Worth Fighting For
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure [from this world] is at hand and I will soon go free. I have fought the good and worthy and noble fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith [firmly guarding the gospel against error].
2 Timothy 4:6-7
Professor Howard Hendricks quoted a businessman who lamented, “I’ve spent my life climbing the ladder of success, only to find that it’s leaning against the wrong wall.” Effort isn’t enough. Even adding a healthy measure of passion isn’t enough. Our energy and emotion have to be spent on something worth fighting and dying fir. It’s the ultimate object of our life that gives it meaning.
Paul had fought like a madman! Years earlier, an encounter with Jesus made him realize that his ladder was leaning against the wrong wall. Suddenly, he found a cause that was worthy of every ounce of his being- and he gave it his all. He devoted his considerable intelligence, his heart, his leadership gifts, his time, and all the rest of his resources to that single, consuming cause: Jesus Christ.
He enjoyed incredible successes, and he experienced tremendous difficulties. He was beaten, stoned, whipped, and imprisoned. He was betrayed and misunderstood. But a clear eye on his cause gave him purpose, energy, and the will to keep fighting for
Christ no matter what obstacles he encountered.
Now, at the end of his life, he looked back with, what we can imagine a sigh and a smile. He had fought hard. He had fought for a cause that was worthy of his efforts. And he wasn’t sorry one bit.
What our deepest self craves is not mere enjoyment, but some supreme purpose that will enlist all our powers and will give unity and direction to our life. We can never know the profoundest joy without conviction that our life is significant- not a meaningless episode. The loftiest aim of human life is the ethical perfecting of mankind- the transfiguration of humanity.
In Ephesians Paul describes a conflict, a battle, and a wrestling match that every Christ follower finds themselves engaged in. We are given the “behind-the-scenes” revelation. As we read the scriptures let us remember they were first of all given by the Holy Spirit as He moved upon Paul to write the letter. We also need to be reminded that they were written by a Christ follower who had lived out the engagement with the real enemy. You will notice in the story of Acts that the apostles and the church recognized that the true enemy was the devil. You never find them arraying themselves against people, rulers, or governments. They recognized that the conflict they were partakes in was the age old conflict between God and the devil and therefore couldn’t be won through human means. Let’s read the scriptures:
“In conclusion, be strong in the Lord [draw your strength from Him and be empowered through your union with Him] and in the power of His [boundless] might. Put on the full armor of God [for His precepts are like the splendid armor of a heavily-armed soldier], so that you may be able to [successfully] stand up against all the schemes and the strategies and the deceits of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this [present] darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) places. Therefore, put on the complete armor of God, so that you will be able to [successfully] resist and stand your ground in the evil day [of danger], and having done everything [that the crisis demands], to stand firm [in your place, fully prepared, immovable, victorious]. So stand firm and hold your ground, having tightened the wide band of truth (personal integrity, moral courage) around your waist and having put on the breastplate of righteousness (an upright heart), and having strapped on your feet the gospel of peace in preparation [to face the enemy with firm-footed stability and the readiness produced by the good news]. Above all, lift up the [protective] shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. With all prayer and petition pray [with specific requests] at all times [on every occasion and in every season] in the Spirit, and with this in view, stay alert with all perseverance and petition [interceding in prayer] for all God’s people.
Paul teaches us some important lessons: We draw our strength from our union with God. The more space we make for Him the stronger we become in our faith. We tap into “His boundless might” recognizing that nothing can overcome Him. We do not try to take on the devil nor face temptation nor attempt to address our circumstances with our own strength or abilities for when we do most of the time we fail. How deceived we are to think that we are a match for the challenges of life or the devil. Instead let us invest our time and energy into strengthening our union with Christ who has overcome and conquered the power of sin and Satan.
