What does it really mean "to fight the good fight?" To understand this idea (1 Timothy 1:18, 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7), we first need to identify the "fight" to which Paul is referring.
The term "fight"
The term "fight" is often used to refer to various contests, but it also refers to the Olympic-style games held in Greece. The word is defined as "to contend in the athletic games for the prize, to fight." These athletic games" are very different than the ones we are used to viewing every two years.
The winner of one of their wrestling matches received a reward; however, the loser had his eyes gouged out. Similarly, the contestants in an Olympic boxing match wore gloves padded with fur on the inside, but iron and lead were on the outside. In view of these facts, preparation was never taken lightly or half-heartedly.
In the Christian life, we confront: the powers on high (Ephesians 6:12); engage the roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8); deal with the devil's schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11); and suffer grief in all kinds of trials (I Peter 5:6). Our training must be consistent and intense. This fight of our lives has eternal stakes too high to lose the battle. Jesus Christ is our protector. We must make every effort to remain in Him. Therefore there needs to be a substantial, planned, intense effort to train excellently by growing in the understanding of God and faith, putting to death our fleshly desires and putting aside what entangles or hinders us.
Why does Paul say it is a "good" fight?
To a first century disciple, there were two common words for "good." The first referred to intrinsic goodness -- that is, goodness residing primarily on the inside. This is the word used in Rom. 5:6: "though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die."
However, the word used in 1 Timothy 6:12 is the second. It means "goodness as seen from the outside by a spectator," "beauty of technique." Paul is not referring to a good fight versus a bad fight, or a successful or unsuccessful encounter. Paul is referring to the beauty of the Christian, as seen by others, as he/she endures, perseveres and struggles to finish the race with the goal of heaven.
One of the best examples of a "good fight" was found in a recent Olympics. As runners were rounding one of the last turns for the finish, one runner tore a muscle in his leg. He pulled up in pain, hobbling on one leg, his hopes for a medal gone.
But his hope was not gone of finishing the race! His father jumped down out of the stands, ran out to his son, put his arm around him, and they both finished the race together, to the cheering ovation of the crowd! Think of how such an example should inspire us to help one another.
God cheers us on!
Picture God and the heaven cheering us on as we struggle to finish the race. Temptations, trials, questionings, pain, struggle, doubts, fear, failures, even sin can be our lot. We can be weakened, shaken, hobbled, despaired, frightened, even beaten down and scarred. But as we keep going to the finish, as we struggle to endure, as we lean on brothers and sisters, as we strive to please God no matter how much we fail or are hobbled by our sinful nature, God considers our struggle as a thing of beauty and applauds our efforts as long as we don't give up.
To finish the race is to win in God's sight. It is not because of talent we possess, gifts we have, or experiences and victories we may have enjoyed. Rather it is the endurance, the steadfast reliance on God through thick and thin, the empowerment we receive from the Holy Spirit, the intimacy we can enjoy with God through prayer, and the determined focus to remain in Him that receives the admiration and accolades of heaven!
- Dan Demshar
This is the first article in the series "What Did First Century Disciples Hear?" Dan has an M.A. in Biblical Languages from Abilene Christian University and teaches in the Greater Boston Region of the Boston Church of Christ.