A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy. 6:12a. b). The doctrinal appeal.
Timothy’s duty will involve fight as well as flight, standing as well as running. The AV translates Paul’s second appeal as ‘fight the good fight of faith’. But the RSV and NIV are surely right to acknowledge the presence of the definite article and to render the sentence *fight the good fight of the faith* (12a). It is true that in the previous verse (11) ‘faith’ or ‘faithfulness’ is one of the qualities we are to pursue. But in verses 10 and 21 Paul describes the false teachers as having ‘wandered from the faith’, meaning the apostolic faith. the body of doctrine to which he alludes throughout the Pastoral Letters as ‘the truth (e.g. 2:4; 3:15; 4:3), ‘the teaching’ (e.g. 4:6; 6:1; Tit.1:9; 2:1) or ‘the deposit’ (6:20; 2 Tim.1:12, 14, literally). Since some have ‘wandered’ from it, it is all the more urgent that Timothy should ‘fight’ for it.
It is uncertain whether the model Paul has in mind is athletic (taken from the Olympic Games) or military (taken from warfare), and, if the former, whether he is thinking of a wrestling match or a race. The combination of the adjective ‘good’ with the noun *agon* and the verb *agonizomai* could be translated either ‘fight the good fight’ or ‘run the good race’. And Paul will later bring the two metaphors together when he affirms that he has himself ‘fought the good fight’ and ‘finished the race’ (2 Tim.4:7). Certainly a race and a fight both demand strenuous exertion. But the language of the similar exhortation to ‘fight the good fight’ in 1:18 definitely refers to a soldier’s combat (*strateuo* and *strateia*).
It is striking that just as evil and goodness have been contrasted (11), so now are truth and error. For Timothy is both to ‘turn away’ from false teaching (20b) and to ‘guard’ (20a) and ‘fight’ for (12) truth. Thus in both Paul’s appeals the negative and the positive are set in opposition. Ethically, we are to flee evil and pursue goodness. Doctrinally, we are to avoid error and contend for the truth.
Nobody enjoys a fight, unless of course the person concerned is pugnacious by temperament. Fighting is an unpleasant business – undignified, bloody, painful and dangerous. So is controversy, that is, fighting for truth and goodness. It should be distasteful to all sensitive spirits. There is something sick about those who relish it. Nevertheless, it is a ‘good fight’; it has to be fought. For truth is precious, even sacred. Being truth from God, we cannot neglect it without affronting him. It is also essential for the health and growth of the church. So whenever truth is imperilled by false teachers, to defend it is a painful necessity. Even the ‘gentleness’ we are to pursue (the last word of verse 11) is not incompatible with fighting the good fight of the faith (12).
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 6:12b) c). The experiential appeal.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.