Long ago, an old missionary wrote something to a young minister that puts all the wisdom any graduate needs into a nutshell, or nugget. The old man did not tell his young protégé to follow his dreams or pursue his passions. Instead, he bid him to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness,” a line-up neglected in many commencement speeches.
Then the old traveler offered this unbeatable two-punch advice:
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. (The Apostle Paul, 1 Timothy 6:12).
Actually, this is the best advice ever, period.
1. “Fight the good fight of faith.”
The original imperative verb here was “agonizou.” The connection between faith and agony was not lost on Paul. He knew there is no such thing as a Christian never under fire.
On October 29, 1941, as World War II raged on and his nation’s fate seemed dire, Great Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously said to the students at Harrow School:
Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.
For Churchill in 1941, the battle was against the Nazis. Paul, two millennia ago, envisioned far more lethal enemies than mere Nazis. He wrote:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)
Satan is our public and private enemy number one. Never confuse this adversary with his victims. The good fight of faith pits us less against sinners than against sin, often working from the inside out. Unwisely, our culture minimizes the severity of sin, urging us not to judge it, admit it, fight it or speak the word.
Jesus, by contrast, hit sin head on, knowing how deadly it is. He understood that sin’s first and greatest casualty is love. He said, “Because of the increase in wickedness the love of most will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:12). No wonder real love is hard to find and hold–wickedness is too widespread. No matter how bad you think sin is, it is worse! It’s why Jesus came and put up such a fight against it. Wickedness hides and thrives behind pride. Love, however, grows from the soil of humble repentance. Confession of sin (agreeing with reality) is where virtue and goodness begin to take root, by God’s grace. There’s always a fight when humility stands up to pride.
There is a battle ahead. No, it’s a war and you need to choose sides. The forces fighting to enslave us to sin are gaining strength by the minute. The forces of freedom and decency are on the ropes. Which side will you join?
2. “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”
The original Greek verb here was “epilambano,” to seize upon. Paul also used this verb to describe being arrested for preaching truth. Here he tells Timothy to do the seizing believing eternity to be within the young man’s grasp. A guide can open the door, but you must walk through it. Medical science can come up with a miracle drug but you must act to take it. “The good confession” was probably a reference to baptism which finds its transcendent meaning as a godly means of taking hold of eternal life. The act of receiving a gift by no means makes you the gift giver. It doesn’t even make you deserving. Paul wanted Timothy to never lose his grip.
Your time on earth is short. That’s okay because you were not made simply for time but for eternity. Without eternal life, you don’t have much of a future. Without it, might makes right but even the strong go wrong before long. Without eternity, evil terrorists and thugs can get the last word over the innocent and justice remains a joke. Without eternal life, even love at its best is a meaningless flash in the pan. So seize it!
In the end, there is no graduation to eternal life without the forgiveness that Jesus accomplished on the cross. His forgiveness is what makes baptism more than a bath. The apostle John said, “You know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins.” (1 John 3:5). This put Him at odds with the forces of evil. He took them on so that we might take hold of God’s gift of eternal life.