Wage the Good Warfare
Since God is the most precious reality in the universe, it is crucial that we get him right and not merely rely on our own personal preferences, hunches about who He is and what He is like. Everything is on the line if we God – and his Gospel – wrong. This is just as true today as it was 2,000 years ago when this letter was originally written which, of course, is why we’re studying it together. In light of all this, it is not surprising that Paul chooses to close his introduction by emphasizing that the Christian life is a battle and encourages us to “wage the good warfare.” (1:18) The word “good” means “noble” or “excellent”. In other words, Paul is saying that this is most important war you can fight.
Today we reach the last section (1:18-20) of the first chapter of one of the Apostle Paul’s letters to Timothy, known as First Timothy. Paul wrote this letter because he has learned that some among the church(es) in Ephesus are wandering from the gospel of Jesus and, instead, following their own personal preferences and self-made ideas about God. Paul is very concerned because our own ideas about who God is and what he is like are useless at best and destructive at worst. It is easy to think, “Oh, we’re beyond that today.” But, as we saw last week, our generation is just as full of our own ideas about God as any generation before us. Therefore, Paul exhorts Timothy, and us, to be faithful stewards of what we’ve already received from God (i.e. Scripture, Gospel, etc) rather than speculators about God. Since God is the most precious reality in the universe, it is crucial that we get him right and not merely rely on our own personal preferences, hunches about who He is and what He is like. Everything is on the line if we God – and his Gospel – wrong. This is just as true today as it was 2,000 years ago when this letter was originally written which, of course, is why we’re studying it together. In light of all this, it is not surprising that Paul chooses to close his introduction by emphasizing that the Christian life is a battle and encourages us to “wage the good warfare.” (1:18) The word “good” means “noble” or “excellent”. In other words, Paul is saying that this is most important war you can fight.
Now, if view Christianity as a voluntary organization or customer service provider the imager won’t make any sense. Following Jesus is not the same as signing up for class atYMCA or participating w/ your condo association. Following Jesus is not merely a matter of moving your schedule around to accommodate more meetings. Following Jesus is notmerely about changing your behavior to fall within accepted boundaries. Following Jesus is not about getting around people who are better than you are hoping they’ll rub off on you. There are much deeper, more profound supernatural – and eternal – realities at stake. Jesus himself tells us that to be part of God’s kingdom you must be born again. (Jn 3:7) Jesus is saying that when we enter into relationship thru repentance of sin and faith we become a new creation (2 Cor 5:17) By faith in Christ you receive a new heart, new forgiveness, new relationship with God, new family (church), new desires, new affections, a new Spirit and more. Taken as a whole, the term being “born again” is perhaps the best way to describe it. It is an experience of an entirely new life, not merely anew religion or new meeting. Now, at the same time, living as a redeemed one in a world that has not yet been redeemed also brings conflict. How are we to live as “new creations” in a world that has not yet been made “new”. Paul describes that conflict, that tension, as a war and gives us five ways to wage war today.
CONTEXT: WARFARE? REALLY?
The imagery of warfare doesn’t often get brought up when we share the gospel with others. “Jesus offers to rescue you from sin, shame, death and evil…oh, and its going to be a war.” Many have only heard the gospel of easy-believe-ism and cheap grace that reduces the gospel to an infomercial. This, in my estimation, is why many are surprised at the inward/outward difficulty that following Jesus can, and does, bring into your life. Therefore, we often end up with an inadequate concept of spiritual struggle involved in loving and following Jesus. The reality is, as we see today, that the language of “fight” or “war” is a recurring theme throughout the Bible.
1 Tim 6:11-12 “fight the fight of the faith”
Eph 6:10f “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God…”
2 Cor 10:4 “The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh…”
2 Tim 4:7 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
To understand scope of battle, we need to step back and look at the bigger picture. To be follower of Jesus is to enter into a lifelong struggle against the flesh (internal), world(external), devil (spiritual). Let’s look at each in turn.
Flesh: The term flesh does not refer to physical flesh and bone, but our fallen selfishnature. The flesh refers to the desires of our body and mind that are opposed to God that we continue to deal with even as followers of Jesus (though it is weakened). In fact, the process of sanctification is the process of God, by His Spirit, taking up more and more ground of your “flesh”. This is what Paul is talking about in Rom 7:14-25 “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…”
World: The “world” refers to the beliefs and practices of the dominant culture that are either indifferent to or hostile to God. The world is the collective result of those living as though God doesn’t exist. This is what the Apostle John is speaking of in 1 Jn 2:15, for example, “Do not love the world or anything in the world.”
