Sunday, October 23, 2016

Fight the Good Fight!

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
A pastor once told a group of us who were meeting together his theory on communicating information to people. “Just about the time you’re sick of hearing yourself say it,” he said, “is probably just the time that people are beginning to hear what you’re saying.”

As we come to our second Bible lesson for today, we may suspect that the apostle Paul had a similar theory about communication.

In 1 Timothy, the first letter he sent to the young pastor, Timothy, Paul wrote, “ I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well…” (1 Timothy 1:18).

Later in that first letter, Paul wrote, “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.…” (1 Timothy 6:12)

And in today’s lesson, Paul encourages Timothy to learn from Paul’s life, telling Timothy, even as Paul faced what he regarded as the certainty of execution for his faith in Christ, “ I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.…” (2 Timothy 4:7)
For any who have grown sleepy with an unchristian sentimentality over the Bible’s description of Jesus as “the Prince of peace,” all of Paul’s talk about living out faith in Christ as a “fight,” may be a bit jarring.

Don’t misunderstand, though! Jesus is the Prince of peace, of course. Paul himself wrote about how, in Christ, God made peace with the human race and offered us the incredible peace of knowing that all who trust in Christ belong to God forever. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:18 about how “God, who reconciled us to himself [or made peace with us] through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…” Through Christ, we can have peace with God, with others, and even with ourselves. And we are called to share that peace.

But that doesn’t mean that following Jesus Christ in this world will be without its struggles.

Sometimes, those struggles will be within us, as we battle to stay faithful in the midst of experiences we can’t explain and, that we fear, are beyond our endurance. Or, when we struggle to justify our own sins despite the will of God made clear in His Word.

Often though, those struggles will come in the form of conflict with other people. Mark it down: Hold onto Jesus and you will sometimes be in conflict with others, sometimes with people you once thought were close to you.

“Do not suppose,” Jesus says in Matthew 10:34-38, “that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

Each week during worship, through the words of either the Apostles' Creed or the Nicene Creed, we confess that the God we know in Jesus Christ is the only rightful Lord and King of the universe. We confess that only Jesus is worthy of our ultimate allegiance. And we also confess that it is only through faith in Jesus Christ and repentance for sin in His Name that humanity can find joy, healing, hope, forgiveness of sin, reconciliation with our Maker Who we push our of our lives when we sin, and everlasting life.

Make confessions like these, both Jesus and Paul tell us, and you will have a fight on your hands! And that's especially true if your faith in Jesus Christ is more than just words recited in this sanctuary on Sunday mornings. When we dare to carry Jesus beyond these walls, we may find ourselves in a fight or two.

Whenever, for example. we, in Jesus’ name and in the power of the Holy Spirit, dare to love the unlovable or forgive the unpardonable, we will offend people and get a fight.

But even in the face of resistance, we must ask God for strength to keep fighting the good fight: to keep making disciples by sharing Jesus and our lives with others.

The reason for this is simple. C.S. Lewis puts it this way in Mere Christianity: “Christianity is a fighting religion.”

As Christians, our call isn’t as Paul reminds us elsewhere, to struggle against flesh and blood, other people. We fight the devil and the demonic powers who want to hold people for whom Jesus died and rose eternally captive to sin, death, and darkness.

But we don't fight alone...or even in our own power!

God fought for us--for our very lives--all the way to the cross and then, after Jesus’ crucifixion had seemingly signaled that nothing about us could be made right, the Father pulled the Son up from the grave and gave Him life again, a life that He shares with all who turn from sin and trust in Him.

This good news--this gospel--changes the lives of those who follow Jesus forever! We have victory no matter what the devil may hurl at us!

Today, it’s our task, no matter how we may be buffeted, rejected, ignored, or scoffed at, to fight the good fight to communicate over and over, however many times we may need to repeat it in words and actions and service and love, that God really did so love the world that He gave His only Son so that all who believe in Him will be not be separated from God and the life that only God can give, but live with God and God’s people for all eternity!

