Modern people have a love/hate relationship with war.
In the early 20th century, an influential essay was published entitled “The Moral Equivalence of War,” based on a Stanford lecture of the same name. Since then, this phrase (ironically abbreviated “MEOW”) has slipped into the American vernacular, most notably through President Jimmy Carter’s famed Moral Equivalence of War speech in 1977, in which he compared the US energy crisis to a war.
Though we disdain war itself and its tragic consequences, political leaders recognize, for better or worse, that people are uniquely motivated when they see themselves as fighting on the side of the angels in a larger conflict—whether they are in fact or not.
As Christians, we are engaged in a war. Although much of the American evangelical subculture today is steeped in sentimentality, from the songs we sing to the casual sermons we hear, there is nothing theoretical about war. We’re in an actual fight.
Paul’s words to his pastoral protégé in 1 Timothy 6:12 are a spiritual call to arms for believers today. But what does it mean to “fight the good fight of the faith”? Who are the combatants, and what is the objective of this battle? The answer lies in the context of Timothy’s ministry.
Ephesus, where Timothy ministered, was a city with a long history of pagan worship. The cult of Artemis was particularly influential, as seen in the Acts 19 account of the gospel advancing through Ephesus:
- A group of disciples in Ephesus received the Holy Spirit in a unique way, resulting in a supernatural display of power (vv. 1-7).
- Many Ephesians are saved through the gospel testimony resulting from the unsuccessful exorcism of the seven sons of Sceva, as they witnessed that only the power of Jesus could cast out evil spirits (vv. 11-17).
- The believers repented of their magic arts and publicly burned their occult texts, revealing the extent to which the dark arts were embedded in the culture (vv. 18-20).
- This culminated in the riot of the idol makers, struggling to protect the city’s demonic form of worship (vv. 21-41).
With this backdrop in mind, it’s no surprise that when Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, he reminded them: “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). This was a cosmic battle from which Timothy, pastoring the church in Ephesus, was not exempt.
For Timothy, this reminder about the combative nature of Christian ministry was certainly sobering. From Paul’s second letter to the young pastor, we infer that Timothy was likely timid by nature (2 Timothy 1:7). Yet for Timothy, and for us, the exhortation for Christians to fight the good fight need not intimidate. Rather, we should take heart; the battle is winnable.
When Jesus was heading to the cross, he spoke these words: “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out” (John 12:31). When Christ died, rose, and ascended, Satan, the “god of the world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) was cast down, disbarred from heaven’s court, and held in contempt, no longer able to make accusation against the people of God (Revelation 12:10). Our sin, which the demonic forces use against us, has been removed by the cross of Christ, putting these dark, unseen forces to open shame (Colossians 2:15).
Because this decisive victory has already taken place, followers of Christ are guaranteed that our mission is not in vain. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). Hence, we are authorized to reclaim the lost from the pagan powers. Christ has conquered, and we follow in his victory train among the nations.
So often in ministry, we behave as though the goal is to stay in a perpetual state of operating a program, building an institution, or fundraising for the next campaign. Yet, as Sun Tzu wisely observed in The Art of War, “In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns. The goal is to win . . . not to fight forever.” This is true in spiritual battle as well. The objective of this fight is to win the world for Christ, who has already won. To this point, John Calvin comments on 1 Timothy 6:12: “[I]f earthly soldiers do not hesitate to fight, when the result is doubtful, and when there is a risk of being killed, how much more bravely ought we to do battle under the guidance and banner of Christ, when we are certain of victory?”
Jesus came to destroy the devil and his works and restore dominion. We are to make war on the world, the flesh, and the devil, to expect resistance, and ultimately to win—not merely to struggle forever. Let us joyfully discharge this calling.
Give us the courage and strength to fight the good fight of the faith. Help us to put on the full armor of God and to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. May we, in your strength, make war on the world, the flesh, and the devil, and expect resistance. We thank you that Jesus has already triumphed, and we pray that we would share in that victory as we serve him and win back the nations.
In Jesus’ name,
- Pray for strength and courage to fight the good fight of the faith in your personal walk with your Lord, your family, your church, and your nation.
- Pray for believers in spiritually dark places still under the grip of false religion, that they would stand firm against the schemes of the devil.
- Pray for missionaries serving in areas with strong spiritual opposition to wage spiritual warfare through prayer, preaching, and reliance on the Spirit.
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