“What then shall we say to all these things? If God is for us, who can be [successful] against us? He who did not spare [even] His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect (His chosen ones)? It is God who justifies us [declaring us blameless and putting us in a right relationship with Himself]. Who is the one who condemns us? Christ Jesus is the One who died [to pay our penalty], and more than that, who was raised [from the dead], and who is at the right hand of God interceding [with the Father] for us. Who shall ever separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? Just as it is written and forever remains written, “ For Your sake we are put to death all day long; We are regarded as sheep for the slaughter .” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors and gain an overwhelming victory through Him who loved us [so much that He died for us]. For I am convinced [and continue to be convinced—beyond any doubt] that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present and threatening, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the [unlimited] love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Only when we separate ourselves from Christ can we lose and Paul tells us that nothing has the power to separate us from Him. We must conclude, then, that the only thing that can separate us is ourselves and the only way we can lose the battle is by making that choice. I’ve learned in my own journey that the more difficult life becomes the more I need to draw close.
As Paul comes to the end of his earthly life he uses a powerful analogy, “I am ready to be poured out.” In his day one of the ways people expressed their adoration and worship to God was to pour out an offering of wine. This sacrifice expressed their love and appreciation to God. In the Old Testament, as David and the Israelites were engaged in battle, he expressed a desire for a drink of water from a spring. That spring was in the enemies territory. One of David’s men who loved him greatly crawled through enemy lines, risking his life to bring his beloved king a drink from that spring. After he made it back to camp and presented it to David, David did an amazing thing, he poured it out before all the men as an offering to God. David was so overwhelmed with the love of that soldier for him that it triggered his own love for God. David wanted to honor God with his life just as that young soldier had made David feel honored. Paul is saying that when we pour our our lives and place ourselves fully in the hands of God for His purposes, we truly honor Him. Pouring out means we empty our cups, leave nothing for ourselves and offer it fully to God. There is no such thing as a partial sacrifice. Sacrifices aren’t tokens. Sacrifices give up their lives and their life is “poured out.” That’s what Christ did for us.
Paul then tells us that he has “fought the good fight.” Any of us can find something to fight about or for, but does it qualify as “the good fight?” What is this good fight Paul is talking about? It’s light invading darkness. It’s preaching Christ to the lost even in adversarial conditions. It’s staying true to Christ and the gospel even when it’s not popular. It’s keeping the faith in suffering. Most of all, it is engaging in setting spiritual captives free, giving sight to the blind, and binding up the broken hearted. It’s not taking up the causes of humanity. It’s putting all its energies into the single cause of Christ, the “seeking and saving the lost.” It is remembering that the only enemy we have is the devil and that we “do not wrestle with flesh and blood.” Our weapons of warfare are “not carnal, but are mighty through God, pulling down every stronghold and bringing every though captive to Christ.”
Paul continues, “I have kept the faith.” You will find many reasons in life to leave the faith. People, churches, church leaders, pastors will provide you reason to walk away. Troubles, trials, and temptations will pressure you to give up. Circumstances and situations will plot together to draw your attention away from God. Busy schedules, important activities,and hobbies will steal your time with God. Disappointment and doubt will batter your soul robbing your faith. There is no doubt that Paul experienced all of this, maybe more than most of us. But at the end of his life he told us that he had kept the faith. Whatever you have to let go, leave, walk away from, do that rather than losing your faith. For almost 50 years now I have been actively involved in the church, 43 of those years as a minister and I can tell you that I have experienced many of the above things. Sometimes those I counted heavily on betrayed me. Others deeply disappointed me. I’ve seen a lot of the dark side of church and ministry and Christians and there have been times when it would have been easy to walk away. But like Peter I’ve had to ask, “Where would I go for only Christ has the words of eternal life?” So when everything else and if everyone else fails, if the church fails and the pastor fails and the Christian you thought you could trust lets you down, keep the faith for our faith rests not on the things of this world but on Christ the Solid Rock.
Even if your world is falling apart, keep the faith. Even in the midst of suffering, keep the faith. Whatever else we do in life, let us “fight the good fight, be poured out, and keep the faith till Jesus comes or calls.
In the final words, Paul makes this bold proclamation: “Henceforth, there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.” And so there will be to all those who keep the faith. It’s worth the doing!
Dr. John Thompson