David Jordan: How to Take Hold of Life

Have you ever struggled with what you are supposed to do with your life? Countless folks, good people, caring people, have shared with me this common dilemma: What does God expect from me? What am I missing? Or, as someone asked me recently: How can I take hold of my life and get it together?

Our text today in 1 Timothy 6:12 says, “Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and for which you were made.”

I love that wording: to which you were called and for which you were made! And what is it we are called to and made for? It’s eternal life! And how do you get it? Here the rendering is: Take hold! or Reach out and grab it!

The Greek word in our text is helpful. Our English rendition of “eternal life” might suggest, where I came from, a “pie in the sky by and by,” without much regard to our current living. But the word for life is zoe. Bios is the other Greek word for life, which, as it implies, relates to biological existence. Zoe, on the other hand, means “abundant life” or “life interwoven into the Spirit of God.”

This intimately links us to a broader sense of eternity, of being with God for all time starting right now. But that’s not all. The other Greek word in our text, aion, or eon, is usually translated “eternal.” It can be understood as “age-lasting.” I like that rendition, too. So when combined, these two words we see as “eternal life” in our passage can and should also mean: Take hold of the age-lasting abundant life to which you have been called and for which you were made.

And then our passage concludes with this final crescendo: “…and take hold of life that really is life!” We can sense a deep answer to these persistent questions we struggle with about purpose and meaning in our lives. Here, there is power in the text. You can feel it. We also can feel a clear context from the text.

If we listen carefully, we can feel looming in the background a tension in the fellowship 1 Timothy addresses. Not unlike our own time of societal stress and strains, divisiveness and mistrust, the passages in the Bible consistently are dealing with real life. The people referred to in the text are just like us. And we are just like them.

In this 6th chapter, you can hear that some have done very well materially. They are what 1 Timothy calls “rich.” And we can also hear about those who aren’t yet rich but want to be. The fellowship of these early churches wrestled with the same kinds of prejudice, pride, and cliquishness that we do; and their workplaces and social settings conveyed the same kinds of societal pressures many of us experience every day.

To the issue of ladder climbing and social tensions, our text reminds us with these often-quoted words: “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil…” and “we came into the world with nothing, and we go out the same way, with nothing!” In Tennessee where I’m from, we used to say: “You rarely see a U-Haul traveling with a funeral procession…” No. We came into this world with nothing, and we leave with nothing. In other words, this kind of self-imposed pressure to get ahead has nothing to do with this age-lasting, abundant life we are called to and made for.

My grandmother once shared a quote about the Bible that feels relevant here. “The Bible is a place where babes can wade and find meaning, and scholars can swim and never touch bottom.” I continually find that to be true. So, let’s add another perspective to our text and travel back for valuable biblical background. Our passage in 1 Timothy says, “…we come into the world with nothing….” In fact, the earliest part of our Bible emphasizes our nothingness with a very earthy image.

In the 2nd chapter of Genesis, we hear this description: “Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground.” In fact, the very name given to the first human indicates this reality. Adam is not just a name; it’s a description that comes from the Hebrew word adamah, which means “dust” or “dirt.”

On my school playground at Signal Mountain Elementary School in East Tennessee, we used to get in fights and yell at each other things like, “You ain’t nothing but dirt!” Who knew we were preaching the gospel in those days? This is what the Bible says. From the dust of the earth, we were made.

And then there was the boy who asked his mother, “Mom, is it true that we come from dust?” “Yes,” she said, “that’s what the Bible says.” “And is it true that we return to dust when we die?” he asked. “Yes, son, that’s also true. Why in the world are you asking me this?” “Well,” the boy said, “I was just in my room. And there must be somebody under my bed either a-comin’ or a-goin’!”

Well, of course, this is true metaphorically in the Bible. It is also true literally. For we have found that scientifically, biologically, our bodies are primarily made up of carbon. Carbon is dust and dust is carbon. And we are dust, says the Bible. A word of truth if there ever was one. In fact, John Polkinghorn, an English scientist and famous Christian astrophysicist, says that physically we humans are nothing more than recycled star dust. The Bible is right on target. So, as 1 Timothy says, we came into the world with nothing, and we go out the same way.

But there is another element to this creation story in Genesis 2:7. So, let’s review the first part again: Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground… And now the second part: …and God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he became a human being.

Notice the very intentional wording which accompanies this imagery. The human is only a form God has shaped out of the dirt of the ground until he receives God’s breath of life. Only then does he - only then do we - become a “human being.” This is key.

The Old Testament vocabulary expression of breath is also significant: ruach. This flexible Hebrew word can mean breath, but also spirit or wind. And in this case, when God breathes into this newly formed shape, we gain a striking insight. The human form becomes a human being because he is - because we are - animated into life by the very breath and with the very Spirit of God.

So, these two words, dust and spirit, speak a vital truth. We are earthy people, literally made of recycled star dust. And we are holy people, lovingly shaped and inspiringly created, God’s breath breathed into us, God’s Spirit living in us.

But there’s more. The biblical insights continue. In the very next chapter of Genesis, chapter 3, we encounter the man and the woman in the garden. They discover a profound new truth: they are naked. As in English, the Hebrew word for naked, arummim, can mean without clothes. It can also mean, as in English, vulnerable or exposed, or not in control of our surroundings. This new discovery renders a new feeling. For the first time in the Bible, an emotion is named: fear.

In Genesis 4, we hear the story of Cain and Abel. This story unveils another iteration of nakedness and fear from chapter 3. Now these two realities coalesce into a new reality between these two brothers in chapter 4. Cain is afraid. He feels exposed and he feels this new dynamic emerging in the human experience. We recognize it as competition.

These stories hold enormous insight into our human condition, insight that also lies at the heart of our passage today:

…the vulnerability we feel

…the fear we have

…the competition that lives in all of us

…the tensions in our relationships and the ones clearly rumbling through that early church fellowship in 1 Timothy.

And yet, we are called to and made for “abundant, age-lasting, eternal life.” Why? How? Because God’s very Spirit, very essence is breathed into us from the earliest beginning.

We are both earthy creatures, and sacred creations. We are dusty and holy at the same time. We live in the very tension 1 Timothy is addressing, an audience wrestling with earthy temptation yet called to holy partnerships.

1 Timothy boldly declares: Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life, that age-lasting abundant life to which you were called and for which you were made. And while this might sound really hard to do, the Bible seems to be saying the opposite.

This is you already. God’s Spirit is part of who you are. Yes, you and I have an earthy, selfish side. Yes, we are vulnerable. We are afraid. We feel competitive. But we also are infused with all the goodness and spiritual richness that fighting the good fight of faith requires. We have the wisdom to choose rightly, the power to love, and the glad potential to bless and to be blessed.

You were made for this time. You are called to the very place where God has planted you. And God’s eternal presence is in you, with you, among you. Now, live into the reality God has already set in motion. God empowers us right now to join with the calling of Timothy:

Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.

Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and for which you were made.

And with a new confidence in God’s blessed abundance: Take hold of the life that really is life!

Let us pray together.

O Lord of all life, you bless us so richly. Our lives are woven together seamlessly into the fabric of your goodness. Surrounded by your grace and filled with your love, we are better than we know. Still, humbly aware of our fragile humanity, help us in these difficult days to remember the sacred reality of your Spirit alive and well within us. Empower us to be the holy channels of your blessings you need. And allow us to gladly receive the blessed gifts of your bounty from others as well. In the beautiful name of Jesus. Amen.