The Good Warfare | 1 Timothy 1:18-20
by John Fitzsimmons,
Pastor, Sligo City Church
Listen to and download the audio sermon
Last week towards the end of the message I asked some challenging questions, including: What has the grace of God done in your life? Where is the sacrifice? Where is the commitment to his cause? I mentioned the phrase ‘costly grace’ and talked about the radical discipleship true grace produces in the lives it touches – the life of Paul being a vivid example. This week we build on this as we look at Paul’s call for Timothy to “wage the good warfare”. It is very true that Jesus calls his followers to an eternal life of love, peace and joy in relationship with him. This is part of the appeal of the gospel. However there is another side to the Christian life which is equally clear in the New Testament, and needs to be made equally clear in the evangelism and teaching of the Church: The call to discipleship! The call to obedience! The call to count the cost and follow... The Great Commission in Matthew 28 is a call to discipleship & obedience towards Christ. Paul commissions Timothy to play his part with these words; V18 “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare.” This is Timothy’s call to; “deny himself and take up his cross and follow [Jesus].” Timothy was timid by nature, but he would have to deny his timidity and take up his cross by courageously confronting the false teachers, and by taking a stand for the gospel in the church and city of Ephesus.
The Call to War
Paul charges Timothy to wage the good warfare. Primarily this is a call to all pastors to fight the good fight, but it is also a call to all Christians. While this letter was addressed to Timothy it would have been read to the whole church. We know this because Paul finishes the letter with; “Grace be to you”, and the Greek word translated “you” is plural. Paul wanted Timothy to hear this charge personally, but he also wanted the rest of the church to hear it as well. If their leader was being called to war, then so were they... Like Timothy every Christian is called to the good warfare.The paradox of the Christian’s call to war is that we enter a war which Christ has already won. This should fill our hearts with courage as we “struggle with all his energy” on the battlefield... The outcome of the battle rests on God’s performance, not on our strength or skill. But struggling with all his energy still costs us. We still sweat, we still feel the heat of the battle and we still get wounded. You hear it said sometimes that ‘church is a hospital for sinners’. It is that, but it must be more! The Church is more like military barracks with a hospital wing... People come in and get healed, restored and strengthened by the gospel... Then they get taught, trained and equipped with the spiritual armour and weapons they need, and sent back out onto the battlefield to play their part in the good warfare... They may come in like wounded civilians but they are sent back out as warriors of grace and truth.
As Christian’s we are all soldiers with duties to perform, commands to obey and missions to complete with the strength of God. This is why we need a courageous spirit to obey God faithfully... In the context of spiritual warfare Paul writes in Ephesians 6:10; “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might...” There it is again, the strength of God! This challenge to wage the good warfare exceeds the bravery and strength of the best, unless they receive help from a greater source... Today if the fight seems too much for you, remember Jesus your loving Saviour "stands by with reserves for your relief at a moment's notice." The strength of an earthly king lies in his armies—the more soldiers he has at his disposal the more powerful he is. But in God’s kingdom the strength of the whole army lies in the King – all-powerful King Jesus. He can overcome all without us, but apart from him we can do nothing. Amazingly though he involves us in his mission, and as we get involved we learn how powerful he is, and to depend on him for every victory!
So what is the good warfare we are called to? By calling us to wage the good warfare Paul implies there is bad warfare to avoid. Throughout this letter Timothy is repeatedly warned to avoid needless warfare: To stay away from issues that promote controversy (1:4), to not be quarrelsome (3:3). Some fights are just not worth getting involved in because they’re over things that matter little in the end. And some battles are just not ours to fight... We need to choose our battles wisely. There are plenty of bad fights that only waste time and cause needless casualties, but there is one good fight... In context the good fight is the call to wage war for the truth of the gospel! It is the call to confront false teaching with “sound doctrine in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” (1 Tim 1:11). It’s not just a war about being right, it’s about the glory of God and the good of people... Paul’s says in V3 that Timothy must “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine” and in V5 he says “The aim of our charge is love...” So the charge entrusted to Timothy and the church in Ephesus is one of truth and love.
