Fight the good fight

Chatswood Baptist Church

1 Timothy 1:18 -2:7

The good fight

I’m not much of a fighter. I generally try to avoid conflict where I can, and I don’t think that I am alone in this. I think that many of us try to avoid conflict when possible. We don’t want to get into an argument or a fight with someone. Growing up I can only remember one time getting into a fight with someone (other than by brother) and that was in the in the classroom in my first or second year of high school and it lasted all of about 30 seconds. It was almost over before it had begun.

But some fights you can’t avoid or perhaps you shouldn’t avoid. There are some fights that you need to wade into. There is an old saying attributed to Edmund Burke that goes “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. There are times when we can’t just stand by and just do nothing. There are some fights that it wouldn’t be right to not take up. Today/tonight we are looking at a fight that we are all meant to be engaged. In chapter 1 of Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he told Timothy to “fight the good fight”. But what was the good fight that Timothy and that we are engaged in?

  • More than sparring

Often when I’ve heard the words “fight the good fight” I’ve had in my mind a mental image of a boxer in a ring fighting against his or opponent. But, while, there are opponents in view (the false teachers) we are not talking about a friendly sparring session but being part of a battle or military engagement.

  • A spiritual battle

The fight language here in verse 18 doesn’t come from the sporting arena but from the battle field. It’s was more of a military metaphor describing the fight that that a soldier would find himself in. For instance, the ESV translates this phrase “wage the good warfare”. The word suggests that Timothy was part of spiritual battle that was going on and Ephesus was just one place where the battle lines had been drawn. This conflict wasn’t so much a physical conflict but a spiritual one that is going on in our world as the gospel is preached and people through faith in Jesus are freed from the dominion sin and death. In Ephesus false teachers had arose who were opposing this work of God and who were leading people astray. These false teachers weren’t working alone for Paul wrote in chapter 4 that some would abandon the faith following deceiving spirits. (4:8). The opposition was the work of the enemy designed to cause people to wander away and abandon their faith. Timothy had been left in Ephesus to fight the good fight of the faith (see 6:12) and to guard the truth of the gospel (see 6:20) from those who would deceive the people of God so that they might abandon the faith (see 4:21). As we saw in verse 3 of chapter 1 he had been left there so that he might “command certain men not to teach doctrines any longer” (1:3). It was a good fight for he was fighting for the truth of the gospel, so the work of God might go on and people might be saved. But how do we engage in this fight? How do we guard the truth of the gospel so that the God’s work of salvation might go on in this world? How do we fight the good fight

Fighting the good fight

This morning/tonight I want to highlight three simple things that we can all be doing to fight the good fight. These three things come out of the passage that we are looking at and are: 1) preach the word, 2) live the word and 3) Pray for everyone.

  1. Preach the word

Firstly, you fight the good fight by preaching the word – the truth of the faith. This is what Paul I believe is talking about when he mentions the prophecies once made about Timothy so that by following them (these prophecies) he might fight the good fight (1:18). In chapter 4 Paul talks about these prophecies again. They were prophecies that occurred when the elders laid their hands on Timothy.

1 Timothy 4:13-14

13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. 14 Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.[1]

These prophecies seem to be connected to the preaching and teaching that was to accompany the public reading of Scripture. Timothy is told to not neglect his gift which Timothy had be given and the immediate context would suggest that what is being referred to is that he is to keep on preaching and teaching the Word of God. The word our NIV has translated “preach” is the word to “exhort”. Timothy was to teach the word of God and to exhort or encourage the church to live by what it says. This is how you guard against those who would distort the truth. You build the message of the gospel into one another’s lives by speaking the truth to one another. You don’t just stop false teachers preaching but you also faithful teach and teach and preach the truth.

In Paul’s second letter Paul charges Timothy to preach the Word.

2 Timothy 4:2-3

Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

We fight the good fight by continuing to teach the Word of God encouraging one another to live by it. We need to be brought up on the truths of the faith and follow the good teaching in the same way that Timothy had (see 4:6). When people are battling a fire, they don’t just try to put out the fire but they prepare their house to make it as fire resistant as possible. In the same way Timothy wasn’t just to try and stop the false teachers preaching but he was to so prepare the believers there that they would not be easily led astray.

2. Live the word

But it is isn’t enough to just preach and teach the word of God so that people know the truth, we also must live the word.  In verse 19 Timothy is told to hold on to faith and a good conscience and then he is warned about the consequences of not holding on to these through the mention of Hymenaeus and Alexander. They had not held on to faith and a good conscience and had shipwrecked their faith. It’s not enough to know the truth we must live by the truth and continue to have faith in Jesus and always be repenting or turning away from sin.

  • Hold on to faith

Paul says that we are to hold on to faith. This means more than just we must know what the truth is, but we must be people who continue to trust in Jesus and nothing else. We need to hold on to the trustworthy message and look to Jesus to save us and never let go of him. We are to watch out for the temptation to hold on to other things for what the world does it offers you other things so that you might drop and not hold on to him.

We once looked after a dog for some friends that used to take what it shouldn’t take, like your shoe or it would jump up and take something that you had put on the table. Once it had it in its mouth it wouldn’t let go of it. The dog wasn’t very well trained, and you would end up chasing all around the yard, but even if you caught the dog it wouldn’t let go of what it had in its mouth. But the way we worked out how to get it to let go of what it had hold of was to start playing with something that we made out was great to play with. We would start playing with something as though what we had in our hands was something so wonderful that you would be stupid to hold on to anything else. Eventually the dog would drop what it had in its mouth to take hold of what you had.

