Over the last several months I have been studying Paul’s first letter to Timothy for a series I am preaching entitled: Be the Church. Through this series, our church is exploring Paul’s wisdom and commands to Timothy in an effort to be the church that God desires. One of themes Paul explores in his letter has to do with battling false teaching. In 1 Timothy 1:18 in an effort to encourage Timothy to keep fighting Paul says,
“This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare,” (1 Ti 1:18)
While the passage as a whole is helpful, the last phrase – “wage the good warfare” – is what I want us to explore in today’s post.
This phrase indicates that some battles matter while others don’t. So let’s think about that for a few minutes.
What battles don’t matter?
If you remember, in 1991 the US went to war with Saddam Hussein in what was known as Operation Desert Shield, or the Persian Gulf War. By all accounts, the US and it’s coalition forces were successful against Saddam’s army. In all, an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 Iraqi forces were killed in comparison with only 300 coalition troops.
While the number of those killed on our side was low, when you look at the statistics you find that 24% of the US troops who lost their lives were killed by friendly fire. The very people our troops were supposed to be fighting with against the enemy killed them.
You know what? Friendly fire can take out those in the church too. That is especially true when we fight battles against each another, which more times than not end up being battles that don’t really matter. The fights that I have in mind are those over:
These are things that don’t determine whether a person is saved or not. Things like:
- The mode of baptism. Should we dunk, sprinkle, or pour?
- When is the rapture going to take place, if it is going to take place at all?
- When is the millennium going to occur, if it is not occurring right now?
All these are important doctrines that should be studied, discussed, debated because they are will determine how your church functions. But it’s not necessary for us to beat someone up over them, or kick them out of the church because someone holds a different view. We can still fellowship with people who believe a little different than we do in these areas.
Other fights that don’t really matter are typically fought over:
How we have always done things. If someone wants to change the way something has always been done, then they better be ready to duke it out. But is that how it should be?
Still other fights that don’t really matter have to do with:
Practical matters that have little spiritual consequence.
I was reading a book recently where one pastor lamented over a dispute that happened in his church over a coffee stand. The hospitality committee had put a coffee stand in the foyer for that Sunday’s service. The Monday following the service the head usher of 25 years quit saying it was a sacrilege to the church to offer coffee before the service.
The head usher quitting wasn’t the end of the conflict. A fight over whether the coffee stand should stay in the foyer or not went on for weeks, causing a huge division in the church. Eventually, the issue was resolved but not before a lot of time, energy, and resources were wasted on this matter instead of actual ministry.
Battles, then, over non-essential doctrines, church traditions, and practical matters that have little spiritual consequences are battles that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.
If you are still wondering how to determine the difference between a good and bad fight, let me give you a few questions to ask yourself before you take up the fight.
(1) Will this matter a year from now? – If it won’t matter, then it probably doesn’t matter much now. And it’s not worth fighting over.
(2) Am I enjoying the dispute and conflict it causes? – If so, you may be fighting for the wrong reasons.
(3) Am I fighting for myself or others? – It is one thing to defend someone else’s spiritual interests, or the glory of God himself; it is a very different thing to look out for your own interests.
(4) Am I constantly justifying my actions, either to myself or to others? – Something really worth fighting about is too obvious to require much explanation.
What are the battles that matter?
The battles that matter are those battles over the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. These are all first level doctrines. Things you must believe in order to be considered a Christian. Things like:
- The reality of the Trinity – Is God three persons, yet one?
- The deity of Jesus Christ – Is Jesus God?
- The necessity of Jesus’ atoning death for sin – Is it Jesus’ sacrifice that reconciles us with God or does our works?
- The sufficiency of Christ’s death on the cross – Is Jesus alone all we need for salvation, or do we need something more?
Another I will include, even though it does not determine whether a person is saved or not, but is crucial to the faith since not believing it will make it hard for you to believe and hold to the above, and probably lead to all kinds of error and heresy, that is:
- The inerrancy of Scripture – Is God’s Word in its original form without error?
These, then, are the battles that matter and are things we should fight over because they represent the core of the Christian faith.
We need to do everything we can to make sure we are fighting for what matters. If we aren’t vigilant in this area, we can easily crawl out of the trenches and back into the barracks where we end up fighting one another instead of our true enemy, which is sin and the ideas and practices of the sinful world.
Question for Reflection
- Are you currently fighting a battle that doesn’t matter?
Post developed from my sermon: How do Christians do battle against sin and the sinful world?