Revelation 2:1-7 makes clear the church in Ephesus took the call to confront false teaching seriously, and Christ commended them for it. However sadly he also had to write; V4 “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” Somewhere along the way they lost love and when they lost love (love for God & people) they lost the whole point of their mission. Paul had underlined the importance of “speaking the truth in love” to them (Eph 4:15) but they forgot. False teaching misrepresents God and shipwrecks people’s lives. The whole reason for confronting it is love & we must never forget it.
Throughout the whole New Testament false teaching always undermines the essential truths of the gospel... This is why Paul called the church in Ephesus to be clothed in the armour of God. (READ Eph 6:10-20)
So we fasten the belt of truth around us because this will hold us together when everything around us is falling apart. We put on the breastplate of righteousness because this guards our hearts from discouragement... We put the gospel of peace on our feet so we can bring the light of the gospel wherever we tread. We take up the shield of faith to protect us from the fiery darts of Satan. And we wear the helmet of salvation so our minds are protected by the great truths of the gospel. Note that the main point of putting on the armour of God is to clothe ourselves with the powerful truths of the gospel... This protects us from the onslaught of Satan and makes us living testimonies to the power of the gospel. Then we’re ready to wage war with the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, and by praying at all times in the Spirit. The word of God is our primary offensive weapon & prayer our walky-talky keeping us in constant communication with our Sovereign General!
Sometimes when I hear people talking about spiritual warfare they make it out to be all about prayer. Spiritual warfare is not less than prayer, but it is more than prayer. If all you do is pray you are only doing part the job. Prayer must always lead to action... Prayer without action is pointless as much as action without prayer is powerless. When God directs us, he directs us to do things... In fact sometimes prayer is the easiest part—it’s what God asks you to do in prayer that can be scary. And sometimes people can use prayer as a hideout--“I’ll just stay behind and pray....” The harder part can be standing up before people to preach the truth when people will not endure sound teaching... That’s frontline warfare! Or speaking truth in love to someone in error... That takes strength & courage! Timothy was going to have to preach truth in a church with false teachers... and he was going to have to confront them about not teaching different doctrines, this would take much courage and love! READ 2 Cor 10:3-6: How do you think Paul destroyed arguments and lofty opinions etc? Only by prayer? No he had to go out from prayer & take action by confronting false teaching with truth. That’s why he got beat up etc...
Staying on Course
Verse 18 teaches us one of God’s means of calling Timothy to ministry warfare, and keeping him on course, was prophecy! Paul says to Timothy; “in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare.” This teaches us that one of the ways God strengthens us for battle is through the gift of prophesy... This must be why Paul said to the Corinthians; “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Cor. 14:1). He says that the “one who prophesies speaks to people for their up-building and encouragement and consolation” and he says the “one who prophesies builds up the church”. So prophecy strengthens individuals and the church. One of the occasions Timothy received prophecy was at his ordination (1 Tim 4:14). So this subject will come up again when we get to chapter 4. We don’t know what the prophecies were about, but Timothy did and that is the point. The prophecies spoken over his live were to confirm, affirm and reaffirm him in his calling... They would help sustain and strengthen him through trails, discouragements, doubts and dark times. They would help him stay focused and committed...
God wants to speak to us prophetically today. He wants to build up and encourage us with ‘now words’ to help strengthen us to face our battles. And he wants to speak prophetically to confirm, affirm and reaffirm us in our calling and gifting so that together we can wage the good warfare. The gift of prophecy is just as necessary today is it was in the early church & we need to earnestly pursue it as Paul commanded if we are to help each other stay on course. 1 Thes 5:19-22 says; “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.”
So we are to hold fast to the good prophesies spoken over our lives. But Paul tells Timothy here in verse 19 of the importance of also “holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this some have shipwrecked their faith.” When Paul uses the word faith here in context he most likely means Christian belief... He’s telling Timothy to hold on to Biblical faith. This is made clearer by the end of the verse when the word faith appears again and is most accurately translated “the faith”. The updated NIV renders it that way and the commentators agree. We need to hold on to right beliefs if we are to stay on course. Being dogmatic about being biblical isn't being legalistic or arrogant; it’s just being honest with what the bible teaches!
