I'm sure most of you remember Rodney King's infamous question "Can we get along here? Can we all get along?"1 In an ideal world we could. But this world is no longer ideal; it's broken. It's scarred by sin as a matter of fact it is scarred by our sin thus we ourselves are also broken and scarred. The effects of the scar are deep and painful. In terms of human relationships – selfishness, greed, idolatry, pride and a hundred other sins sneak in to destroy what we have.
The result in the church is that sometimes false teachers will come in, and they must be corrected. And the damage they cause has to be repaired. Paul's exhortation to Timothy is that he "fights the good fight".
Open your Bibles if you will to first Timothy 1:18-20 and read that with me:
Normally we tend to envision the church's responsibility as keeping the peace at whatever cost. Indeed a great many church's today are losing their distinction altogether because they choose to elevate getting along way above truth. Truth – immutable truth is an unpopular subject. But truth by its very nature has to be unchangeable. As soon as you allow for truth with wiggle room you open the doorway to situational truth that can contradict itself at another time. In that kind of environment – where truth is what you want it to be – salvation which relies upon truth becomes not only elusive but untrustworthy.
Paul recognizes that and he knows that there are some men in Ephesus who have been teaching just that kind of false teaching. The solution is not to flex and bend with the times so that truth fits what the culture demands. Neither is the solution to ignore the consequences as long as peace is maintained. Sometimes a soldier has fight and Paul's mandate to Timothy Is simply that: Fight the good fight!
Fight the good fight
Paul gives Timothy a charge to Oppose and correct false teaching. In order to get a grasp on what the good fight is you have to look back over the whole chapter. The "Command" that Paul gives him refers back to the earlier command to stay put in Ephesus in order to instruct certain men not to teach junk. Fighting the good fight is embodied in the corrective instruction of the erring teachers and the discipline of those like Hymenaeus and Alexander who have made a shipwreck of the faith.
Timothy then is required to fight the good fight while keeping faith and a good conscience. Timothy is called to instruct certain men not to corrupt the church while simultaneously repairing the damage caused and – if need continues – administering church discipline on the heretics, in short: Fight for the purity of the gospel! Fight the good fight!
Paul offers three ways for Timothy to go about fighting this good fight. The phrase is literally "war a good warfare". We're not talking about a boxing match; we're talking about open warfare. And Timothy is going to need a little help. He has to fight this fight over the long haul and that means staying motivated"¦
Motivated by the memory of God's call.
Look there at verse 18 "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" (1 Timothy 1:18)
I can't help but believe that in a battle, every soldier wonders for a split second why he's there. Every once in awhile you'll hear a report on the news of a soldier writing home and somewhere in the letter he says something like, "I'm fighting this battle to keep you safe and free." It's in those moments of difficulty that he finds solace in the reason he's there.
Timothy's fight shouldn't come as a surprise to him, When God called him to this task there was apparently a prophecy (or several) given to him that revealed his task would be fighting against heretics. When the going gets tough on Timothy he has to remember that it is God that has called him for the job, and not Timothy's ego or heartburn.
Can you say that you know you are doing what God wants you to do? I can guarantee you that there are going to be difficulties which we all must face and the strength to face the battle comes from knowing that this is what God has called you to.
When you are in the midst of a struggle, or when God has called you to a task that is bigger than yourself; reflecting on prior words of God are sometimes just the ticket to making you strong enough to make it through. Remember the word of God, and then you have something to keep you going.
Not only does Timothy need to fight the fight, but he has to protect himself"¦
Concentrated on keeping a good conscience
There is something in human nature that causes us to slip towards the lowest common denominator which is why in the nineteenth verse Paul counsels Timothy to guard himself from the errors of his enemies who themselves have wrecked the faith.
I want you to note that I use the words "THE FAITH" not "THEIR FAITH" as so many translations do. Most translators use the possessive "their" to describe faith as if it were a faith which the offenders possessed, but that word is merely the word "the". They have made a shipwreck of "the faith". That is that they don't have it, and because they've rejected faith and a good conscience they have rendered faith worthless as a vessel to carry them too often this text is used to bolster the error of lost salvation; when indeed this is about salvation never achieved by men who intentionally reject what they otherwise know to be true.
