Monday, December 1, 2014

Fight to keep your faith

1 Timothy 1:18-20 "This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, 19 keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. 20 Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme."

Introduction and Review
Yesterday we began considering what Paul meant by the phrase "fight the good fight" in 1 Timothy 1:18. We discovered that other scriptures utilize this imagery of "fighting" to describe the Christian life. We concluded in yesterday's post that one of the meanings we can ascribe to this phrase is that of "fighting for the victory of faith". The Christian life is not meant to be lived in passivity. There is no cruise control on the steering column of the Christian life. In as much as we do "wait upon the Lord" (Isaiah 40:31) and trust in Him (Proverbs 3:5-6), we also at the same time must work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), being that God is the one working forth in us His perfect and pleasing will (Philippians 2:13).

In having looked at the victory of faith itself, we now consider the second meaning for this phrase "fight the good fight", namely fighting to keep your faith.

Fight to keep your faith. 1 Tim 1:19-20
The Apostle Paul writes two words in the opening of 1 Timothy 1:19 "keeping faith". The phrase "keeping faith" refers to maintaining in one's possession something that had been previously given. This command about "keeping faith" is vitally important for Christian to keep in mind as the "fight the good fight". Paul reinforces this statement by sounding a word of warning about two individuals who gave up "fighting the good fight" and thus failed to "keep the faith". 

A snapshot of what happens when we stop fighting for the faith
In 1 Timothy 1:20 we read - "Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme." Scholars are not 100% certain who Alexander was, however we do know for certain the identity of Hymenaeus. Hymenaeus is mentioned one other time by Paul in his later letter of 2 Timothy 2:17-18 - "and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some." What sign was there that this man had ceased fighting the good fight? 

For one thing, he was in doctrinal error as indicated by the fact he was claiming that "the resurrection has already taken place." In reading this phrase, it appears that his error was in asserting an alternative non-physical resurrection, and thus denying the future bodily resurrection of all saints, and more importantly, by implication, the denial of Jesus' bodily resurrection. The Bible Knowledge Commentary notes: "Greek philosophers typically viewed the soul as immortal and the body as its temporal prison. The idea of physical resurrection of the body, both Christ's and the Christian's, was therefore foreign and difficult for them to grasp. Hence there was a natural tendency toward heresies which rejected bodily resurrection. The heresy of Philetus and Hymenaeus probably involved the idea that resurrection was a purely spiritual affair which occurred at conversion or baptism."

The sign of when "fighting for one's faith" has ceased is when we cave into doctrinal error, but notice also how Hymenaeus gave into moral error. The damage he inflicted on the body of Christ is described by Paul in 2 Timothy 2:20 as "upsetting the faith of some". Now back in 1 Timothy 1:20 we read of Paul "handing him over to Satan", a round about way of saying that Hymenaeus had underwent some sort of church discipline. Undoubtedly there would had been a prolonged period of begging Hymenaeus to turn from his doctrinal error, per Jesus' instructions in Matthew 18. Sadly, such warnings wene unheeded and Hymenaeus was crossing moral bounderies and convincing others to follow him in his error. According to 2 Timothy 2:16 we read - "But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness." We know that he did not cease from his activity because when Paul wrote 2 Timothy some 3-4 years later, Hymenaeus' teaching was considered to be like rotting flesh or "gangrene". 

Reinforcing the fact that we need to fight for our faith 
2 Corinthians 6:7 presses us on to fight for our faith - "in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left". Jude 1:3-4 urges us - Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. 4 For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehandmarked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. 

What practical ways do we fight for our faith from the scriptures? First, claim the promises of God (Heb 12:1-3; 2 Peter 1:3-4). Secondly, make it your business to avoid sin (1 Thess 4:3). Thirdly, be all about instanct obedience to Jesus (John 14:21-23; Eph 6:10). Fourthly, follow the example of Jesus as set forth in the Gospels, proclaimed in Acts and explained in the epistles (Luke 2:38-42; Acts 10:38-41; 1 Peter 2:21).

Thus we fight the good fight of faith by fighting for our victory of faith and fighting for the faith itself. Tomorrow we will consider one more area in defining what it means to "fight the good fight"......

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