Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fight the Good Fight!

[This was shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, earlier today.]

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
At a meeting this past week, a Lutheran clergy colleague told a group of us his theory on communicating information to people. “Just about the time you’re sick of hearing yourself say it,” he said, “is probably the same time that some 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 these instructions, Timothy…in accordance with the prophecies made earlier about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight…” (1 Timothy 1:18). 
  • Later in that first letter, Paul wrote, “Fight the good fight of the faith…” (1 Timothy 6:12)
  • And in today’s lesson, without regret, 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…” (2 Timothy 4:7)
For those of us 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! Jesus is the Prince of peace. Paul himself wrote a lot 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. “All this,” Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, for example, “is from God, Who has reconciled us to Himself through Christ…” And in Ephesians, it’s written of Christ, “He is our peace.” Through Christ, we can have peace with God, with others, and even with ourselves.

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.

But often those struggles will be with other people. Hold onto Jesus and you will sometimes be in conflict with others, sometimes with people you once thought were close to you.

“Do not think,” Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew, “that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:34-38).

Each week here at Saint Matthew, through the words of either the Apostles' or Nicene Creeds, 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.

When we 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 telling others about Jesus, to keep letting Christ show in our lives as we love God completely and love our neighbors as we love ourselves, to keep serving in Jesus’ Name, to keep giving to the cause of Christ in the world, to continue to offer prayers in Jesus’ Name, even for those who hate us, to keep fighting to tell the truth about God's Word and God's will.

In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis observes, “Christianity is a fighting religion.”

God fought for us 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 has changed our lives forever!

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, that God really did so love the world that He gave His only Son so that all who believe in Him will not be separated from God, but live with God forever. Sharing and living that message is the good fight of faith.

It’s this message that Paul felt it worthwhile repeating again and again. And so do I.

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.

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.

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 Lutheran congregations. I came to know George better when Saint John was a mission partner to my former congregation, Friendship in Cincinnati.

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 some twenty 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 Ann, our two kids, and me!) I preached. Sitting in the front row was George Hartman. I explained that though Friendship was small, already our evangelistic efforts were paying off:  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 here, who, without your commitment to Jesus, wouldn’t be in heaven.”

I wasn’t going for sentimentality, just stating the facts: God uses our witness for Christ to bring eternal life to others. But just as I said that, I caught sight of George. There were tears streaming down his face as he thought about the people 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!

Among our neighbors, family members, co-workers, and classmates, there are people we know who face each day without Christ and without the help that only He can bring.

There are people we know facing an eternity without Jesus Christ.

There are people we know who need Jesus Christ.

Doesn’t that make you fighting mad at sin, death, and the devil? Don't you want to fight for the well being of such people?

Please, in Jesus’ Name, I beg you to pray for the spiritually-disconnected people in your lives. Serve them in Jesus’ Name. Above all, invite them to know Jesus. Our Lord is counting on you and me, as much as he did on Timothy and Paul, to fight the good fight of faith.

Fight for the eternal lives of all those who, just like you and me, need Jesus in their lives. Fight the good fight of faith in Christ and never, ever, ever back down! Amen

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