I think this is largely how the evil one works to get us to stop holding on to faith in Jesus. He surrounds us with people who are convinced what they have is so good that would be crazy to go on living by faith in Jesus, trusting in him and what he has promised us. We get told that having a relationship will make the difference or being sexually active, or have that successful career, or the perfect family or the things that wealth can provide us will make the difference. Some even pretend that they can pursue all these things and still hold on to Jesus. But the thing about the dog we were looking after is that although it tried to keep what it had, it actually had to drop what it had in its mouth. Once it decided that what we had had was more important it would let go of what it had hold of. It was a matter of priority. If faith in Jesus is your priority everything else will fall into its right place, but if faith in Jesus and trusting him and his promises isn’t the most important thing then what you do is end up trading him for something else. This is what happened in Ephesus – what some really wanted was to get rich by being teachers and they had ended up wandering from the faith (see 6:6-10).

  • Hold on to a good conscience

Timothy is to hold on to faith and secondly a good conscience. The trouble with the false teachers is that they had abandoned the faith and followed deceiving spirit. Paul writes in chapter 4 and verse 2 by following such teachings their conscience had been seared as with a hot iron.

The Greek word that has been translated in our NIV as “seared with a hot iron” is also from where the word that we get our English word for “cauterize”. John Stott writes, ‘When skin, a nerve or a superficial tumour is cauterized, it is destroyed by burning and so rendered insensitive. Just so, a cauterized conscience has been ‘anaesthetized’, even deadened.”[2] This is how some people can do some of the horrendous things that they do, over time their consciences had been deadened so it doesn’t react as it should. As God’s people our consciences are meant to be informed by the Word of God so that we repent of sin and turn to Jesus for forgiveness. We aren’t to hold on to sin in our lives.

Holding on to sin is like a soldier coming from the battle with a flesh wound but not doing anything about it. Even though they didn’t die in the heat of the battle, if they don’t treat their wound it will fester, and it might come to a point where the wound might become a mortal wound that they won’t recover from.

The truth is that we all will have moments when we drop our guard and we fall into sin. However, a good conscience is a healthy one that is rightly informed by the Word of God and sensitive to its leading so that we confess and turn from our sin seeking forgiveness in the name of Jesus. If our conscience isn’t working as it should, if it has been deadened, we ignore sin and hang on to it and like an untreated wound it will fester and eventually it will be our demise.

There is a cure for sin and it is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to always turn from our sin and repent. You might know the truth and even preach it, but you need to be living it out – holding on to faith and a good conscience. As Paul tells Timothy a little later in chapter 4 we have to watch our lives and our doctrine. We all want to avoid the mistake of Hymenaeus and Alexander who ended up shipwrecking their faith.

So far Paul has told Timothy he has to preach the word and live the word, but in chapter 2 he starts to direct Timothy as to how the church is to be fighting together the good fight. The word “then” or “therefore” in verses 1 connects the two chapters together.

3. Pray for everyone

What we can all be doing to promote God’s work and fight the good fight is to pray for everyone. God’s people are to be praying for all kinds of prayer for all people.

1 Timothy 2:1-7

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles.

  • All kinds of prayers for all people

Paul refers to request, prayers, intercessions, thanksgiving for everyone. It hard to really pin down the difference between these words. What Paul seems to be doing is just snowballing terms so that it adds weight to the fact that he wants us to pray in every kind of way as we have opportunity for people everywhere. There is a special mention of kings and those in authority but that seems to be because what they do influences whether we all get to live quiet and peaceful lives. We are to pray for all people everywhere so that we might live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

  • God wants all people to be saved

At first that might seem a little self-serving of us. But the motivation is made clear in verse 3 and 4. God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. The benefit that comes with good government is that it can provide conditions where we can more easily live out and share the gospel with others. In world devastated by war and civil unrest it isn’t easy to move around and share the gospel with others. We aren’t praying this prayer so that we can get on with living selfish indulgent lives. We are to live in holiness and godliness. We aren’t praying this prayer so that we can just get further along in our career or so that we can enjoy the pleasures that this life has to offer or to retire one day and take it easy and travel and collect sea shells or bore people with our photographs of our holidays. We are praying this prayer so that we might live holy and godly lives that testify to the grace of the Lord Jesus so that we might have the to share the testimony of Jesus. We are told that God wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. We want to have the opportunity to tell people how Jesus gave himself as ransom for them. We pray for all people for there is only one mediator because God and people. There is only one way to have peace with God and be reconciled to him and have life and that is through one who gave himself for everyone. Paul wrote that for this very purpose he was made a herald, an apostle and teacher of the true faith.

Fight the good fight of the faith

The fight is the good fight for it is the fight to help others to come to a knowledge of the truth so that they too can be saved. It’s isn’t done through force or through coercion or any deceitful means but through people praying for everyone, living holy and godly lives in this world and through sharing the gospel that we have received as the Lord gives us the opportunity.  We fight the fight through preaching the Word, living out the word and praying for everyone. We do this because there is only one mediator between us and God – the man Jesus Christ who gave himself as ransom. This is the work that God is doing now in this world – which is by faith.  Therefore, brothers and sisters, fight the good fight of the faith for our God wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.

[1] Except where othewise indicated All Scripture citations are taken from The Holy Bible: New International Version—Anglicised. (1984). (electronic edition). London: Hodder & Stoughton.

[2] John Stott, The Message of 1 Timothy & Titus, The Bible Speaks Today, page 112.