What does it mean to fight the good fight of the faith? To understand Paul’s admonition to Timothy, we need to look at the context. In the sentence before, Paul tells him (and us) to flee from evil and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness. In the sentence after, he charges him to keep the commandment unstained. Although some have used this passage to justify fighting people of other faiths, or Christians they considered heretical, that doesn’t really make sense in context.
Who are we fighting, then? In Ephesians, Paul says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” We are fighting the spiritual powers of evil. Temptation. Fear. Self-righteousness. Greed. Pride.
We are fighting a spiritual battle inside ourselves, every day. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we aren’t winning. Like the Israelites listening to Ezra read God’s Law, when the Law holds up the mirror for us to look at ourselves the way God sees us, we just want to weep. So why is it that Ezra and Nehemiah tell them not to grieve? In fact, to rejoice! Have a feast! Invite everybody!
We can rejoice instead of grieving because the joy of the Lord is our strength. We have no fear because Jesus, the precious Son of God, tells us we are of more value than many sparrows. Jesus tells us we are worth the price He paid for us: His own suffering and death on the cross; His holy body and blood. If we were fighting our spiritual battle alone, we would have to despair. But we aren’t ever alone.
Jesus came down to be our champion and fight for us, and so we do not have to fear or grieve. Our victory is already won. His Holy Spirit is right there in our hearts, fighting for us every day. And so the Christian fight looks a lot different from what we might expect. It looks like faith, love, gentleness, joy even in suffering, humility, steadfastness. And we are to send portions to anyone who has nothing ready. In joy and gratitude, we share the good gifts of God with others, and invite them to share in the feast He has prepared for all the lost.
The Old Testament lesson is from the book of Nehemiah, chapter 8, verses 1-10:
And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood.
And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
The Epistle lesson is from 1 Timothy, chapter 6, verses 11-16:
But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
The Gospel for the Feast of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession is from Matthew, chapter 10, verses 26b-33:
For nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.