I want to look at some counsel that the apostle Paul gave to a young minister. There are three letters in the New Testament that were written to young ministers and they reveal a great deal to us about life in the church, our conduct in the church, how we treat each other in the church, and how the church is managed.
The first letter in order in the New Testament was sent to a young minister. 1 and 2 Timothy and the book of Titus were written to young ministers. Now, many other books in the New Testament were written to churches, sometimes to a single church, such as 1 and 2 Corinthians, but the book of Galatians was written to a whole group of churches in a large territory. There were also letters, such as Romans, which was written to Christians in a certain geographical area, such as Rome.
“These things teach and exhort. If anyone teaches some other doctrine and does not hold to sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ, the teaching which is according to piety [or godliness].” 1 Timothy 6:2. Notice, he instructs Timothy to teach certain things, and he says if someone comes along teaching some different doctrine, which is not according to the words of our Lord Jesus Christ and it is not according to piety or godliness—is there a teaching that is not according to piety or godliness? Oh yes there is such a teaching, and the apostles spent quite a bit of time talking about this fact. For instance, the apostle Peter talks about this very same thing. He says, “There were false prophets among the people as also there shall be among you, false teachers which will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Sovereign who bought them will bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow after them in licentiousness [that is low morals] through which the way of truth will be evilly spoken of. And with covetous well fabricated words they will buy and sell you.” 2 Peter 2:1–3. Paul is talking about the very same thing as Timothy, and he has some very strong things to say. He says that this person who comes in teaching a different doctrine which is not according to piety or godliness, he says this person who comes in teaching a doctrine that is not according to piety, “he is proud, knowing nothing, but he has a morbid craving for discussion and disputes out of which will develop envy, strife, evil speech, evil conjectures. Constant irritation which spoils men’s minds and deprives of the truth, supposing that godliness is a means of gain.” 1 Timothy 6:4–6.
Both Paul and Peter said they will buy and sell you. He said these false teachers will make merchandise of you. Paul talked to the elders of the Ephesian church in Acts 20. Over and over the apostles were warning about this development that was going to come, and Paul is warning Timothy here as though it is going to come, and Paul is warning Timothy here as though it is going to come in his lifetime. He says, Watch out for this. He continues, “For we brought nothing into the world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. But having food and clothing, with these be content. But those who wish to be rich fall into temptation and a trap and to many unwise and ruinous lusts, which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, which some having aspired after were seduced from the faith and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience; gentleness [sometimes translated meekness].
Paul says to Timothy, this is what is going to happen. There will be people coming into the church who are going to be preaching a different doctrine; their teaching is going to be that godliness will enable you to get rich. Have you noticed that in the news stands today? Are there any books being written by people who call themselves Christians that say if you are a Christian you are going to get rich, because that is God’s will for all of the Christians? The Bible said that was going to happen, and it is still happening. People who believe that if you are godly then you will automatically be rich. Paul says, actually, godliness is a means of getting great gain. Godliness really will make you rich, but not necessarily right here, right now, because you, he says, you have not brought anything into the world and you are not going to take anything out, so the great gain, the great wealth that godliness will bring to you is not something that is in this world. It is something that is out of this world.
Maybe you have had discussions with friends about your retirement. In our day and time people do a lot of discussing about this topic, because America is getting old. The baby boomers are going to retire in a few years so there is a lot of talk in the media about retirement and whether your retirement funds are going to hold up and whether you should have it in stocks or bonds or something else. I want a retirement that is out of this world. No matter how much money you might be able to get set aside for retirement, you cannot purchase youth; you cannot get enough money to acquire it, but Paul says godliness with contentment is a great means of gain, but the gain is not in this world. That is what confuses people. They think that the gain is in this world. It is their religion. It is fascinating to me that the very thing the apostle specifies here has become very popular with the evangelical Christian world today.
So Paul said to Timothy, be careful that you do not get confused and think that your treasure is down here, because you could make shipwreck of faith. He talks about that, too. He continues, “You pursue righteousness, piety, faith, love, steadfast endurance, gentleness.” Verse 11. He said pursue these things! Are you pursuing those things? Paul is not talking to someone who has just been studying the Bible, thinking about becoming a member of the church. This person is not only a member of the church, he is a minister; he is preaching the gospel to other people, he is the pastor of churches; he is doing evangelism. If we are faithful, one of these days we will see Timothy. He will have a border of red around his garment because he was a martyr—as were the great majority in the New Testament. Paul makes this statement to a minister; “Fight the good fight of faith. Lay hold of eternal life unto which you have been called and you have confessed the good confession before many witnesses.” Verse 12. A minister? Yes, advice for a minister. Some people believe that as soon as you are baptized, or as soon as you profess faith, you are saved. But this does not sound like that. This is a fascinating text when you realize it was written to a minister. Why did Paul not tell Timothy, You are saved, do not worry about anything. That is not what he told him. Friends, whether you are a minister, a teacher, whatever your station in life; mother, father, wife, husband, child, elderly person, this is a biblical command to you. Paul says, “Fight the good fight of faith!”