Satan: Satan is a fallen angel, that is real, active, intelligent and destructive. He is the personification of evil and the archenemy of Jesus and those who follow. Those who are outside of Christ are under his controlling influence that blinds us to our spiritual need and the beauty of Christ (2 Cor 4). As Christians, though no longer under the rule of Satan but Jesus, we can still give into his lies and fall away from God. Satan tempts us to believe/pursue things that will ultimately harm us. 1 Peter 5:8 (cf 2 Cor 2:11) “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
Therefore, the call to fight the good or noble fight is a call to fight and wage the good war against flesh, world, and Satan. There is a struggle. There is a fight for our life. Our lives,thoughts, schedules, emotions, sexuality, family/friends, money are all potential battlefields. If you’re in Christ, you must fight this fight, or you will lose. Saving faith is a persevering faith. “He has now reconciled you…if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel. Col 1:22,23
How does Paul exhort Timothy, and us, to fight this fight? Let’s look at five aspects of waging the good war…
#1 GUARDING THE APOSTOLIC INSTRUCTION
v18 “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you…”
Paul is speaking here to Timothy w/ terms of great affection and trust. “My son, I am committing this to you…” To Timothy, and us, these are God’s words through the Apostle Paul. Paul is speaking about the same charge we’ve already read of in 1:3,5. Paul wants Timothy to correct the personal hunches and speculation about God that were pervading the church at Ephesus and, instead, promote the faithful stewardship of God’s gospel and God’s word. Paul is concerned because we can’t just think whatever we want about God. He has already revealed all that we need to know, therefore additional speculation is not necessary – in fact, it is harmful. Paul’s writing, specifically, and Scripture, in general, tell us all that God has deemed necessary for us to know about: What he is like. What he hasdone. What he promises to do. Why we are here. Who we are in him. How we can knowhim, deal w/ our guilt and sin. How we can change. What he wants us to be like. And more.
Therefore this “charge” or “command” is not a suggestion of Paul’s. It is a mandate. He is making Timothy accountable to God. Listen to how serious Paul is taking this…
1Tim 5:21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you…
1Tim 6:13-14 I charge you in the presence of God, who give life to all things, and of Christ Jesus…keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2Tim 4:1-2 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead…
(i.e. Timothy will answer to God and Christ for his ministry) (cf Heb 13:17; James 3:1)
In other words, Timothy is man under orders. Paul is not saying, “I have some advice, take it or leave it, do what you want with it, these are just some random thoughts of mine…” No, Paul is speaking to Timothy as an Apostle and giving instruction as words that come from the Almighty God himself. That means that Timothy, and us, are to receive Paul’s words as coming from God. We are to approach the scriptures with the posture of heart and life that says, “This is what God says…this is God’s Word…this is what He has done…what he is like…this is what I must apply…”
Paul says that he “entrusted” this charge to Timothy. That word means to transfer something of incredible value to someone else for safekeeping and stewardship – like putting a deposit in a bank. Paul is saying, “Timothy, I am giving you something of immense value, and you must heed it, guard it and spread it.”
Q: Do you view scriptures that way? Very words of God? Immense value? Something that God has entrusted to you to safeguard and steward? Do you view the gospel that way? Do you open Bible, day after day, to read, learn, trust, obey, submit, and enjoy the very words of God?
Paul’s charge to Timothy is also a charge to us: “Wage the good warfare” by faithfully stewarding the gospel and God’s Word.
#2 HOLDING FAITH
v19 “that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience”
In what sense is “faith” being viewed here. Is it in the objective “the faith” sense, as in, “Hold on to the truth, the gospel, facts of the person and work of Jesus”. Or is in the more subjective sense, as in, “Keep believing, trusting, relying, persevering.” Which is it? In the Greek it could be either. I argue both are in view as you can’t really separate them. In other words, to wage good warfare, we must personally hold onto the objective facts of the gospel. Don’t let it go.
Keep in mind who Paul is talking to. This is Timothy he is telling this to! If there is anyone that Paul is sure is a Christian, it’d be him. Why does he tell Timothy to hold onto the faith? Because saving faith is persevering faith. Faith is not something that we are to take for granted. We must hold on. You might say, “I thought once-saved-always-saved.” Yes, and a faith that saves is a faith that perseveres (i.e. a faith that holds on). Jesus himself says, “The one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” Mk 13:13 This means that we shouldn’t think of faith as something you can just put on cruise control. We must actively hold on to it. Keep it and keep at it.
