Teaching series from 1 Timothy

Fighting the Good Fight

1 Timothy 1:18-20

Teaching t14014


Brief review of setting and purpose, mind-sets as you approach this letter

Read 1:18-20.  “Fight the good fight.”  This exhortation, like Heb. 12:1 (read) informs us that the Christian life is a marathon rather than a sprint, 12-rounder that requires “going the distance.”  This race/fight is not a race/fight for God’s acceptance and eternal life – that is a free gift that God gives you the moment you receive Christ (GOSPEL).  Rather, it is about fulfilling God’s unique purpose for your life.  This race/fight begins the moment you receive Christ and it continues until Jesus returns or until you die.  Paul was be able to say 2 Tim. 4:7 (read) at the end of his life, and he wants Timothy to be able to say the same thing at the end of his life.  He wants you and me to be able to say the same thing at the end of our lives.  This is also a potent contribution to the culture of your church (INSPIRES YOUNGER CHRISTIANS TO DO THE SAME; WISDOM TO PASS ON TO THEM; ETC.).

But exhortations like these infer that going the distance is neither easy nor automatic.  We have important part to play.  My 47 years of walking with Christ confirms that many – perhaps most – do not go the distance.[1]  This makes me very sober (rather than self-righteous).  Is this sobering to you?  Will you still be in the fight/race ten years from now, or will you have allowed yourself to be knocked out?

In this passage, and in another passage in 1 Timothy and elsewhere, God gives us four keys to fighting the good fight.  There are other keys, but these will take you a long way.

Heed the gifting & calling God gives you

Re-read 1:18.  Notice that is “by them you may fight the good fight.”  Whatever the “them” is, they are key to Timothy going the distance.  “Them” refers specifically to the prophecies made earlier concerning him.  Paul probably refers to these prophecies in 1 Tim. 4:14 and 2 Tim. 1:6 (read).  When Timothy joined Paul’s church-planting team, his elders and Paul prayed as they commissioned him.  At this time, God spoke through one of them to identify/bestow a spiritual gift on Timothy that would enable him to fulfill his purpose on the team.  Part of this purpose was playing his present, difficult role in Ephesus.  Paul is saying: “Remember that God has called you to this role and gifted you to play it.  This will greatly help you to fight the good fight.”

The New Testament teaches that God fashions each Christian for a unique role in His church (Eph. 2:10; distinguish calling from career), and that God gives every Christian certain spiritual gifts (1 Pet. 4:10) to fulfill that calling.  He communicates this in a variety of ways – gradually or suddenly, through a pattern of feedback from other Christians, through a persistent desire, through God-orchestrated opportunities, etc.  Certainly, being vitally involved in God’s church with a servant attitude is the best context to get this kind of insight. 

Why is this an important key to “going the distance?”  Clinton says: “Understanding our giftedness . . . allows us to be proactive in choosing roles that fit who we are, to see more clearly what our life purpose is all about, to see the potential contributions that we can leave behind as a legacy for God’s involvement in our lives, and to intentionally and deliberately prioritize our life around God’s focus for (us) . . . Giftedness is not the only factor that contributes to our attaining God’s focus for us.  But it is a very important one.”

When you are confused, you at least know this.  When you feel generally incompetent, you know you have this ability.  When the world-system beckons with its counterfeit joy, purpose, etc., you have a means of experiencing the real joy and purpose that come from using your gifts to serve God.  The knowledge that God has gifted and called me to teach His Word has always stabilized me and motivated me to stay in the fight/race.

Conversely, I have noticed that older Christians who have no idea of their gifts or ministry calling find it very difficult to go the distance. Lacking this sense of God’s purpose, they become vulnerable to pseudo-purposes (EXAMPLES). 

How about you?  Do you have a growing understanding of God’s purpose for your life, and the gifts He has given you to fulfill this purpose?  If not, are you asking Him and putting yourself in position to hear?  If so, are you faithfully your gifts to serve Him?  Are you helping others discover their gifts and ministry calling, and encouraging them (like Paul here) to faithfully use and pursue them?

Keep a good conscience

Re-read 1:18b,19.  Here is a second key to going the distance – “keeping faith and a good conscience.”  “Faith” here could refer to Timothy’s faith in Christ, or to the content of his faith (the gospel).  Regardless, it is clear that keeping a good conscience is key to fighting the good fight, and that rejecting it can lead to shipwrecking your Christian life.[2]  This is a key theme in the pastoral letters (1:5; 3:9; 2 Tim. 1:3) and elsewhere in the New Testament (2 Cor. 1:12; etc.).

A “good” or “clear” conscience means being sensitive and responsive to God’s personal moral guidance.  Our consciences are not infallible because they are fallen.  They can be over-active or under-active for various reasons, and they must be trained by God’s Word to function more and more properly.  But it is always dangerous to disobey your conscience (see Rom. 14:14-23; 1 Cor. 8:7,10,12).  After David nearly shipwrecked his life by disregarding his conscience, God described the good conscience He wanted him to keep (read and explain Ps. 32:8-10).  Consider these questions:

“How do I normally respond to God’s moral warning and/or correction?  Do I usually “heed” and “keep shorts accounts with God,” or do I usually feel the freedom to ignore his warning/correction?  Am I a “mule” or meek?”

