Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious.
For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs.
But as for you, man of God, shun all this; aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
Some things in Paul's letters to Timothy are designed for pastors in particular rather than for all Christians. But not verse 12 of 1 Timothy 6. When Paul says, "Fight the good fight of faith," we can be sure he is not giving counsel that only pastors must follow.
Paul's Words to Everybody in the Church
This applies to everybody in the church. We know it does because every Christian needs faith, not just pastors. And we know it does because the next phrase is the goal not just of pastors but of all Christians: "Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called." By fighting the good fight of faith, Timothy must lay hold on eternal life. But there are not two different ways to eternal life—one for pastors and one for the rest of the church. Therefore, we can know that what Paul commands in this verse is for all of us not just for Timothy or just for pastors.
So the doctrine that I want to draw out of this portion of God's word and press home to your hearts today is this:
All Christians Must Lay Hold on Eternal Life by Fighting the Good Fight of Faith
In handling the text I will try to answer three questions:
- In what sense is our fight a fight of faith?
- Why does the apostle Paul call it a good fight?
- How do we go about engaging in this fight successfully?
The answer to this last question leads directly into our closing moments of commitment this morning. We will see that the emerging 20:20 Vision spearheaded by Pastor Steve is not conceived as a way to make us feel good about getting together in small groups; it's conceived as a way of laying hold on eternal life. It is not merely a program. It is a wartime strategy to defeat the enemy of our souls. It's an athletic discipline to help us win the crown of life. But all this remains to be seen from the Scripture. Let's go to our text.
1. In What Sense Is Our Fight a Fight of Faith?
As I look at the context of Paul's command to fight the good fight of faith, I see two ways to understand the term "fight of faith."
Two Ways to Understand "Fight of Faith"
One would be this: since our faith is often threatened by doubt and unbelief we must fight to maintain faith. So, the phrase "fight of faith" would mean: the struggle to keep on believing God, the fight to keep on trusting his promises.
The other way to understand the phrase "fight of faith" would be this: we must fight the fight of faith in the sense that faith is used as the weapon to attain some other victory beyond faith itself. The idea is not merely that we are fighting to maintain our faith, but that we are maintaining faith in order to attain some victory by means of faith.
I think both of these are in Paul's mind and that the two always go together. The only reason I distinguish them is that there are people who try to deny that both are true or try to live as though both were not true. Let me try to illustrate both meanings of the phrase "fight of faith" from the context and from some other Scriptures.
The Fight to Maintain Faith
In the verse just before our text (v. 11), Paul commanded Timothy to aim at, or pursue, "righteousness, godliness and faith." But since Timothy is already a believer, this command to pursue faith must mean that Paul is admonishing him to attain more faith or to hold on to the faith he has. This is what Paul means by the fight of faith (in the first sense). The goal of Timothy's pursuit is faith itself.
So there is a sense in which every one of us must keep on pursuing faith. We must not rest content as though the faith we have is all we need, or as though the faith we have will remain in our hearts without a fight against the forces of unbelief. If you begin to coast in your Christian life, or if you begin to let down your guard, thinking that some past act of faith will save you without any struggle to persevere, you may be rudely shocked on the judgment day.
In 2 Timothy 4:7 Paul says at the very end of his life, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." Fighting the fight of faith, finishing the race, and keeping faith all mean the same thing. Fighting the fight of faith is the struggle to keep the faith. And it's a struggle that a true Christian never finally abandons until he attains the crown of righteousness from the Lord. So the first meaning of the term "fight of faith," is the fight to maintain faith, and it comes from the context of verse 11 and from 2 Timothy 4:7.
Fighting with Faith as a Weapon for a Further Victory
The other meaning of the term "fight of faith" is illustrated in verse 12 in the very next phrase: "take hold of eternal life." The reason Paul adds this command right after the command to fight the good fight of faith is that eternal life is the goal to be attained by a successful fight of faith. Paul is saying, "Fight the good fight of faith, and in that way lay hold on eternal life." So the fight of faith is not just a fight to maintain faith (the first meaning); it is a fight to use faith as a weapon for attaining a victory beyond faith itself, namely, eternal life.
It's just as if one of our coaches of the Olympic boxing team would have said to a fighter just as the third and decisive round started, "Fight the good fight, brother, and lay hold on the gold!" So the term "fight of faith" means, in this second sense, fighting to win the (gold!) crown of eternal life by means of persevering in our faith.
From Pilgrim's Progress to the American Church
One of the reasons there is so little deep, earnest, passionate concern for godliness in the contemporary church is that this truth is so little understood—the truth, namely, that eternal life is laid hold of only by a persevering fight of faith. There is today, by and large, a devil-may-care, cavalier, superficial attitude toward the on-going, daily intensity of personal faith because people do not believe that their eternal life depends on it. The last 200 years has seen an almost incredible devaluation of the fight of faith. We have moved a hundred miles from Pilgrim's Progress where Christian labors and struggles and fights all his life until he is safe in the Celestial City. O, how different is the biblical view of the Christian life than the one prevalent in the American church.
James 1:12 says, "Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him." The person who will receive the crown of eternal life is the person who successfully endures trial, that is, the person who fights the fight of faith and gets the victory over the temptation of unbelief.
Revelation 2:10 says to those who are being thrown in prison for their faith, "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life." This is very different from the mood of American Christianity. Here something infinite and eternal hangs on whether these Christians keep their faith in prison. But today worship services, Bible studies, prayer meetings, and fellowship gatherings in most churches do not have a spirit of earnestness and intensity and fervor and depth because people do not believe in their heart that anything significant is at stake—least of all their eternal life.