How do we “hold faith”? Let me suggest three ways:
#1 You need to know the faith is. What is the gospel? What is God like? Why am I here? Why is the world broken? How is the Christian gospel unique amidst other claims? Do you know the objective truths of the faith? This is one of the reasons why regular Bible reading, personal study, the Sunday gathering, active involement in a commuity, etc are all vital components of a Christian’s life.
#2 Take that faith and place the weight of your life on it. Do you not only know the objective faith but do you subjectivel treasure, cherish, love and hide it in your heart? Do you study it, talk about it, apply it, build your life on it, memorize it, sing it, pray through it, refelct on it? You should set the faith before you for some time every day.
“We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed.” CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, 125
#3 Identify what you believe (objectively and subjectively) so that you’re prepared to handle your ever-changing emotions and moods. Our emotions can serve like a fog bank rolling in over our faith. God is there, but our emotions can obscure him as though he didn’t exist. You need to know this in advance, otherwise you’ll get tossed around dependent on weather patterns of life.
The second key to waging the good warfare is holding onto the faith, taking the objective treasure of gospel and personally owning it every day.
#3 HOLDING A GOOD CONSCIENCE
v19 “that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience”
Our conscience is God-given device in every human mind that reacts to our every day decisions. Before GPS, satellites, the compass was the most crucial item on board a ship. It was vital to the ships overall position and direction amidst the hight seas. If the compass got stuck, dirty, or broken, the ship was in real trouble. The ancients viewed the conscience as the human equivalent or a compass on a ship – without it, or with it broken, we’re like a ship stuck on the high seas.
Our conscience is that mysterious, little voice tells you right/wrong, sometimes whispering and sometimes shouting. While not all societies agree on exact details of various moral codes, almost all have same basic ethical beliefs. The reason? We’re all created in the image of God.
Our conscience is a gift from God to warn us that we are sinning, either accusing orexcusing us (Ro 2:15-15) It brings feelings of well-being, peace, contentment when we behave in alignment with our conscience. It brings feelings of guilt, shame and remorse when we behave out of alignment with our conscience. “A good conscience is the best pillow.” – german proverb. If we misuse, ignore or abuse our conscience, overtime the Bible tells us that we can actually “sear” it and cause it to malfunction. It is crucial, therefore, that we be attentive to our conscience and not merely disregard it. Living Christian lives without being attentive to our conscience is similar to driving your car and ignoring dashboard indicator lights.
How does this relate to following Jesus? Our conscience, aided by the Holy Spirit, helps us do just that. To trust Jesus means trying to do all he says. There is no sense saying you trust someone and not take their advice. But, we do that with Jesus all the time. Why? That doesn’t work in real life. If you really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you’re trying to obey him. Not in order to be saved, but b/c He has already begun to save you. Not trying to get into heaven as reward for obedience, but because new life of heaven can’t help but come out.
So, Paul here is admonishing Timothy to strive to maintain a good conscience. Why? Because ultimately the result is a pure life. Like ancient Roman marble statues made without wax (sin cera – where we get our english word sincere) we are to live in such a way so as to have a sincere conscience. This doesn’t mean a perfect conscience, just not one where you are hiding your faults, but humbly standing before God/others cracks and all.
Q: How is it with your conscience? Is it clear? Are you set on following it? Do you seek to obey it? Are you maintaining a conscience that is sin cera – without wax – without cover ups?
The third key to waging the good war is to hold onto a good conscience.
#4 LEARNING FROM THE SHIPWRECK OF OTHERS
v19 “By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith…”
The word “reject” here is a strong word that means to push something or someone away, to repudiate. It refers to a violent and intentional rejection. Having pushed away the faith and a good conscience, Hymenaeus and Alexander made shipwreck of their faith. Paul is using them as an example to Timothy, saying “Learn from the shipwreck of others.” The image here is strong. Our consciences are like light houses that tells us, “Don’t come over here” Disregarding our conscience is like a ship disregarding a light house at night. The inevitable result is shipwreck. What happened with these two exactly?
Option #1: Some think that they were genuinely born again Christians, but lost their salvation. I don’t believe that aligns with the biblical witness.
Option #2: Or, these guys were never born again, though it seemed like it, and now it become obvious. Paul insists those who are justified/saved will be same ones that will be glorified/persevere (Rom 8). The Apostle John makes it clear that some will be among us, that seem to be of us, but in the end are not:
1 Jn 2:19 “They went out from us, but they were not of us; of if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.”
You are going to have to read and study on own to come to own conclusion, but I I argue that this option best fits all the verses that we have.