“Do I believe that I can ignore God’s moral correction in any area of my life without it eventually adversely affecting every area of my life?”  Hymenaeus and Alexander are proof that that this is a lie.  It can/will spread within – to a hardened heart (Heb. 3:7,8,13), even to a seared conscience (1 Tim. 4:2), even to apostasy (2 Tim. 2:17,18).  Over the years, I have observed many Christian leaders who suffered a major “blow-out” that began with this “slow leak?” (EXAMPLES).

“Would my Christian friends say that I am open about God’s recent moral correction in my life (Jas. 5:16; 1 Jn. 1:7), that I am approachable when they warn/correct me?”  Or do they hear this (if at all) only well after the fact/do you make it difficult to warn/correct?  This is a very dangerous sign which we should correct immediately.

Cultivate an eternal perspective

Paul speaks of fighting good fight again at the end of this letter (read 6:12a,14,15a).  Here, Paul connects fighting the good fight with a third key – an eternal perspective, focusing on (“take hold of?”) Christ’s return and the eternal life we will receive on that day.  When asked about why he continued to pursue his itinerate preaching ministry into his 80’s, John Wesley responded: “If I did not believe in eternity, I would not live this vagabond life.”[3]

This perspective includes Jesus’ evaluation of and reward for our service to Him (read 2 Tim. 4:7,8).  This will motivate us to please Christ rather than fear people, compare ourselves to other Christians, etc.

This perspective includes the many positives of eternal life (NAME ASPECTS).  This puts our sometimes heavy difficulties in their proper perspective (read Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17,18).  But you have to “focus” . . .

You will have to intentionally cultivate this perspective, because our culture is pervasively and seductively temporal in its focus.  You can hardly read a page in the New Testament letters without seeing a reference to God’s eternal kingdom – but we can go days, weeks, months without even thinking about it!  How can we cultivate this perspective?

Look for this theme in your private Bible book reading.  When you run across one of these verses or passages, ponder it, ask God for illumination, and give thanks.  (Philippians or 1 Peter would be a good place to start.)

Read quality Christian books on this theme (Alcorn, Heaven; Spurgeon/Alcorn, We Shall See God; Sanders, Heaven – Better by Far; Tripp, Forever).  Multitask by reading these with other Christians and discussing what you read.

Practice responding to your circumstances in ways that connect them to this future.  Affirm that your afflictions are “birth-pangs” and compare them to what is to come (Rom. 8:18).  Affirm that your temporal and spiritual blessings are foretastes of what is to come and try to imagine what “better by far” would be like (Phil. 1:23).

Learn endurance from trials

Here’s one more key – read Heb. 12:1.  Going the distance requires perseverance/endurance – and this requires training from an expert trainer.  God is our Trainer, and He alone knows how long and tough our fight will be, and He is training us accordingly.  He allows all kinds of trials into our lives in order to build perseverance/endurance into us (read Rom. 5:3,4; Jas. 1:2,3).  This is not the only reason God allows trials, but it is something He wants to develop through every trial!

Most of us have two common obstacles to learning endurance, and they are both surfaced by our confused or negative reaction to Jas. 1:2,3.

Because of brainwashing by our soft, instant-gratification culture, you may not value endurance.  We are so adept at avoiding or eliminating pain (not bad in itself) that we can be outraged by the idea of enduring pain.  But God knows the value of endurance, and He keeps training His children whether we value it or not.  Several years ago, I was going through an ongoing and very frustrating trial.  When my wife called me to tell me that our hopes that it was over had been dashed again, I said “I don’t know what God is trying to teach me.  It feels like He just helps me to my feet and sucker-punches me again.”  After a long silence, she replied: “Well, maybe the only thing He’s trying to teach you is the endurance you need to face future trials.”  I really didn’t like that answer – but it rang in my ears and helped me to increase my valuation of endurance.

Even when we do value endurance, when trials come we often do not believe that God will use this trial to develop this benefit.  But think about it – many of us don’t find it difficult to count it all joy when we are about to exercise physically.  Why?  Because we truly believe that, in spite of some discomfort, exercise will provide real benefits to us.  Likewise, if we truly believe that God will use this trial to help us go the distance, we can rejoice in it from the heart.


SUMMARIZE 4 KEYS.  Ten years from now, many of us will no longer be in the fight/race.  But those who are will have made a potent contribution to our church’s culture!  You will much easier access to each of these keys if you have relationships with other Christians who have the same goal!

NEXT WEEK: 1 Timothy 2:1-8 – The Prayer Ministry of the Church


[1] Robert Clinton estimates that as few as 25% of the leaders in the Bible finished well!  See Robert Clinton, “Finishing Well, the Challenge of a Lifetime,” p. 8.

[2] “Which” in 1:19 is singular and feminine – does it refer only to “good conscience” or to “faith and good conscience?”  Both are feminine nouns.

[3] A. Skevington Wood, The Burning Heart