Wednesday, 23 October 2013 00:00

"The Good Fight", September 29, 2013

"The Good Fight"
I Timothy 6:6-19
A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
September 29, 2013
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

Fight the good fight, says the writer of Timothy.  Most scholars don’t think it was Paul, but that’s not real important.  The words to Timothy are words to a young person starting out in leadership.  When I was installed into my first pastorate at the age of 28 in Hartford, the deacons had a cake made that quoted Timothy, “Do not be ashamed of your youth.”

The writer of First Timothy uses “fight the good fight” in the first chapter (1:18-19).  Now he ends it with the same admonition.  It could have come from Timothy’s baptism or ordination charge.

Young Timothy was being commissioned to do his work of ministry.  Timothy is told to fight the good fight.

Fight the good fight might better be translated as contest the good contest.

Our Muslim sisters and brothers have the Arabic word Jihad.  It means struggle. It does not mean to simply fight, although some have taken it to that extreme.  Struggle, work, advocate, for what is right.  That’s the faithful work of the believer.  How are we doing on that?  Are we fighting the good fight?


Are all fights good fights?

When I was at the RGR meeting, I attended an all day Minister’s Council workshop on leadership.  One of the things they reminded me was that conflict in church is inevitable.  Ya think?  They even gave me books to prove it. The way we deal with conflict makes all the difference in the world.  How do we have good struggles?  How do we have good fights?  How do we make sure people are heard and how do we move forward? Fight seems too aggressive of a word for me, but in the first century, it was a struggle, a fight to survive.  And if you were part of a persecuted sect of suspect peaceniks, then it was even more a fight for survival.  With all the fighting around him, Timothy was encouraged to fight the good fight.

What is most important to you?  What is worth fighting for? Our kids? Our community? Our place in this world?  Justice? Peace? Understanding? Security?

In today’s scripture, Paul builds a contrast between real life and destructive life.  Destructive life is characterized by the pursuit of riches: “But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” (v.9) Do we know people like that?  The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (v. 10).  Paul says that real life (v. 18) is characterized by generosity and good deeds.  We definitely know people like that. Are we fighting the good fight?

Yesterday morning, three people got the Regional Shalom Award.  Joan and Peter Mitchell and our own Betty Shaw.  Betty’s work is well- known.  It is persistent, godly, loving and gentle.  Peter holds up signs on street corners in Rochester rain or shine and encourages people to seek peace. They are fighting the good fight, don’t you think?

When I do premarital counseling, I tell people that most couples fight about three things:  Money, sex and children.  Am I right?  Are these the most important things to fight about?  Do we fight about these things fairly?

Fight the good fight says the writer.  I think that means that Timothy is to fight the battles that are important and to do so in a way that is the most effective.

When I was earlier in my life, everything was important.  I wanted things done right.  I had high expectations of people.  And I spent too much time pretty disappointed.  It was not sustainable. That’s the way it is with maturity.  You don’t settle so much as you figure out what is really important and what isn’t.  Is it worth fighting over the way one loads the dishwasher?  Is it worth fighting over something trivial?  Is it worth fighting when it appears the other person won’t or can’t change?  Is it even realistic to think that another will change?

There’s an old adage that says, don’t try to teach a pig to sing.  It will drive you crazy and it upsets the pig.
So we choose our battles.  We fight what is worth fighting for and we do so in a way that will give us the results we crave.

Ultimately, we can’t change someone else, but we can change our reactions to someone else’s reactions to us.

Nonviolence is more than a method of conflict resolution.  It is a lifestyle choice.  In Nonviolence, the ultimate goal is not to win an argument or a fight.  It is to have a good fight, a good struggle.  It is to recognize the humanity in your opponent and to try to transform your adversary into your friend.  In the process you are transformed as well. A good fight does not use superior violence to subdue the enemy.  A good fight uses the tools of love, generosity, righteousness, patience, all the things that Timothy is told to use.

Today’s scripture from first Timothy encourages us to remain faithful in the midst of a faithless world. We are to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance (which is also translated as resistance) and gentleness. This is how we fight the good fight of faith. Those of us who have resources, says the writer to Timothy, are not to be haughty or even to set our hopes on riches. Rather, we are to set our hopes upon God who richly provides. We are to do good, be generous and ready to share. This makes for a good foundation for the future, according to verse 19, so that we can "take hold of the life that really is life".

