The Meaning and Message of 1 Timothy 6:12
Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:12, KJV)
As a pastor, I am often asked, “Where in the bible does it say “fight the good fight of faith?” 1 Timothy 6:12 is the bible verse that extols us to fight the good of faith.
I’m still asked to explain 1 Timothy 6:12’s phrase “fight the good fight of faith.” What does “fight the good fight of faith” mean? Why is it important to “fight the good fight of faith,” and how does one fight the good “fight of faith”?
In this post, we’ll look at the answers to these and other questions.
What does “fight the good fight of faith” mean in the bible?
To fight the good fight of faith also means to "pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness" ( 1 Timothy 6:11).
How did we arrive at the above conclusion? Continue reading to learn how.
In his first letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul challenges Christians to “fight the good fight of faith.” To fully grasp what he meant by this statement, we must first consider how the primary audience interpreted it.
As we delve deeper into Bible, we discover that Paul wrote this epistle while imprisoned in Rome. The epistle was addressed to Timothy, a young man Paul had appointed to lead the Ephesus Church.
At the time, the city of Ephesus was a bustling Roman metropolis. The strategic location of the city created a unique environment for trading to thrive.
As a result of increased commercial activity in the busy port, many of the city’s residents became wealthy.
A few wealthy individuals from this city converted to Christianity, and among them were some who trusted in their wealth. This is mostly why Paul instructs Timothy to warn new believers against trusting in “uncertain riches.” (1 Timothy 6:17, KJV).
Ephesus was home to the fertility cult of Diana or Artemis (Acts 19:28).
The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus was one of antiquity’s most celebrated pagan temples. This temple is now regarded as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
In his article Great Was Artemis of Ephesus, N. T. Wright captures the glory of the Ephesus city in the following words:
Ephesus flourished. On one side they had some of the richest soil in Asia Minor and access to the silk road. On the other side they had they built a port to trade with the rest of ancient Europe. They built a city of marble. They built a stadium that sat tens of thousands of people. They built a two-story teaching hospital. They built a sprawling library. But most importantly, they built the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.N. T. Wright
Ephesus was the world center for Diana’s or Artemis’ fertility cult.
These pagan influences and trappings were probably the reason Paul warned Timothy to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12) and to “guard” or “keep” that which was “committed to him” (1 Timothy 6:20)–most likely the care of the Ephesus Church.
Thus, from the Ephesian church’s historical background, we can already glean some clues and hints about what it meant to fight the good fight of faith in the first century.
Just a quick note: If you are going through a spiritual crisis and need some encouragement, the 24 encouraging Bible promises to help you fight the good fight of faith are a good place to start.
How to Fight the Good Fight of Faith
How do you fight a good fight of faith? Here is a breakdown how to fight the good fight of faith based on 1 Timothy 6.
1. Maintain a Godly Character To fight the good fight of faith, you must maintain a godly character.
In 1 Timothy 6:1-2, Paul exhorts Timothy to remain faithful to God even when confronted with oppressive human systems such as slavery.
However, Craig S. Keener, in The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, provides the following background to the problem:
“This advice was important because a religion that the Romans thought might incite slave discontent would immediately be labeled subversive and subjected to outright persecution; Paul wants the slaves who are Christian, as well as free Christians, to engage in a culturally relevant and intelligent witness.” Remember, Paul also taught about the equality of all people before God (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11). For a more balanced view of Paul’s views on slavery, read Ephesians 6:7-9 and Philemon 1:8–16.Craig S. Keener
As this article is not intended to be a commentary or theological treatise on slavery in the New Testament, we recommend watching Bill Mounce’s YouTube video “What to do when Paul Is Succinct.”
As evidenced by the cultural background above, Paul clearly wanted to protect the reputation of the Christians Church in Ephesus among nonbelievers.
The mission of the Ephesian church ran the risk of being misunderstood by unbelievers due to the attitude of a few believing slaves.
As a result, Paul exhorts believing slaves not to obstruct the spread of the gospel through their attitude toward their masters.
The same principle holds true today: your behavior and demeanor should not bring your Christian faith into disrepute. Maintain a godly character at all times.
You might also like:23 Bible Promises to Help You Fight the Good Fight of Faith
2. Reject False Doctrines
To fight the good fight of faith, you must have discernment to recognize and reject false doctrines.
Paul warns Timothy to reject teachings that contradict Jesus and the apostles (v. 3-5). According to Paul, these false teachings were contrary to the “words of Jesus Christ” and the “teaching that accords with godliness” (v. 3).
The false teachings also thrived on a “unhealthy craving for controversy and friction among people.”
Such divisive teachings, according to Paul, “produce envy, dissension, slander, and evil suspicions” and foster the notion that “godliness is a means of gain” (v. 4,5).
