“…I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3b).
“Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called…” (1 Tim 6:12a)
I have to admit that when I read this kind of striving and battle language, part of my is a bit put off. I am put in mind of obnoxious and sanctimonious Bible-thumpers who are leading the charge in opposition to the so-called “War on Faith.” There is an indignant bellicosity to the phrase. In an age of myriad militant causes, do we need to add another cause and more vitriolic rhetoric?
But the concepts of fight and struggle are not always negative. There is a certain dignity and valour involved. The struggle for human rights in 1960s America and the fearless protests of the Arab Spring show us that there are things worth fighting for. The fight summons up a nobility within us that illuminates and gives shape and perspective to life. While there are certainly negative conflicts based on avarice and pride, there are also worth-while conflicts that contend earnestly for the good in the world and are not necessarily violent. In which case, to not participate in them but instead sit idly by is the regrettable choice.
What Jude and Paul are both advocating here is most simply the opposite of passivity. They are asking us to struggle and strive to maintain the heart and root of the Christian faith against corruption and wrong belief — a nobel cause. This is not a call to violence and aggression, but to perseverance, grit, and honest effort. Jude and Paul are calling their readers to know what they are about, to understand their opponents, and to be ready to give a compelling answer to why the message of Jesus has captured their hearts. In a world of hostility this can often mean giving a gentle and disarmingly winsome response. But it also means having the courage to stand up and declare what is true in spite of popular opinion ore likely negative reaction.
Secondly, there is also a personal dimension to this fight. There is a sense in which to contend for the faith means to grow in our personal discipline not to let spiritual growth and discipleship slip through our fingers. This is something echoed in Paul’s exhortation to put on the full armour of God. We are both defending ourselves from that which will rob truth and joy from us, but also proactively taking back from the enemy darkened corners of our hearts and lives. We shall not settle within ourselves for mediocrity.
In the end, these calls to fight and contend are not calls to be angry and confrontational, but to capture the nobility, courage, passion, and purpose that comes in standing up for a worthwhile cause.