We have been poorly taught. And so I urge each of you to return to the Scripture with eyes opened afresh to learn the doctrine of our text—that:
2. Why Does the Apostle Paul Call It a Good Fight?
Let me suggest five reasons why the fight of faith is a good fight and not a bad one.
Because the Enemy Is Evil
First, it is a good fight because the enemy is evil. The enemy is unbelief and the Satanic forces behind it and the sins which come from it. When you set yourself to combat the forces that try to get you to trust in yourself instead of God, you oppose a very evil enemy. Therefore it is a good fight.
Because We Are Not Left to Our Own Strength
Second, it is a good fight because we are not left to our own strength to fight. If we were, as Martin Luther says, "All our striving would be losing." Philippians 2:12 says, "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." That's the same as saying, "Fight the good fight of faith, and lay hold on eternal life." But the next verse says, "For God is at work in you both to will and to do his good pleasure." In other words, when a child of God fights the fight of faith, God is really the one who is behind that struggle giving the will and the power to defeat the enemy of unbelief. We are not left to ourselves to sustain faith. God fights for us and in us. Therefore the fight of faith is a good fight.
Because It's a Struggle to Let a Burden Be Carried for Us
Third, it is a good fight because it is not a struggle to carry a burden, but a struggle to let a burden be carried for us. The life of faith is not a burdened life! It is an unburdened life! The fight of faith is the struggle to trust God with the burdens of life. It's a fight for freedom from worry. It's a fight for hope, and peace, and joy which are all threatened by unbelief and doubt about God's promises. And since freedom and hope and peace and joy are good, the fight to preserve them is a good fight.
Because It Involves Self-Humbling Not Self-Exaltation
Fourth, the fight of faith is good because, unlike most fights, it does not involve self-exaltation but self-humbling. Most fighting is not good because it is a proud attempt to prove our own strength at someone else's expense. But the fight of faith is just the opposite. It's a way of saying that we are weak and desperately need the mercy of God. By nature we do not like to admit our helplessness. We do not like to say, "Apart from Christ I can do nothing" (John 15:5). But the very essence of faith is the admission of our sinful helplessness and the looking away from ourselves to God for mercy. This kind of humility is good. Therefore the fight of faith is a good fight.
Because by It God Is Greatly Glorified
Fifth, the fight of faith is good because by it God is greatly glorified. When we devote ourselves to self-abasement with the purpose of casting all our hope on God, he is exalted in the world. Trusting in ourselves gets us glory. Trusting in the power of God gets him glory. And nothing in all the world is as good as the glory of God. Therefore the fight of faith is a good fight.
In sum, then, the fight to maintain faith and lay hold on eternal life is a good fight because the enemy is evil; the strength to fight is given by God; the faith we pursue is not a burden but an unburdening; the fight involves self-humbling not self-exaltation; and God is glorified as we learn to trust him with all our cares and hopes.
3. How Do We Engage in This Fight Successfully?
Here we could talk for hours about the proper use of the Word of God in personal devotion and in preaching and teaching, remembering that, "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17).
We could talk about prayer and the constant cry of the true saint, "I believe, Lord, help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24).
We could talk about the very ordinary disciplines of eating and sleeping and exercising which have far more effect on the perseverance of our faith than many realize.
Fighting the Fight Together Is Necessary Not Optional
But instead, we want to close by focusing on the foundation of the 20:20 Vision. The 20:20 Vision is a network of home cell-groups at Bethlehem. Pastor Steve will be saying more about the details in just a few moments. What I want you to see is that the foundation of this movement at Bethlehem is the doctrine that ALL CHRISTIANS MUST LAY HOLD ON ETERNAL LIFE BY FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT OF FAITH, and the truth that we must fight this fight together and not just in the privacy of our own lives.
Camaraderie in the fight of faith is not an optional fringe benefit of being a Christian. It is one of the God-ordained, essential ways of fighting the fight of faith and laying hold on eternal life.
Two passages in Hebrews make this very clear. Hebrews 3:12–13 says:
Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.
According to this text fighting the good fight of faith means doing whatever God tells us to do to guard ourselves against an unbelieving heart and against becoming hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. So the way that this text tells us to fight the fight faith is by exhorting one another.
"Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (verse 13). This is what I mean by camaraderie in the fight of faith. The perseverance of my faith under God depends on the regular exhortations of Steve Roy and Tom Steller and Dean Palermo and Char Ransom. These are my comrades in the good fight of faith. Our fellowship in the Word together is not optional to me. Without the encouragement of this group of comrades, the faith I need to lead and serve Bethlehem would not survive.
The other text in Hebrews is 10:23–25.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
According to this text the fight of faith is the struggle to hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering and keep on loving each other. And the way this text tells us to do this is not to neglect to meet together to stir each other up. The Christian life of faith and love cannot be lived successfully in isolation. God intends for us to gather in groups small enough to exhort each other and stir each other up. All the exhorting and all the stirring is not supposed to come from the pastor. The phrase "each other" means every believer can and should encourage and exhort and admonish and rebuke others in a small group of comrades. And all the more as we see the Last Day drawing near!
Another Reason Why the Fight Is Called Good
So the answer to our final question is plain. How do we go about engaging in the fight of faith successfully? We must rediscover the age old gift of camaraderie in the fight of faith. We must commit ourselves to some group of believers small enough to know each other's needs and to exhort each other in the fight of faith. If you haven't done this already, I urge you with all my heart not to rest until you have made this commitment.
And when you discover camaraderie in the fight of faith, you'll experience another reason why Paul called it a good fight. Very few things in this life are sweeter than like minded camaraderie in the greatest cause in the world.