In 1 Timothy 6:12 we are instructed (through Paul’s instructing to Timothy) to fight the good fight of faith. There are some helpful cues in the context that can sufficiently aid in discerning the meaning of that––what exactly the good fight of faith is. Things like preaching and embracing the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and no other gospel, not desiring and seeking to be rich, to stir up strife in the church, to view certain piety as gain among brothers, but desiring contentment with godliness, etc. Certainly, there’s ample material there to fashion a helpful and robust definition of the good fight of faith.
Yet, I’ve been spending a good deal of time lately in Solomon’s Proverbs. And as I’ve poured over and thought through chapter 2 (I haven’t quite been able to pull myself away) I began to see the undercurrent of that chapter as providing a helpful definition of the ‘good fight of faith’.
Perhaps It’s an odd parallel to draw, but once the idea of writing something like ‘Proverbs II and the good fight of faith’ came along, I haven’t been able to unsee what initially popped out to me.
I had filled a couple of journal pages with the logic of Proverbs 2 and wrote, and re-wrote, a few summary paragraphs when I began to see how similar the exhortation and argument of Proverbs 2 and Paul’s charge to ‘fight the good fight of faith’ were. It was like getting to pieces of packing tape getting stuck together on the sticky sides–– they’re just stuck forever. And so they are in my brain, inseparable in their aim or goal. I submit then, in the following paragraphs that fighting the good fight of faith and pursuing and and cherishing wisdom and understanding are two arrows shot on the exact same mark––splitting the first clear in half just like Robin Hood used to do. At least, that’s how it happened in the 1973 Disney animated version.
Additionally, reading John Piper’s When I Don’t Desire God last summer (which I highly recommend) certainly helped turn the mental gears to make such a connection.
…the biblical passages that speak of the fight of faith apply to the fight for joy. In his first letter to Timothy Paul tells him, “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (6:12). Faith is something that must be fought for, if it is to thrive and survive. This is how we take hold on eternal life—by fighting to maintain faith, with its joy in Christ. Satan seeks more than anything to destroy our faith. You can hear this in 1 Thessalonians 3:5, where Paul says, “When I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.” In other words, their faith is what Satan targets. If faith is going to endure, with its joy in God, we must fight (Piper 36-37).
So, I’m going to pen out a few paragraphs here to make the connection between 1 Timothy 6:12 and Proverbs 2. The premise being very much what I learned from Piper in that last paragraph––the fight of faith is the fight for joy. And the fight for joy is the fight to see Jesus as all-satisfying!
1 Timothy 6:11-12: But as for you, O man of God, flee these things [different doctrine than preached by the Lord Jesus, craving for controversy, love of the world, stirring up dissension, love of money, etc.]. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith.
My son, if you receive my words
and treasure up my commandments with you,
2 making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
3 yes, if you call out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
4 if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,
5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
6 For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
7 he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
he is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
8 guarding the paths of justice
and watching over the way of his saints.
9 Then you will understand righteousness and justice
and equity, every good path;
10 for wisdom will come into your heart,
and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
11 discretion will watch over you,
understanding will guard you,
12 delivering you from the way of evil,
from men of perverted speech,
13 who forsake the paths of uprightness
to walk in the ways of darkness,
14 who rejoice in doing evil
and delight in the perverseness of evil,
15 men whose paths are crooked,
and who are devious in their ways.
16 So you will be delivered from the forbidden woman,
from the adulteress with her smooth words,
17 who forsakes the companion of her youth
and forgets the covenant of her God;
18 for her house sinks down to death,
and her paths to the departed;
19 none who go to her come back,
nor do they regain the paths of life.
20 So you will walk in the way of the good
and keep to the paths of the righteous.
21 For the upright will inhabit the land,
and those with integrity will remain in it,
22 but the wicked will be cut off from the land,
and the treacherous will be rooted out of it.
Summary of Proverbs 2
The fear of the Lord and the knowledge of God will be gained if and when God’s word is received. If and when his commandments are treasured up and our ears made attentive to wisdom. If and when our heart is inclined to understanding and insight is called out for. If and when we raise our voice for understanding and seek it like silver and buried treasure.
