(1 Timothy 5:24-25)
–by Chuck Huffine
Last weekend, on Saturday, I got to go on a hike up to the top of Mt. Sherman, in Park County. This is one of my favorite hikes because it’s close to here and the hike is relatively easy, compared to other mountains of its size. But on the trail, there is a place where you need to make a sharp turn onto a narrower trail. The first time I went on this hike four years ago, I missed the turn and stayed on the wider path. There were several other people on the trail with me and we all missed the turn. After a while it became obvious that we were going the wrong way and the only way to get back on the trail was to either climb up some difficult and dangerous loose rock, or turn around and go back to the narrower path.
The second time I went on this hike, I recognized this turn and the other groups of people who were behind me followed me down the narrower path. There were other people who had started up the wrong way, and they turned around and followed us down the narrower path that would lead them where they wanted to go. When we were returning back to the car, Audra and I decided to pile up some rocks to mark where that turn was. In fact, last week when I went up Mt. Sherman, the pile of rocks marking the turn had been built up more, and someone had also blocked the other path with some large rocks so that the correct path would be more noticeable.
I tell this story about this trail because in 1 Timothy 5:24-25, Paul tells us that our lives are leaving a trail. Whether we are doing good or committing sin, we are leaving a trail. That trail may be obvious or it may be subtle and hard to trace back to us, but it is a trail that cannot be hidden.
1 Timothy 5:24-25:\ “The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not cannot be hidden.”
Paul describes four degrees of sin and goodness here. The first is the type of person whose sin is so well known that you know what to expect from them before they even arrive. I knew a bully in high school who was like this. I always dreaded the class that I had with him, because his aim in life seemed to be to make life miserable for his teacher and fellow students. Fortunately because of his lifestyle he missed a lot of school, so we usually had a couple of days of reprieve from him every week. But when I saw him in the halls in the morning I knew what to expect later on that day in class. His reputation preceded him.
Even the Apostle Paul was like this before his conversion, when he was known as Saul. When the Lord spoke to Ananias in a vision and said to go place his hands on Saul to restore his vision, Ananias argued, “Lord, I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem” (Acts 9:13). Saul’s sins reached the place of judgment ahead of him, his reputation preceded him. And anybody who knew what was good for them, stayed away from him.
There are many other examples in the Bible of people like this: Ahab and Jezebel, and King Manasseh, who led his people astray into more evil than any of the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites.
Other examples – Adolph Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Hugh Hefner, much damage to society, the family, the church. . . . I won’t spend much time on this one because I don’t think we really have anybody here who is like this. I hope we don’t. All I will say is that God, and only God is capable of changing such a person. And it usually takes something pretty dramatic or disastrous for such a person to change. Paul was confronted directly by the Lord and was blinded. I would say that’s pretty harsh.
Manasseh actually repented of his sins, but only after the army of Assyria took him captive, bound him and put a hook in his nose. But the people of Israel never recovered from the effects of his sin. You can read this man’s story in 2 Chronicles 33 and 2 Kings 21.
Paul describes a lesser degree of sin here and it is one that is so much more prevalent and possibly just as damaging as the first. He says, “the sins of others trail behind them.” These sins are not as obvious. We don’t always know who committed them, because by the time they are noticed the person who committed them may be much farther down the road. But we know these sins were committed because there is a trail there, a trail of destruction.
Sin always leaves destruction in its wake. We may be able to arrange things so that those around us don’t know right away what we did, but we can’t deny that there is a trail of destruction that was left behind. When a man indulges in pornography, he may be able to hide it from his family, but there is a definite trail of destruction left behind. Any money that is spent is no longer available to do good for the family or for the church. Instead the money goes into the pockets of those who will lead others astray. Time is wasted, time that could be used in prayer, in God’s word and in serving others. Paul said that we should “Redeem the time, because the days are evil.” In other words, we should make the most of the time that we have, make the most of every opportunity. Spend our time wisely, because it it is very limited. Time that is spent in sin also reinforces bad habits and makes it more difficult to break the bad habits. Time that is spent in sin also encourages those sinners around us to continue doing the same. If a path is well worn, it encourages those who are less discerning to go down the same path. So, in a way we help to lead others astray.
