The following is excerpted from St John Chrysostom’s 17th and 18th Homilies on St Paul’s First Epistle to Timothy. An online edition of the homilies can be found here.
Ver. 11. “But thou, O man of God.”
This is a title of great dignity. For we are all men of God, but the righteous peculiarly so, not by right of creation only, but by that of appropriation. If then thou art a “man of God,” seek not superfluous things, which lead thee not to God, but
“Flee these things, and follow after righteousness.” Both expressions are emphatic; he does not say turn from one, and approach the other, but “flee these things, pursue righteousness,” so as not to be covetous.
“Godliness,” that is, soundness in doctrines.
“Faith,” which is opposed to questionings.
“Love,” patience, meekness.
Ver. 12. “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life.” Lo, there is thy reward, “whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession,” in hope of eternal life, “before many witnesses.”
That is, do not put that confidence to shame. Why dost thou labor to no profit? But what is the “temptation and snare,” which he says, those that would be rich fall into? It causes them to err from the faith, it involves them in dangers, it renders them less intrepid. “Foolish desires,” he says. And is it not a foolish desire, when men like to keep idiots and dwarfs, not from benevolent motives, but for their pleasure, when they have receptacles for fishes in their halls, when they bring up wild beasts, when they give their time to dogs, and dress up horses, and are as fond of them as of their children? All these things are foolish and superfluous, nowise necessary, nowise useful.
“Foolish and hurtful lusts!” What are hurtful lusts? When men live unlawfully, when they desire what is their neighbor’s, when they do their utmost in luxury, when they long for drunkenness, when they desire the murder and destruction of others. From these desires many have aimed at tyranny, and perished. Surely to labor with such views is both foolish and hurtful. And well has he said, “They have erred from the faith.” Covetousness attracting their eyes to herself, and gradually stealing away their minds, suffers them not to see their way. For as one walking on the straight road, with his mind intent on something else, proceeds on his way indeed, but, often without knowing it, passes by the very city to which he was hastening, his feet plying on at random and to no purpose: such like a thing is covetousness. “They have pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” Dost thou see what he means by that word “pierced”? What he means to express by the allusion is this. Desires are thorns, and as when one touches thorns, he gores his hand, and gets him wounds, so he that falls into these lusts will be wounded by them, and pierce his soul with griefs. And what cares and troubles attend those who are thus pierced, it is not possible to express. Therefore he says, “Flee these things, and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.” For meekness springs from love.
“Fight the good fight.” Here he commends his boldness and manliness, that before all he confidently “made profession,” and he reminds him of his early instruction.
“Lay hold on eternal life.” There is need not only of profession, but of patience also to persevere in that profession, and of vehement contention, and of numberless toils, that you be not overthrown. For many are the stumbling-blocks, and impediments, therefore the way is “strait and narrow.” (Matt. 7:14.) It is necessary therefore to be self-collected,3 and well girt on every side. All around appear pleasures attracting the eyes of the soul. Those of beauty, of wealth, of luxury, of indolence, of glory, of revenge, of power, of dominion, and these are all fair and lovely in appearance, and able to captivate those who are unsteady, and who do not love the truth. For truth has but a severe and uninviting countenance. And why? Because the pleasures that she promises are all future, whereas the others hold out present honors and delights, and repose; though all are false and counterfeit. To these therefore adhere gross, effeminate, unmanly minds, indisposed to the toils of virtue. As in the games of the heathens, he who does not earnestly covet the crown, may from the first give himself up to revellings and drunkenness, and so do in fact the cowardly and unmanly combatants, whilst those who look steadfastly to the crown sustain blows without number. For they are supported and roused to action by the hope of future reward.
MORAL. Let us then flee from this root of all evils, and we shall escape them all. “The love of money,” he says, “is the root;” thus says Paul, or rather Christ by Paul, and let us see how this is. The actual experience of the world testifies it. For what evil is not caused by wealth, or rather not by wealth, but by the wicked will of those who know not how to use it? For it is possible to use wealth in well doing, and even through means of it to inherit the kingdom. But now what was given us for the relief of the poor, to make amends for our past sins, to win a good report, and to please God, this we employ against the poor and wretched, or rather against our own souls, and to the high displeasure of God. For as for the other, a man robs him of his wealth, and reduces him to poverty, but himself to death; and him he causes to pine in penury here, but himself in that eternal punishment. Are they equal sufferers, think you?
