"But Thou ..."
At the beginning of the apostolic testimony, Peter stood up with the eleven (Acts 2: 14); at the end, Paul stood alone ( 2 Tim. 4: 16). In less than a lifetime things had changed so radically that the apostle who was raised up of God to minister the distinctive truths of the dispensation has to say “that all who [are] in Asia … have turned away from me” (2 Tim. 1 : 15). He of whom the Lord said “this [man] is an elect vessel to me …” (Acts 9: 15)––said of no other apostle––experienced what his Master experienced when some “walked no more with him” (John 6: 66). Gone were the days of pristine freshness when “the heart and soul of the multitude of those that had believed were one …” (Acts 4: 32); present instead were the days when “all seek their own things, not the things of Jesus Christ (Phil. 2: 21). In place of men who “persevered in the teaching and fellowship of the apostles…” (Acts 2: 42) we have “men corrupted in mind and destitute of the truth…” (1 Tim. 6: 5). Those who had not claimed “that anything of what he possessed was his own…” (Acts 4: 32) are now replaced by “those who desire to be rich…” (1 Tim. 6: 9). Such was the state of things when Paul penned his last inspired letters from the prison in Rome. If in the first of these two epistles he had to say that some “have wandered from the faith” (1 Tim. 6: 10) and speak of “some having made profession, have missed the faith” (1 Time. 6: 21), by the time the second epistle was written the state was far worse as the first eight verses of the third chapter testify. Any one reading words such as “men shall be lovers of self, lovers of money… lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…” (2 Tim. 3: 2–4) can have no doubt that we are in “[the] last days” (2 Tim. 3: 1).
So who is Paul writing to? These final letters of Paul are not addressed to assemblies such as Ephesus or Colosse (assemblies among those who had given him up), but to an individual. The fact that an individual is addressed, rather than an assembly, is not without its significance. Assemblies, on account of their state, may have their lamps of testimony withdrawn (see Rev. 2: 5 etc.) but this in no way weakens the responsibility that rests on the shoulders of every individual saint: “To him that overcomes…” (Rev. 2 : 7 etc.). My trust is not to be in assemblies or meetings, but in Him “who walks in the midst of … the lamps” (Rev. 2: 1). Thus against the most awful background of decay and departure (especially as detailed in Paul’s final letter to Timothy), four times we have these words: “But thou” (1 Tim. 6: 11; 2 Tim. 3: 10, 14; 4: 5). In the darkest day, on the most difficult of pathways, in the most trying of circumstances when many of those who claim the name of Christ but deny His authority, come these words with spiritual power and freshness: “But thou”. Just two little words, no more, but yet in the hands of the Spirit of God what force they convey! “But thou”: that word but draws the contrast, marks out the exception, highlights the great difference there is to be; that word thou points the finger, turns the spotlight on the individual, leaves the identification of the one addressed in no doubt. My reader it is YOU. When Paul wrote, it was Timothy, a young man, one who apparently was marked by timidity and who was none too robust physically. It was to him in the first instance that these words were addressed. Now, they come down the ages of time and are addressed to you. You cannot avoid them: “But thou”. The responsibility to stand for the Lord, irrespective of the conditions in the professing church and the world at large, rests on YOU.
In the OT there were individuals who stood for God and for the faith that was then revealed, in spite of terrible conditions among the people of God. Each one was known as a “man of God”. There was Moses (Deut. 33: 1), David (2 Chron. 8: 14) and Elijah (1 Kings 17: 18) to name but three. Note that phrase man of God with care. It is distinctly singular––there is no thought of plurality in it. It is man of God not men of God. Each one in the OT identified as such knew something of the loneliness of the pathway of faith and what it was to stand alone, and yet each in their measure was God’s man in his day. So what of our day of testimony? We would gladly acknowledge Moses, David, and Elijah to be great men. Are there not then great men in the NT, in our dispensation? What of Peter, Paul and John? Yet the Spirit of God never speaks of any of these as “man of God”. Only one person in the NT is referred to in this way, and that is Timothy. Naturally, perhaps the most unlikely candidate for such a designation and yet how much the more striking when it is Paul himself who is used to name him as such in 1 Tim. 6: 11.
