What Does It Mean to Fight the Good Fight of Faith?

Picture of a woman reading the bible

What does it mean to fight the good fight of faith? As we shall see in this article, to fight the good fight of faith means to remain true to God and His word even in the face of opposition, oppression, and adversity. It means to have an unswerving allegiance to the cause of God amid hostilities, both internal (the church) and external (the world). 
Fighting the good fight of faith also means to have a firm determination to "pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness" at all times and in all situations.
According to 1 Timothy 6:12, to fight the good fight of faith also means that you will, by the grace of God, practice the spiritual disciplines of desire, patience, endurance, and perseverance (in an athletic sense) for an imperishable crown of righteousness.


 As a pastor, I have been asked on many occasions, "What does 'fight the good fight of faith' mean?" "How do you 'fight the good fight of faith'?" 


In my experience, I have found that people who ask these questions are those who are going through difficult times and are wondering how they can be faithful to God in hostile circumstances. In this post, you will find answers that will show you why and how you can confidently fight the good fight of faith in the power of God. But first, let's read the verse that talks about fighting the good fight of faith, including its biblical and historical background. The Bible verse, which talks about fighting the good fight of faith is 1 Timothy 6:12, which records:


"Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses." (1 Timothy 6:12, ESV)
Paul wrote this epistle from a Roman prison to Timothy, a young man in charge of the Church at Ephesus. Ephesus was a prosperous Roman city. The strategic position of the city created a unique environment for trading to thrive. Many of the city's inhabitants were wealthy because of the increased commercial activities in the busy port.  A few wealthy individuals from this city converted to Christianity, and among them were some who trusted in their wealth. Paul instructs young Timothy to warn the new believers against trusting in "uncertain riches." (1 Timothy 6:17, KJV). 

A picture of the ruins of the temple of Diana or Artemis
[The Roman Temple of Artemis in Jerash, Jordan, by David Bjorgenis licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0. ]

Ephesus was also the headquarter of the fertility cult of Diana (Artemis). Ephesus city boasted of having one of the most celebrated pagan temples in the ancient world, the temple of Artemis, one of the world's seven wonders. These pagan influences and trappings were probably the reason why Paul warned young Timothy to "fight the good fight of faith" (1 Timothy 6:12) and to "guard" or "keep" that which was committed to him (1 Timothy 6:20), probably the care of the Church at Ephesus. 
So, from this background of the Ephesians church chapter six, you already can glean some clues and hints as to what it meant to fight the good fight of faith in the first century.

Based on 1 Timothy 6 to fight the good fight of faith means to:

1. Maintain a Godly Character 

To fight the good fight of faith, you have to maintain a godly character in whatever the circumstances. In the first two verses (1 Timothy 6:1-2), Paul urges fidelity to God even under oppressive human systems like slavery, a common practice back then.  
To get a balanced view of Paul's perspectives on slavery, read what he wrote to the same church in Ephesians 6:7-9 and also in Philemon 1:8–16. Remember, Paul also taught about the equality of all people before God (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11). Since our objective in this article is not to write a commentary or a theological treatise on slavery in the New Testament, you would do well to read this excerpt from InterVarsity Press commentary on slavery in 1 Timothy chapter 6. If you find time watch the video: "What to do when Paul is succinct? (1 Timothy 6:2 and slavery)" by Bill Mounce on YouTube. But Craig S. Keener, in his Bible Background Commentary, gives us the background to the problem in these words:
"This advice was important because a religion that the Romans thought might incite slave discontent would immediately be labeled subversive and subjected to outright persecution; Paul wants the slaves who are Christian, as well as free Christians, to engage in a culturally relevant and intelligent witness." 
From the above reading of the cultural background,  it is clear that the reputation of the Church at Ephesus was at stake. The church's mission was at risk of being misunderstood by the unbelievers because of some of the believing slaves' attitude. Therefore, Paul is urging them not to hinder the spread of the gospel by their attitude towards their masters. 
The same principle applies to our day; you should not bring your Christian faith to disrepute through your conduct and deportment. Maintain a godly character always.

2. Reject False Doctrines 

A Man Reading the Bible to Reject and Expose False Doctrines
Fortify Your Mind with the Word of God
To fight the good fight of faith, you need discernment to detect and reject false doctrines. Paul charges young Timothy (v. 3-5) to reject any teachings contrary to the principles taught by Jesus Christ and the apostles. According to Paul, these false teachings differed with the "words of Jesus Christ" and the "teaching that accords with godliness." (v. 3) Paul says that these beliefs thrive on an "unhealthy craving for controversy and friction among people." It was Paul's opinion that such controversial teachings "produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions" and imagine "that godliness is a means of gain (v. 4,5).
The lesson you draw from Paul's admonition to Timothy is that you must intentionally reject errors and controversial teachings. Consequently, you must be firmly rooted and grounded in God's written word to be able to detect and reject error.