We also need to hold on to a good conscience... This is where the inseparable relationship between belief and practice comes in. Commentator Philip Graham Ryken says; “The good fight is not simply a matter of faith; it is also a matter or practice... Since a good conscience comes from a good life, Timothy must practice what he preaches. Christian life is as important as Christian faith, and the defence of sound doctrine is a matter of practice as well as belief.” The virtues of faith and practice are joined together three times in 1 Timothy (1:5; 1:19 & 3:9). They belong together. Wrong views about God lead to wrong practices. The reverse is also true: a bad conscience often leads to bad doctrine. Meaning that people often try to justify their sins, and for this reason bad behaviour leads to bad doctrine... This is why we cannot rely on our conscience alone since our conscience is easily misguided by sin. In order to keep it on course we need to connect it to the word of God like a rudder is connected to the wheel of a ship, so it is guided by the truth of God. This will keep us on course! This will help us to live a life pleasing to God...
Paul finishes the chapter with these words; “By rejecting this some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.” These are tough words from Paul. These two men had made a shipwreck of the faith and are in danger of shipwrecking the church. The phrase “handed over to Satan” refers to being put out of the church and the protection it provided from the evil one... In every war there needs to be a standard of discipline and it is no different in the church. Church discipline isn’t a popular subject but it is biblical. Augustine once wrote; "If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don't like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself." We must embrace all of Scripture if we are to remain faithful.
What Paul is talking about here is a last resort in extreme cases. This idea of being handed over to Satan only appears twice in the NT, here and in 1 Corinthians 5:5. Here it is regarding false teaching, which shows how serious Paul viewed this. In 1 Corinthians 5 it is in the context of gross sexual immorality within the church, so gross that Paul even states; “and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans.” Both cases involve people refusing to repent... There is always mercy for repentant sinners, even the greatest of sinners like Paul... But unrepentant sin needs tough love, for the good of the church and the person. But even in such extreme cases the heart is still to win the person back. The church should never be soft with sin, but at the same time it should be the most merciful place on earth... Always waiting with open arms, eager to welcome repentant prodigals home...
By adding “that they may be taught not to blaspheme” Paul makes it clear that his ultimate aim in this extreme action was not condemnation but restoration. It was indeed tough love. And Paul had every reason to believe God could cause these two men to repent of their blasphemy since he himself testified in verse 13; “though formerly I was a blasphemer... but I received mercy.” Paul knew the mercy of God could win these men back!
Jesus talks about church disciple in Matthew 18:15-20. Most disputes should be resolved without the church elders getting involved and without the extreme action Paul took. Jesus provides a pattern of how to deal with sin and disputes among believers. It’s not grace to avoid confronting a fellow Christian about sin, it is unkind and unloving... It is easy to avoid the issue, it is easy to say ‘it’s okay God loves you anyway’, but it’s hard to love them enough to humbly confront them. If we care about people we will confront them about sin in their lives... but if we care more about ourselves--our reputation & popularity--we probably wont.
It is not erring on the side of grace to avoid the issue it is erring on the side of apathy, cowardice and unkindness... Do we just stand back and let other Christians shipwreck their faith? How uncaring! Would a lighthouse keeper ever reason; “But I might hurt the captain’s feelings if I question his course and warn him about the ice-burg in his path...” What about the captain’s life does that not matter? What about the rest of the people on board do they not matter? Are you not going to lose them anyway if you let them continue on their course? What is the more loving thing to do? To let a person wreck their lives and the lives of others against the ice-burg of sin or to speak the truth in love... We can’t force them to change their course, but we can love them enough to warn them. It’s tough because it means confronting them with hard truth—that takes courage. It’s love because it’s what they (and we at times) need most...
If we're going to be the church God has called us to be then we are going to have to count the cost and wage the good warfare. We're also going to have to hold onto his word, prophetic & written, to keep us on course. Especially his written word because everything else is test and judged by it. And we're going to have to show tough love to each other at times... to speak the truth in love...
May God give us the love, strength and wisdom to be faithful to him and his call.