Timothy is to demonstrate two opposite actions (“flee” and “pursue”, v.22) with the same seriousness and strength. He is to flee sin as if it is the plague. The “evil desires of youth” (v.22) refer to those things that are opposed to the development of Christian maturity— sexual sins, impulsiveness, aggression, arrogance, unbridled ambition, and the like. It must be noted that older people can also suffer from the evil desires of youth, especially if they try to act like the young.
Secondly, Timothy is to pursue those things that are connected with mature Christian discipleship. In the words of theologian John Stott, he must “go in hot pursuit” of those virtues (“righteousness, faith, love and peace”, v.22) and habits that lead to godliness. He need not do this as a “lone ranger” Christian, but along with the Christian community who will encourage, support and hold him accountable (“along with those who call on the Lord”, v.22).
The Christian life is not merely about avoiding sin, but also pursuing righteousness. The secret of holiness is in resolutely running away from sin and relentlessly running towards holiness. Without such holiness, it is impossible to please God or be useful to Him.
Paul then deals with how Timothy is to handle the opposition. He must avoid sin and be godly in his response. He must not enter into useless quarrels or step inside the “boxing ring” in response to the taunts of his opponents (v.23). Instead, he should be “kind to everyone” (v.24) and “gently instruct” (v.25) his opponents. He is to be more like a patient and wise father than a quarrelsome, hot-blooded, and resentful sibling. By so doing, he will be living out his godliness and serving as a model of pastoral integrity and kindness.
In addition, he may win over his opponents. After all, the aim of ministry is not to win arguments, but to win people. He should counter their heresy by always harbouring the holy hope that they would repent (v.25) and “come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil” (v.26). If so, they’ll escape from the devil’s grip and begin doing God’s will instead of the devil’s (v.26). We should always have such noble hopes and prayers in our hearts even when encountering opposition.
Make a list of things you should flee from and another list of things you should pursue seriously. Is God saying anything specific about the direction, passion, and seriousness of your life?
Why is it more important to win people rather than arguments? How can this be practised in our relationships with “friends” and “enemies”? What should your inner hopes and prayers be when you minister and defend the truth?