Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1:18-20)
There is a spiritual conflict that defines and pervades every area of human life. This conflict is between Christ and Satan, good and evil, truth and deception, and by extension from these, often between Christians and non-Christians. There is no choice and no neutral position in this conflict. Whether or not you like it, you are a part of it. There are only two sides to this conflict, and you either stand with one or the other. Your involvement in it is likely to be more evident if you are a minister of the gospel, so that your responsibility in connection to it might be greater, but no one is exempt from it.
You may say, “I do not want to be against anyone or anything. I stand for Christ and for the gospel.” However, Christ is not nothing or an empty idea. He is a person, and he represents rationality and righteousness. A person can be hated and opposed, and therefore a person can have enemies. And rationality, truth, wisdom, and so on, are opposed to irrationality, deception, and foolishness. Righteousness is not the same as godlessness, but is opposed to it.
You may wish to insist that you are only for Christ, and that you are against no one and against nothing. But Christ himself is against all those who disagree with him, and all those who disbelieve in him and disobey him. And they are against him as well. Therefore, if you are for Christ, you are against the rest of the world, and the rest of the world is against you. Jesus told his disciples that the world would hate them because it hated him first. Non-Christians oppose him and hate him, and so they hate all those who follow him, who agree with him, believe in him, and preach about him. The world hates Christ, and if you are for Christ, then the world will hate you, and will fight against you. Instead of avoiding this conflict, God want us to fight everything that opposes his authority and his revelation.
This is a “good” fight. We stand on the side of God, of that which is holy, true, rational, and beautiful. The effort is worthwhile because, according to God’s own standard, these things are worth fighting for. They should be defended and advanced on the earth. It is a legitimate use of spiritual force because God has commanded us to engage in battle as soldiers of Jesus Christ. It is a joyous fight because the rewards are great and ultimate victory is assured.
The fight is much more than a playground scuffle. Paul tells Timothy to “fight the good fight.” The words used there could be translated “fight a good warfare” or “wage a good campaign.” The apostle has in mind a prolonged conflict that requires strategy and stamina. Victory belongs to the wise and informed, to the prayerful and contemplative, to the courageous and sacrificial, and not to those who exhibit only brief outbursts of religious excitement.
There are two aspects to our fight. There is the fight to maintain and to advance a pure and full form of Christianity in the objective and public sense. It is a fight for “the faith” – that is, the Christian faith or the Christian religion. The emphasis falls on the doctrines that define our system of belief. If you lose doctrine, you lose the truth, and you lose your contact with God and with Christ. Thus if you lose doctrine, you lose everything. Then, there is the fight to persist and increase in our commitment to the Christian faith in the personal and individual sense. Each individual must perceive the objective truth of Christian doctrines, and then believe and follow these doctrines. Some have repressed the voice of conscience to renounce that which they recognize to be true, and thus shipwrecked the faith that they profess.
These two aspects of the fight are related. Objective doctrines can affect the subjective desires of an individual, and an individual’s desires can determine whether he wishes to believe the right doctrines. Sound doctrines honor the wisdom, kindness, and majesty of God. They tend to be simple and direct, and they instruct men in truth and holiness. False doctrines, on the other hand, exalt man – they please his pride and approve his autonomy. They stimulate sin and speculation, and tends to turn religion into satisfaction without propitiation, and the amusement of the self rather than the worship of God. This is why Jesus said that if anyone chooses to perform God’s will, he will perceive whether or not Christian doctrines came from God. Since one affects the other, which one comes first – the knowledge of the truth, or the commitment to the truth? It is God’s action on the soul that comes first, and then both factors strengthen each other. May God work in our hearts by his Word and Spirit, so that we may want to do the truth, and know the truth to do!
Just about every biblical doctrine and practice is under attack today, and the enemies are often able to gain a foothold even in our churches because the ministers and members compromise with the world, and they sometimes even actively introduce errors into the congregations. This is no time to avoid conflict or to shun the inconvenience of personal involvement. Christ calls us to fight! If you have any sense of loyalty to the Lord, then you will fight, and you will win, if you will hold fast to sound doctrine and a clear conscience.