Waging the good warfare - the root of righteousness

"Wage the Good Warfare"

This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare,

having (holding ESV) faith

and a good conscience,

which some having rejected,

concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck,

of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. (NKJV)

The Big Idea

A general gives an order and the private follows his instruction. Paul was very apt in using everyday language whenever he wrote. In the passage we have just read Paul commands or charges Paul using the same language as a general would command his lieutenants – it is a strong command, a military order, and one to be obeyed –"wage the good warfare, having hold of faith, or having faith and a good conscience" he commands. The word is military because it is about entrusting something to someone else's care – the general entrusts the conduct of the battle to his lieutenants.

Note that this command is an extension of the first given in verse 3 ("I urge you), but in this case pertains to Timothy. Timothy is in a difficult spot, and he appears to be a little timid and may be suffering from some ailments (1 Tim 5:23), but for the sake of the church, Paul urges Timothy not only to remain in Ephesus(verse 3), but to wage a good warfare.

Now, I am not going to talk of shipwrecks today, but focus on another aspect of these verses. But as revision, remember that Paul is writing to Timothy, commanding or charging him, to remain in Ephesus in order to put the church right, and in particular, root out the teaching of false doctrine. Shipwrecks easily occur on the high sea as the yachtswoman Jessica Watson found out, if you are below deck, with no one in the look-out post. The same occurs in churches – without someone in the crows nest looking out, and someone in command who gives the instruction to change course, the church will crash. Just watching out is not good enough, as the Titanic found – those in command must give the order. If false doctrine becomes evident – and we are all in the crows nest looking out for this, because we all go home and check what the preacher has said against Scripture as the Bereans did (Act 17:11) – then it is the salient duty of the elders to root the problem out. The letters to Timothy give examples of what needs to be looked for, and how to ensure that the structure of the church is robust enough to deal with false teaching.

These verses appear to be focused on the individual. And I see a similar analogy. Laying hold of faith is our 'crows-nest' and our conscience is our 'command post'. Furthermore, lazing around below deck can only produce disaster. The good solider cannot stay in the villages drinking and carousing but needs to get out into the battle field, to fight the good warfare.

However, I want to focus on why these words needed to be uttered by Paul. Tozer remarks that the difference between the faith of our fathers and that of us is that our fathers were concerned with the root of the matter, while their present-day descendants seem concerned only with the fruit. Root versus Fruit.

My father was an orchardist – and it was he who taught me the importance of roots. Without good strong vigorous roots that could suck moisture and nutrients from the ground and transfer them to the fruit, there was no good fruit. So when he decided to plant more fruit trees the first thing he did was researched what root stock he needed; which would best suit the soil on this particular part of the farm, which could withstand the rigors of the climate, which were not susceptible to virus attack etc. He then would cost out what the number of trees his budged allowed allowing the maximum he could afford for the best root stock – because good root stock lasted for years, indeed, out last the branches which often needed to be regrafted (which he did often). Poor fruit stock produced poor fruit.

Let's look at two verses from Proverbs:

At chapter 12:12.

The wicked desireth the net of evil men: but the root of the righteous yieldeth fruit.

And a few versus back:

A man shall not be established by wickedness: but the root of the righteous shall not be moved. Proverbs 12:3 (KJV) says:

The importance of roots is obvious. Any tree can withstand a storm if its roots and sure and stead-fast. To kill a tree the easiest way is to kill the roots – this Jesus demonstrated in Mark 11:20 – a fig tree that bore no fruit was cursed by Jesus, which "dried up from the roots". A soundly rooted church will not die.

The battle of dealing with our heart attitude

The roots are hidden away, do their job and are never considered. This is the antithesis of today's society. We are a "me" first society, or more correctly a "see me" society with a propensity for the young to have blog pages etc for every one to see and track their every move and thought, as if they were important! Even Christians appear to have taken their eyes of their neighbours, or brothers and sisters in Christ and placed them squarely on themselves. We want instant gratification, instant results, with no recourse to how they were obtained. An army that is focused on self will fail.

