Recently I was in conversation with students at a local university in South Africa. These students represented a large mix of nationalities including the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), eSwatini, South Africa itself, and Zimbabwe. I asked them particularly about their urge to leave their home country—whether purely for study purposes or longer than that.
There are many reasons why many people choose to leave their country of birth.
Only one student indicated a desire to return home after their degree because of family ties. Amongst those who indicated an urge to leave their home country and take up residency elsewhere the overwhelming response was: “for better prospects,” or “better economic prospects”. One South African student was the son of a migrant who had fled war in his home country.
There Are Many Reasons To Leave
I am aware that many more people have responded to the urge to leave. Frequently I ride to my daily commitments in taxis. The drivers of these taxis represent various nationalities and include amongst others: Nigerians, South Africans, and Zimbabweans. New World Immigration lists the top reasons to leave given by South Africans who choose to live as migrants in a foreign country:
- Improved safety and security
- Better future for children
- No confidence in the future of your country of origin
- Government’s affirmative action policy
- Deterioration in social services
- Decline in quality of life and living standards
- Higher earnings and lower taxation rates elsewhere
- Better professional prospects in other countries
A 2,000 Year-Old Urge To Leave
While those I put questions to were relatively few in number, the list above shows that there are many reasons why many people choose to leave their country of birth. Everyone desires the best quality of life available to them. Nor in fact is this urge unique to the present generation. Safety and security has been pursued in every age. Indeed, some 2,000 years ago Paul had to say to his understudy: “I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus” (1 Timothy 1:3).
Timothy had previously expressed a desire to leave Ephesus.
We can conclude that Timothy had previously expressed a desire to leave Ephesus. Thus Paul found it necessary to insist he stayed in Ephesus. In this letter to Timothy, Paul refers back to that conversation. In other translations he ‘beseeched,’ ‘entreated’ or ‘begged’ Timothy to remain. What would the reasons have been for the urge to leave? And more to the point, what would have compelled his father in the faith to so strongly urge him to remain?
Three Reasons To Remain
We can only guess at Timothy’s reasons. There were very likely a mix of reasons: economic, social, political. Some of Timothy’s reasons were probably similar to those listed above. In this passage Paul gives two reasons as to why Timothy should remain in Ephesus.
“As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:3-5).
1. The Never Ceasing Presence of False Doctrine
Paul’s first reason for urging Timothy not to leave is, “that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:3). Paul had appointed Timothy to be responsible for the church in Ephesus. In urging Timothy to remain, Paul refers to his own calling from God: “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” (1 Timothy 1:12,13).
Timothy’s desire to leave neglected the eternal hope of the teachers left behind.
Paul calls Timothy to continue to defend the doctrine that emphasises the mercy and grace that was shown to Paul, a sinner, by the Lord Jesus Christ. Some teachers in the church were teaching something different. In fact, some had “made shipwreck of their faith” (1 Timothy 1:19).
It seems that we, the Church, are always doing battle with other doctrines. We are always vulnerable to the schemes of the devil. And so Paul urged Timothy to remain in Ephesus to “wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience” (1 Timothy 1:18, 19). Timothy’s motivation may not have been pursuing worldly hope or an easier life elsewhere. But his desire to leave neglected the eternal hope of the teachers left behind.
2. The Continuing Gullibility of God’s Sheep
Paul’s second concern is for those who are “devoting themselves to myths and endless genealogies”. His concern here is for the hearers, the curious, possibly the gullible, in the church at Ephesus. They need ongoing gospel teaching in order to keep their eyes on their eternal Saviour Jesus Christ.
The church needs ongoing gospel teaching.
Why should Timothy care to that extent for the well-being of others? Should he really be compelled to remain? Why should any of us resist the urge to leave when so many others choose to leave?
3. The Aim of Our Charge Is Love
Paul makes his final plea: “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).
Timothy is to remain in Ephesus, not out of obligation or duty, but out of love.
Timothy is to remain in Ephesus, not out of obligation or duty, but out of love. After all, Paul reminds us: “the grace of our Lord overflowed for [us] with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1Timothy 1:14). Paul opposes the urge to leave because of the ongoing love needed by believers, by those we leave behind. Do we truly grasp the grace that has been demonstrated to us and which we are called to exercise in love towards others?
What’s The Real Issue?
To put this differently, Paul calls on Timothy to make his decisions on the basis of love. In fact, it is never about leaving or remaining. It is about how we make our decisions.
It is never about leaving or remaining. It’s about how we make our decisions.
Paul exhorts Timothy not to make his decisions based on safety and security, on the desire for a better quality of life or any of the other reasons listed by New World Immigration. We, as the recipients of grace, are called to base all our decisions on love and nothing else. This includes our heart attitudes to those others we feel gave in to the urge to leave for the wrong reasons. To them too we base our decisions on love.
Look To The Interests of Others
Let us remember what Jesus did for us and allow it to shape our lives, from daily decisions to deliberating over emigration.
Christ left perfect safety and security behind to take us to glory.
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:4-7).
We often feel the urge to leave. But Christ Jesus resisted that thinking. He denied the urge to remain in perfect safety and security, to continue in eternal quality of life. He left it behind in order to take us to glory (Hebrews 2:10). Is there anything better to base our decisions upon?