According to the Lord Jesus all who simply believe in Him have everlasting life. He said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47; see also 5:24). I well remember when it first hit me that eternal life is a present possession. As a senior in college it thrilled me to know that I had everlasting life—life that could never be lost.
It was over a decade later before I understood that what we have now is something we can and should seize.
Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to “lay hold on eternal life” (1 Tim 6:12) initially puzzled me. What could it mean for someone who already has eternal life to lay hold on it?
Linked with Fighting the Good Fight (6:12a)
Immediately before commanding Timothy to lay hold on eternal life, Paul said, “Fight the good fight of faith.” Several years after writing that, at the end of his own life, Paul told Timothy, “I have fought the good fight” (2 Tim 4:7). As a result, Paul said in v. 8, “There is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
Paul liked to compare the Christian life to a boxing match (see also 1 Cor 9:24-27). He urged all believers to follow his example and to fight the good fight for Christ.
The fact that Paul precedes the exhortation to lay hold on eternal life with a command to fight the good fight shows that the way in which one lays hold on eternal life is by persevering in our service for Christ.
Laying hold on eternal life by persevering in our service is clearly not the same as gaining eternal life by believing in Jesus. This is not in any way an evangelistic appeal.
That this is a rewards concept is clearly supported by Paul’s related remarks in 2 Tim 4:7-8 where he refers to Jesus as our Judge and to “that Day,” that is, the Christians’ Day of Judgment, the Judgment Seat of Christ.
It is also instructive to note that those who fight the good fight and love Jesus’ appearing will receive the crown of righteousness. Crowns symbolize rulership and authority. This suggests that if we lay hold on eternal life we will rule with Christ in the life to come.
Linked with Storing Up a
Good Foundation (1 Tim 6:18-19)
A few verses after commanding Timothy himself to lay hold on eternal life, Paul exhorts him to command rich believers to do so as well. But as a lead in to telling Timothy to command rich believers to lay hold on eternal life, Paul made it clear that what we do now directly impacts the quality of our eternal experience. He wrote, “Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life” (1 Tim 6:18-19).
Thus another way of looking at it is that only those who have stored up a good foundation for the time to come will be able to lay hold on eternal life. And we gain that good foundation by giving and sharing our wealth. The key is to be rich in good works, not rich in material possessions.
Grasping Our Eternal Reward
So what precisely is laying hold on eternal life? It is grasping our future reward. It is like grabbing the brass ring. In this case the brass ring is abundant eternal life. All believers have eternal life now and will have it forever. But how abundant it is now and forever is contingent on our stewardship of that life.
We lay hold on eternal life by fighting the good fight and by being rich in good works.
Donald Guthrie writes, “The command to Fight… implies a disciplined struggle already begun, but the following verb Take hold of… does not exclude the idea of eternal life as a present possession in the Johannine sense, but points to its perfect appropriation” (The Pastoral Epistles, Revised Edition, p. 127).
D. Edmond Hiebert’s comments: “The verb ‘fight’ is in the present tense and indicates the continuity of the struggle in this life, while the verb ‘lay hold’ is aorist and takes us to the last supreme moment of the contest when the prize is won” (First Timothy, p. 117).
I think these commentators err when they suggest that the appropriation of fullness of eternal life that Paul has in mind in v. 12 is future. The aorist tense of the imperative does not indicate that the laying hold is future. Most likely in v. 12 Paul was exhorting Timothy to lay hold on eternal life right now. By contrast, in v. 19 Paul through Timothy was urging rich believers to live now so as to be able to lay hold on eternal life at the Bema.
In their Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Rienecker and Rogers say the focus of this imperative in v. 12 is present, “This does not appear as a future prize lying at the end of the fight, but as that which is to be grasped and retained in the present fight of faith” (p. 634).
Taking verses 12 and 19 together, we could say eternal life is something that can and should be grasped in the present and in the future, at the Bema.
How we utilize our eternal life now has a direct bearing on the quality of our eternal life in the life to come. How abundant our eternal life will be in the coming age depends on how we have invested our time, talent, and treasure for Christ (see Luke 19:11-26; 1 Tim 6:18).
Paul is essentially saying that if we fight the good fight in this life we will lay hold on an abundant experience of everlasting life now and then ultimately at the Bema.
God wants every believer to have an abundant eternal experience and to rule in the life to come.
Timothy had begun well. He had already made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. But Timothy needed to follow through on what he had said and done in his good confession.
As a believer, you have eternal life. But are you laying hold of it? Are you seizing eternal life? An abundant eternal experience is there for the taking. God wants us all to have an abundant life now and forever (John 10:10).
Lay hold on eternal life. You will forever be glad you did.