Scripture: 1 Timothy 6:6-16
The release of Iron Man in 2008 was one the biggest gambles taken in cinematic history. Up to that point, Iron Man had always been a second tier hero in marvel’s line up. He was not obscure, but he also did not have the name recognition of heavy hitters like Spider Man. Releasing a movie based on the super hero Iron Man was not the biggest risk though. The biggest risk was also not casting troubled actor Robert Downy Jr in the role. It is hard to believe now, but at the time the conventional wisdom in Hollywood was that his career was finished. No, the big risk the movie took is that it was just the first step in creating a cinematic universe. The marvel cinematic universe (or MCU) is a series of movies that shared the same universe, stories, and character. It was something that had never been tried quite to this scale and scope. It was a huge gamble, but it is one that has paid off. The MCU currently consist of 23 different movies, continues to be extremely well received, and shows no signs of slowing down.
It will probably not be a huge surprise to a lot of you that I like the marvel super hero movies, and I like super heroes in general. One of the super heroes I like the most, in large part because of his portrayal in the marvel movies, is Captain America. Throughout the movies the character is portrayed incredibly well. For me what makes the character so appealing is summed up in one sentence that he repeats across multiple movies:
The reason why he can do it all day is because core to Captain America’s identity is an unwavering commitment to do what is right. Captain America has a strong moral compass that does not waiver and it guides him true no matter what. Standing up to bullies and doing what is right guides the character so strongly that he could do it all day no matter what the consequences. His core identity is so strong that no matter how many times he gets knocked down he will get back up, all day if he has to. This unwavering stance to personal convictions is why I personally like the character so much. However, I think when it comes to living out our faith we can learn a lot from the character. Captain America lot of people trying to knock him down. In the same way, we experience a lot in life that tries to knock down our faith. Captain America holds to his core virtue of doing what is right and that enables him to get back up. In the same way if we truly making following Christ the core of our identity, then no matter what we are hit with we can get back up. And we could do it all day.
In this morning’s scripture I think Paul was trying to convey a similar message to Timothy. The past couple of weeks we have been looking at scriptures from 1 Timothy. 1 Timothy is one of two letters that Paul wrote to the young man. Paul knew that his time was coming to an end. He was seeking to pass on what he had learned and encourage Timothy to carry on the ministry he had started. This morning’s scripture comes from the end of the letter, and I appreciate how the passion Paul as for Christ and the compassion he has for Timothy really comes out. As I read this morning’s scripture the verse that really sticks out to me is verse 12: “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your confession in the presence of many witnesses.” It feels like this is the heart of what Paul is trying to communicate, not just in this morning’s scripture but in the entirety of 1 Timothy. Paul’s charge to Timothy was to live a life rooted in the confession of Jesus as Lord and Savior. Paul’s encouragement to Timothy was to take hold of the assurance and promise of eternal life so that when it came to fighting the good fight of faith, it was something Timothy could do all day.
The phrase fight the good fight of the faith is honestly one that I think requires some thought. When we list the attributes of faith we often think of faith as being positive, encouraging, peaceful, and wholesome. None of those attributes are aggressive or anything we would associate with fighting. Paul’s charge to Timothy to fight the good fight of faith is also a valid charge to us as well, so what does it mean to fight our faith?
The word fight to us brings up images of a zero sum game. When we hear the word fight we assume there must be a winner and a loser. The good fight of faith is not a knock out drag out brawl. It is an ongoing struggle. It is a tug of war for our heart and soul. Actually, I think a tug of war is a good analogy because the way you win a tug of war is to move as far away from your opponent as possible. Our faith is the assurance we have in God’s love, acceptance and forgiveness. We fight the good fight of faith by seeking to move closer to Jesus and resist anything that would pull us further from our Savior.
While, Paul does not use the term tug of war, he describes the good fight of faith in similar terms. Before urging Timothy to fight the good fight, Paul tells him how to do it in verse 11: “But you man of God flee from all of this and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” We fight the good fight of faith by seeking to move closer to being like Jesus. We fight the good fight of faith when we ground ourselves in the truth of God’s forgiveness, love, and grace. Fighting the good fight of faith is about being rooted in the overwhelming, never-ending love of God.
