Fight The Good Fight
1 Timothy 1:1–20
Key Verse: 1:18b-19a
“… you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience…”
There’s a good reason to study the Book of First Timothy. Paul wrote this letter to Timothy to teach him how a pastor ought to serve the church. He also gave him instructions on the kind of elders he ought elect as overseers to govern the church. In this letter Paul also gave instructions on how the believing members ought to conduct themselves in the church. He tells Timothy in 3:15: “If I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” Here we also have a description of what the church really is; it’s not a building or a place of gathering but the real church is rather God’s household; it is God’s family. At the same time, the church is the pillar and foundation of the truth of God’s word, where God’s word is preached, upheld and defended. No wonder in this first chapter then, there are three things that Paul instructs Timothy on. (1) To Teach the right doctrine and purge the church of the false doctrine; (2) To proclaim the gospel of God’s grace without fail, even on a very personal level; and (3) Defend the faith by fighting the good fight of faith in maintaining a good conscience.
Read verses 1-2. “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, To Timothy my true son in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” Paul identified himself an Apostle of Christ Jesus. An Apostle is “one who is sent” or better understood as a “missionary”. What a beautiful way to identify oneself! He was a missionary of Christ Jesus to the nations. He would carry the name of Jesus to the world. He was commissioned as an apostle by the command of God our Savior and Christ Jesus our hope. Christ is indeed our greatest hope. He is the only hope we have in a hopeless world. What hope can this world have if Christ had not come and given his life for us on the cross? We would have still been in our sins, unforgiven and unredeemed, and without hope of salvation and reconciliation with God our Father. Worse yet, we would have been without hope of ever receiving the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us and gives us the strength to live our lives for the glory of God growing in the image of our Lord Jesus. When Paul wrote this greeting to Timothy, these words were encouraging to him, because if Timothy needed anything at this time, as we will see, it was hope; the hope of Christ that he would be able to fulfill his pastoral duty in this difficult time in his life. “To Timothy my true son in the faith.” Timothy wasn’t’ Paul’s biological son. He was Paul’s son in the faith. Paul had many sons in the faith, those who have come to know the grace of the Lord Jesus through him. But Timothy was special. He followed Paul everywhere and learned how to be a compassionate gospel worker from him.
Read verses 3-4. “As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work— which is by faith.” This was not a surprise at all. Once, in his farewell address, he had warned the Ephesian elders that such a thing will happen, that they ought to be careful. But it seems that wolves had finally found their way into the church. For this reason Paul now asked Timothy to do something very difficult for this young man to do. He asked him to remain in Ephesus and command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer. First of all, how hard it is that Timothy should “stay there”! There may have been much easier congregations to pastor than the Ephesians church. As Paul had warned the elders there, now the church was plagued with false teachers and self promoters who cared less for the truth of Christ and the gospel and more for their own name and peeve interests. It must have been difficult for Timothy to be the pastor of such a church. He may have requested a transfer. But Paul urged him to remain there to shepherd the flock with the word of truth. Jesus once taught us that there were two kinds of people taking care of the sheep. There are the shepherds who stay in times of difficulty to serve and protect the flock at any cost, even at the cost of their lives. And then there was the hired hand who looks like a shepherd in good times but at the slightest sign of discomfort or danger he runs away. If Paul had let Timothy abandon the Ephesus church for a more comfortable mission field or less troublesome church, he would have let him be a hired hand. (John 10:12)
But here was a church that had those who were promoting argument and controversy rather than God’s work. They were more interested in promoting themselves rather than the work of God, putting God’s work aside. When this happens, lives of so many sincere Christians and new converts are jeopardized. In every church down through the ages, there have always been such people who put the work of God aside in order to promote themselves. We have such people today in so many places and in so many churches. Paul warned Timothy to put an end to their teachings. In fact he wanted him to command them to stop teaching false doctrine.