Let us think that text through. If he says fight the good fight of faith, lay hold of eternal life, is it implied that if you and I do not fight the good fight of faith that we will not have eternal life? It is definitely implied. There are several verses of Scripture which show what a dominant teaching this is in the New Testament. We will look at those and then we will come back and look at what the fight of faith involves and how you can be sure to win.
Jesus is speaking, “Enter in through the narrow gate, because broad is the gate and spacious the way that leads to destruction and many there are which enter through it, because narrow is the gate and restricted is the way that leads to life and few there are who find it.” Matthew 7:13, 14.
There is another verse, in stronger language. Again, Jesus is speaking, “Struggle to enter in through the narrow gate, for many I tell you, will seek to enter and they will not be able.” Luke 13:24. In Hebrews 12 Paul says that you are surrounded with this great cloud of witnesses, people who have fought the good fight. The witnesses are listed in Hebrews 11, they are the people who have fought the good fight—the fight of faith. He says, you are surrounded with all of these witnesses, so he says, “Lay aside every weight and the easily entangling sin and with patience run the race that is set before you, looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, enduring the cross, despising the shame, is set down at the right hand of God. For you have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” Hebrews 12:1–4. When you resist onto blood, that is a fight! Did Jesus resist unto blood? Oh yes, He did. In Luke 22 you can read the story how that in the Garden of Gethsemane He was fighting with the devil and all of his angels, and in the fight, it says, His sweat, His perspiration was like great clots of blood dropping to the ground. He resisted unto blood!
Paul talks about this to the Ephesian Church also. He talks about putting on all of the armor of God so that you will be able to stand against the craftiness and the trickery of the devil, because our warfare is not with blood and flesh, but with rulers, with the authorities, with the world rulers of the darkness and the spiritual wickednesses in the heavenly places. Our battle, this fight of faith, is not against flesh and blood—not against other human beings. That is not where it is. Sometimes the devil tries to trick people up about that. They think they are to battle with other human beings. Our battle, he says, is with the world rulers of the darkness of this age; with the spiritually wicked powers in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:10–20.
The apostle James talks about this very same warfare. This idea is found throughout the entire New Testament. He says, “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that the friendship with this world is enmity toward God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world sets himself as an enemy of God. Or do you know that in vain the Scripture says the spirit that dwells in us lusts to envy? But He gives greater grace, wherefore He says: ‘God resists the haughty, but He gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore, subject yourselves to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, double-minded.” James 4:4–8. Notice, he is talking about this same warfare, and he says, if you get on the wrong side, which is a serious thing to do in a war, God has a problem with you. People who call themselves Christians want to be on the other side of the battle, and he says, do you not know if you want to be a friend of this world, you are an enemy of God?
Who is the enemy? Remember, the enemy is not other people. We have already seen some indication of who our enemies are, but we will look at two or three more scriptures and further identify these enemies.
Here is a wonderful promise to those who are engaged in the good fight of faith; “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or oppression [narrow circumstances—a word that means you have been pressed into a corner and you are in trouble.] or persecution, or famine, or lack of clothing, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ Yet in all of these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things about to be, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other creation, is able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:36–39. There is a battle going on here, and God’s children are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. It looks like, in this world, we are losing, but we are winning!
To the world it looked like Jesus lost when He was on the cross, but actually, it was the biggest victory of all time. I say this for your encouragement. Whatever it is that you are battling with, whatever trial is in your life, even though it may be something over which you think you may never get the victory—the very thing that appears to be your worst battle, your worst stumbling block, your greatest weakness, your greatest sorrow, your greatest affliction, your greatest loneliness, your greatest defeat—if you will surrender yourself to Christ, out of that you will have the greatest victory just as did Jesus. The Bible tells us that God always causes us to triumph! Do you realize that we serve a General who never loses a battle? Has Jesus ever lost a battle? No, He has not! We may lose battles when we leave Him, because we are fighting spiritual agencies that are stronger than we are, and they will trick us. We read about the trickery and craftiness of the devil. The devil’s greatest victories are not won by force of arms; they are won by trickery and deceit.
Peter talks about this. He says, “Be sober [just in case you wonder, this means just what it says. Let me state it so simply that you cannot misunderstand: If you are drinking alcoholic beverages, you are not sober. Keep that in mind any time you read this verse, it means exactly what it says—do not be drunk. The New Testament makes this very clear.] Be watchful, your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion is walking about seeking whom to devour. Whom, resist, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are accomplished in your brethren in the world. But the God of all grace, who called you unto His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered awhile, He perfects, will strengthen and set you immovable like a foundation.” 1 Peter 5:8–10. There is a battle going on, and he says, Resist!