We will gain by such means because we are turning to the sole owner of wisdom and knowledge; we are turning to the one who gives wisdom to those who seek it like silver and desire it more than riches. He will give wisdom to the righteous––that is, those who seek it with a whole heart. Thus, we will possess knowledge of God and the fear of the Lord––because he’ll give it to those who seek him.
This will happen by the Lord putting wisdom into our heart (wisdom will come into your heart) and knowledge being adored by your soul (knowledge will be pleasant to your soul) (vv. 10). Because of this, discretion will watch over your soul and understanding will guard you. Indeed, it will be the means by which you fight temptation; are delivered from evil.
Thus, you will walk in the way of the righteous. You will be wise. You will fear the Lord and know the knowledge of God. The wicked are not so––they delight in evil and doing evil and will be cut off.
The hinges of each passage that work to turn the same door
Having true wisdom is seeing all things correctly and accurately and acting in conformity and unison with that knowledge. It’s knowing what is good and what is evil. It’s knowing and seeing the end result of something that seems pleasurable at first look but will leave you unsatisfied. Or, just the opposite––knowing what is truly satisfying.
Thus, gaining the fear of the Lord and the knowledge of God is gaining wisdom. Derek Kidner, in his commentary on the book of Proverbs writes, “…these two phrases [the fear of the Lord and the knowledge of God] encompass the two classic Old Testament terms for true religion––the poles of awe and intimacy.”
This is why verse 10 of Proverbs 2, “Wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul” gives way to the “watching over of discretion” and, “the guarding of understanding”. When we understand what is good and evil, what will be eternally satisfying and what will lead to death, we delightfully choose and desire what is indeed truly and eternally satisfying.
Psalm 73 provides such a clear example of this. The psalmist confesses that he was envious of the arrogant and wicked when he saw their prosperity. He cried, “All in vain I have kept my heart clean”. Yet, when he went to the sanctuary of God he discerned their end. That is, he gained wisdom––he knew the end wickedness would lead to.
Thus, like 1 Timothy 6:12, the fight for wisdom is the fight to see rightly. And to see rightly is to see God as supreme and all-satisfying (Psalm 16:11), as the bread of life and living water (John 6), and sin as death and refuse.
The logical hinges of Proverbs 2 show us how the fight for joy works. We must seek Christ like silver and cherish him as our greatest treasure. If we are wise––if we know God and fear him––then, as Kidner later writes, “Wisdom and knowledge, when they become your own way of thinking, and your acquired taste, will make the talk and interests of evil men alien to you”. In other words, you discern the end of delighting in evil and turn from it––because you know it leads to death. Likewise, you wisely embrace Jesus Christ as an infinitely better master.
You could say, then, that the fight of faith is the fight to be wise. And the fight to be wise is to see Jesus as supremely satisfying and life-giving. Likewise, seeing the pleasures of the world, of evil, as fleeting and leading to death.
So, when we pray for wisdom––as we should!––we would be right in knowing that we are asking God to calibrate our affections and desires and knowledge and fears to the words we find in a passage like this (treasuring God’s word, calling out for insight, seeking knowledge like silver, etc.).
Gaining wisdom, the knowledge of God and the fear of the Lord, is gaining sight to see God as supremely satisfying leading to eternal life and evil as cheap and wretched and leading to eternal death. When we see God for who he truly is, we won’t want to sin, to follow the way of the world. When we fail to see God for who he is our pursuits and affections become muddled and false, become unwise.
Therefore, may we call out for wisdom! May we seek it like silver and buried treasure! May we be like the man in Matthew 13:44, Who finds a treasure [the kingdom of heaven] buried in a field and in his joy sells all he has and buys that field––because wisdom came into his heart and knowledge became pleasant to his soul. Because he saw Jesus as all satisfying, because he was wise.
My we fight the good fight of wisdom by the grace and power of our blessed Savior, Jesus Christ, the sole possessor of wisdom.