Real-world skills. Real-world experts. And a really good sale. See what you can save.

3. Seek Godliness With Contentment 

To fight the good fight of faith, you will seek godliness with contentment. You ask, "What is that even supposed to mean?" It means you will find joy and fulfillment in what God has already provided you. You will draw satisfaction from living a godly life as opposed to a worldly sufficiency. The scriptures remind us that:
For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. (1 Timothy 6:7-8, NIV). 

Paul personally lived out this principle in his life, and despite the hostility and lack he experienced, he kept the faith. Paul writes:
"I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance, and need." (Philippians 4:12, ESV). 

Paul had a taste of both worlds. He knew first-hand what abundance and deprivation meant, and that's why he could say with confidence, "Godliness with contentment is gain."
Selfishness and greed are ingrained in your fallen nature that only the power of God can rescue you. Ask God to empty you of selfishness and give you contentment.

4. Say No to Greed for Riches

Golden coins on the table - say no to greed for riches
Say No to Greed for Riches
To fight the good fight of faith you must overcome greed for riches. The apostle Paul writes to Timothy: 
"But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." (1 Timothy 6:9,10) [Emphasis added]

In the above two verses, Paul cautions Timothy and the Ephesian church against the greed for riches. Paul calls this greed the "love of money" and "eager(ness) for money." A surface reading of these verses may give the impression that God is against wealth accumulation by whatever means, even through just means. But a closer examination of the above verses reveals God is not against acquiring wealth. 


When you analyze the above text, the following pertinent questions emerge: 

  • How is money a root of all evil?
  • Is God or the Bible against acquiring riches or wealth?
  • Is God or the Bible against rich or wealthy people? 

How is money a root of all evil? 

According to Paul, "the love of money" is "a" root of all evil because greed for it "tempts" and "ensnares" many with "harmful desires," which lead to "ruin" and "destruction."


He further elaborates that "the love for money" causes many to "wander from faith" and pierce themselves with "many griefs." 


Note that in all the above instances, the Bible does not say "money is the root of all evil," but instead, it says, "the love of money" is

 "a" (not "the") root of all evil." In other words, evil has many roots, 

and "the love of money" is one of them. The devil and selfish desires are other sources of evil. 

The Bible is not against acquiring money through just means. But it is against loving money to the extent of sacrificing principle, losing faith, and causing others to suffer to gain it.

Is God or the Bible against acquiring riches or wealth? 

No, God is not against industrious people working to earn a decent living through just means. The Bible admonishes us to work hard and that, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might" (Ecclesiastes 9:10). The same chapter (1 Timothy 6), which warns us about the danger of greed for wealth, also speaks of those who are "rich in this present world." (v. 17) In the same chapter, Paul talks of God as one, "Who richly provides us with everything to enjoy." (v. 17). The Bible also teaches that it is God who "gives you the power to get wealth" (Deuteronomy 8:18) and that "money answers everything" (Ecclesiastes 10:19). So it is not true that God is against acquiring wealth through just means. God is not against your personal development. God is against the senseless love, desire, greed, eagerness, and pursuit for money to the point of losing or deserting the Christian faith.

Is God or the Bible Against Rich or Wealthy People? 

No, there is a place for the rich and powerful in the Kingdom of God. The Bible record is replete with stories of faithful and wealthy individuals who were committed to God. Some of these individuals include Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Job, Boaz, Joseph of Arimathea, Lydia, Dorcas, Philemon, and many others. For example, one such individual was Abraham. Abraham was rich enough to feed 318 "battle-trained men" (not counting women and children) daily from his pot. (Genesis 14:14). Imagine how many sheep, goats, and cattle they slaughtered each day to provide food for the whole family. The fact that Abraham could feed such a vast family is proof that he was a wealthy man. So, is God or the Bible against wealthy or affluent people? No, the Bible is not against all wealthy people but against some who acquire and accumulate wealth through corrupt means. 
Some of the corrupt means include taking advantage of other people's misfortunes, oppression, and unfair treatment of the poor by the rich.
Now that it is clear to you that God is not against your personal development let's see what Paul's counsel to those who trust in their riches was. 