“Because everyone who has been begotten out of God conquerors the world and this is the victory that conquerors the world—our faith. Who is the one conquering the world except the one believing that Jesus is the Son of God.” 1 John 5:4, 5.
All through the New Testament it talks about this spiritual battle, and through these Scriptures we have read who the enemy is. So the question I want to ask you is, Who is the enemy?
- We have an enemy. We read it in 1 Peter 5, James 4, and the devil is the enemy. The word Satan comes from the Hebrew word saton, which means adversary. He is your adversary. Peter says, in James 4, resist! Are you resisting? The devil is busy 24 hours a day bringing temptations to God’s people. He brings temptations to people in the world, too, but he is not concentrating as much on them because he already has control of them. They have already fallen for it. So the devil concentrates on those who have decided they want to follow the Lord—that is you! What temptations does he bring your way? This is your second enemy.
- He uses the world. What is in the world by which the devil tries to get God’s people? 1 John 2:15–17 tells you what the devil uses—it is the craving of the flesh. The sinful nature—the craving of the eye.
- The ostentations, or the pride, of life. The first thing he usually uses is the craving of fleshly desire—appetite or passion, something related to that. If he cannot get you that way, then he comes to you with the craving of the eyes, and the pride of life.
Your first enemy is the devil; your second enemy is the world. But they are not really your worst enemies. Your worst enemy is the third enemy—our worst enemy is us. My worst enemy is me; your worst enemy is you. Why? Because, as a result of the fall of Adam and Eve, every descendent of Adam and Eve has what we call a fallen nature, a sinful nature. We have the root of sin—the natural selfishness in the human heart.
From the pen of Inspiration, we read this statement; “We have no enemy without that we need to fear. [That is encouraging, is it not? You have no enemy without whom you need to fear. Then what do we need to fear?] Our great conflict is with unconsecrated self.” Review and Herald, March 5, 1908.
What is the great conflict in our good fight of faith? Who are we really fighting? We are fighting our natural, sinful, fallen nature and we must win over it. Do not think it impossible! If it were impossible we could not be saved. We have to win the fight, but the good news is that it is possible! It is the devil telling you that you cannot do it, but Jesus tells you that you can. Who do you choose to believe?
Ellen White wrote, “Nothing is apparently more helpless, yet really more invincible, than the soul that feels its nothingness and relies wholly on the merits of the Saviour. God would send every angel in heaven to the aid of such a one rather than allow him to be overcome.” Testimonies, vol. 7, 17.
It is the devil who is telling you that you cannot overcome your sinful nature, because he wants you to give up. He knows if you give up, you are lost. But if you will not give up, even if you have fallen 1,000 times, you must keep crying to the Lord and asking Him for victory and help—and if you will not give up, God will not give up and you are going to win.
Who is the enemy? Yes, the devil is our enemy; the world is our enemy, but we need to really be concerned about our fallen, sinful human nature. That is our most dangerous enemy.
Ellen White wrote the following statement about ministers: “His enemies may be those of his own household, his wife and children, or they may be his own hereditary and cultivated tendencies which continually seek for the mastery. Man is human and defective in character and must battle for the victory. Everyone who begins aright must begin at his own heart. Let the fervent prayer go forth from unfeigned lips, ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God’ and it will bring the response, ‘A new heart also will I give you.’ In Psalm 51, David realized he was lost and he cried unto God, ‘Create in me a clean heart.’ Please remake me inside because I am ruined. Through the prophet Ezekiel the Lord said, ‘I will give you a new heart.’
You do not have to worry about what is on the outside; you do not need to worry about the devil or the world—Christ has already overcome both the devil and the world; but what you and I need to worry about is what is inside our heart. Do we have the victory over our sinful propensities; our sinful inclinations; our fallen sinful nature, do we have the victory of that? That is what the fight of faith is all about. That is who the real enemy is.
Is there a war going on in your life? Did we not read in the New Testament that the Christian life is a warfare? Yes, we did. If that is the case, then why is it that many Christians today appear to not be having any warfare? Have they already arrived? What is the matter with the rest of us? The reason that there are some Christians who are not having a warfare in their life is because they have laid down their weapons and the devil is winning. We are going to be in a warfare until Jesus comes back again. When He comes back again, the warfare will be over and you will not have to fight any more. But do not lay down your weapons before the war is over!
“The Christian life is a warfare. The apostle Paul speaks of wrestling against principalities and powers as he fought the good fight of faith. Again he declares ye have not resisted unto blood striving against sin. Ah no! Today sin is cherished and excused. The sharp sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, does not cut to the soul. Has religion changed? Has Satan’s enmity to God abated? A religious life once presented difficulties and demanded self denial. All is made very easy now. And why is this? The professed people of God have compromised with the powers of darkness.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 222.