The takeaway here is that errors and controversies must be actively rejected. To recognize and reject error, you must be well-established and grounded in God’s written word.
Fighting errors and deception fighting the good fight of faith.
3. Seek Godliness with Contentment
Seeking godliness with contentment means finding happiness and fulfillment in what God has already provided for you. The Bible teaches us that:
"... we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that." (1 Timothy 6:7-8, NIV).
Joy comes from living a godly life rather than a worldly sufficiency.
Paul lived out this principle in his own life, and despite the opposition and lack he faced, he remained faithful. Paul explains that,
"I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance, and need." (Philippians 4:12, ESV).
Paul had a taste of the polar opposites of the two worlds. He had firsthand knowledge of what abundance and deprivation meant, which is why he could confidently proclaim, “Godliness with contentment is gain.”
Selfishness and greed are so deeply embedded in your fallen nature that only God’s power can deliver you.
Invoke God to free you from self-centeredness and to fill you with contentment.
4. Say No to Greed for Riches
To fight the good fight of faith, you must overcome your greed for riches.
In 1 Timothy 6:9-10, Paul warns Timothy and the members of the Ephesian church against greed for riches:
"But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs [emphasis added]." (1 Timothy 6:9,10)
Paul refers to this greed for riches as “love of money” and “eager(ness) for money.” A cursory reading of 1 Timothy 6:9,10 might lead one to believe that God opposes wealth accumulation by any means, including legitimate means.
However, a closer examination of the preceding verses reveals that God is not opposed to wealth acquisition. The warning Paul gives Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:9-10 raises three poignant questions:
How is money “a root of all evil”?
Is God or the Bible against accumulating wealth or riches?
Is God or the Bible against rich or wealthy people?
Let us examine each of these questions.
How Is Money a Root of All Evil?
According to Paul, “the love of money” is “a” root of all evil because greed for it “tempts” and “ensnares” many people with “harmful desires,” that lead to “ruin” and “destruction.”
Paul goes on to say in the same passage (1 Timothy 6:9-10) that “the love of money” causes many people to “wander from faith” and “pierce themselves with many griefs.”
It’s worth noting that 1 Timothy 6:9-10 does not say “money is the root of all evil,” but rather “the love of money” is “a” (rather than “the”) root of all evil. In other words, evil stems from a variety of sources, one of which is “the desire for wealth.” Other sources of evil include the devil and selfish desires.
Based on the above textual analysis, we can conclude that the Bible does not condemn acquiring wealth through legitimate means. Rather, the Bible warns against the harmful and destructive desires that money elicits, which leads some people to abandon their faith and expose themselves to a slew of sorrows.
The Bible is against loving money to the point of sacrificing principles, losing faith, and inflicting pain on others in order to obtain it.
Is God or the Bible Against Acquiring Riches or Wealth?
No, God is not opposed to hardworking people who seek to earn a decent living through just means. The Bible instructs us to work hard and that, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
The same chapter (1 Timothy 6), which warns against the dangers of materialistic greed, also refers to those who are “rich in this present world” (v. 17). Also, Paul refers to God in the same chapter as one “who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (v. 17).
Additionally, the Bible teaches that God “gives you the power to get wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:18) and that “money answers everything” (Ecclesiastes 10:19).
Thus, it is not true that God is opposed to wealth acquisition through just means. God is not opposed to your personal growth. God is opposed to irrational love, desire, greed, zeal, and pursuit of money to the point of abandoning the faith.
Is God or the Bible Against Rich or Wealthy People?
No, the wealthy and powerful have a place in God’s Kingdom.
The Bible is replete with accounts of wealthy and faithful people who were committed to God. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Job, Boaz, Joseph of Arimathea, Lydia, Dorcas, Philemon, and many others are among the committed wealthy people mentioned in the Bible
Abraham, for example, was wealthy enough to feed 318 “battle-trained men” from his pot (Genesis 14:14). This number does not include women or children. Consider how many sheep, goats, and cattle they killed each day to feed their entire household. If Abraham was able to feed such a large family, he must have been a wealthy man.
Is God or the Bible then opposed to the wealthy or affluent?
No, the Bible is not against all wealthy people, but rather against those who amass wealth through unethical means.
Taking advantage of other people’s misfortunes, oppression, and unfair treatment of the poor by the rich are examples of corrupt means.
Paul’s Counsel to Those Who Trust Riches It is now clear from the preceding that God is not opposed to your personal development.
Let us now consider Paul’s advice to those who place their trust in their wealth.
Paul instructs Timothy to encourage believers to:
"Flee from these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness" (1 Timothy 6:11).
Running and fleeing are not the same thing. What’s the difference? To flee, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary, is to “to run away often from danger or evil.”
