Question: "What did Paul mean when he said he had fought the good fight?"
Answer: In 2 Timothy 4:7, Paul says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” This well-known and oft-quoted passage is quite significant in that this epistle was Paul’s last before his martyrdom in A.D. 67. It is a deeply moving affirmation of his unwavering faith and unyielding love for the gospel of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:4; Galatians 2:20; Philippians 1:21).
“I have fought the good fight” is also significant for believers today because it serves as a stark reminder that the Christian life is a struggle against evil—within ourselves and in the world (John 15:9; Romans 8:7; James 4:4). Earlier in this same epistle, Paul reminded Timothy to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3).
The Greek word agonizomai, translated “fought,” means literally “to engage in conflict.” The word was used in the context of competing in athletic games or engaging in military conflict. Considering that Paul was chained to a Roman soldier when he wrote this epistle, it would have been easy for him to make such an analogy. In fact, he had known many Roman soldiers and during his imprisonment had won a number of them to Christ, some of them members of the Praetorian Guard (Philippians 1:13).
Our battle is not with flesh and blood “but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). The Christian life is a fight in that Christians face a never-ending struggle against evil—not an earthly military campaign, but a spiritual battle against Satan. This is why we must “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day” (see Ephesians 6:13-18).
Without question, the apostle Paul was the consummate warrior, never quitting, never flagging in his zeal for the Lord (Philippians 3:14-15). He knew where lay the source of his strength (Philippians 4:13; 2 Corinthians 12:9). His campaign to spread the gospel of Christ began on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:3) and eventually took him across the ancient world on four missionary journeys. He had witnessed of Christ before Felix and Agrippa, the legates and officials of Rome (Acts 23:26; Acts 26:1). He contended with false teachers and false brethren within the church (2 Corinthians 11:13; Galatians 1:7; Galatians 2:4).
Paul’s “good fight” included an astonishing series of dangers and indignities (2 Corinthians 11:23-33). Even in these he proclaimed his victory in Christ: “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).
Paul’s life and ministry provide for us a powerful example for modeling Christ today. Not only did he “fight the good fight,” but he also “finished the race” and “kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). Paul knew that his death was near (verse 6) but had no regrets. After Jesus took control of his life (Acts 9:15-16), Paul had lived life to the fullest, fulfilling all that Jesus had charged and empowered him to do (Ephesians 3:6; 2 Timothy 4:17). He had a remarkable sense of fulfillment and contentment with his life (Philippians 4:11-13; 1 Timothy 6:6-8).
As believers today, we can have no greater sense of fulfillment than to know, as Paul did, that we have fully accomplished all that the Lord has called us to do (Matthew 25:21). May we “fight the good fight” and “be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill [our] ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).