Just like the Sherman trail: when someone goes the wrong way, others are more likely to follow that person down the wrong way too. Jesus did say, “Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
As Christians, we have a responsibility to alert people to the right path, the one leading to God. Don’t leave a trail that leads to destruction, but a trail that leads to God. If we think about it, every step we take will ultimately lead people away from God or toward God. That’s what Paul is saying in 1 Timothy; even though our sins may not be obvious, they do trail behind us. And the good that we do also leaves a trail behind us.
When you came to church today, your decision to do so may be leaving a trail that encourages others that you don’t know about. Maybe your neighbor who doesn’t go to church saw you get in your car all dressed up and thought, “Hmm, there are actually normal, respectable people who still go to church these days; maybe I ought to go to church. Maybe I should go down that trail.”
Anyway, getting back to this passage in 1 Timothy. Sometimes the effects of sin are subtle, leaving only a trail. But this is a destructive trail and it is so prevalent in the world today that we need to be aware of this trail. While damage is done by our sin, Christ is able to redeem our lives back to the path that is right and he gives us the grace and strength to deal with the effects of our sin. We shouldn’t give up if we’ve sinned, but we should turn to Christ to give us the help we need in turning our lives around.
I would like to add one thing to what Paul says here in 1 Timothy. There are those whose sins are obvious, there are those whose sins are less obvious. What about if we don’t do anything bad and we don’t do anything good? Is there anything wrong with that? Well, James said “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” (James 4:17). So, if we’re not actively engaged in doing good, then our neglect of good falls over onto the side of sin. If we’re not leading a life for God, then we must be leading a life of destruction.
Obvious Good Deeds
Paul says that in the same way sins are obvious, good deeds are obvious. For all the trouble that Saul caused in the church, after God changed his life, he became a blessing to the church. He had been harming the church and he turned around and started to bless the church and build up the church. He became the apostle to the Gentiles. His good deeds are obvious, the churches that he established became a light in a very dark Gentile world. His letters that we have in the Bible give us practical advice for living and the insight into God’s nature. Paul went from being the type of person whose reputation for evil preceded him to someone whose reputation for good preceded him. He became the type of person that people would look forward to seeing, because they knew that he brought blessings and encouragement wherever he went.
Of course, the best example that we have of this obvious goodness is Jesus. John said that if all the good that Jesus did was written down “that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” When people heard that Jesus was coming, they crowded around because they knew ahead of time that he brought healing and blessing to people in need.
And there are people around us that are like this too. We know that being around them will be a blessing and an encouragement for us. The good things that they do are obvious and well known, and we like to be around them.
Paul goes on to say that there are good deeds that are not always obvious, but even those can’t be hidden. In the same way that our sins that others may not see will leave a trail behind us, our good deeds that may not be seen by others leave a trail of righteousness to help and encourage others.
I often fall into the trap of wanting to do only good things that other people will notice. If nobody will notice the good I do, what point is there? Well, we all know, if we think about it, that there is always a reason to do good. But we don’t always think things through and we think, what’s the point? Paul says that even the good that is not obvious cannot be hidden.
Recently when it was my month to clean the church building, Robert informed me one week that I wouldn’t have to vacuum the auditorium because someone had already done it for me. T.R. and I tried to get him to tell us who did this act of kindness, but he wouldn’t tell us. But, you know, it’s not that important that I know who did it. God knows who did it, and I know that someone did a good deed and I was encouraged by that good deed and I appreciate that good deed. While it wasn’t obvious to everyone that something good had been done, it certainly wasn’t hidden from me.
I’m reminded of the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus talked about doing our “acts of righteousness.” He said don’t just do them to be noticed by men, but do them for God. He said that when you give to the needy, when you pray, when you fast ,don’t try to be noticed by men, but know that the only one you’re trying to please is God. “Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:1,18).
