Devotional # 196. 6/27/16. 1 Timothy 1:18-20.
Intro. Do you have friends that have left the church? Chances are good you do, considering 69% of American evangelical teens leave the church after high school, never to return.[i] And if they do make it past high school, 712 of 18-29 year olds leave the church every single day; some return but ultimately 1.7 million will never come back.[ii] In fact, adults over 30 are leaving the church in record numbers also[iii]. There are multiple reasons for this but in today’s Devotional we’re going to study what Paul says about people “leaving the faith.” We’re going to look at where the church has failed and what we can do to fix it. Just remember some of Paul’s words can seem a little harsh but we’ll view this in light of context and that Paul told us that “love” is crucial in all situations (v. 5, v. 14).
v. 18. Paul stops talking about his personal experience with the Lord (1 Timothy 1:12-16, Devotional #195) and turns to talk about his spiritual “son” Timothy. Remember this letter was written to instruct Timothy on how to deal with the problems in the Ephesian church (see Devotional # 192 and Devotional # 193 for more). Here, Paul makes a “charge”, which means an encouraging command, to Timothy to “have faith and a good conscience” (v. 19).
“Faith” isn’t blind confidence. Hebrews 11:1 clearly defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” “This definition of faith contains two aspects: intellectual assent and trust. Intellectual assent is believing something to be true. Trust is actually relying on the fact that the something is true. A chair is often used to help illustrate this. Intellectual assent is recognizing that a chair is a chair and agreeing that it is designed to support a person who sits on it. Trust is actually sitting in the chair” (Source 2). Like Timothy we must remember to recognize and agree, by taking the action of faith that Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
Along with “faith” Paul tells Timothy to have a “good conscience.” God has given everyone a conscience, some people chose to accept Jesus and the Holy Spirit comes into their heart and enlightens their conscience. Other people chose to ignore their conscience and eventually silence and suppress and deaden it. Were you ever blamed for something you didn’t do? Your conscience was clear even if you were frustrated or punished. What about the person who does something wrong but doesn’t believe it should be considered wrong, and therefore feels like they have a clear conscience? There is obviously a difference but what exactly is that difference? We must first start with a biblical foundation to determine when something is right or wrong. Peter tells us to keep “a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:16, NIV). Clearly “a clear conscience” comes from “good behavior in Christ.” It may be closed-minded to say that a clear conscience can only come from a biblical basis, but nevertheless true.
After his “charge” Paul reminds Timothy that there were prophesies about him. These were given when elders laid hands on Timothy (1 Timothy 4:14) and may have been general although they could have been about his spiritual gift(s) (also 1 Timothy 4:14). One of the prophesies was for sure that he would “wage the good warfare.” Paul associates the Christian walk with life and death warfare, which he’s used before, for example read Ephesians 6:10-20 (Devotional #118, Devotional # 119, Devotional #120). This warfare is very precise and isn’t “a fight” or “warfare in general” but very specifically spiritual warfare. This will be important for us to remember when we look at verse 20 down below.
v. 19. Here Paul actually states the encouragement command to Timothy, “having faith and a clear conscience”, which we just studied. Then Paul moves to those who have left the church. The statistics that I quoted above came from John Dickerson’s book The Great Evangelical Recession but Dickerson doesn’t just give us the main problems with the church – he gives us biblical solutions too. Here in 1 Timothy 1:19 we see our first solution to healing our churches: unity on essential beliefs. Should the church unify in everything? No. “‘In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, charity. In all things, Christ.’ Our unity must give and insist on clear boundaries about the essentials. Our unity must grant us gracious room to disagree on non-essentials. And our unity must exalt Christ and His gospel.”[iv]
We’re told here that one of the “essentials” is “faith and a good conscience” and if anyone “rejected” that, it could not be tolerated. Paul likens it to being “shipwrecked” (something he knew about, see Acts 27, Devotional # 71) and, in a minute, he’ll call it “blasphemy” (v. 20). We can’t over overemphasize the negative affect of calling yourself a Christian but living a life without “faith and a good conscience”. Let’s read on to get a better understanding.
v. 20. Above I noted one of the biblical solutions Dickerson mentions is unity, a second solution is: healing in discipleship and shepherding. And here, in verse 20, Paul points us in that direction. He names two of the guys in the Ephesian church who rejected “faith and a good conscience”. Not much is known about Hymenaeus and Alexander except “Hymenaeus is mentioned in 2 Timothy 2:17 in connection with Philetus, another false teacher. Alexander may be the opponent of the faith referred to in 2 Timothy 4:14,15” (Source 3). And Paul tells Timothy that he has “delivered [them] to Satan.” This sounds questionable and harsh but as I said at the beginning we need to properly understand what Paul is saying and more importantly why. Paul is saying that people like Hymenaeus and Alexander are serving Satan and if they are doing that then they can’t be allowed to fellowship with believers.
Do you remember that Timothy was told “wage the good warfare” in verse 19? In Ephesians Paul reminded us that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12, Devotional #119). So Paul wasn’t saying Hymenaeus and Alexander were the root cause, they were just a symptom of the Devil’s manipulation.
Yes, it was important for Paul to kick them out of the church so that they couldn’t influence other believers to think incorrectly but equally as important was the desired outcome. Paul says he kicked them out so that they “may learn not to blaspheme.” Time and again when a person was kicked out of the church the hope was that they would see the error of their ways, repent and come back into fellowship with the congregation and with Jesus Christ (for example 1 Corinthians 5:1-13). Paul is teaching Timothy and us the importance of taking a firm stance on an essential belief but also setting the people up for healing via discipleship and shepherding.
Source 1: John S. Dickerson, The Great Evangelical Recession, 2013, p. 99.
Source 2: S. Michael Houdmann, http://www.gotquestions.org/definition-of-faith.html
Source 3: John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1862.
[i] Source 1, p. 99
[ii] Source 1, pp. 103-104
[iii] Source 1, pp. 106-107
[iv] Source 1, p. 152