Look at verses 6-7. “Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.” Here’s what Paul tells us about them. They were selfish and self serving, arrogant and self righteous. And they had no idea of what they were talking about. In other words, they were ignorant of what they were trying so passionately to teach. They also had no concept how dangerous and lethal it was for them to introduce controversies to the church— at the cost of God’s work— and at the cost of people’s lives. [How can we recognize what is false teachers who teach false doctrine? (1) They teach what is contrary to the truth found in the bible [1:3, 1:6-7, 4:1-3]. (2) They promote trivial and divisive controversies instead of helping people come to Christ [1:4]. (3) They aren’t concerned about personal evidence of God’s presence and work in people’s lives but more concerned in meaningless talk [1:7]. (4) Their motivation is making a name for themselves [1:7].]
What is the work of God? It is not so easy to summarize what the work of God is. Once our Lord Jesus defined the work of God like this: He said: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29) This is one of the most powerful verses in the Bible. It teaches us everything we need to know about the work of God. The work of God is simple. It is to believe in Jesus. Believing in Jesus is also believing in the person and work of the Lord Jesus. In other words, the work of God Paul is talking about here is to believe in God’s work of salvation in and through Jesus. Jesus our Lord suffered and died and shed his blood to save us from our sins and then rose again from the dead for our justification. This is the faith we must have in Christ Jesus. This is the faith that the church is called to preach, uphold and defend. When this faith is declared, the work of salvation which is the work of God is completed in people’s lives. That is exactly what Paul wanted Timothy to protect in that church. Paul was teaching Timothy as a pastor and shepherd that that this work of God is foremost— it is essential. The work of God is not a work of good deeds nor of theological issues, nor of arguments about laws and regulations; it is not about controversial issues whether things should be done this way or that way. But the truth is the truth of the gospel, it is about Jesus and what Jesus did on the cross and in his resurrection for the human race, for the salvation of all mankind. That work of God has been accomplished through Jesus— and when people put their faith in this Jesus— the salvation of God is give them according to God’s promise. This alone promotes the work of God which is by faith!
But there are always those in the church who were promoting controversy. They don’t believe that salvation is by faith. They did not agree that the Old Testament Law must give way to the New Covenant work through our Lord Jesus who sealed it on the cross and in the resurrection. When people are stuck in their ways, or they refuse the way of faith, they almost always bring trouble into the church. And so they brought trouble to Timothy and the church. Timothy was too weak and good minded, and did not know what to do. Timothy tried to patch quarrels among those people. And meanwhile, many believers were being damaged by false teaching. And many were on the verge of losing their souls. But Timothy knew the truth of Jesus. He needed to bring this simple truth of Jesus back to the church. He needed to do so with determination. Paul commands him to put a stop to such controversies. The question is how could this weak and timid man do so? There is only one way a man like Timothy could do such a thing. He could do so only by faith. What does this mean? It means that he must stand on gospel faith and not be shaken by anything or anyone. He must live before God and not before men. He must remember that the we are not ashamed of the gospel because the gospel is power of God for the salvation of everyone who believers. Timothy must be sure to stand on this teaching even if it made those self seekers and self promoters upset and offended. It is better to offend men than to offend the living God. Paul was right in teaching Timothy not to run away from the problem but to face it. Sometimes we have to face our discomfort in order to stand before God and receive his strength to speak what is right in his sight. If we are called by God to serve the gospel we do not belong to ourselves any more. We belong to the King, and if we belong to the King, we must stand up for him and for his truth, even if it makes the whole world upset and offended, especially those who come into his house to corrupt his truth!