Consider the following passage that Jesus uttered to the Pharisee:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Matthew 23:27 (KJV)

Jesus spent considerable time dealing with the crux of the problem of Israel and indeed the world. Outward appearances may look good to man, but God focuses on the heart. Remember, when choosing David to be His king of Israel, He says:

But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7).

Much passes for good Christian conduct which is more like that of fruit from a branch that has fallen from a tree[1]. We are pre-occupied with appearances, and neglect the deeper parts of our being. Paul in his discourse to Timothy does not focus on his outward achievements or even his armour at this stage but looks straight at the heart.

 wage the good warfare, having (holding ESV) faith and a good conscience,

The problem with outward appearances is that they do not save. The Jews used circumcision as an outward marker of the flesh, but Paul states that just because a man was circumcised, it did not make him a Jew – it was what the heart of the man did that set him apart.

A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit

 Romans 2:28,29 (NIV).

The problem with the Jew was he had a hard heart, hardened by sin; indeed blinded by their self confidence in the fencing of the law. Their blindness was in their self confidence in God himself, as Matthew or John 8 clearly points out. One cannot be arrogant in one's relationship with God. Arrogance stems from pride and pride separates us from God. We are no better than the next person, and this is what this part of Romans is about – the Jew and Gentile were in the same state because neither the law nor good works could save. Paul is moving the Romans along a path to recognise that it is by grace we have been saved. This undeserved favour has been extended by Jesus Christ to all, and the fact we sit here today is because of what God has wrought in our hearts.

The root therefore has nothing to do with outward appearances. As Tozer put it, rootedness has to do with our inner being not our outward working. A good root will produce good fruit. Roots have everything to do with where our heart is focused.

The battle of dealing with Self

The principal battle we have is with Self. Paul could write:

God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:14).>

Is this our boast? Are we so concerned with Christ, that we pray God that we have our conversations checked by Him to ensure it does not raise the spectre of self. A soldier fighting a good war cannot let self entangle his actions. Listen to this fictitious account of a solider before battle

Prince Andrew answered himself, "I don't know what will happen and don't want to know, and can't, but if I want this--want glory, want to be known to men, want to be loved by them, it is not my fault that I want it and want nothing but that and live only for that. Yes, for that alone![2]

Fighting the fight only for glory cannot win a battle, and the evidence of the battle shows it. The extremely large armies of Russia and Austria lost 27,000 men that day, which was 37% of the entire army. Those of you who know history will know I read from War and Peace by Tolstoy and the battle was the battle of Austerlitz: a battle that goes down in history as one of Napoleon Bonaparte's greatest victories. The cause was the army was not rooted in any thing solid – just the desire to be glorious with no substance. Ironically Napoleon became extremely egoistical following this battle, decided to take on all of Russia, which history shows he lost well and truly. Even great generals need to return to their roots.

The problem with the Ephesian church was not the lack of fruit, and this was certainly evident, but the lack of root. A church that has good order and is steadfast in the faith of Christ, has achieved this only by having strong root - being built up in Jesus Christ (see Colossians 2:7).

A tree cannot sustain itself – it must have roots in order to be firmly attached to the earth, else a strong wind would blow it away. Too many Christians attempt to rely on self in order to survive, yet every tree understands that its roots need to be embedded deep into the rich soil. Paul writes:

that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, Ephesians 4:14 (NKJV)

Our daily life must devote a potion of it to be in God's word. Meditation on the word of God is what will drive our roots deep into the sustaining love of Jesus Christ, and prevent us being tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine. The Ephesus church was new, it had not established strong roots, and was clearly being tossed to and fro with every doctrine – mainly that of the Judaisers. Along with meditation on the Bible comes quiet prayer – a one on one sincere and heart-felt conversation with God. Some have said that for millions of Christians, Christ is just an idea. Prayer is what transforms Christ from a mere idea into a person, our saviour and our friend.

The battle of holding onto faith

The verses read this morning mentions two things – faith and conscience. Let's look at faith for a few moments. Note the faith here is not the' faith unto salvation' – Paul speaks of Christians here who are saved, but it is the sustaining faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, that enables us to please God. Without faith it is impossible to please Him, as the writer to the Hebrews tells us (Hebrews 11:6).