The first time that we have these words “But thou” they are coupled with the address “O man of God” (1 Tim. 6: 11). It is in this section that Paul says “piety with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6: 6). Yet there were those who disagreed. They were not content with the necessities of life, they had a “desire to be rich” (v9) and Paul warns that such aspirations cause men to wander from the faith. These people were not rich (the word to those that were rich comes later), but they wanted to be. They were poor and dissatisfied with their lot, and so wanted to be rich. Desiring to be rich has always been a mark of the world, and never more so than in this present materialistic age. Sadly, instead of the Church affecting the world, it is the world that influences the Church. These worldly desires carry great danger with them––the danger of wandering from the faith. It is not as yet departing from the faith––so far there is no purpose in it. It is wandering, probably done unconsciously, nonetheless such have lost their way, and have turned away from the true goal. Their eye is on riches and not on Christ and they wander from the faith. Against this trend we have the word “But thou”. What is Timothy to do in regard to such desires? Be careful of them? Not to be like minded? No, he is to “flee these things”. He is not to ignore them or avoid them, but to flee them. When a man flees, he turns his back on what he flees from and distances himself as rapidly as possible from it. Yet the selfsame energy that is to be expended in a negative way in fleeing such materialistic desires is also to be exhibited in a positive manner by pursuing righteousness, piety, faith, love, endurance, meekness of spirit. Let me pause and ask you: What are you pursuing?––“The love of money” or “righteousness, piety, …”?
In the second epistle we have those who are described somewhat differently. They are not said to have “wandered from the faith” but much more seriously they are said to have withstood “the truth” and have been found “worthless as regards the faith” (2 Tim. 3: 8). These are not genuine saints. Paul gives an example from the past in naming two, that have not to this point been named in Scripture, Jannes and Jambres. These two withstood Moses in their day. What Moses was then; Paul is now. Hence in v10 he speaks of “my teaching”. It is in contrast to such persons that Timothy stands. “But thou hast been thoroughly acquainted with my teaching …”. Could Paul say that of you or I as he could of this young man? These words in English “thoroughly acquainted” carry the thought of attending studiously to something. The acquaintance here is not a casual one. It does not just involve a surface knowledge of what Paul taught, but is a deep familiarity with his doctrines. From a child Timothy had known the OT Scriptures (v15–17) but now as a young man he has an intimate knowledge of that teaching that is characteristic of Christianity, namely Paul’s teaching. What paucity of knowledge there is among the saints of God of the Scriptures in general, let alone those Scriptures that come under the heading of Paul’s teaching. A sad mark of the present day is that we often hear ‘I think this …’, ‘The Church teaches that …’, ‘Mr X says that …’,‘My opinion is this …’––all instead of faith’s simple ‘God says …’.
A little further on we read of those who “lead” and are being “led astray”. That is the background. Thus the word is “But thou, abide in those things which thou hast learned, and [of which] thou hast been fully persuaded …”. In 1 Tim. 6, Timothy was told to “flee” and to “pursue”; but here in 2 Tim. 3, he is told to “abide”. Now what professes to be Christianity today has no shortage of leaders, and if it has a plenitude of leaders, it has a multiplicity of those who will be led. Even the world can see that the majority of these leaders do not lead in the same direction. Christendom with its abundance of divisions is infamous. In Heb. 13: 7 Paul gives the mark of true leaders: “Remember your leaders who have spoken to you the word of God; and considering the issue of their conversation, imitate their faith.” Those were men who were worth following! These in 2 Tim 3 advance “in evil” yet Timothy is to abide “in these things”. What things? In what he has learned and of which he has no doubt. What have you learned since you were converted? What truths are you certain of? Are you fully persuaded about the “person of Christ” (2 Cor. 2: 10)? Have you no doubt whatsoever that the Bible is the Word of God? Does your soul rest alone on the work of the Saviour as the only means of eternal salvation? Do you see the literal resurrection of the Lord as absolutely vital? The Devil is assailing these truths and many more today as never before. Where do YOU stand?
The final contrast is given in 2 Tim. 4: 5. There Timothy is to do certain things of which “be sober” is the first. The contrast here is not with those who have wandered from the faith, nor with those who have been led or who lead others astray, nor yet with those who withstand the truth, but with those who “have turned aside to fables”. They will not bear sound teaching, they heap up to themselves teachers, having an itching ear. Such turn from the truth to fables. They have caught the Athenian disease from the world ( see Acts 17: 19–21). Timothy is not to be intoxicated with novel fables generated by the corrupt mind of man, but to be sober and to have a clear mind conditioned by the Word of God. “But thou, be sober in all things ...” Sobriety is to mark him in every sphere of life. This final emphatic exhortation from Paul to Timothy is highlighted even more by the fact that Paul goes on to say “For I am already being poured out, and the time of my release is come ...” (2 Tim. 4: 6). Paul is about to leave the scene and Timothy, although no apostle, is to stand in his place in the testimony.
Down the centuries of time that word “But thou” has come to many a servant of Christ. They have stood in the testimony where Paul has stood. Like Timothy, they were not apostles. Nonetheless they stood on Paul’s ground. The state of the world or of the Church did not cause them to turn aside, they abode in the truth and pursued what was right. The darker the day, the more brightly their testimony shone. Like Paul and Timothy, they too have gone. But you and I are here. Will we go with the crowd or will we swim against the stream? Like Paul, those of a past day have “combated the good combat, they have “finished the race”, and they have “kept the faith”. Christendom has given up Paul, and it will shortly give up Christ for Antichrist. “But thou”?