By Adam Brown –
We finally come to the last instruction for the church in the book of 1 Timothy. This instruction is to fight the good fight of the faith (1 Timothy 6:11-16, 20-21).
Paul begins this passage by exhorting Timothy to act opposite to the problem people who cause sin-sickness in the church (see 1 Timothy 6:3-5):
But as for you, O man of God, flee these things (1 Timothy 6:11a).
What things is Timothy supposed to flee? He is to flee false teaching, conceit, ignorance, an unhealthy craving for controversy and quarrels about words, envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people (1 Timothy 6:3-5).
In place of these things, Paul offers better qualities to seek after:
Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11b).
This, then, is the context for the main exhortation in this final section:
Fight the good fight of the faith (1 Timothy 6:12).
What does it mean to fight the good fight of the faith? In addition to fleeing certain things and pursuing others, fighting the good fight of the faith can be understood in five interrelated ways.
One, Fighting the good fight of the faith means ministering with an awareness that God is watching.
Paul writes, “I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus. . .” (1 Timothy 6:13a). In other words, the exhortation to fight the good fight of the faith is a serious instruction. God is watching. Christ is privy. O, how easy it is to forget that Christ is among us, that His Holy Spirit indwells us, and that all we do is exposed before God our Father.
If we are going to fight the good fight of the faith, we must constantly be aware that God is with us, watching and listening. How might this change the way we conduct ourselves in the church?
Two, Fighting the good fight of the faith means suffering with Christ.
Paul continues, “. . . Jesus Christ, who in His testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession. . .” (1 Timothy 6:13b). As Paul is charging Timothy to fight the good fight, he reminds him of Jesus in His most vulnerable moment. It is the about-to-be crucified Jesus that Paul brings to Timothy’s mind. Why?
If we are going to fight the good fight of the faith, we must remember that the fight itself is saturated with suffering. We do not get the crown without first taking up our cross. Before we take hold of the fullness of glory, we must first be willing to suffer for the sake of Christ. Paradoxically, God’s view of a successful ministry looks like crucifixion.
Three, Fighting the good fight of the faith means keeping the commandment unstained and free from reproach.
Paul picks up the mainline of his thought here, “I charge you. . . to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach. . .” (1 Timothy 6:14a). What commandment is Paul referring to? Well, this is a bit ambiguous, isn’t it?
Likely, he is primarily referring to the letter of 1 Timothy. In other words, implementing this letter equals “keeping the commandment.” Even more specifically, the charge of verse 13 reminds us of the charge in 1 Timothy 1:3, 5, and 18. In these verses, Paul exhorted Timothy to ensure that certain persons were not teaching any different doctrine (1:3). The aim of his charge was not mere knowledge, but love (1:5). This charge was entrusted to Timothy in accordance with prophecies made about him (1:18). Thus, to fight the good fight of the faith is to wage the good warfare against heresy and falsehood, vain discussion and teaching that does not produce love.
If we are going to fight the good fight of the faith, we must devote ourselves to the commands of Christ and the Word of God. This includes 1 Timothy and all the holy Scriptures. Without the Bible, we are not fighting the good fight of the faith.
Four, Fighting the good fight of the faith means making every decision, saying every word, and doing all ministry in light of the return and judgment of Christ.
Paul writes that we are to fight this fight, “until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will display at the proper time – He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To Him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen” (1 Timothy 6:14b-16). Just as Paul reminded Timothy about the crucified Christ, so also he reminds Timothy to remember the exalted and returning Christ.
This is tremendously potent because it is so easy to lose perspective. Resistance, opposition, and earthly popularity can easily eclipse the greater reality that Jesus will return and He will judge our work. Therefore, our greater concern ought to be pleasing Jesus Christ, not men and women on earth.
More than that, the greater concern of any pastor or disciple-maker needs to be to prepare people for the moment they will meet Christ. Most people are not actively preparing for that day.
If we are going to fight the good fight of the faith, we must ready the church to meet Christ, even when the church resists such preparation.
Five, Fighting the good fight of the faith means guarding the good deposit entrusted to us.
Paul concludes his letter to Timothy, “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you” (1 Timothy 6:20-21).
In the broadest sense, the “good deposit” is the Gospel. More specifically, the context of the letter suggests that 1 Timothy is, itself, a good deposit. Timothy is to guard the instructions of this letter by implementing them in the Ephesian Church.
If we are going to fight the good fight of the faith, we too must implement the instructions of 1 Timothy. Without an active devotion to these instructions, we will not naturally know how we ought to behave in the household of God (1 Timothy 3:14-15).
This five-fold exhortation calls on us to fight the good fight of the faith. And, let there be no mistake, living for Christ in the church is a fight. In the best sense, a local church can choose to engage in this fight together.
With great agony of heart, however, the reality has always been that part of this fight is internal, as factions jockey for position. This has been true ever since Paul wrote this letter to Timothy in the Ephesian church almost 2,000 years ago (see 2 Timothy). It remains true today.
Let us, then, entrust ourselves to the grace and mercy of God in Christ Jesus, and beseech the Spirit for divine help in our time of need.