Read verse 5. “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” This is the difference between those who teach the truth and those who teach false doctrines. Those who teach falsehood, usually end up promoting controversy. As such they do not care the least about the welfare of the souls of others. They only cared about their own glory even if it meant damaging others. But those who teach the truth, according to Paul, are different. Their motivation must be different. It must be love. It is love together with genuine faith and a conscience. When we present the truth of God— especially when a shepherd or a teacher presents the word of truth— he or she must examine their hearts. Why? To see what kind of motive we have in teaching. Are we teaching out of pure heart and for love or do we have some secret desire to gain something from it. There are so many teachers out there whose names seem to be more important than Jesus, of whom they supposedly are teaching. Our love for Jesus and for his flock must always dominate our hearts in all our teachings until Jesus’ name is the only name that shines in all that is remembered. We must always examine our hearts to be certain that we are serving Jesus and his flock out of a pure motive, and a good conscience and a genuine faith. God wants us to be a part of his work by receiving Jesus by faith and leading others to receive Jesus by faith.
Look at verses 8-11. “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers— and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.” “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.” In other words, we know that the Law is good if we use it properly. We can use it properly when we are examining our hearts through it, when we are seeing our sins through it, when we are humbling ourselves before the living God through it, when we are letting it lead us to our Lord Jesus in repentance. That is the way to use the law properly. But when the law is used improperly, then we use to judge and condemn others, to feel good about ourselves better than others, and self righteous, which is how those who false teachers were using the law. But Paul reminded Timothy that those who are in Christ are righteous, and no longer under the Law. They are under a new covenant of grace. The law is for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful. What does it mean? Look at verse 10-11. “Whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel.” It means that the law shows us what is and what is not of the will of God. Anything on that list and beyond which does not conform with the gospel is sin. Therefore, all would know what is pleasing and what is not pleasing to God. It does so, so that people might see themselves and repent and come to Christ Jesus to conform to his gospel standard through his blood. Jesus died so that all those who are sinful might have life. And Paul was one of these.
Read verses 12-17. “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners— of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” This is Paul’s own life testimony given to Timothy is a most beautiful way. Why would Paul repeat his life testimony to Timothy who already knew it by heart? Timothy must not forget whom Paul had once been. He had been a sinner considered impossible to change or to be reconciled by God. But he was changed into God’s servant. He was changed not by the power of the law, which these people were promoting as an important part of Christian faith. Actually, according to his testimony the law condemned him. He was changed by the power of Jesus’ cross. He was changed by the glorious mercy and grace of Jesus. He was changed by Jesus’ compassion on an unworthy man like him. It is this that Timothy must remember as he serves this church and God’s people. It is the gospel that changes people, not the law. It is the gospel that strengthens and empowers timid ministers and weak shepherds and not anything else. Timothy did not need to a miracle to overcome himself. He only needed to rely on the gospel of God’s grace and believe by faith what God has entrusted him with in order to carry out Paul’s instructions. As Paul’s personal testimony stood majestic in this letter, so also would Timothy’s testimony stand as well.
Read verses 18-20. “Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” If you don’t fight by faith you’ll ship wreck your faith— that’s the truth. Many have shipwrecked their faith because they rather not fight— but just lounge about and not use their God given graces to serve the Lord. Your conscience tells you to serve God every time you listen to a sermon every time you read your bible every time you pray our are convicted. Then you ignore your God conscience and your faith and fall into hedonism. What do you think will happen! But In Christ Jesus, God has guaranteed us the power to accomplish his salvation work. This is something worth fighting for in our lives by faith. Timothy must fight the good fight to maintain this truth of God. He must also fight to get these false teachings out. He must fight the good fight until every soul put their faith in Jesus. This is our fight as well. When we have God’s conviction in our hearts, we stop looking at ourselves, our weaknesses, our impossibilities our limitations what we can and what we cannot do. We start looking at Jesus and Jesus gives us strength to do God’s work— which is by faith. And God’s work is simple: it is to uphold and to teach the simple gospel message— the teaching that Jesus died for me, the worst of sinners; and that he called me to live a life of faith and commands me to serve his gospel. Because of this, I must fight the good fight with love, with a good conscience and a genuine faith. Amen.