Is there a war going on in your life? Let me tell you, if there is not a war going on in your life, you better go to your closet and pray and ask the Lord for the armor and the weapons, and get in the fight! Because if there is not a war going on in your life, the devil is winning! The devil has declared war against the government of God and against everyone who wants to be part of the government of God, and he will not allow you to walk into the kingdom of heaven without a fight. Remember where the fight is—the fight is with the carnal, sinful propensities; the carnal, sinful nature. We must fight; we must overcome, or we will lose everything.
Revelation tells us that the victory, eternal life, is promised only to the one who conquerors (overcomes).
I want you to know that God has provided for you all of the help that you need. If you are the weakest, most sinful person, you can win if you do not give up! God has made it possible. Not one person will be able to accuse the Lord of not having received enough strength to overcome.
“When our souls are filled with self-esteem and pride we cannot realize the need of divine power, but when we are aware of our own insufficiency, our hearts cry out, ‘Other refuge have I none,’ and we hang our helpless souls upon Him who is mighty to save.” Signs of the Times, February 10, 1888. Christ did not wish His disciples to engage in the warfare in their own strength, thinking that they could break down every opposing influence, for then they would be taken unawares by the enemy. God has provided for you and for me all of the help that we need.”
“When Christ ascended to the Father He did not leave His followers without help. The Holy Spirit, as His representative and the heavenly angels as ministering spirits are sent forth to aid those who, against great odds, are fighting the good fight of faith. Ever remember that Jesus is your helper. No one understands so well as He your peculiarities of character. [Do we all have peculiarities of character? Yes we do. We are different. Not every one of us has exactly the same trials, different ones have different trials depending upon our background, temperament, and how we have lived our life. But Jesus knows exactly what your peculiarities of character are; He knows exactly what kind of help you need. Is that good news? Yes it is.] He is watching over you and if you are willing to be guided by Him, He will throw around you influences for good that will enable you to accomplish all His will for you.” Sons and Daughters of God, 35.
Is that not wonderful news? If you are willing to be guided by Him, He will surround you with heavenly influences (angels) that will enable you to fulfill His will for you. It is God’s purpose for you to escape the corruption that is in the world through lust. (See 2 Peter 1:3, 4.)
“Will we reject the words and sayings of men and look to God through the One Mediator for grace, for strength and power. We will never look in vain. Angels are waiting as messengers to minister unto those who shall be heirs of salvation. They are close by, every one who needs their help while fighting the good fight of faith.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 9, 277.
Are you in the battle, or are you just a spectator? Some people want a spectator religion; they come to church; they visit this church or that church; they want to see if the Christian religion works; so they watch to see if the Pastor is Christ-like and if the elders are Christ-like. If they have Christian relatives they are watching with eagle eyes—does this Christian religion actually change this person’s life or do they still lose their temper, of whatever their besetment is. That is all right, as Christians it should not matter to us whether anyone is looking at us in our home or anywhere else, because the whole heavenly universe is watching us, so what is the difference if someone in this world looks at us?
But if you are looking at someone, you are just a spectator watching someone else fight the fight. You cannot be saved just by watching someone else to see if they are going to be victorious. If they keep asking the Lord they will be victorious on every point, but you cannot go to heaven just watching someone else fight the fight. There is a lot of spectator religion today. People want to find out if it is true, so they are looking at Christians to see if it is true or not. It is up to us to demonstrate that it is true, and the Lord can give you the victory over whatever your besetting sin is. You must get in the fight yourself! Would it not be terrible to watch someone else fight the fight of faith, be saved, and be taken to heaven, and you not make it? A lot of people are doing that! They are watching someone else with eagle eyes. Once in awhile the Lord gives us a glimpse of just how close people are watching us—because we do not have any idea. We must be sure that we do not do or say anything that would cast a bad reflection on what we teach or believe.
Are you going to fight the good fight? Paul told Timothy, “Fight the good fight and lay hold of eternal life.” Do not let the devil tell you it is impossible, it is possible. It is more than possible. It is absolutely certain if you put your trust in Jesus and commit your life to Him. God has promised that if you are willing to get in the fight, He will give you the victory. Victory does not always come the first hour or the first day—especially if you are battling with a habit that has been entrenched by years of practice. Have you been impatient 25,000 times? Do not expect to overcome that habit in a week; it took you longer than that to establish it. Sometimes it takes a long, hard battle, but if you dedicate yourself to the Lord, commit yourself to Him, HE IS going to give you the victory, but I cannot tell you the exact timing.
Friends, do not just watch someone else fight the fight—join the fight yourself, and one of these days the Lord will say, The fight is over. You are a good and faithful servant, come with Me.
(Scriptures are translated from the original Greek text by Pastor Grosboll.