What evils then does it not cause! what fraudulent practices, what robberies! what miseries, enmities, contentions, battles! Does it not stretch forth its hand even to the dead, nay, to fathers, and brethren? Do not they who are possessed by this passion violate the laws of nature, and the commandments of God? in short everything? Is it not this that renders our courts of justice necessary? Take away therefore the love of money, and you put an end to war, to battle, to enmity, to strife and contention. Such men ought therefore to be banished from the world, as wolves and pests. For as opposing and violent winds, sweeping over a calm sea, stir it up from its foundations, and mingle the sands of the deep with the waves above, so the lovers of wealth confound and unsettle everything. The covetous man never knows a friend: a friend, did I say? he knows not God Himself, driven mad, as he is, by the passion of avarice. Do ye not see the Titans going forth sword in hand? This is a representation of madness. But the lovers of money do not counterfeit, they are really mad, and beside themselves; and if you could lay bare their souls, you would find them armed in this way not with one or two swords, but with thousands, acknowledging no one, but turning their rage against all; flying and snarling at all, slaughtering not dogs,1 but the souls of men, and uttering blasphemies against heaven itself. By these men all things are subverted, and ruined by their madness after wealth.
For whom indeed, whom I should accuse, I know not! It is a plague that so seizes all, some more, some less, but all in a degree. Like a fire catching a wood, that desolates and destroys all around, this passion has laid waste the world. Kings, magistrates, private persons, the poor, women, men, children, are all alike affected by it. As if a gross darkness had overspread the earth, no one is in his sober senses. Yet we hear, both in public and private, many declamations against covetousness, but no one is mended by them.
What then is to be done? How shall we extinguish this flame? For though it has risen up to heaven itself, it is to be extinguished. We have only to be willing, and we shall be able to master the conflagration. For as by our will it has got head, so it may be brought under by our will. Did not our own choice cause it, and will not the same choice avail to extinguish it? Only let us be willing. But how shall that willingness be engendered? If we consider the vanity and the unprofitableness of wealth, that it cannot depart hence with us, that even here it forsakes us, and that whilst it remains behind, it inflicts upon us wounds that depart along with us. If we see that there are riches There, compared to which the wealth of this world is more despicable than dung. If we consider that it is attended with numberless dangers, with pleasure that is temporary, pleasure mingled with sorrow. If we contemplate aright the true riches of eternal life, we shall be able to despise worldly wealth. If we remember that it profits nothing either to glory, or health, or any other thing; but on the contrary drowns men in destruction and perdition. If thou consider that here thou art rich, and hast many under thee, but that when thou departest hence, thou wilt go naked and solitary. If we often represent these things to ourselves, and listen to them from others, there will perhaps be a return to a sound mind, and a deliverance from this dreadful punishment.
Is a pearl beautiful? yet consider, it is but sea water, and was once cast away in the bosom of the deep. Are gold and silver beautiful? yet they were and are but dust and ashes. Are silken vestments beautiful? yet they are nothing but the spinning of worms. This beauty is but in opinion, in human prejudice, not in the nature of the things. For that which possesses beauty from nature, need not any to point it out. If you see a coin of brass that is but gilded over, yon admire it at first, fancying that it is gold; but when the cheat is shown to you by one who understands it, your wonder vanishes with the deceit. The beauty therefore was not in the nature of the thing. Neither is it in silver; you may admire tin for silver, as you admired brass for gold, and you need some one to inform you what you should admire. Thus our eyes are not sufficient to discern the difference. It is not so with flowers, which are much more beautiful. If you see a rose, you need no one to inform you, you can of yourself distinguish an anemone, and a violet, or a lily, and every other flower. It is nothing therefore but prejudice. And to show, that this destructive passion is but a prejudice; tell me, if the Emperor were pleased to ordain that silver should be of more value than gold, would you not transfer your love and admiration to the former? Thus we are everywhere under the influence of covetousness and opinion.4 And that it is so, and that a thing is valued for its rarity, and not for its nature, appears hence. The fruits that are held cheap among us are in high esteem among the Cappadocians, and among the Serians5 even more valuable than the most precious among us, from which country these garments are brought; and many such instances might be given in Arabia and India, where spices are produced, and where precious stones are found. Such preference therefore is nothing but prejudice, and human opinion. We act not from judgment, but at random, and as accident determines. But let us recover from this intoxication, let us fix our view upon that which is truly beautiful, beautiful in its own nature, upon godliness and righteousness; that we may obtain the promised blessings, through the grace and lovingkindness of Jesus Christ our Lord, with whom, &c.
