“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
2 Timothy 4:6-7
Paul knew the time of his death was close. For over thirty years, he had faithfully shared the good news of God’s grace with many people, just as Jesus had instructed him (Acts 20:24). He now had finished his race of telling others about the good news of grace.
Paul described his time of sharing the good news of God’s grace, which the ascended Jesus had given him to share (Acts 20:24, Ephesians 3, Galatians 1:11-12), as a fight...a good fight. The question is, why does Paul characterize his time of sharing the good news of God’s grace (2 Corinthians 4:15) as a fight...a good fight?
Fights typically aren’t good. They’re bad. They arise from anger. They cause tremendous hurt and pain. But Paul says his time of sharing God’s grace was a fight...a good fight. Why?
Grace and fighting seem to be opposed to one another. Jesus, in describing a life under the influence of grace, says to turn the other cheek when struck on one check. He says to pray for those who hurt you and to bless those who curse you. He says to do good to those who do evil to you. These are acts of kindness toward those who mistreat us. These are all acts of grace.
These are definitely not even close to fighting.
So again...what did Paul mean by “I have fought the good fight”?
Fighting typically means that people are in opposition to each other and their chosen way of handling their opposition is by coming against each other either verbally, physically, or both. Sometimes a fight ensues because one person is trying to protect himself or something of value from another person. Fighting is also defined as opposing something that is coming against you by not giving up or giving into it, but seeking to stop the opposition.
Paul wrote that not only had he fought the good fight, but also that he had kept or in the Greek language, preserved and protected the faith (2 Timothy 4:7). The faith Paul is referring to is the content of the good news about God’s grace freely given to us in Jesus. The faith that Paul wrote about in Romans, 2 Corinthians 3-6:2, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus are the truths of grace.
In these letters, we learn it is by grace through faith that we are saved, justified, reconciled to God, declared righteous by God, receive eternal life from God, under no condemnation from God, at peace with God, and forgiven of all sin by God. We learn that by grace through faith we have been made alive with Christ and are seated with Jesus in heaven.
Furthermore, from Paul’s letters, we learn we are not under law but under grace. Paul teaches, as instructed by Jesus, that the law, specifically, the Ten Commandments, is a ministry of death (2 Corinthians 3). Paul teaches that seeking to obey the commandments actually increases sin (Romans 5:20). However, this was God’s plan (Romans 5:12-21). God gave the law so people would become aware of their sin and acknowledge their need for grace (Romans 3:10-25; 7:7-25). God’s grace would be received by faith in Jesus.
Paul also taught on the Spirit-filled life as it related to the law. Paul taught that people had been redeemed from the law through the death of Jesus and that the Spirit had come to live in the hearts of those who had faith in Jesus, enabling them to call God, “Abba” Father, meaning Papa or Daddy (Galatians 4:4-6). The Spirit then led those who had come to know God personally away from the law and into grace (Galatians 5). The Spirit would then produce in the hearts of believers the fruit of the Spirit as they experienced the love of God as their Father (Galatians 5:23-24).
In addition to these truths of grace, Paul, as revealed by Jesus to Paul, taught that God was creating one new group out of Jews and Gentiles know as the church...God’s family of grace on earth. In teaching this, he explained that the law was buried with Christ (Ephesians 2-3).
Paul’s teachings on grace had many opponents. These opponents of grace were religious people such as the Pharisees and teachers of the law (Acts 15). Paul addressed these groups of people in many of his letters (see Galatians and Philippians), describing their opposition to his message and to him personally. These people longed to silence Paul...even to the point of conspiring to bring about his death (Acts 23:12-15).
The Pharisees and teachers of the law, as well as many other religious leaders and people, despised Paul for his teachings on grace. They went to great lengths to silence Paul. They sought to ruin his reputation and to turn people away from grace and from him (Galatians). They were opponents of Paul and were fighting against his, Jesus’, message of grace. And to Paul, this was a fight worth fighting...this was a good fight...a good fight of grace.
Paul knew he had to fight for grace. If grace was going to be preserved for future generations and protected (kept) from those who longed to destroy it, he would have to fight for it. If he gave in to the religious opponents of grace, then grace would eventually fade away. It would become a distant memory. So he fought the good fight of grace in his generation so that it would remain for future generations.
In his good fight of grace, Paul did not give into his opponents, not for a moment (Galatians 2:5). He stood up and fought for grace. Paul even instructed other believers to stand up and fight for the good news of grace (Philippians 1:27-30), but to do so with gentleness (2 Timothy 2:25).
Fighting the good fight of grace is still needed today. Just as religious leaders and people of Paul’s day were opponents of grace, there are religious opponents of grace today. These religious opponents of grace fight against the good news of grace which God has freely given to us in Jesus and that is received simply by faith (Romans 3:21-25). They fight against those who teach God’s grace. They fight against those who teach Paul’s letters such as Romans and Galatians. They accuse teachers of grace as being “light on sin” and of “giving people a license to sin”. They accuse teachers of grace as “watering down the gospel” and of “easy believism”.
These accusations reveal religious leaders and people in the Christian community have no understanding of the power of God’s grace to change the lives of many, many people. Rather than teaching grace, they make grace disappear, and appearing in its place is a works-oriented salvation, even though they say they believe in grace (Galatians).
So we have to gently fight against them if the good news of God’s grace is to be preserved and protected in our generation and for future generations. We must gently fight against them if people are going to hear about and be changed by grace.
Like Paul, I have been fighting the good fight of grace since 1991. (Yet what Paul endured and what I have endured are not comparable. He suffered greatly. Even to the point of death.) That is 25 years of fighting to preserve and protect the good news of grace from those who oppose me and the good news of grace.
I have been slandered by many religious leaders and people. I have been released from two positions within ministry because I taught Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and Hebrews. I been asked not to return to three other places that I had been invited to speak and teach. I have been accused of “giving people a license to sin”, being “light on sin”, “watering down the gospel” and “easy believism”. Yet, strengthened by the love Christ and the grace of God, I have fought the good fight of grace by continuing to share God’s grace with as many people as possible and wherever possible, despite opposition and accusations by many religious leaders and people in the Christian community.
I say this about my experience to encourage you because I am sure you, too, have experienced much opposition by the religious community as you have shared the good news of God’s grace. I am sure accusations have been made about you. But...
don’t lose heart.
Don’t give up.
Don’t give in.
Gently fight the good fight of grace against those who oppose you.. By doing so, the good news of God’s grace will be preserved and protected in your generation for the next generation, and many people will hear about and be changed by grace.
One day, our lives on this earth will draw near to an end. Our departure to be with Jesus will come. And when that day draws near, let us be able to say with Paul, “the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”