Word. And then there is gentleness. Gentleness seems like that odd cousin at the family reunion. Where did he come from? But he’s actually the one who brings everything back into contextual focus.
Gentleness is the cousin that relates the family of v. 11 to the family of v. 12. From gentleness we go into fighting. How does gentleness relate to fighting? Perfectly. Biblically. Gentleness is coupled with fighting so that the fighting is godly and righteous. Fighting is coupled with gentleness so that the gentleness isn’t compromising, and thus ungodly and unrighteous. There is a time to call wolves wolves, but there is also a time to plead with them. 1 Timothy 6:11–14 has a twin in Paul’s second letter to Timothy. The resemblance is enlightening.
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will [emphasis mine]. —2 Timothy 2:22–26 (ESV)
Wisely Spurgeon taught his Timothys,
Try to avoid debating with people. State your opinion and let them state theirs. If you see that a stick is crooked, and you want people to see how crooked it is, lay a straight rod down beside it; that will be quite enough. But if you are drawn into controversy, use very hard arguments and very soft words. Frequently you cannot convince a man by tugging at his reason, but you can persuade him by winning his affections.
Jesus called the Pharisees serpents, but at times he also pleaded with them both as a group and as individuals. Wisdom is called for. Here are two helpful principles. First, determine if the heart is hardening or softening. Lets your words match the heart. Second, love should always be the chief motive. If sheep are involved, love demands we yell, “Wolf!” Otherwise, be gentle, but firm; fighting for the faith. The faith that declares Jesus saves sinners.