Paul tells Timothy to warn believers to: 
"Flee from these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness." (1 Timothy 6:11). 
Fleeing is not the same as running. What's the difference? According to the online Google dictionary, to flee is to "run away from a place or situation of danger." So, it follows that the "love of money" is a danger zone that all well-meaning Christians should flee from. Greed for money is dangerous to your faith. Flee.

In his epistle to the Hebrews, Paul invites you to seek contentment and not to put your trust in riches but in God.

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5, ESV).
To fight the good fight of faith overcome and free yourself from the love of money.

5. Contest for the Faith

Man ready to start race
Paul Draws a Parallel Between Athleticism and Faith

To fight the good fight of faith means you will "contend" (in an athletic sense) for the faith. 


Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:12, ESV).  


The majority of the Bible versions translate the first word in 1 Timothy 6:12 as "fight." But other Bible versions render this word differently: 

  • "Run your best in the race of faith" (Good News Translation)
  • "Compete well" (NET Bible)
  • "Strive earnestly" (Darby Bible translation)
  • "Exert all your strength" (Weymouth New Testament)

From these differences in translation of the word "fight," it is evident that the English language struggles to find an equivalent term that matches the original Greek word. Why is that so? It is because the language used in 1 Timothy 6:12 is more Olympic than battlefield language. Even the different Bible versions I highlighted above suggest the text is drawing parallels from athleticism. The picture portrayed is that of an athlete contending or striving in a marathon race for a prize. The word "fight" (1 Timothy 6:12) in Greek is ἀγωνίζου (agōnizou) and is related to ἀγωνιζόμενος (agōnizomenos) in 1 Corinthians 9:25, which means "to compete in the games." 

So the word "fight," as used in this verse, means to exercise discipline (desire, patience, endurance, perseverance) like an athlete. 

In his epistle to the Corinthians, Paul portrays himself as spiritually engaged in a marathon and striving as an athlete:

"So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified." (1 Corinthians 9:26-27, ESV).

The language used by Paul above is borrowed straight from athleticism. Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27 draws parallels between athletic discipline (or the fighting spirit of an athlete) and spiritual discipline.

It is not the first time that the apostle Paul is using the analogy of athleticism. In 2 Timothy 4:8, Paul mentions a crown of righteousness: 

Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8, ESV)

Here again, Paul draws comparison from athletics - a crown. In those days, aspiring athletes would exercise and strive against themselves and other competitors to win the ultimate victor's prize - a crown. The victor's prize then was a "stephanos" - a crown made from wreaths or garland leaves and worn on the victor's head. A stephanos crown was a symbol of victory and exultation in the athletic world. The fame and glory attached to a stephanos crown was enough motivation for athletes to endure hardships and intensive training for months to win it.

Paul argues that Christians are running a better race and a better aim - an imperishable crown of righteousness. This better "race" and "aim" make the Christian fight (spiritual athleticism?) the good fight of faith. And just like in athleticism, fighting with an "aim" and "keeping" the body under control (1 Corinthians 9:26-27, ESV) is the discipline that kept Paul's faith alive. It is the discipline that you need to keep your faith alive today.

Why fight the good fight of faith? 

It is because, as a follower of Christ, you are in a spiritual contest. The Christian faith is not a smooth ride. You will be opposed and face competition. 

Benjamin Bradney Beckett put it this way: 
The Christian is not permitted to float leisurely down the stream of the world, and so reach "the haven where his soul would be." He must swim against the current, and for his very life. The faith, which he professes with his lips, he must adorn with his life.

~ Benjamin Bradney Beckett
The Christian life is a battle against principalities and powers of darkness. Your faith will be tried and tested. You will face stiff opposition from your fallen nature (the flesh) and the world (troubles, trials, tribulations, and temptations). Christ had this in mind when he said, "... the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence." 
Paul's exhortation to Timothy is one of fidelity to God. It is an appeal to focus his faith on God and to endure hard times without hesitating, complaining, or quitting. 

Paul's life was living proof of what it means to fight the good fight of faith. For example:
  • He was stoned at Lystra (Acts 14:19) but continued to witness.
  • He was shipwrecked (Acts 27:27-28:5), but he kept on serving God.
  • He was humiliated by whipping five times (2 Corinthians 11:24), but he still kept the faith.

Paul's faith was tried and tested by many crucibles, but nothing could hold him back. He testified that:

"But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God." (Acts 20:24)

He was unmoved in his belief that he declared, "none of these things move me."

