By Edward O. Bragwell, Sr.
But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness (1 Tim. 6:11).
Four times, Paul warns his readers to flee (twice to Corinthians and twice to Timothy). One of my teachers defined flee “to get on out from, do not get close to it, do not stay and flirt with.” He was commenting on 1 Corinthians 6:18 – “flee fornication.” It is hard to improve on his definition. Christians can save themselves from “many sorrows” (1 Tim. 6: 10) by learning to heed Paul’s admonitions to flee. Too many are playing moral and spiritual brinkmanship – seeing how close to the brink they can get without toppling over.
Corinth was a wicked city. One would have had to go out of the world to avoid the company of immoral people (5:9,10). When filth saturates a community, some usually gets into the church. It did at Corinth. One brother had his father’s wife -sexual immorality repulsive even to the world (5:1).
Some may have rationalized: “Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods” (6:13). Why have bodily appetites if we cannot satisfy them? One must learn to control the body’s passions. The body is not for sexual immorality. The Christian’s motto is not “foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods,” but the “body is . . . for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. One must use it to glorify God. One way to do this is to “Flee sexual immorality (fornication – KJV).”
I doubt that our communities are worse than pagan Corinth. Some may run a close second. One cannot totally insulate himself nor his family from exposure to corrupt morals. They must learn to cope or else “go out of the world.”
Most neighborhood schools teach “sex education.” The emphasis is on avoiding unwanted consequences, like V.D. or pregnancy, rather than avoiding fornication. The Lord attacks the problem at its roots – “flee sexual immorality.”
Christians, even preachers, have not always been careful enough. They thought it would not happen to them. They were wrong. One thing led to another until they went beyond the point of no return. It is a pity they did not have the foresight of Joseph in Potiphar’s house. He literally fled fornication (Gen. 39). David was not as wise in the affair with Bathsheba. He later lamented, “my sin is ever before me” (Psa. 51:3).
Young preaching brother (or maybe not so young), you can hardly be too cautious. You may not know how far you can go without sin. You do not want to find out! What begins as innocent confidential counseling may turn to talk leading to immorality. This is not fiction. It does happen. Preachers, especially young ones, do well to be extra careful here. One must protect himself and his reputation.
Preachers may do too much private counseling of young women. It might be better for qualified older women to counsel and teach younger women. If one feels that he must do such counseling, then by all means be discreet. Do it at a time and place where there can be no opportunity for it to turn in the wrong direction. If married, then take the wife along. If unmarried, then have someone else along to avoid any thing happening – either in fact or appearance. Sure, I know some good brethren think this is being overly prudent. I don’t think so. I have seen too many lives shattered, good churches troubled and preachers’ influence destroyed. In most cases it could have been avoided had they stayed clear of surroundings where such could happen.
Peer pressure, natural desire, and social acceptance put a lot of pressure on young people to engage in sexual immorality. If young people really want to please God by avoiding sexual immorality, they must flee it. They would do well to stay away from people, places and predicaments that would be conducive to it. They need to avoid the pre-fornication condition of “lasciviousness” – sexually provocative dress, speech and actions. It does little good to apply the brakes after one has revved the motor to full speed with the throttle wide open.
No one says it is always easy to flee fornication in a sensually saturated society. It can be done. It must be done.
“Therefore, my beloved, flee idolatry,” Paul later wrote to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 10:14).
The Corinthians constantly faced “things offered to idols” (8:1). The meat would be in the market place, in their neighbor’s homes, and at the idol’s temple. What was a Christian to do about all this? Could he buy the meat and eat it? Should he eat it if served by a neighbor at dinner? Should he eat at the feasts in the idol’s temple?
Paul addresses these problems in 1 Corinthians 8-10. He concedes that eating the meat was not inherently wrong (8:8). It was within the liberty they had in Christ (8:9). The strong understood that the idol was nothing in the world. When they ate it they would not be worshiping idols. They knew that there is but one God.
There were other things to consider. The effect it would have on weak brethren. The effect it could have upon themselves.
There were brethren, possibly formerly idolaters, who could not yet safely eat the meat. Would the weak brethren be encouraged to eat it as meat offered to an idol by seeing the strong eat? Where this would likely happen, the Corinthians should have enough love for the weak brother to waive this liberty.
