Contending without Brawling

60s boxing gloves

About childhood in the ’60s: Let’s just say things were different back then. Most kids I knew had a slingshot and a BB gun (I had a Daisy Model 25 pump action). Many had bow and arrows (I did) and boxing gloves (ditto). We raised two boys and they had none of those things.

I had boxing gloves and we had boxing matches: no headgear, no mouth guards … just boxing gloves. I won some and I lost some. Once I basically K.O.’d my brother. (I think parents are a lot smarter these days about these things!)

I posted earlier this week an image about “Contending for the Faith” (the post previous to this one). Part of that image is a pair of boxing gloves. I’ve been thinking all week since whether boxing gloves really represent the phrase “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3).

Is this what Jude had in mind? (Image from the Marciano / Roland La Starza match – September 24, 1953 in New York)

Marciano defended against Roland La Starza

Let’s examine the word in question and compare with other Scripture.

Jude 3

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3)

The Greek word translated “to contend earnestly” is ἐπαγωνίζομαι (Present Middle or Passive Infinitive). The present tense speaks of continuing action. This particular verb only occurs in this one place in the New Testament (called a hapax legomenon) so we cannot look up this verb in other N.T. passages for help with its meaning. But ἐπαγωνίζομαι is a compound of ἐπί and ἀγωνίζομαι and this fact provides some important clues as to meaning:

  • ἐπί is a common preposition that can mean “against”
  • ἀγωνίζομαι (the transliteration  is interesting = agōnizomai. It looks somewhat like “agonize”). The meaning is:
    • to enter a contest: contend in the gymnastic games
    • to contend with adversaries, fight
    • metaph. to contend, struggle, with difficulties and dangers
    • to endeavor with strenuous zeal, strive: to obtain something

I think that most certainly “contending for the faith” (click link to see Jude 3 in various translations) has in view a contest between opponents or a battle between truth and error.

Considering the qualifications for Eldership we see that a Pastor is not to be a brawler (1 Timothy 3:3 and Titus 3:2):

To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men (Titus 3:2 KJV)

The Apostle Paul was not averse to using athletic terms to speak of the discipline of the Christian life:

I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize (1 Corinthians 9:27 NIV)

Nevertheless nowhere do we see Paul beating another or advocating beating another.

The servant of God is called upon to be meek and gentle in this battle – to contend without brawling!

“Contending earnestly for the faith” is a call to conservative Christianity. To be conservative speaks of the need to conserve. One conserves that which has existed in the past so it may be enjoyed in the present and passed down to future generations.

old growth forest

To use the illustration of Lost 40 state forest:

Lost 40, so-called due to a surveying slip back in 1882, is located in the Big Fork State Forest in the Agassiz Lowlands. This site includes a narrow peninsula extending from a large upland esker. The peninsula is flanked by a black spruce and tamarack bog on one side, and a willow and alder marsh on the other. The area contains 28 acres of red pine forest and 18 acres of spruce-fir forest. The virgin old-growth red pine forest is the largest and oldest stand in the Blackduck Forestry Area. White pine over 300 years old can be found on the site. The U.S. Forest Service administers adjacent lands with old growth red and white pine, as well. Fringed polygala, bluebead lily, twin flower, and Canada mayflower occur in this area. Early to mid-summer is a good time to see wildflowers in bloom. A walking trail provides easy access through the gorgeous site.

Imagine that: an old growth forest exists today because of a surveying error more than a century ago!

This is analogous to conservative Christianity. Something precious existed in the past and has been handed down to us:

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

“The faith” is the complete package of truths of the Gospel that saves us. One might call them the fundamentals or the essentials of the Christian faith.

The ESV Study Bible has this comment about “the faith”:

“The faith” (i.e., the known and received body of truth about Jesus and salvation through him) had been once for all delivered to the saints (i.e., Christians). In other words, by the time that Jude wrote his letter, “the faith” had already been fixed and established in the apostolic teaching of the early church, and therefore could not be changed, but was under attack and in need of defense.

Previous generations battled error and defended truth. The conserved that precious package for our generation to enjoy. And so we are called upon to live that truth (holy living), defend that truth against error (offer an Apologetic), and spread that truth (evangelism) to conserve it and preserve it for subsequent generations.

What contending is not:

  • It is not a physical battle: Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age,[a] against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
  • Physical violence is to be eschewed: “Put your sword in its place” (Matthew 26:52)
  • Verbal putdowns (or smack downs) are not in view!

Several more observations:

  • With whom are we to contend? Answer: Unsaved false teachers: “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” Jude 4
  • Over what are we to contend? Answer: “our common salvation … the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3)
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