In a way, that might be what Paul means when he says that even good deeds that are not obvious cannot be hidden. Because God always sees everything we do. Most importantly, He knows what is in our hearts and he will reward us. That is the only reward that we should be seeking, pleasing God.
But, whether or not people know who did a good deed, we know that something good has been done. It can’t be hidden. There is a trail of goodness that has been left behind. As David said, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”
Several years ago, when there were several random shootings in the news, people called them random acts of violence. Some enterprising person came out with a bumper sticker that said, “Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of consideration.” But you know, that wasn’t something that was new. The Bible is full of places that tell us to do this.
Romans 12:21 says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Stop and think. Our response to any evil that we encounter is not to overcome it the way the world would, but to overcome it with good. You know, so many movies are based on overcoming evil with more evil. It’s the revenge theme. The main character is pushed beyond his patience and he goes on a rampage to make the bad characters pay for the wrong they’ve done. He may overcome evil, but it’s only with more evil.
I read several books by Watchman Nee many years ago when I was in college. Watchman Nee was a Chinese preacher who lived from 1903 to 1972. He eventually was put in jail by the Chinese government and killed for his Christianity. In one of his books he tells the story of a Christian in “South China who had a rice field in the middle of the hill. In times of drought he used a waterwheel, worked by a treadmill, to lift water from the irrigation stream into his field. His neighbor had two fields below his, and, one night, [the neighbor] made a breach in the dividing bank and drained off all his water. When the brother repaired the breach and pumped in more water his neighbor did the same thing again, and this was repeated three or four times. So he consulted his brethren. ‘I have tried to be patient and not to retaliate,’ he said, ‘but what is right?’ After they had prayed together about it, one of them replied, ‘If we only do the right thing, surely we are very poor Christians. We have to do something more than what is right.’ The brother was much impressed. Next morning he pumped water for the [neighbor’s] two fields below, and in the afternoon pumped water for his own field. His neighbor was so amazed at his action that he began to inquire the reason, and in course of time he, too, became a Christian.”
This man overcame evil with good. I hate to think of what would have happened if he had tried to overcome the evil with more evil.
Listen to what Watchman Nee says about this story. “So, my brethren, don’t stand on your right. Don’t feel that because you have gone the second mile you have done what is just. The second mile is only typical of the third and the fourth. The principle is that of conformity to Christ. We have nothing to stand for, nothing to ask or demand. We have only to give. When the Lord Jesus died on the Cross, he did not do so to defend our ‘rights’; it was grace that took him there. Now, as his children, we try always to give others what is their due and more” (Sit, Walk, Stand, by Watchman Nee, pp. 32-33, Tyndale House).
Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36).
In all this talk about doing good, we probably need to remind ourselves that our good works don’t save us. We are saved by grace through faith, not by works, so that no one can boast, and being saved by grace, we are now God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). And (Philippians 2:13) “it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his purpose.” As long as we are alive in these bodies, we have to decide either to let God work in us,to do good and fulfill his purpose, or to do things our own way and ignore God’s work.
Christ’s love constrains us, motivates us. He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again. As Christians, we have a change in our outlook on life and the way we see other people. We’re no longer living for ourselves, but for the one who died for us and rose again.
2 Corinthians 5:16: “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.” As Christians we no longer see people the way that the world sees people. A worldly person looks at other people asking what they can get out of that other person. How can I get something out of this friendship or this encounter? Paul says we no longer look at people this way. We are to see every person as a soul that Jesus died for. I once had a boss who said she tried to treat everybody she met as if she may work for them some day. I think this is another way of saying what Paul said. Instead of looking at people according to the position and then deciding only to show respect to those who seemed to deserve respect, she looked at everyone with respect. The way we treat people leaves a trail that will show God’s glory, or if we treat them without respect, a trail of hard feelings.
Other passages in 1 Timothy having to do with “good deeds” or “godliness”: 2:10 – clothed with good deeds; 4:8 – useful in this age and the next; 6:6 – great gain; 6:18 – rich in good deeds. Other passages: Romans 12:9 — Hate what is evil, cling to what is good; Romans 16:19 — Be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.