Paul concludes, “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (8:13). Then, in chapter nine, he gives examples of his own yielding of rights for “the gospel’s sake” (v. 23). Did he not have the “right to eat and drink” at the brethren’s expense (v. 4)? Did he not have the right to “take along a believing wife” (v. 5)? 1 believe he infers that, if he had a wife, that she also could “live of the gospel.”
I wonder how many churches would turn Paul down for local preaching because he had no wife. I also wonder how many would turn down Peter for a meeting because he would bring his wife along – at the expense of the church!
If Paul could voluntarily forego his rights for the gospel’s sake, surely the Corinthians could give up some meat to keep weak brethren away from idolatry!
Could knowledgeable Christians ever safely eat meat offered to idols? Yes, if sold in the market place (10:25,26) or at dinner in someone’s home (10:27,28) – unless someone at the dinner says, “This was offered to an idol.” This would be giving religious significance to it. In such cases one should not eat.
What about in the idol’s temple (8:10)? Paul discourages this altogether. Why? It would still just be meat there too. It would be much harder to disassociate the meat from idol worship. There was the problem of influence: “For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols?”
How far one could go without fellowshipping the demons? When a Israelite ate from the altar he symbolized his fellowship with the altar (10:18)? When a Christian eats the Lord’s supper he symbolizes his fellowship with the Lord. Likewise, when one ate at the idol’s table he symbolized his fellowship with the idol or demon the idol represented. It is not that the idol or the offering was anything themselves (10:19). But, it was the meaning given to them at the temple feasts. If the Lord’s table signified communion with the Lord, the idol’s table signified communion with demons. Eaters signified their fellowship with the ones in whose honor the table was set – the Lord or demons. So, one should not eat at the demon’s table – the table in the idol’s temple.
It is in this context that Paul says, “Flee idolatry” (10:14). No matter how strong he might think himself to be, he could not be that sure that he could frequent these feasts and be totally clear of idolatry. He gives ancient Israel for an example (10:1-11). They were delivered and sustained by the Lord (v. 1-4). Yet, they slipped into idolatry with its associated sins (v. 7ff). How could these strong, knowledgeable Corinthian Christians be that sure that they could go to the idol’s temple, eat at the idol’s table, without sinning? So he writes, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands (that brother who had knowledge was sure that he could eat without sinning eob) take heed lest he fall” (v. 12).
He concludes “Therefore, my beloved, flee idolatry.” Do not see how close you can get without being contaminated. Why should one test his power to resist religious error? Religious groups do things that are innocent apart from a religious setting. Participating in these things, though you may personally detach the religious significance, is not a good way to flee false religion. It is hard to effectively oppose a neighbor’s religious error while non-religiously participating in his religious activity. The things might be innocent themselves, but they are sponsored by them as religious activities. One can not be that sure that such close association will not sooner or later lead to acceptance -religiously. “Therefore, to him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” “Therefore, my beloved, flee idolatry” (or any other form of religious error). Do not cuddle up to it, but see how much distance you can make between you and it.
Paul warns Timothy of all kinds of evil and sorrows produced by greed (1 Tim. 6: 10-11). One does not have to be rich to greedily love money. The warning here is directed primarily to servants (v. 1) and to God’s man, Timothy (v. 11). When servants of men or servants of God set their minds on getting rich, they are asking for trouble. A Christian, who was a servant, needed not become a freedom fighter – he could be content with being free in Christ. He needed not be greedy of his master’s goods (or anyone else’s for that matter) – he was rich in Christ. Timothy was to withdraw from teachers who “suppose that godliness is a means of gain (vv. 1-5). Temporal gain is not nearly as important as spiritual (vv. 6-8). A Christian servant, content with the bare necessities (“food and clothing”), gains far more than any freedom and/or wealth gained by greed.
Timothy, a young evangelist, was not only to “teach and exhort these things” (v. 2), he was to practice what he preached (v. 11). He to was “flee these things” – evils caused by an inordinate love of money. He was to neither make money his objective in preaching or be hindered from his work by it. J.W. McGarvey in one of his chapel talks, interestingly observed:
“Well, what is it (their preaching-eob) for? In order that you may get rich? There is not a man in the country green enough to think that is the way to get rich. And if there was a man thinking that he was going to be a preacher in order to get rich, he is too big a fool to be a preacher. And as soon as the people find out that is even one of your motives for preaching that will be the end of your preaching. There is not a man, woman or child in the country who wants to hear a preacher who is preaching for the money, and that one of his chief aims” (Chapel Talks, “Delivered Before the Student Body of The College of the Bible in 1910 and 1911,” John William McGarvey, p. 18).