In other words, Paul is saying that the “love of money” is a danger zone that all sincere Christians should flee.
Greed for money is perilous to your faith. Flee.
In Hebrews 13:5 believers are encouraged to seek contentment and to put their trust in God rather than in wealth. We read:
"Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5, ESV).
In order to fight the good fight of faith, you must overcome and free yourself from the love of money.
5. Contend for the Faith Like an Athlete
Fighting the good fight of faith entails “contesting” for the faith in an athletic sense. The syntax of this Greek verse implies an athletic connection.
Paul uses an athletic analogy to teach spiritual truth because it was familiar and relatable to his audience. The text in question is 1 Timothy 6:12 which reads:
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. (1 Timothy 6:12, ESV).
The majority of Bible translations translate the first word in 1 Timothy 6:12 as “fight.” However, other translations of the Bible render this word differently:
- “Run your best in the race of faith” (Good News Translation)
- “Compete well” (NET Bible)
- “Strive earnestly” (Darby Bible translation)
- “Exert all your strength” (Weymouth New Testament)
It is clear from the differences in translation of the word “fight” that the English language is struggling to find an equivalent term that matches the original Greek word. Why is this the case? This is because the language of 1 Timothy 6:12 is more Olympic in nature than battlefield in nature.
The various Bible versions highlighted above attest to Paul’s use of athletic metaphors.
The word “fight” (1 Timothy 6:12) in Greek is ἀγωνίζου (agōnizou) and is related to ἀγωνιζόμενος (agōnizomenos) in 1 Corinthians 9:25, which means “to compete in the games.”
Paul uses this Olympic language to highlight “the struggle through training to which athletes had to commit when preparing for Olympic contest performance.” The image depicted in this verse is that of an athlete competing or striving in a marathon race for a prize.
According to Paul, Christians must fight the good fight of faith with the discipline of athletes, which includes self-control, patience, endurance, and perseverance.
Paul describes himself as a marathon runner and a striving athlete in other parts of the Bible. He writes,
"So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified" (1 Corinthians 9:26-27, ESV).
Indeed, this isn’t the first time the apostle Paul uses an athletic analogy to describe spiritual discipline. In 2 Timothy 4:8, Paul applies another athletic metaphor, a crown, to spiritual discipline. He says,
"Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing" (2 Timothy 4:8, ESV).
During those days, athletes competed against themselves and other competitors for the ultimate victor’s prize – a stephanos. The “stephanos” crown was made of wreaths or garland leaves. This crown would be placed on the marathon winner’s head as a symbol of victory and pride.
The fame and glory associated with a stephanos crown motivated athletes to endure months of intense training in order to win it.
Paul adopts this athletic figure and applies it to believers. He contends that believers are also competing in a spiritual marathon–a better race with a better prize. Rather than a perishable stephanos, the believers are rewarded with an imperishable crown of righteousness.
This crown of righteousness makes every effort worthwhile.
To win the imperishable crown, Paul fought with “aim” and “kept” his body under control (1 Corinthians 9:26-27).
Paul’s spiritual discipline allowed him to maintain his faith. This spiritual discipline is also required to keep your faith and hope alive. Contend for the faith!
Why fight the good fight of faith? We fight the good fight of faith because of the reward, the imperishable crown, that awaits us. We also fight because we are in a spiritual warfare with the principalities and powers of darkness.
In this battle, the devil and his angels work tirelessly to divert your attention away from God and dissuade you from following Him. The good news is that we have a God who is more powerful and mighty than our arch-enemy, the devil. We triumph over the evil one through God’s grace and enabling power.
In this contest, Benjamin Bradney Beckett agrees that the people of God must strive:
The Christian is not permitted to float leisurely down the stream of the world, and so reach “the haven where his soul would be.” He must swim against the current, and for his very life. The faith, which he professes with his lips, he must adorn with his life.Benjamin Bradney Beckett
The Christian life, as previously stated, is a battle against demonic principalities and powers of darkness. As a result, your faith will be tested. You will face formidable opposition from both your fallen nature (the flesh) and the world (troubles, trials, tribulations, and temptations).
Paul’s exhortation to Timothy is one of Godly fidelity. It is an exhortation to keep his faith in God and to persevere in the face of adversity without wallowing, complaining, or giving up.
Paul’s life was living proof of what it means to fight the good fight of faith.
The apostle’s faith was put through numerous crucibles, but nothing could hold him back. For instance, Paul was stoned at Lystra (Acts 14:19), but he continued to witness for Christ; he was shipwrecked (Acts 27:27–28:5), but he continued to serve God; he was humiliated five times by whipping (2 Corinthians 11:24), but his faith remained firm. Nothing, he testified, could shake his faith in God:
"But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God." (Acts 20:24)
To fight the good fight of faith, we must be steadfast, unwavering, and fearless.
