Flee and Pursue
I love to write. I also love literary devices like oxymorons, similes and hyperboles. I especially love to say onomatopoeia.
I believe the Holy Spirit through Paul used a literary device when he wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:22: “Now FLEE from youthful lusts and PURSUE righteousness, faith, love and peace…” Here there are two contradictory instructions that when put together portray truth. How can you flee and pursue? That seems that you would be running in two different directions at once, does it not?
This squirrel of a thought intrigued me, so I looked further through the scriptures at what I should FLEE and PURSUE. Consider the following passages: I Timothy 6:3-11, 2 Timothy 2:22-26, 1 Corinthians 10:1-14, Romans 14:19-20, Psalm 34:14, Proverbs 21:21 and Hebrews 12:14-15. I made a list of the things these passages tell me to flee and pursue. I want to share with you my summation.
1. FLEE DISSENSION and CONTROVERSY; PURSUE LOVE and GENTLENESS. I love that through this study God’s word has presented itself so simply. I should flee from foolish and ignorant speculations, grumbling, a quarrelsome spirit and bitterness. I should avoid controversy and dissension. What does that look like? I call it being a “pot-stirrer”: being grumpy, negative, looking for things to disagree about, or taking advantage of opportunities to create drama and strife.
Some people are more adept at this than others. I have definitely had periods in my life where I dwelt in the negative. In the church we often use the example of members fighting over the color of the carpet or which songbook to use. While this has happened many times through the years, I believe we are more likely to grumble and stir up trouble about personal items: how you raise, discipline and educate your children; how much money you spend on a house or a car; how often you eat out; or what spiritual strengths you have and how you use them. If it’s not the same as me, then I’m going to assume it comes from a place of laziness or gluttony or worldliness. That leads me to talk bad about you to my family or my closest friends or the brethren that are more “like-minded” to me.
POT-STIRRER. FLEE from this. Don’t try to control it, run away. Escape! Instead PURSUE love, gentleness, patience, peace with brethren, kindness to all, edification and humility. In Philippians 4:9 Paul tells us that when we practice the good that we learn in the epistles, then the God of peace is with us. How peaceful will my life be if I live in harmony with my family, my brethren and the people around me in as much as it’s in my power. I Thessalonians 4:10-12 instructs us to make it our ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to our own business and to work with our hands so that we may behave properly toward outsiders. PURSUE giving people the benefit of the doubt. PURSUE thinking of others first. PURSUE using your time and energy for good, for God. PURSUE building up instead of tearing down.
2. FLEE IMMORALITY and YOUTHFUL LUSTS; PURSUE RIGHTEOUSNESS and SANCTIFICATION. I love the word youthful here. It firmly plants lusts and immorality as opposites to wisdom. With wisdom I know I need to flee from immorality and the desire for evil things or wealth for the sake of being rich. I need to flee what merely looks good, feels good or makes me feel powerful and important.
If a young man wants to be successful at his job in order to gain wealth so that he can have the house or car or lifestyle he desires, what is he willing to sacrifice to obtain these things? Time to study, time to pray, time to give of himself to others, time to worship God? What questionable or sinful acts is he willing to commit in order to attain his dreams? Lying, cheating, and aligning himself with people who have no love for or fear of God? This young man reminds me of the rich man in Luke 12 who is so focused on building up earthly treasures that he neglects to store up heavenly treasures. How then do I make sure I store up heavenly treasures? PURSUE righteousness, or as I like to call it “right-way-ness.” Which is directly connected to godliness and sanctification. We are to PURSUE doing good and looking for a way of escape from temptation.
We also need to PURSUE perseverance and endurance. In Proverbs 30 Agur asks God for two things: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is my portion, lest I be full and deny Thee and say ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or lest I be in want and steal, and profane the name of my God.” By faith I must be busy doing God’s work, trusting that He will provide for my daily needs and living with the anticipation of eternal life in His presence, in His mansion, in His perfection.
3. FLEE IDOLATRY; PURSUE FAITHFULNESS. This seems so simple it hardly needs commentary. Right? Why then do we pursue idolatry and flee faithfulness so frequently? Perhaps it’s because we don’t recognize idolatry when we see it.
An idol is anything that replaces the one true God. Webster defines idolatry as “the worship of or excessive devotion to or reverence for some person or thing.” Modern day idolatry extends beyond the worship of a statue or person that has touted themselves as a god or god-like or god-sent. Idolatry starts in our hearts: pride, self-centeredness, greed, gluttony, and covetousness.
Do I worship at the altar of my possessions? Do I sacrifice in order to gain more – the newest, the latest, the greatest? Do I work to feed the insatiable desire for more stuff?
Do I worship at the altar of pride? Am I determined to sacrifice for that next promotion? Am I sacrificing my child’s spiritual growth for admiration on the ball field? Is my body image the first and last thing I think about each day?
Do I worship endorphins? What do I sacrifice in order to feel good? It is amazing to me the connection between the items that science has proven cause the release of endorphins and the items that we become addicted to: eating, drinking, sex and exercise. Narcotics work by mimicking natural endorphins. What am I willing to sacrifice for that next high?
FLEE idolatry, PURSUE faithfulness. The Hebrews writer tells us in chapter 10 verses 35-39, “Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. But My righteous one shall live by faith; And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.” Don't shrink back, thrive in faith! PURSUE loyalty, thankfulness, teaching others about salvation in Jesus, and PURSUE glorifying God.
To conclude, I want to encourage you and myself to FLEE and PURSUE with purpose. God’s instructions should not be done as a reaction, but rather as a proaction. If we set our minds on what to flee from and what to pursue, and if we hide in our hearts why we want to flee and pursue then God is faithful to provide a way of escape from temptation. He has promised us a great victory at the end of our pursuits:
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside [FLEE FROM] every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance [PURSUE] the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrew 12:1-2).