Luther wrote that "Faith is a perturbing thing". It was Luther that rediscovered the fact that it is upon faith only that peace of heart can arise and deliverance from sin can be accomplished. The issue here is the doctrine of the justification by faith has been corrupted – more corrupt today, I believe, than any other time in history. The faith spoken of by Paul here changed lives – it created an earthquake in the soul of the individual who subscribed to it. It caused a man or woman to whole-sale stop, turn around and begin an entirely new life. It separated the old from the new, saying goodbye to old friends, old ways, it stopped making pleasure the object of one's life; sex was given a new outlook as a totally fulfilling activity of a married couple's life, money had a purpose of helping others. Faith totally captures the life of a person – it locked the door of the heart in the same way God slammed shut the door of the Ark in which Noah floated. Faith realigns one's life with no activity on this planet, but brought a life into accord with the will of God, fully pleasing to Him. Faith diminishes the person to a very small thing, and God becomes the object of all his or her desire. This is the faith of justification. This is the root of righteousness!

Today we have a faith that is a cloud without water – a winter without rain. There is no acquisition of the Word of God and the Cross of Jesus in any meaningful way. Jesus is but a bye-word, a fleeting idea or thought, not the very person of the Son of God. Faith has become a passive passing nod with no exercise of it. The moral condition of the average Christian is that of a shipwrecked person, which Paul explains to Timothy, requires putting out of the church. Rotting apples makes the whole lot bad. Note that Hymenaeus and Alexander did not have their salvation discharged but rather they were placed into Satan's domain in order that they might come to their senses. This is similar to what God did to Nebuchadnezzar when he was turned over to the forests of Babylon for seven years. Why? Because self become more important to Nebuchadnezzar than God when he uttered these fateful 24 words:

The king spoke, saying, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?" Daniel 4:30 (NKJV)

Faith needs to perturb people. Faith of today does nothing. The Christian religion is not something that can be trifled with and we need to wage warfare against the trifling of it. Faith without repentance is not faith at all. Faith that has not changed the heart is empty. Faith that is not committed to the pursuit of Godliness is morally corrupt. Pretend faith looks good on the outside, but real faith puts its entire trust in God, however embarrassing it may look to the outsider. True faith means you can go to your cabin in a ship stilled by icy fog and pray that God lifts the fog then immediately tell the captain to get steam up because God will lift the fog – as Mueller did in one of his trips to the USA .

Tozer writes: Faith takes up the cross, leaves mother and father, says good by to old friends; it has a finality that is totally lost today. Or put another way,

Living a life of faith means never knowing where you are being led. But it does mean loving and knowing the One who is leading. It is literally a life of faith, not of understanding and reason—a life of knowing Him who calls us to go. Faith is rooted in the knowledge of a Person, and one of the biggest traps we fall into is the belief that if we have faith, God will surely lead us to success in the world. Spurgeon (March 19, Morning and Evening. Devotions).

Our faith is not in our ability to be able to do something, but in the ability of the provider of all things to enable us to do what needs to be done by Him. Hence, our faith must be rooted and grounded in the knowledge of God.

And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, LORD, hast not forsaken them that seek thee. Psalm 9:10 (KJV)

The battle to hear

The well rooted person is a listener. God expects us to listen. Seven times in two chapters he tells the churches to hear what the Holy Spirit has to say. Incidentally this is not "listen" in the character of our modern world, which has a constant stream of noise entering the ears, but listen in the manner where you actually hear. The example of listening to hear is that of Jesus Christ himself. John tells us that Jesus hears us; hence it is to our advantage that we pray to Him. Hearing requires concentration whereas, listening requires no energy – it is passive. The hearing requires the participant to put energy in deciphering the message.

Consider the way the Holy Spirit puts it in Revelation 13:9 – "If a man has an ear, let him hear". In other words, in order to hear the message and understand it you need to put to use your entire ear – and that means engaging the brain with the ear. This to, can be a battle. We are so use to noise coming to our ears; we are very good at turning off. Too many come, listen to the message, go home and cannot remember not one iota of what was said, not even the bible verse. Men are more inclined this way than women.