Why is fighting the good fight of faith called the "good" fight?

The "good fight" is "good" because by it, God is much glorified, and it ultimately leads to eternal life. The Greek word translated "good" also means "beautiful." A steady, persevering, and unyielding faith is a perfect exercise for the soul. Such faith is beautiful, indeed, and it is worth contending.

6. Make a Good Confession 

To fight the good fight of faith means you will "make a good confession before many witnesses" (1 Timothy 6:12). Guard your reputation among believers and non-believers. You don't practice Christianity in a vacuum; it has its cloud of witnesses. Paul reminds Timothy of his divine call and consecration to ministry before the church(1 Timothy 6:13). This consecration was probably a result of Timothy's good character before the church members. Paul mentions Timothy's confession in parallel to Christ's confession, which means that it was a confession patterned after that of Christ when He acknowledged His true identity as Messiah and King before Pontius Pilate. Just as Christ acknowledged His true identity in the face of death, Timothy was to remain faithful to his true identity, which was a follower of Christ. Christ's confession is the pattern and the ideal for all humanity. The good "confession" of Christ is the ground upon which all other confessions derive and find their meaning. So to fight the good fight of faith means you should not conceal your true identity to get even with people or remain politically correct.

7. Trust Not in Riches

Shopkeeper woman - God gives us power to acquire riches
It is God who gives you power to acquire wealth
To fight the good fight also means you will not put your trust in riches but will trust in God, "Who richly provides all things for us to enjoy." Timothy was encouraged to instruct the rich among the believers to exercise the spirit of generosity towards the needy and poor members. These instructions are specifically for "those who are rich in the present age." Paul knew and expected that there would be some among the Christian believers who are "rich in the present age." God has His faithful people everywhere, including the rich and the poor too.  Paul charged Timothy to instruct the rich brethren not to hoard riches to themselves but to be rich in good works and charity. By doing this, they would become rich towards God. If you want to fight the good fight, you must overcome the temptation to trust and worship wealth.

8. Guard the Sacred Trust

To fight the good fight also means you have to guard the sacred trust or legacy handed to you by God. Paul directs Timothy to guard the sacred trust committed to him, which was probably the care of the Ephesian Church. Paul sensed that his ministry was coming to an end and so he started to groom Timothy, a promising young man, for service. He sensed that he needed youthful hands to pick up the mantle from him. So, Paul reminds Timothy of his call and duty to guard what God has committed to him. You must take care of yourself and the ones God has entrusted you with both spiritually and materially. It is your sacred trust.

9. Avoid Pretentious Arguments 

To fight the good fight of faith means you will avoid pretentious arguments (1 Timothy 6:20). A group of people in the Ephesian church professed and boasted of possessing "special" experiential knowledge (Gnostics). Paul warns Timothy not to be dragged into their controversies because this "secret" knowledge contradicts the gospel. This Gnostic knowledge, Paul reasoned, would be the reason why some would desert the faith. So, he warns Timothy against embracing or entertaining the advocates of these "opposing arguments" into the church. He implored Timothy to "avoid irreverent, empty chatter and opposing arguments of so-called "knowledge." (1 Timothy 6:20). You must also shun pretentious religious arguments that unsettle your faith in God. 

10. Continue in Prayers

Man in prayer position
Prayer Makes a Difference
Lastly, to fight the good fight of faith, you must remain steadfast in prayer.  God loves to hear you pray and will give you victory over every sin and challenge.

The above points are vital to living a life of victory, just like Paul. Paul faithfully fought the good fight of faith and emerged victoriously. He finished with power:

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." 2 Timothy 4:7

You too can finish with power - if you let Christ live His life in you. (Galatians 2:20)

In summary:
To fight the good fight of faith means maintaining a godly character even in forbidding and hostile circumstances. It means to reject error and to "pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness"( 1 Timothy 6:11). Fighting the good fight means to find joy and contentment in what God has given us rather than greed for money and riches. It is to live your life above reproach and bear a good report before believers and non-believers. It is to guard the sacred trust and avoid pretentious arguments that seek to unsettle our faith in Christ Jesus.

Keep fighting the good fight.

Don't quit!
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Recommended books for further studies:

by Craig S. Keener

This commentary is a good resource for researching the existing cultural and historical information of the biblical text.

I personally use this biblical background commentary and other resources from my library to prepare my sermons and articles.

This commentary is deep yet written in simple and readable language. It is good for personal Bible study and a perfect gift for your church elder, study group leader, and pastor.