Fighting the Good Fight

When we read or hear news stories of crises over which we have no control, we might try to pinpoint a reason for the problem, complain about a government’s role, or grieve and pray. But we can also “Fight the good fight of faith,” as recommended by Paul in 1 Timothy 6:12. I’ve been concerned and praying about the Yemen famine and health crisis since I read about it in April. But, “Six year-old Ayaan and Mikaeel, along with their community, have raised more than £37,000 for the Yemen crisis. With the ongoing conflict in Yemen tens of thousands of lives have been lost. An estimated 24m people, equivalent to 80% of the country’s population, are now in need of humanitarian aid to survive. The scale of this crisis is the largest in the world, according to Unicef. When best friends Ayaan and Mikaeel from Redbridge, east London, learnt about this they set up a lemonade stand to raise funds because they wanted to help. ‘I could see their bones. It just made me really sad.’” (1) If you can still access this new story and see the photo, you will see that Ayaan and Mikaeel are anything but sad! They have taken hold of their concern and put it to work. How much more will we be encouraged and strengthened by putting our good faith to work? The gospel calls us to flee unrighteousness and put our kind, loving, steadfast, gentle faith to work. We can and should fight our tendency and temptation to yield to sin for the sake of and through our good gospel witness.

Let’s look more closely at 1 Timothy 6:11-12: “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” I consulted several of my usual commentaries and found that the “things” that Timothy, Ephesian Christians, and we are to flee, according to Paul, are those things that come through foolish controversies and verbal quarrels. In 1 Timothy 6:3-5, he describes false teachers as one who “is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” In 2 Timothy 2:23, Paul addresses the problem of peer pressure among the young and passionate, advising Timothy to “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” A culture of divisiveness is not unique to 2020, and a biblical response today looks the same now as it did for Timothy: flee! Run, don’t stop and think, move in the other direction; fight against the cultural tide! We have to fight against our old muscle memory and fight to embrace the gospel truth about our new, good nature.

Paul, however, doesn’t leave Timothy or us without a definite, positive goal. The gospel doesn’t just rescue us from evil; Christ gives us everything good we will ever need for all eternity. We have his power and presence to “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.” Even before Christ’s sacrificial, substitutionary death on the cross, God called his people to seek and live by his holiness. He promised his OT people great blessing for doing so with whatever strength they had. “Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor.” (Proverbs 21:21) Paul adds faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness to righteousness. Because of Jesus’s faithfulness, love, tenacity, and tenderness, we have these qualities if the Holy Spirit has regenerated us. John Gill reminds us that “faith… looks not to things seen, which are temporal, but to things not seen, which are eternal; and leads off the mind from sublunary enjoyments to God, and Christ, and the glories of another world; and is the leading grace to all others, and the foundation of good works, without which there is no pleasing in acts of moral righteousness, or in any acts of religious worship, which may be called godliness.” (2) Faith stands out here because of the apostle’s next command, building on what he has already written: “Fight the good fight of faith.” (12a) Saving faith in Jesus Christ includes all the characteristics and qualities Paul mentions. Our Christian faith is all-encompassing and should impact every area and facet of life here now. It should be the source of our strength, love, gentleness, holiness, resoluteness, and faithfulness. We fight our temptation to sin much as an athlete uses his or her physicality to improve and compete.

It is doubtful that Paul was an athlete, but this is what he wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:25-27: “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” Not only am I not an athlete, I am not a boxer—an athlete who fights. I don’t like fighting. I don’t want to witness people fighting physically or verbally in real life, TV shows, or movies. (I fast forward through it.) So when I feel like I am fighting with someone or even with my anxious puppy, I step back from the power struggle to assess what is happening. When I remember that “GG” needs calm, positive encouragement, the “fight” turns into a loving correction and peace results. I have estimated that my good fight with GG involves saying “sit” about one hundred times, “down” about 50, and “heel” about 50 times daily, firmly but calmly, and that doesn’t include all the other commands I use for training. I am fighting his old muscle memory to do what is right. Similarly, the fight of faith is not argumentative or a competition of wills, but gospel mercy with the tenacity that everyone needs, which Christians possess. The ‘good fight of faith’ “is in a good cause, the cause of God and truth; and under a good Captain, Jesus Christ the Captain of our salvation; for which good weapons are provided, even the whole armour of God, and which are not carnal, but spiritual and mighty.” (3) When we live the gospel, we put our good, loving, steadfast, gentle faith to work in a gentle, loving gospel witness.

Verse 12 continues, “Take hold of eternal life to which you were called. And about which you made the good confessions in the presence of many witnesses.” “This probably refers to Timothy’s baptism. The ‘good confession’ that one has come to faith in Christ leads naturally into the ‘good fight’ of seeking to live in faithfulness to Him.” (4) Jesus was the first to make a confession of faith and did so repeatedly. One example toward the end of his ministry is recorded in John 18:37, “Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.’” He risked nothing in God’s view, but everything in mans’ to give witness to the truth—that he alone is the promised Messiah Savior for the world. Similarly, Paul risked everything he had worked for as a Jewish Elder when he professed faith in Christ, much to the Christian apostles’ dismay. After that, though, he only had to put to use what he already partook. If you have a testimony of salvation in Jesus Christ, you have made a good confession that you need to hold on to. Nothing new is required, just holding onto what we already have acquired by God’s grace. I have recently heard reports of local Christian ministries in my town that aren’t trying to start anything new during the pandemic. Instead, the staff are just trying to hold onto the ministry and clients they already have. That’s all we have to do—hold onto the faith we have and put it to work, to fight with gospel grace, mercy, love, righteousness, gentleness, and godliness, like six-year-olds Ayaan and Mikaeel.

How are you “fighting” for your convictions? In what new ways might you put your good, loving steadfast, gentle gospel faith to work on behalf of your family, friends, co-workers, church members, or neighbors? Are there situations, people, or issues that tempt you to argue, complain, or ignore because they are too stressful? How might you apply Christ’s gentle goodness to them? Will you pray to do so, knowing that God can transform your stress into peace, confidence, and reasonableness? Being stressed and anxious about anything, including the effects of a pandemic, prevents us from experiencing God’s happy goodness. But, as we fight the good fight of faith we can “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness!” (Psalm 100:1)

(1) BBC World News, reported on 8/2/20, https://www.bbc.com/news/av/uk-england-london-53600136/boys-lemonade-stand-raises-thousands-for-yemen-crisis

(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” 1 Timothy 6:11, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/1timothy-6.html

(3) Gill, 1 Tim 6:12, Ibid.

(4) The Reformation Study Bible, 1 Timothy 6:12, Reformation Trust Publishing (Ligonier Ministries), Sanford, Fl., 2015.

August 7, 2020

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