Fighting the Good Fight

Text: 1 Timothy 6:11-16

The Christian life is a paradox: Sinner, yet called a saint. Saved, yet still being sanctified. Victorious, yet still in a daily battle. These are all things the Apostle Paul is familiar with. The joy and the struggle co-existing in one heart. And he’s writing to his young protégé Timothy to remind him of these truths as well.

Paul asked Timothy to stay behind in Ephesus and help the church there who was struggling against false teachers, and because of that, were in danger of forgetting the truth of the gospel. So here at the end of the letter, Paul takes a moment to give Timothy three important reminders in our struggle, not only to defend the gospel against false teachers, but to contend for the faith in our own hearts as well.

Flee sin and pursue godliness (v. 11)

A basic biological instinct that God put in us all is fight or flight. When we are faced with a threat, or a danger, our adrenaline rises, our heart pumps faster, and our body prepares for a confront danger, or to get away from danger.

As Christians, we have to know the difference. What do we flee, and what do we pursue? When do we run from, and when do we run to? Paul tells Timothy – not only as a pastor, but also as a Christian, pursue these things:

righteousness – Flee unchecked sin and pursue right living, rooted in your right standing in Christ. Run after right living, reflecting the holiness of God.

godliness – Flee worldliness, but pursue godliness. Don’t run after the world trying to indulge in every fleshly pleasure, but pursue God, purse being satisfied in Him.

faith – Flee doubt and cynicism. Pursue faith and trust in God, knowing that He wants the best for you, He will provide everything you need. Trust in Him.

love – Flee selfishness, but pursue love. Pursue loving God and loving others, knowing that it was Christ who loved you first.

steadfastness – Flee doubt and double-mindedness, but pursue endurance. Desire to be the kind of person who doesn’t sway in your beliefs one day to the next. Pursue true contentment in the gospel and not compromising the truth, to be faithful until the end.

gentleness – Flee being irritated, rude, harsh or self-righteous. Instead, pursue a tender heart toward others, being patient with others, knowing how patient God has been with you.

There’s more to following Jesus than just avoiding sin. God means for us to embrace His grace, to long for His presence, to draw close to Him and He will draw close to us. Don’t just take off the old rags of shame, but put on the robe of righteousness that only Christ gives. In that, we will begin to see more clearly, not only what to flee and avoid, but what God would have us pursue and celebrate.

Fight for the Faith (v. 12)

When Paul says “fight the good fight of the faith”, this is a metaphor of an athletic event, of a competition like the Olympic games. With that in mind, there are a couple of things that fighting or competing implies:

Fighting or competing implies there’s an opponent. There is someone or something we are fighting or struggling against. Part of this command is encouraging Timothy to keep fighting against false teachers who would divide the church and lead God’s people astray.

But the false teachers are not Paul’s only concern. Timothy is also being reminded to fight against his own indwelling sin and temptations. “Timothy, don’t just get distracted by opponents of the gospel. But be aware of the struggles of your own heart. Be on guard, not just against the outward, external threats to the gospel. Be on guard against the temptations of your own heart. Stay diligent, keep fighting the good fight of the faith, which will often mean you will be fighting the good fight for the faith – for your own heart, and for the health of the church.

And fighting or competing implies a reward, a prize for the victor.

And the prize in v. 12 is this: “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.”

Paul tells Timothy to “take hold” of this eternal life, the life he’s called to. That wording implies forceful action. It’s more than just claiming a prize. It’s holding onto something with a firm grip, to tenaciously cling to something of value.

Paul is saying, “Timothy, fight for the faith, not just outwardly against false teachers, but inwardly against your own sinful desires.”

The biggest obstacle to my spiritual growth is not the devil. My biggest obstacle is me. My own heart. My own desires. I am my biggest enemy. So the victory here is not just victory of the devil – that was secured by Jesus at the cross. The victory is the enduring until the end, taking hold of the prize, to know you and I have been called by God into eternal life. And that doesn’t begin when we die. It begins right now. You’re alive right now.

Fight to lay hold of eternal life now, the life that the Bible says “you were called to”, which means God has already chosen you, Jesus has already died and rose again to secure your forgiveness and your reward of eternal life. If you’re in Christ, that belongs to you. It’s yours.

Protect your teaching and testimony (vv. 13-16)

When Jesus was arrested and taken before the Roman authorities, Jesus was asked by Pilate if he was the king of the Jews. In one of the gospel accounts, Jesus answered by saying his kingdom was not of this world. Jesus affirmed that He is King, but not just of the Jews. Jesus is king over all. This is the good confession Jesus gave to Pilate about Himself. This is the good confession Timothy made at his baptism. And this is the good confession that Jesus alone is Lord and King that needs to be preserved in what we believe and what we teach.

And the other part of this charge is to keep the gospel free from reproach. That’s another way of saying, Timothy, as one who carries the gospel message, people will be watching your life to see if you live what you believe. Be sure how you live does not bring reproach or disrespect to the name of Jesus. In other words, preserve your teaching, and preserve your testimony.

Those two go hand in hand. If we are tenacious about guarding the gospel message, without guarding our own hearts and how we live, our words will ring hollow and the impact of our testimony will be diminished. And on the other extreme, if we just try to live good lives and get along with everyone, without the gospel as our anchor, we are trusting in our own goodness and forfeiting the only power that transforms us, the only hope a sinner has to be saved.

And then, to end the section, Paul breaks out into a doxology, a spontaneous praise (vv. 14b-16).

This beautiful doxology reminds us that the gospel is not only good news to be guarded and preserved and fought for. But the gospel is also a message we should celebrate, the amazing overwhelming truth that a holy God loves His people so much that He gave His only Son to pay the penalty for our sins. Not only that, but through faith in Christ we are washed of our sins, but we are adopted by God and given eternal life with Him.

But to remember that and celebrate that is a struggle. That’s a fight against our flesh, against our pride. But it’s a good fight. It’s a joyful battle, because we know Jesus has already won the war.

So don’t have to let the burdens of this life steal your praise. Don’t let the worries and cares of this world cause spiritual amnesia – to cause you to forget what we’re fighting for. Remember who Jesus is, what He’s done, who you are in Him and the promises He’s given you.

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