It is easy for young (some not so young) preachers to get into the money trap. Timothy was told to flee it. Materialism has a powerful pull. While there is room for improvement over the country, brethren’s support of gospel preachers has improved in the last few years. The temptation to preach for the money is greater than in the past. The temptation to use preaching as a job until “something better comes along” is great. One may think of preaching to pay the rent and tuition until he can get enough education to qualify for a “good job.” It can be a good way to have full-time pay for part-time work freeing time to build a secular side line into one’s main line. Brethren, these observations may make some uncomfortable, but that is the way it is.
There are great and honorable men, who have tried full-time preaching and found out that it was not for them. They have wisely turned to other ways to make a living. Most of these are greater assets to the Lord’s cause than if they had continued in full-time preaching. There are others who have never preached full time. They have made their living at secular work, preached wherever they might be needed, even receiving some financial support for this work. I have nothing but praise for these men. Nor are we critical of any who are fortunate enough to work with brethren who pay enough to maintain a high standard of living (one comparable to other brethren with good paying jobs). We are critical of those who obviously use preaching as a means of temporal gain.
The temptations mentioned before are real. It does not take a Solomon to see that some do yield to the desire to be rich. “But you, O man of God, flee these things. . .”
Timothy, a young man, was especially warned against youthful lust. Generally speaking, lust and desire translate from the same word in the New Testament. Lust is desire gone astray. Youth does not have a monopoly on lust, but some desires are stronger in youth than in later life. Lust is not limited to sexual lust. Paul says there are “many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.”
Sexual desire is stronger in youth than in later years. The young need to be especially careful not to allow it to become sinful (cf. James 2:14,15). Timothy, a young preacher, needed to especially be careful.
Perhaps Paul had other lusts in mind -when he wrote, “Flee youthful lusts” (2 Tim. 2:22). The warning comes as he condemns strife caused by foolish and ignorant disputes (2 Tim. 2:14ff). Could a youthful lust be an inordinate love of controversy? One cannot, nor should he try to, avoid all controversy. The gospel is controversial. It has always been. Read of the controversy it provoked in the book of Acts. One with no stomach for controversy does not need to preach. However, there is a difference in being set for the defense of the gospel and just being argumentative. “A servant of the Lord must not quarrel. . . ” (2:23-26). Youth sometimes has an excessive love for argumentation – to make a sport and challenge out of winning an argument.
Young people often have a strong desire for the novel, innovative, and/or sensational. The inordinate desire for these can be a problem. They may desire change for its own sake. Some things may need changing. Some congregations need a good house cleaning with a fresh start that youth often likes to see. However, one must avoid clamoring for change for its own sake.
Young people have a strong desire to find their own places in the world. They want to be independent, standing on their own feet. This is not bad when kept under control and in perspective. Young preachers are no different. When this desire becomes an obsession or lust, a great deal of harm is done. They may belittle older and experienced men especially men of great influence. Rather than profiting from the teaching and experience of older brethren they scorn them. They want to show the world and the brotherhood, at all costs, that they are their own men – not riding on anyone’s coat tails. With such an attitude there are bound to be conflicts between the young and their elders.
Young people have a strong desire for action. They like to see things get done. Those of us who are older need to retain more of this desire in later life. This desire can become a lust and get out of hand. Young men sometimes grab the ball and run with it before the play is called. They want to get the church moving at their rate of speed so badly that they will assume leadership positions. They may not have had time to temper their zeal with the knowledge and/or experience needed to lead the church into action. Instead of working with older and experienced men, they may like Absalom of old set about to steal the hearts of the people (2 Sam. 15) away from them.
We need young people to spur us on with their idealism and enthusiasm. They may be able to rekindle in us some of the fire that we have allowed to burn low with age. Young people need to learn to keep a tight rein on these desires, so their energy can be channeled into useful rather than harmful avenues for themselves and the church.
These are some things that we just should not test our strength against. The only correct response is to flee, flee and flee
Guardian of Truth XXX: 20, pp. 618-619, 629
October 16, 1986