This article is part of the Key Bible Verses series.
Fight the Good Fight
The Christian life requires strength, fortitude, and endurance. The path marked out for believers is never promised to be easy or smooth. We need the power of Christ to be able to run the race. Be encouraged by the following Scriptures with commentary from the ESV Study Bible.
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
The attention turns from rich to poor, from the evil oppressors to the righteous oppressed, from presumption to patience. Rather than fighting back, they are called to patient endurance and to trust in God to vindicate them.
The righteous are to wait until the coming of the Lord (see 1 Thess. 4:15), when he will right all wrongs. The early and the late rains describe the Palestinian climate, in which the autumn rains occur just after sowing and the spring rains just before harvest (Jer. 5:24; Joel 2:23). Even though three-fourths of Palestine’s rain fell from December to February, these two rains were the most critical.
Do not grumble sums up the divisive complaining behind James 5:3–4:12. It can be particularly painful in times of suffering when people explode in frustration and turn upon each other.
1 Peter 2:19–20
For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
“Gracious thing” comes from “grace” (Gk. charis) and in this context seems to be synonymous with credit. Both words indicate that God’s people will receive a reward from him if they endure suffering righteously. Compare Luke 6:34–35, where charis is translated “credit” and is parallel with “reward” (Gk. misthos). “Gracious thing” could also mean that patient endurance of suffering is evidence of God’s grace at work. The two interpretations are compatible, for along with God’s enabling grace come his favor and blessing.
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
God is viewed as speaking through the proverb; God’s discipline proves that he considers believers to be his sons (on sonship, see Heb. 2:10), since God chastises every son whom he receives (Heb. 12:6; see Heb.12:7–8). Discipline (Gk. paideia) was a common term for childrearing through instruction, training, and correction; however, here Hebrews focuses on the call for perseverance (endure in Heb 12:7) in the painful tests of life (Heb. 12:11). These tests are to their benefit, prove their sonship, and require a response of perseverance. The readers, then, should not be discouraged.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Trials test faith in order to make spiritual pilgrimages complete. They are part of the “good gifts” (James 1:17) God gives his people in order to make them whole. Trials are designed to produce spiritual maturity and should therefore be counted as joy.
Trials are “tests” that challenge faith (James 1:2–5). When trials occur, one should count it all joy—not meaning mere worldly, temporal happiness, but rather spiritual, enduring, “complete joy” in the Lord who is sovereign over all things, including trials.
“Testing of your faith” defines the meaning of a trial for the Christian: as Jesus was “tested” in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1–13), so believers are tested. The Greek dokimion (“testing”) denotes a positive test intended to make one’s faith “genuine” (cf. 1 Pet. 1:7). The result is steadfastness, a life of faithful endurance amid troubles and afflictions.
Steadfastness leads ultimately to perfection. Believers grow in holiness but are not yet perfected in it; such perfection will be realized only when Jesus returns.
2 Timothy 2:11–13
The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
The trustworthy statement moves from comfort to challenge and back to comfort: 2 Timothy 2:11 is a reminder of life even in the face of death; 2 Timothy 2:12 calls for perseverance; 2 Timothy 2:13 is a reminder of God’s preserving power and faithfulness. In this context, to deny him must entail a more serious offense than being faithless. Denying Christ envisions final apostasy, in contrast with a temporary lapse in trusting Christ (“if we are faithless”). Those who deny Jesus will be judged forever; but all believers sin, and God is faithful and will pardon, restore, and keep those who are truly his.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
“The grace in which we stand” refers to the secure position of the believer’s standing (as a blessing of justification), and the “hope of the glory of God” refers to the promise that Christians will be glorified and perfected at the last day—a hope that results in joy.
The people of God rejoice not only in future glory but in present trials and sufferings, not because trials are pleasant but because they produce a step-by-step transformation that makes believers more like Christ.
Followers of Christ have no reason to fear humiliation on the judgment day, for they now belong to God. Indeed, they know that they have received God’s love because the Holy Spirit poured his love into their hearts at conversion.
2 Timothy 4:7
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Using athletic imagery (as is typical of Paul; cf. 1 Cor. 9:24–27; Phil. 3:14), he affirms at the close of his life that he has engaged himself in the one event truly worth one’s life (i.e., the gospel mission). Some have objected that Paul’s statement sounds prideful. But there is no claim of personal glory here. Paul is simply saying that he has finally completed the course God ordained for him (see Acts 20:24). He has done, clearly by God’s grace (1 Cor. 15:10), what he is exhorting Timothy to do (2 Tim. 4:5).
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Given past examples of faith (Heb. 11) and of Jesus’ own endurance of the cross (Heb.12:1–2), Christians are to run with endurance the race of faith, knowing that God disciplines his children for their good (Heb.12:3–11). The readers are thus also cautioned against rejecting God’s grace (Heb. 12:12–17, 25), since (in comparison with lesser yet still awesome events at Mount Sinai) the overwhelming final judgment will surely come, when God will fully establish his rule and when all the saints will join the great heavenly celebration.
In light of the previous examples of faith (Heb. 11), and especially in light of Jesus’ own model of endurance, believers are called to endure as runners in a race.
The imagery of being surrounded by these witnesses gives the sense that they are eagerly watching from heaven, and the image of running the race that is set before us might lead one to think of an athletic race in a sports arena, with all these heroes of the faith from Hebrews 11 watching as present-day believers take their turn in the same race that they once ran. However, nowhere else does the New Testament envisage saints in heaven watching saints on earth, nor does it encourage Christians ever to pray to these believers in heaven or to ask for their prayers. Christ prays for his people (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25) and is the only mediator between them and God (1 Tim. 2:5). The Holy Spirit helps their prayers (Rom. 8:26–27), and all Christians are priests with the right of direct access to God (Heb. 4:16; 10:22; 1 Pet. 2:5, 9). This first exhortation pictures sin as a weight (or “impediment”) to be discarded, since otherwise it ensnares or obstructs the athlete. let us run. A metaphor also found in Paul (1 Cor. 9:24–27; 2 Tim. 4:7–8), with a focus on endurance in the faith (see Heb. 12:2–3; cf. Heb. 10:32, 36).
Earthly trials actually testify to the fatherly discipline of God. Such trials call for a response of endurance, and the author cautions against rejection of this character training.
2 Corinthians 4:16–18
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
This refers to the weakening of the physical body in contrast with the strengthening of the spirit, and also assumes a contrast between Paul’s life of suffering in this present evil age (his outer self) and the moral and spiritual transformation of his life into the image of God as seen in Christ (his inner self; see 2 Cor. 3:18). For the inner/outer contrast in reference to the believer’s moral transformation amid worldly evil, see Rom. 6:5–6; Eph. 3:16; Eph. 4:20–24; Col. 3:5–14.
Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
Spiritual power was a key issue in the Greco-Roman world. People sought power through connection with various gods and pagan rituals in order to protect them from evil spirits and to help them acquire wealth or influence. Paul wants the Colossians to know that he prays regularly that God would impart his power to them, not for selfish aims but so that they can live for God in a worthy manner. The purpose (as indicated by the word “for”) of this God-given power is to provide the divine strength needed for the believer to attain Christian virtues, to persevere in the faith, to resist temptation and deceitful teachers, and so to know the joy of the Lord.
All commentary sections adapted from the ESV Study Bible.
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