Fighting the Good Fight

Paul Dean


We live in a country in which we still enjoy relative freedom compared to most countries in the world (though our freedoms are eroding at break-neck speed before our eyes). At the same time, we live in a land of ease. While we can thank God for such a context in which to live and die, it is indeed a blessing in so many ways, we must also recognize the fact that far too many of us have taken our ease and failed to remember or even understand that we live in a war zone. We live in a war zone that is not physical in nature despite the fact that we live with the threat of terrorism and in the shadow of a war in Iraq. No, our war zone is spiritual in nature. Because we live in such a zone, we must have a war time mentality. This concept is foreign to most of us, and that indeed is why we have taken our ease. If we were to adopt a war time mentality regarding the powers and principalities that exist in high places, regarding the fight for souls, regarding the commission to advance the Kingdom, perhaps our lives would be a bit different.


In 1 Tim. 1:18-20, Paul exhorted Timothy to diligently follow through on the charge that had been committed to him and in so doing wage a good warfare in this present life. We too should wage a good warfare in this present life. We need to know what it takes to fight the good fight and wage the warfare to which we have been called. To focus our thoughts, let us answer this question: "how can we wage warfare that is well-pleasing unto God?"


First, we can wage a good war if we keep our charge. In v. 18, Paul refers to "this command." He states, "This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight."  He is referring to the command (v. 3) he had given before his digression of v. 4. He urged Timothy to remain in Ephesus and silence false teachers. This role of silencing false teachers is key in the pastoral or shepherding ministry as false teachers do nothing but lead the sheep astray. All of the members of the church should be on the alert to such and are incidentally given the same charge as the pastor, though in a different way.


Paul entrusted this command to Timothy. This entrustment indicates three things. Firstly, the entrustment indicates the significance Paul attaches to the pastoral office. Secondly, the fact that Paul refers to the command as a sacred trust serves to highlight for Timothy the importance of the current situation at Ephesus. These things cannot be left to work out on their own. False teaching must be halted immediately. This dynamic is critical in any church. Thirdly, the command as trust serves to highlight the fact that Timothy, in this regard, is responsible to Paul, the church, and the Lord.


In light of the context, one may readily see the relationship between the command and the current situation at Ephesus. One may see the overall significance of the charge in light of the pastoral ministry as Paul refers to the prophecies made concerning Timothy. These prophesies were probably words of encouragement and exhortation given to Timothy at the time he was set apart for the gospel ministry. Of course, they could have been offered at any time.


Note that Paul entrusts the command to Timothy and ties that command to his calling when he mentions the prophecies. He then gives Timothy another purpose for obedience in this area: fighting the good fight. As Timothy fulfills the call upon his life, he will be fighting the good fight in which God has placed him. In other words, Timothy may fight the good fight by fulfilling his charge.


Thus, we are able to say by way of application to pastors and indeed all who minister in the church, that this charge has been committed to us by the church. We are to keep others from teaching error (v. 3) and we are to teach all the blessed gospel (the whole counsel of God). This charge indeed has been committed to us by the Lord.


Second, we can wage a good war if we hold our faith (19a). In v. 19, two other dynamics are given as to how Timothy may fight the good fight. "Keeping faith and good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith."  Firstly, Timothy may fight the good fight by keeping the faith. In this context, Paul has a two-fold meaning behind this exhortation.


In the first place, Timothy is to keep the faith he has in Christ alone for salvation, sanctification, and help in time of need. He is not to trust in his own ability or ingenuity. He is to rely solely upon the Lord. So too are we.


In the second place, in light of the fact that he is to rebuke false teachers, he is to keep the faith once for all delivered to the saints. He is to keep the content of the gospel intact. He is not to compromise, water-down, or change the message at any point (Jude 4; Eph 3; Gal 1). We may not do so either.


Paul mentions the fact that some have rejected the faith that has been given to us in the Scriptures and have suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. That is, they have rejected sound doctrine and as a result have suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith in Christ. Saving faith is concentrated in a person: the Lord Jesus Christ. At the same time, one must understand the content of the gospel message concerning who the person of the gospel is. That is, one must understand sound doctrine concerning Christ. One must understand the Christ of the Bible if he is to be saved. One cannot say he believes in Christ apart from the Scriptures and at the same time be saved. The only Christ who can save, the only Christ in existence, is the Christ revealed to us in the Bible. Implications abound in light of the "different gospels (Galatians 1)" being preached today. One may fight the good fight by keeping the faith.


Thus, by way of summary, the faith we must hold is a faith in Christ alone. If we have faith in Him, we will have a submission to Scripture alone. We will do so by relying upon grace alone and living to glorify the Lord alone. We will be committed to the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 4).


Third, we can wage a good war if we follow our conscience (19b). In v. 19, Paul also gives a second dynamic as to how Timothy may fight the good fight. As noted, one may fight the good fight by maintaining a good conscience. A good conscience is kept as one obeys the truth he has learned and embraced in Christ. One's conscience is only as good as the knowledge one has. If a person constantly fills his mind with sound doctrine, his conscience will be fortified. When he is about to go against that doctrine, his conscience will be pricked. If one does not fill his mind with the truth, or if one rejects the truth, his conscience will not work properly. He may or may not be pricked at appropriate times. Thus, in order to keep a good conscience, one must know and obey the truth. So, in order to follow our consciences, we must fill our minds with truth, rid our lives of sin, and fill our days with Christ. These dynamics are the essence of war time living.


Fourth, we can wage a good war if we exercise our spirit (19c-20). In v. 20, Paul mentions two individuals who have specifically made shipwreck of their faith by rejecting sound doctrine: Hymenaeus and Alexander. "Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme."  These men were probably leaders in the church at Ephesus who had given themselves over to teaching myths (4-11) and had ultimately rejected the gospel of grace and thereby proved themselves to be apostate (that is, never having been saved). Paul delivered them over to Satan. That is, the point had already arrived where through the process of church discipline, they had been removed from the fellowship.


When a person is walking with the Lord and thereby in fellowship with the church, a sense exists in which he is under God's protective umbrella or behind God's protective hedge. When a person proves to be unrepentant and acts as an unbeliever, he is removed from the fellowship of the church. As such, he is no longer under God's protective care and Satan has his way with him. This dynamic is spiritual but may involve physical aspects as well. The purpose, of course, is to bring a person to his senses that he might repent and be restored to the fellowship of the church. If repentance is not forthcoming, then he proves himself to be apostate (Apostasy means to stand away. The term refers to one who has come to the door of salvation and not entered into life and ultimately walks away from life. The apostate is one who has never been saved. He may think he is saved and act like he is saved but at some point rejects the gospel altogether and walks away: Hebrews 6).


Paul speaks of the dynamic of handing one over to Satan in greater detail in 1 Corinthians 5 while the process for church discipline is laid out in Matthew 18. This dynamic is known as corrective church discipline. In contrast, formative church discipline is that active dynamic in a person's life when one participates in the ongoing life of the church and its instruction and admonition. One may fight the good fight as he adheres to formative discipline on a regular basis. He is built up in the Lord day by day and bears the evidence of God’s power in his life.


Thus, we may exercise our spirits by disciplining ourselves unto godliness (1 Tim. 4:7). We may also redeem our time unto holiness. We are set apart by God and for God.


Remembering these dynamics--keeping one's charge, holding one's faith, following one's conscience, and exercising one's spirit--will help us to maintain a war time mentality and fight the good fight that God has laid upon us. Let us be diligent in the task for His glory.