However, we live in a broken and fallen world. The reality of our world is one that is in open rebellion against its creator and steeped in sin. Because of that staying rooted in God’s love is indeed a fight, because we encounter a lot of temptations and circumstances that seek to knock us down or pull us away. Paul urged to “flee from these things.” At the beginning of this morning’s scripture reading Paul gives one such example of the things we should flee from. Verse 10 sums it up, “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.”
The love of money and material wealth was a problem in the first century and it continues to be a problem today. Pursuing money above all else takes many forms and it can absolutely uproot people from living faithful righteous lives. There are some tragic examples of once faithful Christians being enticed by a love for money. Brotherhood mutual, a church insurance company, has pointed out some sad statistics. According to a report they released last year financial fraud and internal theft in religious organizations has been increasing by an average of 6% per year. That is a tragic but extreme example. However, there are a lot of ways that money leads people astray. Several years ago the band Casting Crowns perfectly captured this in their song “American Dream.” In the first verse they sing: “All work no play may have made Jack a dull boy But all work no God has left Jack with a lost soul
But he’s moving on full steam, He’s chasing the American dream. And he’s gonna give his family finer things.”
Paul lifts up a love of money as a problem because it has a time-proven track record of knocking people’s faith down. Pursing the finer things has caused more than one person to take their eyes off of Jesus. Money may be a common culprit, but there are many forces in lives that can cause our faith to get knocked down. Working in youth ministry for several years, I have personally seen sports be a stumbling block for more than one teen. In pursuit of the sports scholarship, Sunday morning worship gets replaced by Sunday morning tournaments. The sport becomes a 12 month a year commitment, and it is hard to make time for God when there is practice five nights a week. Again, that is just one specific example, but it is not the only example. This says nothing about the struggles of pride, selfishness, laziness, apathy, and any number of temptations that seek to knock our faith down. A righteous faithful life is one where God the blessed and only Ruler the king of kings and Lord of lords sits on the throne of heart. Yet in this broken and fallen world every one of us daily struggles with things that seek to occupy our minds and usurp that place on the throne of our hearts. Every single one of us have pressures in our lives that are pulling at us. Every one of us have voices from this fallen world that call out to us in order to distract us, capture our attention, and knock our faith down.
The stress, the struggles and temptations that we all face in life are a lot like the waves of the ocean. They will keep coming and they will push us around. If we do not make the conscious effort to stand our ground then those waves will move us all over the place. If we do not intentionally set our feet then we will be pushed down. The way we fight the waves is we stand still and let them break over us. In the same way, that is how we fight the good fight of faith. We all face stress, struggles, and temptations that seek to knock us down and move us from being a faithful disciple. When these forces in the fallen world conspire to move us, we take hold of the eternal life to which we were called, and we say “no you move.” Because on Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.
Making that kind of stand in our life is what it means to fight the good fight of faith. That does not mean we are going to always stand our ground though. We will get knocked down from time to time. There will be times when we get distracted for a season. There will be times when we allow some sin to occupy too much space in our heart and lives. There will be times when the stress, uncertainty, and anxiety of life gets out of control and our faith begins to strain under the weight of it all. There will be times the waves of this world are too strong and they knock us back. That is inevitable after all we are imperfect people. The good news though is that we are redeemed by a perfect savior. Paul urged Timothy, and us, to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. When we fight the good fight by pursuing those things then what we are pursuing is Jesus and becoming more like him. So even though we may get knocked down in our faith, we can take hold of the eternal life to which we were called.
What allowed Captain America to get back up when he got knocked back down was his core conviction to do what is right. When this world seeks to knock our faith down what gets us back up should be the core conviction that Jesus is Lord and Savior. We all struggle in life. If you know you are struggling with a sin and it has too much control in your life, then may you flee from it. If you feel like you are getting beat by the waves of life, then may you know that getting knocked down does not y make you a failure because by the grace of Jesus Christ we can get back up again. May we all pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. May we pursue Jesus above all else, and may that be the core virtue of our lives. Because if we do, then no matter what life throws at us we can keep on fighting the good of faith. Being filled with the Holy Spirit may we be able to confidently proclaim, “I can do this all day.”