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

Picture of a woman reading the bible

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 (church) and external (world). It also means to have a firm determination to "pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness" at all times and in all situations.

As a pastor who has served in the ministry for the last seven years,  I have been asked by both the believers and non-believers 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 most of the 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. Below you will find answers that will not only show you why but also how you can confidently, in the strength of God, fight the good fight of faith. 
The Bible verse which talks about fighting the good fight of faith is 1 Timothy 6:12, which says:

"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 (1 Timothy) to Timothy; a young man who was the elder in charge of the Church at Ephesus. Ephesus was then a Roman port city known for its commercial activities. Many of the city dwellers were wealthy business people, and some of these wealthy individuals converted to Christianity. This affluence among the Ephesians is probably the reason why Paul cautioned the new believers not to put their "trust in uncertain riches." (1 Timothy 6:17, KJV)

Ephesus was also the headquarter of the fertility cult of Diana or Artemis. The city of Ephesus boasted of having one of the most celebrated temples in the ancient world, the temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the world. These pagan influences were probably the reason why Paul cautioned 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 chapter (1 Timothy 6), you can glean some clues as to what it means to fight the good fight of faith.

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

Maintain a Godly Character 

Fighting the good fight of faith means maintaining a godly character in all circumstances. Paul, in the first two verses (1 Timothy 6:1,2,) emphasizes fidelity to God even when you are under oppressive human systems like slavery - which was a common practice back then. 

To get a balanced view of Paul's perspectives on slavery, you can read what he wrote to the same Ephesian church in Ephesians 6:7-9 and other instances like Philemon 1:8–16. Remember, Paul also taught about the equality of all people before God (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11). And 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. And 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 from which the epistle was written, it is clear that the reputation of the Ephesian Church was at stake. The church's mission was at risk of being misunderstood by the unbelievers because of the attitude of some of the believing slaves. Paul is, therefore, urging them not to hinder the spread of the gospel by their attitude towards their masters. The same applies to our day; you should not bring your Christian faith to disrepute through your character and deportment.

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 means you have to reject errors or false doctrines. Paul charges young Timothy (v. 3-5) to reject any teachings contrary to the principles and teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostle. According to Paul, these false teachings disagreed with the "words of Jesus Christ" and the "teaching that accords with godliness." (v. 3) These teachings, Paul says, thrive on "unhealthy craving for controversy and friction among people." Such controversial teachings "produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions" and imagine "that godliness is a means of gain (v. 4,5). The lesson is that you must be intentional when it comes to rejecting 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.

Seek Godliness With Contentment 

To fight the good fight of faith means you will seek godliness with contentment. You ask, "What is that supposed to mean?" It means you will find joy and fulfillment in what God has already provided you. It is drawing satisfaction from living a godly life as opposed to a worldly sufficiency. "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). 

Paul elsewhere admits living out this principle in his life: 
"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). 

So, Paul knew first-hand what depravity means and what it means to have an abundance. He was acquainted with both worlds, which is why he said, "Godliness with contentment is gain" and not godliness with greed.

Say No to Greed for Riches

Golden coins on the table - say no to greed for riches
Say No to Greed for Riches
"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)

In the above text, Paul cautions Timothy and the Ephesian church against greed or desire for riches. Paul calls this greed the "love of money" and "eager(ness) for money." This text raises the following pertinent questions which demand answers.
  • How is money a root of all evil?
  • Is the Bible against acquiring wealth?
  • Or is God against acquiring riches?

How is money a root of all evil? 

Money is "a" root of all evil because greed for it tempts and ensnares many with harmful desires, which lead to ruin and destruction. The love and eagerness for money cause many to wander off from faith and pierce themselves with "many griefs." Note that 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." Evil has many roots, and "the love of money" is one of the roots. The devil and selfish desires are other sources of evil. 

Is the Bible against acquiring wealth? 

The Bible is not against acquiring wealth but against the senseless greed, desire, love, and eagerness for money to the point of losing faith. This greed for money is dangerous to the Christian faith because it has led many to desert faith in pursuit of wealth. So, the Bible is not against us, acquiring riches. There is room for the wealthy and rich in the Christian faith. 

Is God against acquiring riches?

No, God is not against industrious people working to earn a decent living through just means. Actually, 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 harm of greed for wealth, also speaks of those who are "rich in this present world" and of a God, "Who richly provides us with everything to enjoy." (1 Timothy 6:17). The Bible also teaches that it is God who "gives you the power to get wealth" and that "money answers everything" (Deuteronomy 8:18, Ecclesiastes 10:19). God is not against our personal development. 

God is the one who blessed Abraham with riches that could feed 318 battle-ready men daily from his pot, of course, women and children not included (Genesis 14:14). God is against "love," "desire," "greed," and the "eager" pursuit of wealth to the detriment of our faith. As a result, Paul counsels Timothy and all the people of God to "Flee from these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness." (1 Timothy 6:11). Note the word "flee" is not the same as "run." According to the online Google dictionary, to flee is to "run away from a place or situation of danger." So, flee from "these things," that is, greed for riches for it is dangerous to your faith.

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 need to contest for the faith (1 Timothy 6:12). The language used here is more Olympic than battlefield language. The picture is that of an athlete contending or striving in a marathon for a prize. The main idea here is an athletic discipline or the fighting spirit of an athlete. An athlete exercises and strives against self and other competitors to win the ultimate prize. The prize for the victors in those days was a "Stephanos" crown or a victor's crown, which was a wreath or garland worn on the head.

It is not the first time that the apostle Paul is using the analogy of athleticism. Elsewhere in the Bible, 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).

Fighting with an "aim" and "keeping" the body under control is the discipline that kept Pau's faith alive. It is the discipline that you need to keep your faith alive today. You can do it by God's grace and His enabling power. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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 within you. (Galatians 2:20)

In summary:
Fighting the good fight 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 which seek to unsettle our faith in Christ Jesus.

Keep the faith. 

Don't quit!

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.

As an Amazon Associate, I earn some commission from qualifying purchases with no extra cost on you. This commission pays for my internet bandwidth usage and keeps me generating articles. Nevertheless, I ensure the recommended books are biblically sound in doctrine and meet the need of my readers.

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