Sharing and living this message is the good fight of faith. And friends: It’s the only fight worth our time or attention!

I know that in the midst of a hotly contested election season, that may be hard to remember. But we must remember it! A president will be elected and serve four or eight years. But Jesus is Lord, Savior, God, and King for eternity. No accomplishment of any president or king or emperor or prime minister  comes even close to what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross!

It’s this message of new, eternal life with God for dying sinners that Paul felt worth repeating again and again, in many different ways and circumstances. It's a message worth building our lives on too!

When life throws you a bad break, fight the good fight: hold onto Jesus.

When you find yourself disagreeing with God about what constitutes a sin, fight the good fight: repent and ask God to help you to live according to God’s will, not your own.

When a friend loses a loved one, don’t make yourself scarce, afraid of saying the wrong thing; pray God to give you the right words and the right listening silences, and go to that friend. That’s fighting the good fight, too.

When you see a classmate mistreated or a co-worker shafted, fight the good fight; go to them and be the loving presence of Christ and pray with them.

When you see someone struggling with life without a clue, fight the good fight; go to them, pray with them, and tell them about the hope you have in Jesus Christ.

Pastor George Hartman, a former missionary, was the senior pastor of Saint John Lutheran Church in Grove City for many years. I first got to know George when I was the twenty-five year old Elder of our home church on the west side of Columbus and Saint John was part of the same cluster of congregations. I came to know George better when Saint John was a mission partner to the mission congregation I pastored in Cincinnati, Friendship. George Hartman was absolutely sold-out, no turning back, no-doubt-about-it in love with Jesus Christ! He wanted people to be saved from sin and death by becoming Jesus’ disciples.

I’ll never forget one Sunday afternoon about twenty-five years ago. The people of Friendship were invited to Saint John for a joint worship service celebrating and praying for our partnership. (At that time, Friendship had grown to a whole 20 members, including my family!) I preached.

Sitting in the front row was George Hartman. I explained that though Friendship was small, already we had seen several adults come to faith in Jesus Christ. “Thanks to you, your prayers, and your gifts” I told the people of Saint John, “there are people you will meet one day in heaven, even if you never meet them on earth, people who, without your commitment to Jesus, might have been lost to God for all eternity.”

I wasn’t going for sentimentality, just stating the facts. But just as I said that, I caught sight of George. Tears were streaming down his face as he thought about the people saved by the sharing of Christ’s gospel who he would one day see in heaven. Folks, those were the joyful tears of a follower of Jesus committed to fighting the good fight of faith, fighting to ensure that every lost soul has a chance to know and follow Jesus!

Among our neighbors, family members, co-workers, and classmates, there are people you and I know who face their days without Christ and without the help that only He can bring.

There are people we know facing an eternity without Jesus Christ, of eternal separation from God and an eternity in hell.

There are people we know who need Jesus Christ.

Doesn’t that make you fighting mad at sin, death, and the devil, the devil who has always tried to deceive people into believing that they can be their own gods, that their sins aren’t so bad?

Don't you want, every single day, to fight for the eternal salvation of such people?

Please, in Jesus’ Name, I beg you to pray for the people in your lives who don’t know Jesus.

Serve them in Jesus’ Name.

Help them to know Jesus.

Help them to see how your perfect Savior is helping you, loving you, and saving you despite your imperfections.

Start a Bible study with them. (I’ll direct you to materials to make it happen.)

Pray with them.

Be there for them.

More than ever before, the world needs Christians to fulfill the mission Jesus has given to us: to be and to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

That’s the fight of our lives!

It’s a fight fought with the love of Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, the truth of God’s Word, and the prayers of disciples who know that all is hopeless without Jesus.

When we fight this fight, the devil opposes us, (the devil always opposes faithful churches and faithful people) but God-the God Who died on a cross and rose from the dead and gave us faith--stands with us, just as He did with Paul.

Fight the good fight of faith in Christ. It truly is the only fight worth fighting in this world. Amen

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This message was shared at both worship services this morning.]

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