On the other hand, by holding fast to faith and a good conscience you will be able to keep faith. Paul is making an inseparable link between what we believe (faith) and how welive (conscience) Beliefs and behaviors do not exist in two separate, hermetically sealed compartments. They are inseparable. Corrupt living will lead to corrupt believing. Corrupt believing will lead to corrupt living.
If you disregard your faith and conscience and allow sin to remain unconfessed your faithwill not survive long. In other words, if you deliberately allow a particular sin in life it will effect your view of Jesus and alter your perception of true and right. That is the source of spiritual blindness and you will be the last one to realize what is happening. How we liveaffects what we believe. What we believe affects how we live. Most who claim to follow Christ and then drift away do not do so for intellectual reasons. The vast majority of cases are due to moral issues, a blinding of the heart due to sin.
Therefore, Paul is urging Timothy to watch himself closely or he may fall into same trap. Timothy, nor us, is not exempt from same temptations. In effect, Paul is saying, “Do you see those who make shipwreck of their faith? Learn from them? Be warned by them? They didn’t plan to end there. You’re no different. Your heart is same as theirs. Hold fast to faith and a good conscience.”
Q: Are you deliberately allowing sin to remain unconfessed? Be careful. Over time, shipwreck is certain. No one is exempt. No one can afford to neglect their conscience. Repent, confess, turn from it today.
To wage good war, we would do well to learn from the ship wreck of others.
#5 BEING PART OF A PROTECTED FLOCK
vs20 “among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”
We don’t know much about Hymenaus and Alexander, but Paul uses pretty severe language here, “handed them over to Satan”. This actually matches his language in Romans 1 when he speaks of God “handing people over to their sins” which presents a sobering image of divine desertion. What is in view here? Church discipline. Paul is referring to the process of church discipline whereas an unrepentant member is sent outside the church community into the “world” which is the dominion of Satan. In so doing, the members are removed from the protective, spiritual covering of the church. The purpose? That they may be taught not to blaspheme – its purpose is instructive. Its not for punishment, but redemption and ultimatley for restoration. How are they to be instructed? The point of the process is to place them in a position where they grasp the reality of their sin and come back in sorrowful, sincere, repentance.
Often, at the very mention of the phrase “church discipline” every one gets nervous because it is not often spoken or taught on. Discipline is an expression of incredible love that seeks to shepherd the offending members, protect the church and protect the name of Christ locally. While some may argue that this process is damaing, not practicing church discipline is much more so. A church that accepts members but has no discipline is like a family with a front door left open for anyone to come in and do what they want, when they want.
FIVE positive purpose for church discipline. (adapted from a similar list by pastor Mark Dever)
#1 POSITIVE for individuals discipline: Helps see seriousness of sin, spiritual blindness, path to repentance.
#2 POSITIVE for other Christians: Makes it obvious of what a severe thing sin is. Serves as warning to all.
#3 POSITIVE for church as a whole: Church is living body and allowing sin and/or false teaching to continue without being addressed is like leaving a cancerous growth.
#4 POSITIVE for corporate witness of church: Permitting ongoing, persistent, unrepentant sin presents a false image to the world regarding what Christ is like and what it means to be his followers. Graciously, patiently exercising biblical discipline prevents this.
#5 POSITIVE for the glory of God: Whole reason God made us is to show his image and the only way we can do that is if we treat sin and unrepentance as God does.
To wage good war, we would do well to be part of a protected flock.
In summary, we wage the good warfare:
- By guarding apostolic instruction. i.e. Loving your Bibles.
- By holding onto faith. i.e. Knowing what you believe and believing what you know.
- By holding onto a good conscience. i.e. sin cera – sincere – without wax, honest, genuine.
- By learning from shipwreck of others. i.e. Watch yourself closely and learn from others.
- By being part of a protected flock i.e. Place self in community of mutual love, concern, and accountability.
Fortunately, we do not wage this war alone. Jesus tells us “Never will I leave you, nor forsake you.” Elsewhere he says, “No one will snatch them out of my hand.” Paul tells the church at Phillipi that “God will bring to completion the good work he has begun in us.” Peter tells us that we are “protected by God’s power though faith.” (1 Peter 3:5) Knowing that Jesus is with us, for us and will not forsake us provides the only adequate motivation, empowerment and confidence to actually wage the good warfare. In a way we’re waging a war that has already been won, but our enemies have not yet fully surrendered, thus the battle continues to be fought – but its end is in sight.