All of us expect to die sometime, but common to all is the sheer unexpectedness of death.
The apostle Paul, however, knew that the time of his death was near, not only because of his imprisonment, but because Emperor Nero was striking out against Christians. Despite his impending death, Paul was calm and confident because of his hope and living faith in Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 4:6).
From Paul’s three “I have”s (verse 7) it is apparent that he was not preoccupied with his approaching demise. Nor did he forget the cause for which he was about to surrender his life. He simply declared: “I have fought the good fight.”
Paul’s faith amid the threatening clouds of death made the Savior’s glory shine more brilliantly.
The original word for “fight” means both contest and conflict. The use of a definite article in this brief but powerful statement indicates that there are bad fights. This includes the desperation to acquire wretched, material excesses to satisfy the lust of the flesh. It is perpetuated by a love of the world and its boastful pride of life; and political power that some think will insulate them from the difficulties of life. The bad fight happens also when, instead of solemnly warning the world that the bridge between humanity and divinity is broken, we build walls and isolate ourselves from each other, even God.
The word “fight” also has the positive connotation of a contest. In Paul’s day it involved such ancient games as chariot or foot races, wrestling, and boxing with a potential for victory or defeat, much like the Christian life and journey. Since, like Paul, we intend to fight the good fight despite the hazards, let’s make sure we know what he meant when he penned such a powerful assertion.
The good fight is against four enemies: (1) the world, described as being full of the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and boastful pride of life (1 John 2:16); (2) the flesh or carnal nature; our rebellious, unruly, and obstinate inner selves that do not want to have anything to do with God (2 Cor. 5:16, 17); (3) the devil, who is determined to destroy and kill (John 10:10), and (4) fear, the greatest enemy of faith (1 John 4:18).
Very few things in nature are more beautiful than the glorious golden hues of sunset. Storm clouds make it even more magnificent. Paul’s faith amid the threatening clouds of death made the Savior’s glory shine more brilliantly. It lightened the dark firmament of his fast-approaching martyrdom and inspired him to declare, “I have fought the good fight.”
Paul, in the best sense of the word, was at war within himself. Yet even during conflicts without and fears within he fought the good fight of faith. From the beginning of his journey with Jesus he was opposed by those who tried relentlessly to prevent him from preaching the good news that God’s abundant grace is available to all. He had, as we all have, invisible enemies that are not flesh and blood. He fought the good fight of faith against principalities and powers. By God’s grace he won.
So can we!
Hyveth Williams is a professor at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan.