Near the end of Paul’s career, the problems of the church in Ephesus were so severe that the apostle not only had to put his trusted associate Timothy in charge there (1 Tim. 1:3), he also had to send the young man a letter with instructions on how to deal with the false teachers and address the unrest in the community. Given that Timothy would have already known much of what Paul presents in 1 Timothy because of his time spent with the apostle, the instructions largely remind Timothy of what he should already know. But we should realize that Paul did not put his pen to parchment only for Timothy’s sake but also for the church as a whole. In all likelihood this personal letter was read to all of the Christians in Ephesus in order to ground Timothy’s work upon apostolic authority; thus, the believers also learned the proper use of the Law (1:8–10), the roles of women in the church (2:8–15; 5:3–16), the duties of elders and deacons (3:1–13), and the dangers of greed, quarrels, and ungodliness (6:2b–10).
Since the letter is for the whole church, Paul’s exhortation for the man of God to flee sin and pursue holiness in 1 Timothy 6:11–12 is likewise for all believers. The qualities listed in verse 11 are also reflected in Galatians 5:22–23 and 2 Peter 1:3–8, among many other passages. All of these lists must be taken together if we are to come up with a full-orbed picture of what we are called to be as children of our heavenly Father. Only those who live a life of repentance and endeavor to please Him can, along with Timothy, be known as a man (or woman) of God. Dr. John MacArthur comments on 1 Timothy 6 that “the man of God is known by what he: (1) flees from (v. 11); (2) follows after (v. 11); (3) fights for (v. 12); and (4) is faithful to (vv. 13, 14)” (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 1,798).
We who are not ordained should find comfort in the fact that even Timothy needed to be encouraged to persevere. None of us is so far advanced in our sanctification that we do not need encouragement to press on, and no stumbling saint has fallen so far that he cannot be placed back in the race through a word of exhortation. The church is, among other things, to play the role of cheerleader as we “stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24).
Everyone who follows Christ makes the “good confession of faith” when he joins a church body, and Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to remember the confession he made before other witnesses is an allusion to the importance of fellow witnesses to encourage us in the faith. All of us have an important part to play in cheering on the discouraged Christians around us, and God will use our encouragement to help others grow to maturity in Christ.