Our world is a sea of competing forces and constant conflict. Identity politics, culture wars, civilisational clashes, ethnic tensions, racial strife, ideological contention, cancel culture, Twitter mobs, bloodied borders, protests, riots, insurrection. Everywhere is a contest and a fight. There is so little of the original shalom that blessed the world when God first created it.
Few of us like conflict but it is unavoidable. We find it everywhere, even within us. And yet while the world is engulfed in a river of rage, Jesus makes clear that the followers of His kingdom are not to fight as worldly kingdoms do (John 18:36). We are to be peacemakers. Our weapons and fighting are to be different. To be like Christ. The strange enigma of peaceful fighters.
Rather than fighting others, there is a conflict closer to home that we need to understand. Jesus tells us we must “strive” to enter the narrow gate of following Him (Luke 13:24). This striving might involve fighting our own lethargy. It could be our fear of other’s opinions and their criticism. Or it might be the alluring ease and popularity of the broad way. It is hard to go against the crowd.
Paul felt this struggle in his very being. Each day he realised he needed to fight. He approached life for God with the same realism that an athlete takes into their sport. Paul knew he would need discipline, training, energy and commitment (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
Every day was a fight. Offsetting this daunting fact was Paul’s knowledge that he was fighting “the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12). This was not one of earth’s pointless conflicts full of deep wounds, casualties and shattered lives. Fighting with faith means you are fighting with trust that Jesus is with you. It means you are aware that you have already “laid hold of”, you already have your fingers wrapped around “eternal life” (v12). And while experiencing eternal life with God now, you are eagerly awaiting a crown of righteousness, which Christ will personally place on your head (2 Timothy 4:7,8)! This inspired Paul to work hard and willingly suffer (1 Timothy 4:10).
I will admit all this effort and struggle sounds exhausting. I wish it were otherwise. But we all know life is like this. We cannot afford to excessively dwell on the difficulty of the struggle and allow it to demoralise us. We need to keep in mind the goodness of the fight, the feel of eternity in our hands and the certainty of the crown.
In addition to this we can comfort ourselves that we are not struggling alone; just seeing each other striving and struggling encourages us (Philippians 1:30). Even better, we can put forth our greatest efforts for others because Jesus works in us mightily (Colossians 1:29). It’s possible to paraphrase this verse as “I agonisingly struggle with all Christ’s energy, which He energises powerfully within me.”
Jesus energises us in our fight for Him. This is His fight as much as ours, because He sees us as His own. Jesus does all this for us because He Himself has undergone the greatest struggle (Hebrews 12:1-4). In His divinity, God is untouchable and knows no struggle. But when Jesus took on our flesh He got inside the human world of conflict and agonising toil. He fought hard and felt the pain and exhaustion. It was a battle from His first to final breath.
This all makes Him the perfect Companion in this most gruelling fight and exhausting race we are in. And remember–He won!
Dr Anthony MacPherson is a Lecturer at the Avondale University College seminary.