Yesterday, Jean Lubke and I hear the Rev. Dr. Marvin McMickle preach at the annual meeting of the Rochester/Genesee Region.  Among the many memorable things he said was this, “Your confession of faith is not enough for you to live a fulfilled life of faith as a Christian. You need more than that.”  II Peter 1:5-7 says, “Make every effort to add to your faith goodness, and to goodness, knowledge, and to knowledge, self control; and to self control; perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive…”

This seems to echo the advice given to Timothy: pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.  Struggle for that.  Couldn’t we use a bit more faith, a bit more love, a bit more endurance, a bit more gentleness?  Let that be your guide and your checklist.  Dr. McMickle said, the reign of God comes in when the people of God practice perseverance.”  The Devil does not leave the field because you showed up one day.”  We need to be persistent.

James Dunn said “Maintaining the faith and living the faith require the energy of a good athlete.”

Now, this is the good fight.

How do you fight a good fight?

Conventional western military thought seems to be kill the other person before they kill you. Learn the art of offense and don’t ever get caught with your guard down.  
Other forms of fighting use weapons with increasing power to make sure the deed is done.  A fist is overpowered by a knife, which is overpowered by a gun, which is overpowered by a missile, which is overpowered by a nuclear bomb, which is overpowered by....

Is a good fight one that you win at all costs?

I don’t think so.

Just look at juiced up athletes, living a life of shame because they cheated.

Martial artists would say that the way you fight a good fight is to not fight at all.  It is to divert and block and to throw your opponent off balance.

How might we seek to struggle in a faithful struggle?

Some have said that a good fight is a just war.  But what are the principles of just war?

Principles of the Just War
•    A just war can only be waged as a last resort. All non-violent options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified.
•    A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority.
•    A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered. A just war can only be fought with "right" intentions: the only permissible objective of a just war is to redress the injury.
•    A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success. Deaths and injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable.
•    The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace. More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought.
•    The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered. States are prohibited from using force not necessary to attain the limited objective of addressing the injury suffered.
•    The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians are never permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians. The deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.

Have any of the recent wars been just?  Have they been the good fights by Biblical standards?

Medieval mystic Erasmus wrote: “The weapons of our warfare are not material ones,…but…they are mighty in leveling fortifications, foiling stratagems, and reducing every tower erected against the wisdom of God.  You will find…the Lord’s harness, with which you can resist in the day of evil.  You will find the weapons of justice on the right hand and on the left you will find truth, the cover for your body, the breastplate of justice and the shield of faith upon which you can extinguish all the fiery missiles of malignant Satan.  You will find the helmet of righteousness and the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God.”

In I Timothy 6:6-19, the author encourages young Timothy to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.  That’s what makes a good struggle.  The genius of nonviolence is that it seeks to embody this, with the goal of converting foes into friends.  Think if our good fights used righteousness and godliness as weapons.  Of course, we can do that, thinking that God is on our side.  Crusades were fought with this kind of mentality.

But what happens when we temper that with faith, love, endurance and gentleness?  Imagine fighting a faithful fight, or a gentle fight, or a love-filled fight.  That takes a different twist to it doesn’t it.  Timothy, don’t just fight to subdue your opponent, but fight the good fight.  Outdo one another in gentleness and love and endurance.  That’s what will make the real difference.

And not only that, but don’t ever let money be your goal, says the writer—almost as an afterthought. This passage is the anti-prosperity Gospel reading for today.

Money is a fleeting and fickle companion.  You can’t take it with you and it often causes more problems than it is worth.  It is an illusion, a diversion to what is really important in this world. Paul Tillich reminds us that wealth and power are unreliable objects of faith.  They are fleeting and provide little hope in the face of death.  Generosity on the other hand gives us true friends.  They affirm life at its core.

Fight the good fight, Timothy. Be gentle, be faithful, be loving, be persistent, be righteous and an imitator of God.  That’s a life-long struggle.  And it’s worth so much more than gold. And if you have gold, says the writer, be generous with it.

The late Baptist Chaplain at Harvard Peter Gomes said:
The question should not be "What would Jesus do?" but rather, more dangerously, "What would Jesus have me do?" The onus is not on Jesus but on us, for Jesus did not come to ask semi-divine human beings to do impossible things. He came to ask human beings to live up to their full humanity; he wants us to live in the full implication of our human gifts, and that is far more demanding.

The writer of First Timothy says that in a world filled with turmoil and competing loyalties, we are to make a sure and solid foundation for our future based upon the ways and ethics of Jesus. I hope and pray that as we seek to live into this calling as disciples, we might be able to see a new way of living and thriving in these uncertain times.

Fight the good fight.  Struggle for what is worth the struggle.  Set your priorities straight.  Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, persistent endurance, and gentleness.  It will confound your enemies and please God.  Fight the good fight, but do so in a Godly manner.