Taking Hold of Eternal Life (1 Timothy 6:12)
“Take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and to which you made the good confession before many witnesses” (1 Tim 6:12)
Amidst a series of instructions, exhortations and rich theology, the Apostle Paul commands Timothy, his son in the faith, to ‘take hold of eternal life.’ What does this curious phrase mean? How do we take hold of something non-physical? At first glance, it seems that Paul was simply encouraging Timothy in the faith–something like saying, ‘Grab on to this reality and let it sink in your heart and life.’ Yet, we must ask, ‘What was this supposed to look like in practice? What does it mean to take hold of eternal life?’
A good first step is to consider the context of 1 Timothy 6 and the usage of the phrase ‘take hold of eternal life’ in 1 Timothy. The verb ‘take hold’ (ἐπιλαμβάνομαι) is used in the immediate context in a passage directed toward the wealthy in the Ephesian congregation (1 Tim 6:17-19). The rich Christians are told not to think too highly of themselves or put their hope in money, but to hope in God and to do works, sharing and being generous. If these believers did this, then they would “take hold” of what is truly life (v. 19) [same verb as in 6:12]. We see then that “taking hold” of what is truly life–a phrase surely synonymous with the eternal life mentioned in 6:12– is a combination of faith (internal) and action (faith expressed externally). This ‘taking hold’ comes by placing hope in God (6:17) and through the actions of humility, good works, and generosity (6:17-19). So taking hold of eternal life is expressed through authentic faith (mind and heart) and tangible godly works (faith showing itself in works).
Now, as we look back to 6:12, we see Paul exhort Timothy to the same combination of faith and good works. Timothy is exhorted to pursue faith in 6:11-12 (“pursue…faith” and “fight the good fight of faith”); he is also exhorted to works in 6:11-14 (“pursue righteousness, godliness, etc.” “keep the commandment…”) [and throughout the letter]. Thus, for Timothy to “take hold” of eternal life, it meant embracing the reality of his eternal life in Christ through faith–something that results in eternal life (1 Tim 1:15-16)–and to externalizing this faith through godly works.
So taking hold of eternal life, for Timothy and us, is a combination of faith and faith expressing itself in good works. As we do this, we embrace the reality of our eternal life, which is a gift given to us from God.
2 replies on “Taking Hold of Eternal Life (1 Timothy 6:12)”
Great post Tom! A very thorough explanation of 1 Tim 6:12.
Thanks Dan… now comes applying to our lives in the power of the Spirit!