Summary: Cage fighting is a particularly gruesome way of fighting, and yet Paul used the fighting of his day (more brutal than MMA) to describe Timothy's responsibilities. What could we possibly learn from MMA that could make us better servants of Christ?

How many of you know the meaning of these letters used to describe a sporting event:

MMA? (Mix Martial Arts).

It’s kind of like boxing where the contestants not only hit each other with their fists, but also with their feet and knees and elbows. It’s also called “Cage fighting” because the contenders are literally inside a cage. They can’t fall over the edge of the mat like in standard boxing and wrestling.

Another definition of this type of contest is that it is “Unarmed Combat” because when a blow is struck enthusiasts say “it may reasonably be expected to inflict injury.”

As you can imagine, Cage fighting is a particularly rough sport. Contestants often are knocked out, tear ligaments, break bones, and even - in very rare cases – die. They punch, kick and beat on each other as they fight to the finish.

Top champions may earn millions, lower level pros may only earn a few hundred dollars per fight, and amateurs (the majority of those who participate in this grueling challenge) earn nothing. And yet 100s of young men and women engage in this kind of contest in order to prove their skills in the ring.

And they aren’t the first to engage in this kind of Sport.

One source I read said that “The art of boxing, whereby two men enter a contest to see who can withstand the most punches from the other, dates back at least as far as the earliest civilisations and is probably one of the oldest sports of its kind in the history of fighting.”

By the day of Paul and Timothy, such fighting contests would have made our present day cage fighting contests seem tame by comparison. They wrapped the hands of the fighters in leather straps, and THEN had metal inserted into them.

You might ask why would they do this? Well, this kind of leather wrapping with the metal insert was called the “caestus” and was more like a knife than a boxing glove it could actually stab and rupture the other fighter.

“Unsurprisingly, boxing matches in Rome often ended in the death of the loser.”


It’s against that backdrop that Paul writes these words to Timothy: “Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience.” I Timothy 1:18-19a

And later in this letter Paul repeats himself: “Fight the good fight of the faith” I Timothy 6:12a

And in his last letter to Timothy, Paul says:

“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” II Timothy 4:6

Now, knowing how brutal such a fight could be, why would Paul use this kind of language? Why use a bloody contest that often ended in death to describe Timothy’s task?


Now I have to admit, this cage fighting theme was not my idea. One of the other preachers in our group came up with it. For the longest time I struggled with using this kind of illustration as part of my sermon and I almost just dropped the idea and started looking for some other way to frame this sermon.

But then I began to realize this was exactly the image Paul was using… on purpose.

Allow me to repeat the phrase I found on that website about boxing in Rome:

“Unsurprisingly, boxing matches in Rome often ended in the death of the loser.”

Boxing matches in the days of Paul and Timothy were matters of “life and death.”

When Paul was writing to Timothy he was essentially telling him:

“What you are doing IS a matter of life and death. Lives are hanging in the balance.

Timothy, if you don’t do your job, people are going to die and go to hell.

So fight!

Fight the good fight!

You stand your ground!

You do everything in your power to win the day!

Because if you don’t – people will lose their souls.”

As if to drive that home, Paul tells Timothy: “Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith.” 1Timothy 1:19

People had shipwrecked their faith and were going to hell because they decided their faith wasn’t a matter of life and death to them.

ILLUS: In our brotherhood, if you lose your job in one congregation you don’t get assigned to another. Instead you go – hat in hand – from church to church and try to impress them with the fact that you are worth hiring.

That was the experience I had had before I was hired here. I was fired from my last church. In fact, I was fired from the last two churches I served. They were hard churches. And after the last church fired me I decided if I couldn’t find a better church to serve than the first two had been – I was going to go sell insurance. I wasn’t in the mood to impress anyone to hire me. I intended to let the churches know who I was and what I stood for, and if they didn’t like that... they didn’t have to bother with me.

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