Why does the bible describe the fight of faith as a good fight?
The Bible refers to the”fight of faith” as “good” because it is a fight that exalts and glorifies God and ultimately results in eternal life. The Greek word for “good” that is used here can also mean “beautiful.” The good fight of faith is referred to as “beautiful” because it is the result of consistent, tenacious, and unwavering soul exercise.
6. Make a Good Confession
Fighting the good fight of faith entails “making a good confession in front of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:12). The “many witnesses” include both fellow believers and nonbelievers.
Paul reminds Timothy of his divine call and consecration to ministry(1 Timothy 6:13). Timothy was most likely consecrated as a result of his good standing among the church’s members.
Timothy’s confession appears alongside Christ’s, implying that it was inspired by Christ’s declaration before Pontius Pilate. In that confession, Christ revealed His true identity as Messiah and King. Christ’s confession serves as a model and an ideal for all humanity. All other confessions are based on and derive meaning from Christ’s good “confession.”
You must safeguard your reputation in the eyes of both believers and non-believers. Christianity does not exist in a vacuum; it has its cloud of witnesses.
If you want to fight the good fight of faith, you must not hide your true identity in order to get even with people or to be politically correct.
7. Trust Not in Riches
Fighting the good fight also means putting your trust in God who “richly provides all things for us to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17).
Timothy was encouraged to teach the wealthy members of the church to be generous to the poor and needy. These instructions were intended for those who are “rich in this present age.”
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. (1 Timothy 6:17, ESV)
This means Paul knew and expected that among the Christian believers there would be some who are “rich in this present age.” Paul’s statement here confirms what we’ve already seen in this study: God isn’t opposed to the creation of wealth.
God’s faithful people can be found in all walks of life, including the wealthy and the poor.
Paul charged Timothy instruct the the wealthy brethren to be wealthy in good works and charity rather than hoarding their wealth. As a result, they would become wealthy in God’s eyes.
If you want to fight the good fight, you must resist the temptation to trust and worship wealth.
8. Guard the Sacred Trust
Fighting the good fight entails safeguarding the sacred trust or legacy that God has bestowed upon you. Paul instructs Timothy to protect the sacred trust entrusted to him. This sacred trust, in this case, is most likely the care of the Ephesian Church.
Paul realized his ministry was coming to an end, so he started training Timothy, a promising young man, for service. He knew he’d have to hand over the mantle to someone younger. As a result, Paul reminds Timothy of his duty to safeguard what God has entrusted to him.
You must take care of yourself and those God has entrusted to you.
9. Avoid Pretentious Arguments
To fight the good fight of faith involves avoiding “pretentious arguments” (1 Timothy 6:20).
O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” (1 Timothy 6:20, ESV)
What was happening at the Ephesian church?
There arose in the Ephesian church a group of believers who professed and boasted that they possessed “special” experiential knowledge (Gnosticism).
Paul warns Timothy not to get involved in their squabbles because their “secret” knowledge contradicts the gospel. Paul reasoned that this Gnostic knowledge would lead some to abandon the faith.
As a result, Paul cautions Timothy against welcoming or entertaining the proponents of these “opposing arguments” into the church. He implored Timothy to “avoid irreverent, empty chatter and opposing arguments of so-called “knowledge.” (1 Timothy 6:20).
This serves as a reminder to avoid arrogant religious debates that undermine our faith in God. Fighting the good fight of faith entails saying no to pointless debates.
10. Continue in Prayers
Finally, in order to fight a good fight of faith, you must maintain a consistent prayer life. God will answer your prayers and grant you victory over all sins and adversity.
Paul fought the good fight of faith faithfully and emerged victorious. He finished with power. He says,
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (2 Timothy 4:7).
You, too, can finish strong if you allow Christ to live His life in you.(Galatians 2:20)
You, too, can finish strong if you allow Christ to live His life in you (Galatians 2:20).
From the preceding to fight the good fight of faith in 1 Timothy:6:12 involves the following:
- It is to reject error and to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness” ( 1 Timothy 6:11).
- It is to maintain a godly character even in forbidding and hostile circumstances.
- It is to find joy and contentment in what God has given us rather than greed for money and riches.
- It is to live your life above reproach and bear a good report before believers and non-believers. It is to guard the sacred trust and avoid pretentious arguments that seek to unsettle our faith in Christ Jesus.
- It is to practice the spiritual disciplines of controlling desire, patience, endurance, and perseverance (in an athletic sense) for an imperishable crown of righteousness by the grace of God.
When facing adversity, remember this Bible verse:
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12 ESV)
Keep fighting the good fight. Won’t you?