THERE is a battle raging for the minds and souls of men, even though most believers are unaware of it. The language of the text comes from an athletic competition. In 1:18 Paul alluded to a military term to “wage the good warfare,” to communicate the life and death struggle for the salvation of the lost.
This is not to suggest that one has to work extra hard to be saved; rather, the saved have to compete against all sorts of evil and falsehood to win the lost to eternal life.
The word “compete” (agonizomai) means to “contend for victory in the public games, fighting or wrestling.” Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7). It means to “take pains, straining every nerve to the uttermost towards the goal” as in Luke 13:24, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate…”
The word “well” in our translation, or “good” in others, is the word kalos, meaning “beautiful, excellent, or noble,” to describe the nature of the conflict. The author of Hebrews wrote, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1). The honor and thrill of being able to compete on that level, and in that arena on earth, would be an honor few can experience, but we are to consider it the same honor to be able to serve the Lord to win the lost to Christ.
The first verb in our text is in the present tense meaning to “be continually competing for the faith,” but the second verb is an aorist imperative meaning to once-and-for-all-time “lay hold of that eternal life you were called for.” This does not mean that Timothy needed salvation, but he was to “get a grip” on the reality of eternal life and hell, to live his life from the perspective of eternity. The same idea is in Colossians 3:2, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” Likewise, the eternal concept is seen in our adopted country: “for our citizenship is in heaven, from which we eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:20). We are to lay hold of these ideas and never let go.
In fact, the verbs are all aorist except the first one, thus once and for all the reader is to “lay hold on eternal life,” once and for all “you were also called” and once and for all “made your good confession.” These are not repeated experiences but a one-time event that puts every believer into the competition.
Every believer is “called” to this competition, because He “has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Tim 1:6). Knowing He has planned a purpose for our lives, we enter the public competition knowing He is with us always. Are you in the battle for the souls of men?
Psalm 144:1, “Blessed be the Lord my Rock, Who trains my hands for war, and my finger for battle.”
The writer is a professor at Liberty University, the world’s largest Christian university.
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