I’ve never been in a fist-fight. As a dude, I don’t know if that’s something to be embarrassed or proud of, but nevertheless, it’s the truth. I have, however, been punched a few times: once by a kid in high school who I had overly annoyed, once by a total stranger at a theme park who I can only assume thought that I was someone else, and once during a church service by a mentally challenged student in my youth group. But I don’t think any of those can technically be counted as fights since I didn’t hit back.
I was never the rough-and-tumble kind of kid; fighting really wasn’t in my DNA. While some boys’ fathers were teaching them to throw a punch, mine was teaching me to play Beatles songs on the piano. I also played saxophone in the high-school band, which I think pretty much sums up my level of raw aggression. Of course, like any other teenage boy, I took a few swings at the guy in the mirror when no one else was around to watch: “You talkin’ to me?” I’d ask myself before I threw a lethal (albeit imaginary) right hook to my own face. I remember imagining what it would be like to go mano-a-mano with someone else. I had decided that if I were ever actually in a situation that came to fisticuffs, my technique would be to just look at the guy with crazy eyes and then begin laughing maniacally and flailing my arms in an effort to weird him out so much that he would just leave me alone. In retrospect, it’s probably a good thing I was never in a fight because with techniques like that, it could have only ended badly for me.
Two separate letters of the New Testament were written from Paul to a young man named Timothy—someone who was at that time roughly the age I am now. Also like me, Timothy was not much of a natural-born fighter. We know from 2 Timothy 1:4 that he cried a lot, and he may have struggled with being timid and shy (vs. 7). Paul had to exhort him in both letters to stop ignoring the gift that was in him (1 Tim. 4:14) and to rekindle some excitement and passion about what God had called him to do (2 Tim. 1:6). In 2 Timothy 1:5 Paul says, “I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice.” Of course this is ultimately a good thing, and I’m sure Paul meant it as a compliment, but what full-grown man wants to be told by his mentor that he reminds him so much of two older women–his mom and grandma? Understanding these clues to Timothy’s personality helps us gain perspective on why Paul would’ve had to write to him and tell him emphatically to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12). It is entirely possible that Timothy was clinging tightly to this letter, struggling to read Paul’s handwriting through the tears filling his eyes because of the persecution against him personally and against the church at that time.
“Be constantly engaging in the contest of the Faith, which contest is marked by its beauty of technique.”
1 Timothy 6:12 (wuest)
It all would’ve been enough to make even the strongest of men want to run and hide, yet Paul is telling this young man who doesn’t have a confrontational bone in his body to get up, put on his spiritual gloves, get in the ring, and fight. Like it or not, these words are written as much to you and me as they were to Timothy, and we share in the same responsibility to fight the good fight of faith, regardless of our personality types or lack of fighting instincts or experience.
I like how this verse reads in the Wuest translation of the New Testament. It says, “Be constantly engaging in the contest of the Faith, which contest is marked by its beauty of technique.” When Paul told Timothy to fight, he was telling him to be constantly engaged in this contest of faith. Maybe Timothy felt like every Christian has at one time or another—discouraged in his faith, not quickly seeing the results he’d hoped for and expected. But when you let discouragement hang around, soon you’ll discover that you’ve disengaged entirely from the fight like a boxer standing in the ring with his hands at his sides allowing his opponent to mercilessly land blow after blow. Paul is Timothy’s trainer in his corner yelling, “Get your hands up! Get back in the fight!” It’s all too easy to come out swinging in the early rounds only to lose heart as the fight seems to drag on and on well past the time you thought it would. But we must never quit fighting no matter how many rounds it goes. We can’t afford to take “faith breaks,” choosing to walk and talk by sight for a time while our opponent hits our bodies, our families, or our finances. Listen right now, and you will hear the Holy Spirit shouting from your corner, “Reengage! Get back in the fight!”
Notice, Paul didn’t tell Timothy simply to fight the fight of faith. He told him to fight “the good fight” of faith. When you look up the word good, you find that it means “beautiful or handsome to look at; excellent in its characteristics.” Paul wasn’t just telling Timothy to fight; he was telling him to fight and to be good at it! Again, that is why the Wuest translation said that the contest of faith is one “marked by the beauty of its technique.” Evidently there is a measure of skill and technique required in fighting and winning the fight of faith because our opponent isn’t going to be scared off by crazy eyes, strange noises, or wildly flailing arms. If this is going to be a good fight, then you are going to have to be better at what you do than your opponent is at what he does. As long as your faith packs a bigger punch than his fear, you will win the fight.
Paul asks us in 1 Corinthians 9:24, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.” According to this verse, it’s not enough to just be in the race: God wants you to win it, and winning is dependent on the way you run. He goes on in verse 26 to describe his technique—the way he runs the race. “Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty.” Sadly most people don’t even know they are in a race, living each day without a sense of urgency, expectancy, or any awareness of the call of God on their lives.
However, there are those, like you and me, who not only know that we are in a race, but we can say with certainty who we are running for and what we are running towards. Running with this kind of certainty separates us from the rest of the pack and ensures that we will receive the prize at the end of the race. But notice the next phrase in verse 26: Paul switches sports from running to fighting when he says, “Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.” When I think of someone beating the air, it reminds me of being a kid, standing in front of the mirror pretending to fight the guy in front of me. I would throw punch after punch into the air but never actually make contact.
“Your words of faith should carry weight and land heavy blows in the face of fear, doubt, and unbelief.”
And that’s the problem with beating the air; you never actually make contact. And if you never make contact, then you’ll never have impact. You want to be like Paul, unwilling to live a life that makes no impact on the world around you. You want your fight of faith to make an impact for the kingdom of God, against the kingdom of darkness. Your words of faith should carry weight and land heavy blows in the face of fear, doubt, and unbelief. Sickness and disease are weak, glass-jawed opponents that will go down for the count, but only for those who are good at fighting the fight, not for those who are “trying out” faith principles and fail to stay engaged in the fight till the end.
I know there are many that feel like they’re being hit in different areas of their lives, like they’re being beat up by financial pressure, symptoms of sickness, etc. To those I say that it’s not a fight until you swing back. So make it a fight, and make it a good one! Don’t take this lying down any longer, and stop using the excuse that fighting isn’t really in your DNA. My dad may have never taught me to throw a punch, but he did teach me to fight the fight of faith by believing and speaking the Word of God until things changed and my faith became sight. And now that I’m a father, I am training up my own little fighters, showing them the ropes of living and walking by faith. You could say that fighting is in our blood. And since God is your Father, and Jesus, the One who defeated death, hell, and the grave, is your Brother; that means fighting is in your blood too. It’s in your born-again DNA. So get back up on your faith. Reengage in this fight with a grace, skill, and technique that leaves your adversary the devil wishing he’d picked a fight with anyone else but you.