What a strange thing Paul tells his young protégé Timothy to do. As Paul knows, Timothy has been saved from his youth and has consistently demonstrated “unfeigned faith” (II Tim. 1:5). He has been in the ministry for some time having once served with Paul and presently serving as pastor of the church at Ephesus. Paul even calls him a “man of God” (I Tim. 6:11). What, then, is the meaning of Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to “lay hold on eternal life” (I Tim. 6:12)? Clearly, he cannot be exhorting Timothy, as if he were lost, to be saved; that issue had been settled long since, very decisively.
Appropriation, not acquisition. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy, then, has to do, not with the acquisition of salvation, but with the appropriation of its immense blessings and responsibilities. Salvation, Paul wants Timothy to understand, entails far more than a one-time transaction that cleanses from sin and imparts eternal life. Eternal life includes infinite potential for the soul who possesses it. When the federal government collects revenues through taxes such as the income tax, the corporate tax, and the excise tax, those funds become the property of the federal government. But (discounting the interest such revenues might earn) the funds are useless to the government for all practical purposes until Congress passes an appropriations bill which designates certain amounts of the collected revenues to support the armed forces, to fund social security, to build roads, etc. In other words, the revenues acquired through taxation and in the hands of the government must be “appropriated” before they can be spent. Similarly, and on a personal level, should someone deposit $10,000 in your checking account, you would then be in legal possession of that money. But as a practical matter, it would be worthless to you (again discounting interest earned) until you had written a check to a vendor or some other payee—until you had appropriated what you had previously acquired.
So it is with eternal life. God has deposited in us a vast wealth of blessings, privileges, responsibilities, and duties. And He does not intend for us to ignore the potential they represent. It is up to us to “lay hold” on the gifts that have been bestowed on us. We must grasp the blessings, take hold of the privileges, meet the responsibilities, and fulfill the duties He has so freely given us.
Abraham gave the plains to Lot, Joseph fled from Potiphar’s wife, Moses confronted Pharaoh, Joshua sought more enemies to conquer and territory to claim. Abraham accepted the gifts God bestowed but refused those of the King of Sodom, Moses accepted the leadership of his nation, Joseph agreed to the second position in Egypt. In a manner of speaking, these all laid hold on eternal life, both the privileges and the problems, the burdens and the blessings.
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