Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
I Timothy 6:12
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
II Timothy 4:7
People have a hard time understanding the concept of this life as it compares to eternity. To illustrate this concept, I once gave a sermon where I laid down a 75-foot length of rope down the middle aisle of our church. I asked everyone if they could see the rope and everyone said they could. I then held up a small object in my hand and asked if anyone in the back pew could identify what I was holding. No one could. It was a paper clip, something very small, hard to see from any distance. I took the paper clip and attached it to the rope, then turned the paper clip over on its side.
The lesson was simple: The rope represents eternity. The paper clip represents the span of our lives on earth, a blip compared to the span of eternity. If someone has the best life but doesn’t have faith in God, backed up by works, then they should enjoy their life because it will be followed by an eternity of misery. If someone has the worst life, but a strong faith, then they just need to survive their life and they will have an eternity of happiness.
In the two Bible verses attached to the reflection, we read a reference to “the good fight.” If you think about an athletic contest and fighting to win, the good fight means we play by the rules, and we “leave everything on the field,” so that even if we lose the game, it wasn’t for lack of trying, and we can walk away saying that we did everything we could have. A priest once said to me that he hoped to “die exhausted,” having used every day and every opportunity to glorify God. To fight a good fight, to finish the race and to keep the faith (II Timothy 4:7) requires a solid effort all the way through the finish line of life, regardless of what life throws at you.
Thus, when faced with a health challenge, even one that is going to be difficult, or terminal, we are called on to “fight.” This doesn’t mean that we force a 95-year-old to undergo chemotherapy, or if there is a terminal diagnosis that one must do everything possible to extend life. I remember when my mom was very sick years ago, her doctor used the term “recoverability” in trying to map out the best course of treatment. If a person has a treatable disease, they are supposed to seek treatment, even if the treatment is challenging. If there is recoverability, the opportunity to return to life is some way similar to what it was before, then we are supposed to pursue that.
When someone has a serious illness, like a heart attack or a stroke, there are often things that can be done so someone can recover the vitality he or she had previously, and we are called on to do this. I confess that I have never been diagnosed with a serious life-threatening illness. I’ve had a few close calls where doctors ordered diagnostic tests to rule out cancer and I have acquiesced and done them, even though they are uncomfortable, because this is part of the fighting the good fight, and making sure we take advantage of the blessing of life that God has bestowed on us.
One arena in which we are expected to fight is in our overall health—we are supposed to eat right, make time to exercise, and manage our stress. I’m guilty of failing in all three. Sometimes I worry that these bad habits will cause me to die before I’m supposed to. It would be a shame to stand before God at age 60 and for Him to say, “I intended for you to live to be 80, and you ate poorly so you are here at 60.” This reflection is as much for you, the reader, as it is for me, the writer.
God has blessed each of us with talents and with opportunities to use those talents to glorify Him and to serve others. Sitting on your talent, or burying it in the ground are not going to be acceptable to God. Neither is abusing our lives and dying sooner than He intends for us to. Neither is not seeking help for medical illnesses where there is recoverability.
I hope that if I am faced with a serious medical challenge, like cardiovascular disease, or cancer, or a degenerative condition, that I will have grace to fight a good fight, and somehow keep my eyes on the prize, salvation.
We are also supposed to help and encourage others in their fight. One of my biggest fears is to have a significant setback that is treatable, cancer, for example, and to need six months or a year to receive treatment and in the process, to lose my job. If people see value in one another, and hold the place for someone until they can get better, that creates motivation in fighting the good fight against disease. I know people who have lost jobs because of illness, and so not only do they lose health, they lose purpose, vitality, identity, income and so much more. Encouraging and helping those who are sick to not lose more than just their health is a gift we will all be able to give at some point.
If I could choose one verse for my tombstone, it would be 2 Timothy 4:7, because not only is it the message I hope to stand before God and say in defense of my life, it is the legacy I hope to leave behind, to be remembered for fighting a good fight, finishing the race and keeping the faith. One challenge in fighting a good fight against illness is that it may impact our faith in a negative way. When suffering is great or goes on for a long time, people sometimes lash out at God. It is important while fighting the good fight and finishing the race, that we keep the faith, and it is crucial that when we see someone fighting a good fight against disease, that we make sure we help to safeguard their faith as well.
Our lives are like a paper clip on a rope when it comes to span of eternity. Whatever trials we may face, medical or otherwise, we are supposed to give it our best. And if we have fought the good fight and kept the faith, we are in good position for our “good defense before the awesome judgment seat of Christ.” (The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, 2015 Translation of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, p. 43)
Forever, O Lord, Thy word is firmly fixed in the heavens. Thy faithfulness endures to all generations; Thou hast established the earth, and it stands fast. By Thy appointment they stand this day; for all things are Thy servants. If Thy law had not been my delight, I should have perished in my affliction. I will never forget Thy precepts; for by them Thou has given me life. I am Thine, save me; for I have sought Thy precepts. The wicked lie in wait to destroy me; but I consider Thy testimonies. I have seen a limit to all perfection, but Thy commandment is exceedingly broad. Psalm 119:89-96
Fight a good fight, finish your race, keep the faith, regardless of what life throws at you!