Fighting the Good Fight
"Fight the good fight of faith..." 1 Timothy 6:12a
A few years ago, a good friend of mine asked me this question, "Is Christianity a passive religion?" Several times I gave him a long winded version of yes, immediately followed by a long winded version of no. As I rambled on for a few minutes, I convinced myself that there was no way I was going to be able to easily answer this question in my own mind much less for him. Seeing as how we had several hours in a car together before reaching our destination, it didn't take me long to realize the best choice I could make was to change the subject. Much to my chagrin, this friend proceeded (not just on this trip, but every time we get together) to present me with other questions like this (you know who you are).
Truth is, I love these kinds of questions. My immediate response tends to follow the path of logic (which is flawed at best), reason (which is lacking at best), and my own understanding (which is sub-par at best). Subsequently I come to a point where I can't figure out the answer and the Spirit hits me in the gut and says, it's in the book. Needless to say, this is a very humbling experience for a pastor whom others depend on, not for his own wisdom, but for the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 2:13 among others). I love these questions not because they pull out my own carnal nature, but because they have caused me, more and more, to dig into God's holy word to find His answers.
At this point you're probably asking yourself, "What's this got to do with the scripture referenced above?" It just occurred to me that my personal dilemma is all of our ultimate fight. The constant battle to put down the flesh and lean wholly on God and His holy word. But I digress.
Now, just for a second, let's play a little word association game. The term we'll use is fight. Now think of 6 words...ready...go...
Now, maybe you had more words. Some of you might've had less. I'll admit that the image shown above probably swayed your responses. I'm not sure I'd ever make it as a professional survey taker. You might've come up with words like: wrestle, battle, war, enemy, bloodshed, etc. Quite frankly, these are the results of my own word association. Once again, I find myself caught up in my own lack of understanding of God's word.
Although "Fight the good fight of faith..." does stand alone as holy, inspired words of wisdom, it is imperative that we look further into the scripture to see how we wage this fight. Unfortunately, throughout the church's history, we've seen this verse play out as words standing alone, to the ends that wars and death have plagued God's people by fighting in the way God never intended.
Leading up to these words, Paul advises the young minister Timothy of the dangers of following after money, and by representation the world. As Paul is apt to do, he follows a do not with a do; contrasting the nature of the flesh as opposed to the will of the spirit. In doing so, he places into the context of our own passage a little word association. Here they are, immediately prior to the verse in focus:
If any of you used these words in your own association, allow me to commend you on a spiritual level. God has blessed you with a maturity and wisdom that surpasses all understanding. You've no doubt exercised this blessing and allowed God's wisdom to supersede your own carnal wisdom.
I find in 1 Timothy 6:11-12 an amazing juxtaposition of scripture in that it directly deals with our own nature and understanding in contrast to what God has told us over and over again throughout scripture, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord." (Isaiah 55:8). Just as God instructed His people in the ways of battle in the Old Testament, he shows us the same in this, the age of the New Testament Church. And guess what, they're rarely our ways.
This returns us to the question posed by my dear friend in that vehicle many years ago, "Is Christianity a passive religion?" The answer is yes.......AND........no. The reality is that what Paul poses to Timothy seem to be passive when looking at it carnally. But when we look at it spiritually, it should all begin to make sense. It should be no secret that the words used in Paul's word association bear a striking resemblance to the fruits of the Spirit revealed in Galatians 5:22-23. Unfortunately, what we have done is qualified these gifts as passive (as they seem to our carnal nature) instead of seeing them as spiritually aggressive. Here's a really good definition for aggressive, compliments of Merriam-Webster, "strong or emphatic in effect or intent." Shouldn't we live a life where we strongly and emphatically intend righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and meekness?
In closing, I close as Paul closed. In the final chapter of his final letter to Timothy, Paul writes "I have fought a good fight..." (2 Timothy 4:7). Paul had lived the life that he counseled Timothy to live. The fight, he tells, was the good fight; it was a fight of faith; it was a spiritual fight. It's easy to see the fight Paul had with the Jews. We need not forget the fight he had within the church. Those that viciously denied his authority as an apostle and those that vehemently fought his instruction within the confines of the body of Christ. Throughout this fight that Paul saw as not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, and powers, and the rulers of the darkness of the world, against spiritual wickedness in high places, he used the strategy that he laid out to Timothy in his first letter: righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and meekness.
This was his fight, in which, he was not passive, but aggressive. Just as he counseled Timothy to follow in his steps, Paul, himself, was following in Christ's steps. In the gospels we see Christ's fight, where he wasn't a man of weakness, but a man of incredible strength, even as the mockers said to Him, "He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him; for he said, I am the Son of God.") Matthew 27:42-43). In this man, this Christ, this Messiah, we see on full display where Paul learned of this strategy for his own fight, and decisive victory. Therefore, may we also learn from them in our own fight and be victorious.