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In his two letters to Timothy, Paul has asked his younger brother in the faith to do a lot of very hard things. There were false teachers that needed to be dealt with. There were many issues that needed to be addressed. And in the end of his first letter, Paul told Timothy the Christian life is a fight, and he needed to fight the good fight and guard the deposit that was entrusted to him. These are things that are much easier said than done. It is easy to talk about fleeing from sin and following Christ, but it is very hard to do. Jesus calls his followers to die to themselves. That doesn’t even sound easy! And it’s not.
Can you imagine what Timothy could have thought after reading these two letters? I’m sure at some point he thought, “There is no way I can do this!” But because he knew the author of these letters so well, it was much easier for him to trust his words. You see, Paul doesn’t just tell Timothy to fight the good fight. Paul did it! In verses 6-7 he says,
“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Paul knew he was about to die. And as he reflected on his life, he was able to say, “Yes. I fought. I finished.” So, when this man who fought so hard to follow Christ and lead others to follow him tells Timothy to fight the good fight, he was speaking from experience.
It is important that our actions and behaviors match our words. If we claim to follow Jesus with our mouths, then it should be seen in our hands and feet. Pastors should preach from the overflow of a life challenged and changed by the text they are proclaiming. Parents should not just provide a list of expectations of their children disconnected from a life pursuing the same expectations. Students should examine themselves before sounding off on their parents’ failures. All believers should consider the story our daily actions are telling before giving a discourse on societal moral failures.
Paul said his life was poured out as a drink offering for the sake of Christ. Is this true of our lives? Do you want to be able to say at the end of your life that you fought the good fight? Do you want to be known as someone who fought hard to become more like Christ and to help others become more like Christ?
These are tough and important questions we must wrestle with. Paul laid his life down for Christ. Once he started following Jesus, he knew he belonged to Jesus. His life was found in Christ. So, Paul was free to give and even lose his life for Jesus. Paul even loved the lost so much that he said he would be willing to go to hell if it meant they would know Jesus (Rom. 9:1-3). This is what it looks like to fight the good fight.
Paul may have wanted to trade places with his lost countrymen, but Jesus actually did. He left the glory of heaven to die the death of hell-bound sinners. Following Jesus is never easy, but it is always worth it. So, fight for godliness. The power of the cross will strengthen you as you do.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.