2009-06-21 1 Timothy 6:11-16 Boxing 101
Last week, we saw that as people of God, we are to flee evil and follow after righteousness and godliness.
Now, we looked at righteousness and godliness a bit last week, and we need to add a couple of things. The righteousness we follow, the righteousness we do really is Christ’s righteousness. As we go along, as we go about our daily activities, when we see ourselves loving God and loving our neighbour as we love ourselves, as we see ourselves doing the right thing, doing righteousness, this is what we must know: The good we do is the Holy Spirit producing Christ’s righteousness in us, so that we cannot boast about ourselves, but rather, we boast all the more about Christ.
Likewise, godliness, identified by Paul 1 Timothy 3:16 is this: “Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16, NIV).
Again, our following after godliness must always point to Christ, and it must always point others to Christ. The gospel, the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation, is how God is reconciling sinful people to himself, through the suffering, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. That’s the gospel, and that’s what we need to communicate to our friends and neighbours. Not how good, or even how bad we are as Christians, but rather, how good Christ is and what he has done, already done, for them, if they’ll confess, repent, and believe!
Okay, let’s get to it. This morning, we’re looking at the next four things that Paul lists for Timothy. But we’re going to look at them in context of verse 12. So we’ll see how the command “fight the good fight” explains faith, love, endurance and gentleness (as well as righteousness and godliness).
Now, this is where looking at the Greek pays off in a big way. The word fight in Greek is ἀγῶνα. That’s where we get our English word agony. Thus you could translate that sentence, “Agonise the agony!” Using my really cool Bible software, I was able to do a search of all the instances where the root of ἀγῶνα shows up. It is used 13 times in the New Testament to describe suffering under persecution, fighting for Jesus (if he’d wanted his disciples to), struggling to enter the narrow door, competing in a contest, among others. One instance really caught my eye, though, it is the word used to describe Jesus’ passion in the garden, when he was praying so earnestly, under such agony that his sweat was like drops of blood on the ground.
So, all that, the agony of Christ in the garden, is what Paul has in mind when commanding Timothy, and us, to fight the good fight. Now, when you hear that phrase, what do you picture? Do you picture a balloon swordfight like on the Backyardigans? Do you picture an arm wrestle? How about a pitched battle, a first person shooter game like Medal of Honour, or Call of Duty?
Paul probably had in mind a boxing match. Indeed, he’s used that metaphor before when he wrote to the Corinthians saying, “I do not fight like a man beating the air” (1 Corinthians 9:26b, NIV). Now, I don’t really know what boxing was like in Paul’s day, but I doubt it was like boxing today. It probably was more like a death match, or like the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Fighting the good fight requires all our skill, all our strength, all our heart, all our soul, all our mind. It is a battle to the death, not physical death, but spiritual death, like what Jesus talked about when he said, "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39, NIV).
This is vitally important. To help us understand this fight, I’ve come up with three headings. These headings form the content of Boxing 101: #1—Know Your Opponent. #2—Know Your Techniques. #3—Know Your Goal.
Okay, #1 Know Your Opponent: who fights against our efforts to living our lives for Christ? Our opponent is spiritual. Paul says in Ephesians 6 that we must take up the armour, the hand wraps, the boxing gloves, the helmet of God, so that we can stand up against the devil’s schemes. Because, Paul says, our battle is not against flesh and blood, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6.12b).
So our battle is against Satan. How’s your battle going? Mine is not going well. I suspect that’s true for most of us. With Paul’s instructions, though, I’m learning why it isn’t going so well.
I keep expecting Satan to show up, reveal himself and you know give me a target where I can land a few punches, get a few high kicks in, you know, go all Matrix on him. But he doesn’t play fair.
Satan attacks us with lies. He uses fears, and he tricks us into fighting not against him, but against one another.
Consider the Apostle Paul’s former life. He once was called Saul. He thought, he was convinced that the was doing the Lord’s work by persecuting the church. But he was actually following a lie. He thought he had the truth, but he had a lie. He thought he was protecting God, but he was actually fighting against God. He thought he was fighting the devil, but he was actually fighting for the devil, by persecuting the church.
He persecuted the church because he rejected Christ. He did not believe Christ. It wasn’t until he was on the road to Damascus, full of intent to destroy the Christian fellowship there, that he truly encountered Christ. Suddenly he was blinded by a bright light. Then a voice came from heaven saying, “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?”
Isn’t that amazing? Saul was persecuting the church, but Jesus said, “Why are you persecuting me?”
What Satan does is he tries to trick us into fighting one another instead of fighting him. The Edson-Peers CRC has a long history, a lot of it is good, and some of it is bad. Sometimes we’ve followed Christ, sometimes, like Saul, we’ve followed Satan, blind to reality, and, thinking we’re still following Christ, we’ve actually hurt one another.
This is what Satan does. He tries to get us to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, and less highly of others than we ought. He tries to get us to think of each other as enemies.
