Paul tells Timothy to fight the good fight. Generally Christians are not supposed to be fighting. So what fight is Paul talking about? He calls it a good fight. Not too many fights could be described as good ones.
Life can feel like a fight. Have you ever felt that way? Life seems too hard sometimes doesn’t it? Is that what Paul is referring to?
Actually, Paul is saying, the fight to stay faithful to the Lord is a good fight. And maybe that resonates with you. If you are a following of Jesus, you might know the feeling of how difficult it can be to remain faithful to the Lord. This life is full of temptations which, if we caved in, would lead us to be unfaithful to God. Sometimes it is our own bodies that tempt us. Sometimes it is an addiction. We know that Satan loves to tempt us. Sometimes it is other people. Staying faithful to God can seem like a battle. Paul says it is a good fight.
In our study of 1st Timothy, we have come to chapter 1, verses 18-20. There Paul describes what he wants Timothy to fight for: first, to hold on to faith, and, second, to hold on to a good conscience.
The image here of holding on is a person who is holding on to an object and not letting go. It is an iron grip. I know in life it can often feel like we are losing grip on our faith. In the next verse Paul is going to refer to some guys that did just that. Hymenaeus and Alexander, he says, lost their faith. Part one of fighting the good fight is to hold on to faith.
The second thing Paul wants Timothy to hold on to is a good conscience. What is the conscience?
One scholar says that it is “the psychological faculty which can distinguish between right and wrong”. That same scholar goes on to say that “In some languages [this word] may [refer to] ‘the inner voice’ or ‘the voice in one’s heart’ or ‘how one knows right from wrong.’”
So Paul is referring to something that is inherently within us. We believe that God created all humanity with this inner voice, this true psychological faculty to distinguish right from wrong. That doesn’t mean that all people will do the right thing. You can know the right and not do it. I think we all are very aware of this in our lives. How many times do we know what is right, but we do what is wrong? What is worse, it seems that the more we do the wrong, the less we are aware of the right.
We can see why Paul would place such importance on fighting the good fight in the areas of faith and good conscience. Hold tightly on to them!
How do we hold on to a good conscience?
- Keep a sensitive ear to the voice of the Lord. The means we should practice prayer.
- Remain teachable. Remember the story of Samson in the Old Testament? He didn’t even realize that God had departed from him. He wasn’t teachable.
- Read the Bible. It is our instruction. We need to know who God is and what he wants us to do.
- Be doers of the word, which means that when you read the Bible, you then do what it says. This may require change.
- Have accountability. This means close fellowship with other Christians.
We have to intentionally work at being sensitive to God. If you let it go one day, it will be easier the next day to grow callous to God. If you keep letting it go, you can find yourself quite distant from God.
In the physical world, the less food we get, the hungrier we get. In the spiritual world, it is the opposite: the less food we get, the less spiritually hungry we get. If you skip lunch, you’re crazy hungry by dinner, right? If you skip out on spending time with God, though, you start to lose desire for it. I wish the spiritual worked like the physical in this regard. I wish I would get spiritually hungrier if I skipped time with God. But I have found that when I distance myself from God, I only grow more apathetic about him.
It is more like relationships. When distance is put between two people, they start to fall away. So we need to fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience.
To successfully fight the good fight, I’d like to talk a bit more about one of the suggestions I made above, remaining teachable. I have found in the last 20 years or so, that a healthy self-awareness, humility and teachability are perhaps the most important foundation a disciple of Jesus must have. If we want to fight the good fight, first we must be teachable and humble.
We should be Christians who are seeking out the truth about ourselves. Think about yourself. Are you actively seeking people to speak the blunt honest truth about yourself? Or are you thinking “I’m scared of what people think about me…I want to avoid it. I don’t want to hear what people think of me.” Would you rather live in a fantasy world of your own making?
Many of us choose to live in a fantasy world because it is much easier. In those fantasy worlds, we are generally pretty awesome people who don’t have to change. In those fantasy worlds we can tell ourselves that we are good. But a huge part of holding on the faith and a good conscience is being humble and teachable.
It means having a healthy self-awareness, and a willingness to speak openly and honestly about yourself, both your successes and your failings. And that means that you invite the tough stuff into your world.
So let us fight the good fight, hold on to faith, and a good conscience.
Fighting the good fight implies that it will be tough. Paul doesn’t say “sleep on a cozy bed.” “Eat delicious desserts” “Enjoy a stress-free walk.”
He says “fight the good fight.” It is good. And it is a fight. It is good, worth it, fighting for the mission of the Kingdom of God. It is a fight against evil, a fight against injustice, a fight against Satan, a fight against selfishness and pride.
But it is a fight, and fights are hard. They require energy, time, and usually bring pain and hurt. Disciples of Jesus are fighters. But they fight the good fight.
Jesus said something about this fighting concept when he said, “take up your cross and follow me.” He was referring to self-denial. It is a fight. Often a fight against our inner inclination toward selfishness.
If you don’t want to shipwreck your faith, you’ve got to keep fighting.