They have chosen intentionally to ignore their conscience when it told them that what they were teaching was wrong. The result of doing so is that faith is also lost. 2
This is how the good fight is fought: With faith and a good conscience. Faith as the primary ingredient of salvation is the core of the good fight; and a good conscience is the result of living in accordance with the truth which is the basis of that faith.
The darker tone of the text now points out the seriousness of Timothy's call – some have rejected these foundations. They have rejected a clean conscience and this has had the result of rendering their faith unable to carry them.
You have to understand that the word here for "rejection" is intentional and flamboyant. This is not a mere accidental misunderstanding of Gospel truth – these are men who have -as it were- heard the voice of God in their conscience and have pridefully and stubbornly refused to heed it! It is an intentional rejection of what they know to be true! This is the very substance of the unforgivable sin in Matthew 12:31 where the Pharisees know that God is working there and yet still declare it the work of Satan.
In effect these men had walked up to the gates of heaven and rejected the freedom to enter by deliberate violation of their own conscience. Having known what God wanted they had adamantly demanded that they would not obey his prompting in their soul – they would rather have it their own way. Having pushed thus hard against their own conscience the capacity of saving faith to carry them over the ocean of judgment is ruined – faith cannot and will not carry the unwilling.
You stand on unsteady ground when you deny what you feel is truth. You stand on unsteady ground when your conscience demands some holy action, faith or obedience and you reject your conscience for the pleasure of the moment or the notoriety of the praise of men rather than the praise of God!
REPENT! Turn now from fighting against your conscience. If you have battled long and hard in your heart over whether or not you are sinning against God in a certain matter; you are already acting outside of faith – and whatever is not of faith is sin! (Romans 14:23)
In context we have to consider that Paul is speaking about false teachers – perhaps the very ones Timothy is called to correct. But they are shipwrecked and as a result Paul turns them over into Satan's kingdom. As an Apostle he removes God's protective hand and Satan now has free reign in their lives. And he does it for the best reason imaginable, not to destroy them, but to redeem them!
Strive for the redemption of your opponents.
As Paul instructs Timothy in fighting the good fight – motivated by God's call and carefully guarding his own soul, he gives the final instruction in Church discipline: It is never the goal to kill the human adversary but rather to strive for their redemption.
Look at verse twenty
"Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme."
The closest parallel to this passage is found in 1 Corinthians 5:5 where Paul prescribes church discipline on a man who has brought a terrible sin into the church. He says, "I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." (1 Corinthians 5:5)
Likewise the goal for these two men is not punitive but remedial. Paul's hope is that the lesson these men gain will be not to blaspheme. That is: Not to teach false doctrine. The redemption of the shipwrecked is possible; but difficult. Paul is clearly hopping that their misery will drive them to repentance and thus restoration.
The Pastor's task – indeed the church's task is to keep the gospel pure and unspoiled. Too many these days are willing to sacrifice a pure gospel on the altar of political correctness. They water the gospel down or fail to speak it because it's offensive to tell people they are sinners condemned without Christ.
We've got to fight the good fight.
There are people who would claim that it doesn't matter how you live as long as you believe the right things. But they fail to realize that if you don't keep a good conscience if you outright ignore God's word – faith has no power. Remember the letter of James. True faith- real faith will be life changing faith.
We've got to keep a good conscience
– live in pursuit of holy living. We've got to keep the faith firmly grasped in hand, ready for any purpose.
And when enemies come; Or when false teachers arise. We are not called to obliterate them but to
redeem them at any cost.
That's what Jesus did. And this is the proof of God's love. While we were still sinners and enemies God the father sent his beloved son to die for us.
2 Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset, A. R. Fausset et al. A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. On spine: Critical and explanatory commentary., 1 Ti 1:19. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.