Women appear to be able to listen and hear while doing a multitude of other things. I learnt this from my wife! Men – well the preacher says lets turn to Romans 10:14 – the man looks blankly as the woman quickly flips the pages in her bible – the man nudges the woman as says "What verse?" – the woman says "14", the man stares blankly –" What chapter?", "10", to which the man retorts "But Timothy has only 6 chapters!". See, he is very good at figures but not so good at hearing – so what book did I refer to?

How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? Romans 10:14 (KJV)

Romans 10:14 shows the importance of hearing – believing comes from hearing.

Taking Pauls' analogy of a good warfare, one of the battles we are engaged in, is dealing with endless stream of noise that impinges our ears. Much today is not savoury – there is no beauty in it. Our radios and TV's no longer censor the rude, crude and vulgar words, and with music full of blasphemous words much that comes to our ears is unhelpful in our day to day walk in the Lord. Paul reminds the Philippians that:

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)

We need to be very discerning as to what we listen to. In some ways this is linked to what our hearts desire. It is one of purity, loveliness. Can our hearts say, as David says?

My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God Psalm 42:2 (KJV)

Or do our hearts want the quick and easy way to the pleasure of this world. This is a battle and the fight we need to have. Is our life well pleasing to God or one of ease and contentment living in on the short lived purchases of modern excesses.

O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; Psalm 63:1 (KJV)

We are in a thirsty land. Indeed the imagery is clear – rain means a land fruitful and productive, where the Holy Spirit's operation flourishes. But not today. Today the word of the Holy Spirit is stifled – churches are full of so called Christians who are not full of the Spirit of God – we live in a drought, and this should encourage us more and more to say:

I stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land. Selah
Hear me speedily, O LORD: my spirit faileth: hide not thy face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit. Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee. Psalm 143:6-8 (KJV)

Our battle is not of ourselves. The writer of this Psalm knows full well that his salvation comes from the Lord. Although his spirit fails, because the enemy appears to be over whelming and he is without food or water, he trusts in the Lord for his provisions.

A good warfare

What Paul is telling Timothy here, is that life in faith is not passive. A servant who serves has a good conscience. A child of Christ whose faith is grounded and rooted in the Jesus Christ will not fail him. A battle has only one direction of movement – that is forward. The defeat of the Austrian and Russian armies at Austerlitz involved two armies running from battle. Defeat comes form turning ones back – we need to take up the challenge – the sword, which is the word of God and move forward, knowing that God will fight the battle, sustain us and nourish us. Paul writes:

Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Philippians 3:15 (NIV)

Further thoughts

The battle of resting at ease

The voice of Paul to Timothy is one of commandment "I charge you". It is clearly done in love has Paul uses the diminutive "my Son". A war is not won by resting at ease. Tozer wrote a small tract "This World, Playground or Battleground?" It is a good question which Scripture answers. Paul time and again points out that we are soldiers and this world is a battleground. And foremost we are Christ's servants or privates. It is amazing that the post modern church believes that one can bring a community to Christ by osmosis – the common theory is, that if you live a good life, which may nor may not be pleasing to God, but lets say you do take up Paul's challenge and live a live that pursues righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness - then those around you will become Christian. This is not the case. Even in a church, Timothy was urged to act – he was not just a pew sitter – he had to move out his comfort zone and deal with the deceit and lies being spread amongst the congregation. Unless the unsaved HEAR the word of God, then they will not turn to God:

14How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? Romans 10:14 (KJV)

The message here is that there is a good warfare – both that pertains to our own self but also one in which Satan is engaged in. Satan's domain is the world. We as ambassadors of Christ need to take the gospel message to all who need it. This is not a passive pass-time, of which I am guilty of. Being brave enough to mention to a stranger or indeed a colleague, whether they have an assurance of their salvation takes courage. This is our challenge – we need to open our mouth and speak – we need to preach the gospel to all we meet.

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise. Proverbs 11:30 (KJV)


[1] Paraphrasing AW Tozer

[2] Leo Tolstoy War and Peace 1869, Penguin Books 1982 English translation

David L Simon (13 September 2009, CCC) (Rearranged slightly from the sermon) Edited Sep 2015
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