1 Tim 6:13-16~“I give thee charge in the sight of God, Who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, Who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession; that thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: which in his times He shall show, Who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; Whom no man hath seen, nor can see; to Whom be honor and power everlasting. Amen.”
AGAIN he calls God to witness, as he had done a little before, at once to increase his disciple’s awe, and to secure his safety, and to show that these were not human commandments, that receiving the commandment as from the Lord Himself, and ever bearing in mind the Witness1 before Whom he heard it, he may have it more fearfully impressed upon his mind
“I charge thee,” he says, “before God, Who quickeneth all things.” Here is at once consolation in the dangers which awaited him, and a remembrance of the resurrection awakened in him.
“And before Jesus Christ, Who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession.” The exhortation again is derived from the example of his Master, and what he means is this; as He had done, so ought ye to do, for for this cause He “witnessed” (1 Pet. 2:21), that we might tread in His steps.
“A good confession.” What he does in his Epistle to the Hebrews,—“Looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith; Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (Heb. 12:2, 3),—that he now does to his disciple Timothy. As if he had said, Fear not death, since thou art the servant of God, Who can give life to all things.
But to what “good confession” does he allude? To that which He made when Pilate asked, “Art thou a King?” “To this end,” He said, “was I born.” And again, “I came, that I might bear witness to the Truth. Behold, these have heard Me.” (John 18:37.) He may mean this, or that when asked, “Art thou the Son of God?” He answered, “Thou sayest, that I am (the Son of God).” (Luke 22:70.) And many other testimonies and confessions did He make.
Ver. 14. “That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
That is, till thy end, thy departure hence, though he does not so express it, but that he may the more arouse him, says, “till His appearing.” But what is “to keep the commandment without spot”? To contract no defilement, either of doctrine or of life.
Ver. 15. “Which in His times He shall show, Who is the blessed and only Potentate, King of kings, and Lord of lords, Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto.”
Of whom are these things said? Of the Father, or of the Son? Of the Son, undoubtedly: and it is said for the consolation of Timothy, that he may not fear nor stand in awe of the kings of the earth.
“In His times,” that is, the due and fitting times, that he may not be impatient, because it has not yet come. And whence is it manifest, that He will show it? Because He is the Potentate, the “only Potentate.” He then will show it, Who is “blessed,” nay blessedness itself; and this is said, to show that in that appearing there is nothing painful or uneasy.
But he says, “only,” either in contradistinction to men, or because He was unoriginated,3 or as we sometimes speak of a man whom we wish to extol.
“Who only hath immortality.” What then? hath not the Son immortality? Is He not immortality itself? How should not He, who is of the same substance with the Father, have immortality?
“Dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto.” Is He then Himself one Light, and is there another in which He dwells? is He then circumscribed by place? Think not of it. By this expression is represented the Incomprehensibleness of the Divine Nature. Thus he speaks of God, in the best way he is able. Observe, how when the tongue would utter something great, it fails in power.
“Whom no man hath seen nor can see.” As, indeed, no one hath seen the Son, nor can see Him.
“To whom be honor and power everlasting. Amen.” Thus properly, and much to the purpose, has he spoken of God. For as he had called Him to witness, he speaks much of that Witness, that his disciple may be in the greater awe. In these terms he ascribes glory to Him, and this is all we can do, or say. We must not enquire too curiously, who He is. If power everlasting is His, fear not. Yea though now it take not place,1 to Him is honor, to Him is power evermore.