For example, he might trick us into thinking like this, “I think the church is becoming way too conservative. I think the denomination is becoming way too liberal. I think that person doesn’t dress well enough to respect God. I think that these songs are too old, or too new. I think that guy I saw on the street with all those tattoos is a degenerate. I’m afraid of those young people hanging around the 7-11.”
Rather than us beating up on him, Satan tries to get us to beat up on each other.
So, the best way to defeat Satan is to see him as the true opponent, and to see the people in the church as our fellow boxers, our tag team partners. Even if we’ve been turned on by a fellow Christian, maybe they’ve gotten in a good jab, maybe they’ve even landed a haymaker. The last thing we must do is throw a counter punch! Instead, we must be willing to be beat up on, until that person realises that they’re not fighting the enemy, but Christ.
Remember, what Jesus said to Saul, “Why are you persecuting me!” What happens to us, happens to Christ himself! That means he’s really in us, through His Spirit. Whatever crap we deal with, we have to know, not only that Christ has dealt with similar stuff when he lived on earth, but that he’s still dealing with it, in our lives too!
Okay, #2 Know Your Techniques.
In this match, nothing beats Satan down more than love. Satan hates it. He has no defence against it. He doesn’t understand it. What caused Jesus to come? What motivated him to give up all that he had in heaven, set aside all his glory, humble himself and become human? Love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17, NIV).
Love really does conquer all. So, you’re thinking that someone at church has offended you. How do you respond? Do you trade punches by going over there and pointing out where you’re right and they’re wrong? Do you shun them and ignore them? Or do you set aside your rights, humble yourself like Christ and love them, by dying to yourself, your rights, your demands, knowing that if vengeance is necessary, God will take care of it.
This is hard. This is agony. It goes against every fibre of our sinful nature, which we know hates God and our neighbour. Christ really did turn the world upside down, didn’t he?
But consider the results. Jesus loved his enemies, loved me and you, now look at us! Not bad, eh!
So what can we expect when we are loving and gentle with those who wrong us? We can and we should eventually expect reconciliation. I confess that I’m awful at this. But with the grace of Christ, I’m trying to improve. How about you? Can you think of a time when you’ve been wronged? How did you react?
How about outreach? Do you judge or love the people who are ignorant of Christ? This hits hard doesn’t it? Because the consequences, if we’ve got the wrong attitude is that we might be more like Saul than Paul. We might be more like Satan than like Christ.
So, let us encourage one another to be steadfast, enduring, putting hope into practise, and showing love and gentleness toward one another!
Now, the third heading: Know Your Goal.
What is our goal? What is your goal? Is it to be right in every argument? Is it to always get your way? Sorry, those goals are set way too low. Those goals aren’t even goals at all.
Paul tells us what the goal is in the second half of verse 12 “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Tim. 6:12b, NIV).
Now, what this does is reminds us not of what we’re longing for, but what we already have in Christ!
Another temptation what Satan sets before us is earthly treasures. In this, he tries to set before us greed and all kinds of things that I mentioned briefly last week. Against that, Paul tells us that we are striving for eternal life.
Paul says, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:25, NIV). Likewise, Peter says that we are born into a new hope, “and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for [us]” (1 Peter 1:4).
What effect does this have on us? What effect should it have on us? It should make us think twice about the stuff of earth, the earthly temptations. It should make us stop sweating the small stuff, the politics, the back stabbing, the arguments that happen in church. Give a close reading to the gospels. Look at how the disciples interacted with each other, the same stuff is there too.
“Who do you guys think you are, just because you saw a transfiguration, you think you’re so great. Well, I’ve seen that before.” “No you haven’t there’s only been one.” “No, there was another one you don’t know about.” The disciples were arguing about who would be the greatest in heaven! Sounds a lot like church, doesn’t it? And those guys were with Jesus!
So, how is it going? Are you fighting Satan or your fellow believers? I confess, my week didn’t go that great. At times I’m sure I was fighting my fellow believers, and I’m sorry about that. I allowed my pride, my way of thinking to get in the way.
I can’t do it. I can’t. But Christ has been hard at work in me, and I’m seeing results. How about you? Christ is hard at work in you! He is! What’s your participation level like? Are you being steadfast? Are you enduring? Are you letting the pressures of life weigh you down?
Let me close with this.
Jesus said "“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV)
The yoke Jesus had in mind is a two animal yoke. Not only did this allow the animals to share the burden, there’s another thing. The driver of the team would pair a wild animal with a humble one. Jesus is the humble one. We’re the wild one. The humble animal trains the wild one to do the work.
So, when we go about our lives, Jesus is telling us that he’s right there; he’s with us, gently nudging us, keeping us from straying, from straining too hard, from slacking off. He’s teaching us that by following beside him, the work is actually easy, the burden is light.
To stick with the boxing metaphor, sort of, Jesus is our tag team partner. He’ll step in at a moment’s notice. He’s encouraging us all along the way. He’s already defeated Satan. He knows all his tricks and techniques. Listen and learn from him!
So, come, take him up at his offer. In this agonising fight, stand beside him. He’s the Ultimate Fighting Champion. Do you believe it? Just check out Revelation 19:11-16 for a description of this Ultimate Fighter. Amen.