There are many Biblical phrases that have become idioms in our culture. Phrases like “the blind leading the blind”, “go the extra mile”, or the “writings on the wall” all have their origin in the pages of the Bible. Another such idiom is “fight the good fight.” But the problem with idioms is that they are often divorced from their original meaning and purpose. I’ve heard this phrase about the good fight used in connection with any number of meaningful causes, sometimes even from both sides of the same conflict. So, let’s take a step back and look at what the Bible says about the “good fight.”
In a way, we begin with the end. In 2nd Timothy Paul is saying farewell. He feels he will soon die. The early church fathers tell us Paul was beheaded at the direction of Nero in Rome. Paul wrote, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:6–7, NIV) It’s interesting that Paul doesn’t say “I won” or “I lost” simply that “I fought.” What is this fight that Paul waged?
There are other clues. In his first letter to Timothy Paul instructed, “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:12, NIV) And earlier Paul wrote, “I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience.” (1 Timothy 1:18-19) Both of these verses connect the “good fight” with faith.
In some ways, the common usage of “fight the good fight” isn’t too far off. There is in Paul’s instruction to Timothy the vibe of fighting for our beliefs. Here’s the problem. Paul wasn’t advising Timothy (or when looking back at his own life) about belief in general but specifically “the faith.”
Jude, the brother of James, wrote, “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.” (Jude 3, NIV) Fighting the good fight is not about the cause but the faith. And not just any old faith or belief, but faith in Jesus Christ and the truth of God’s Good News.
Some take Jude’s words as a sword to keep out those undesirable and unworthy. Elevating right doctrine above all else. Remember this, Paul didn’t spend his life after his encounter with Jesus keeping people away from the faith. (Which happened to be his attitude before Jesus – just saying.) Paul, instead, devoted his life and health to reaching those outside “the faith.”
Ok. So, what does it mean to contend or fight for the faith? In Jude, the fight is to keep the faith from being corrupted by sinful abandon which ultimately leads to a denial of Christ. Something that has been played out repeatedly in the past 2000 years. The amazing part isn’t that the faith can be corrupted but that it always returns to its true intent.
We can bring this down to something much closer to home. The first good fight for the faith is inside us. While the war for the faith may be waged in church councils, conferences, and meetings, the battlefield is in our hearts. Not against all doubt but against our own desires wanting to have things our way, in other words, our sin.
Paul likened this fight with the training of a runner or a boxer in his letter to the Corinthians. “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. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:25–27, NIV)
There are many good causes and good fights. But the fight that really matters, the fight that Paul and others talk about is the battle that wages in our heart. Its those intense moments in the valley of decision. Those times when we tear down our internal idols of pride, ability, and desire. And those clashes when self-sacrifice battles with the self-preservation of our reputation, time, and life. The good fight is choosing to live by our faith in Jesus Christ – His love, blood, forgiveness, grace, and resurrection.