Dealing with the Timid and the Deserters in the Good Fight

March 17, 2019 | Speaker: Pastor Jurem Ramos

1 Timothy 1:18-20

  Someone said, “The Christian life is not a playground, but a battlefield of spiritual warfare. The closer we follow the Lord Jesus Christ, the more we advance to the frontline of the conflict.” The Evangelical Christians who lived during the very violent period of 16th century in Catholic dominated Western Europe would have heartily agreed with those statements.   Hugh Latimer is regarded by many as one of the most zealous gospel preachers in England in the 16th century.   Before his conversion, Hugh Latimer was a priest and a fierce Catholic faith defender who used his great intellectual abilities and powerful oratorical gifts to do all he could to combat anything that even slightly resembled the principles of the Reformation such as the Bible is the final authority for believe and behavior and that salvation is by grace alone, faith alone and in Christ alone.   But in 1523, God brought Latimer to salvation in a rather humorous way. It happened when he accepted the request of one Bible study leader that he was going to “confess” his sins to him as his priest. Latimer thought that he was going to hear the confession of one who admitted that he was wrong in his beliefs about the gospel and return to the Catholic faith. But instead the man shared his testimony of how he was freed from his comfortless life in trying to be saved by his own merit and partaking of the sacraments and received liberty and joy by trusting only in Christ through the gospel. God used his words to open the heart of this priest and he got saved.   After his conversion Latimer set out gaining converts within Cambridge and the surrounding countryside, proclaiming that justification is by faith alone. Hugh Latimer and others freely preached the gospel for several years until Mary Tudor became queen of England. Mary was ambitious and ruthless, determined to reestablish Catholicism as the state religion of England. She annulled many religious freedoms granted by previous monarchs and she was given the nickname “Bloody Mary” because during her short five-year reign hundreds of Protestants were burned at the stake. On October 16, 1555, Hugh Latimer and another preacher named Nicholas Ridley, faced execution. Just before their death in the flames, Latimer may have noticed the fear on the face of the younger Ridley and he encouraged him with these famous words: “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as I trust shall never be put out!”   Rather than burning out the Reformation, as their opponents had hoped, the deaths of Latimer and Ridley indeed lit a candle that spread the light of the Gospel that has never been put out. There is no doubt that Hugh Latimer and many other 16th century ministers of the gospel embodied what we would regard as faithful soldiers who fought the good fight of faith. Some of them were bold like Hugh Latimer ready to face death, but others may have been timid like Nicholas Ridley.   The courage and continued faithfulness to Christ that these martyrs displayed is what the Lord desires for his people, whether they are face to face with strong opposition or even death.   Today, I want us to see Paul’s counsel to his young associate minister, who was a gifted and faithful preacher of the gospel, and yet who had the tendency to be timid when face to face with opposition.   Many of us preachers may identify with Timothy. Like him, you may have a tendency to be shy or fearful as for instance when you are seated in a bus or an airplane beside you is someone with whom you want to share the gospel. You may be especially intimidated when confronting a sinning brother especially if he is a church leader who is teaching falsehood.   In our text, Paul gives us an example of how to deal with these timid solders who are in the middle of the fight for the gospel.   But Paul does not only show us how to deal with the shy and the fearful, he also tells us how to deal with deserters. In common parlance, deserters are soldiers who deliberately and permanently leave military service before their term of service has expired. I use the term to refer to the those who have departed from the faith and are preaching a false gospel just like what some of the leaders of the church in Ephesus did. They were once soldiers fighting the good warfare, contending for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints, but now, they are deserters, rejecting the gospel, teaching false doctrine and causing others to stumble.   In this passage, we see two ways that Paul deals with these two types of people in the good fight for the gospel:  
  1. He encouraged the timid.
  2. He disciplined the deserter.
  Before we look at how Paul dealt with these tow types of individuals, remember the context of this letter.   Ideas from The Applied NT Commentary:   Paul had founded the church at Ephesus about ten years before this letter was written (See Acts 19:1-10). Paul labored to minister to the church for about three years. And some time later, he called for the Elders of the church of Ephesus and told them these words in Acts 20:29-31   29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.   Sadly, within a short time after that, some of the Elders had begun to teach false doctrines--teachings that were different from the truth that Paul taught. In addition to false doctrines, these men were also teaching Jewish myths and endless genealogies. For the Jews, genealogies were very important; it was important for a Jew to be able to trace his genealogy right back to the first Jew, Abraham. The Jews believe that, because they were natural descendants of Abraham, they would thereby obtain salvation. But Paul says that it is useless to put any reliance upon genealogies or upon who one’s ancestors were. God’s work—that is God’s work of saving men—depends on faith, not on who our ancestors were. Instead, things like myths and genealogies lead only to controversies, and such controversies profit no one. Since the false teachings were being promoted by some of the Elders of the church, the problem was very serious and had to be addressed urgently.   And here in 1Ti 1:3-4, we have Paul’s instruction to Timothy as his representative in the Ephesian church:   3 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.   But Paul knew that Timothy was a much younger minister of the gospel and was naturally timid, and needing affirmation, and encouragement in his service for the gospel. We have several hints of this in Paul's letters.  
  • 1Ti 4:12 “Let no one despise you for your youth,”
  • 2Ti 1:7-8 “for God gave us a spirit, not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner.”
  • 1Co 16:10-11 “When Timothy comes, don’t intimidate him. He is doing the Lord’s work, just as I am. Don't let anyone treat him with contempt”
  And so, today, let’s see what Paul wrote in this last section of chapter 1 in order to help Timothy to handle the difficult task of silencing those who were teaching falsehood in the Ephesian church.   [Note: This is a message not just for Timothy, but for all of us who are in the good fight of the gospel. This is particularly helpful for our Elders and for our workers who are timid.   Let’s turn first to 1:18. Here we see…  

I.           Encourage the Timid, 1:18-19a

  18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience.   What is this charge that Paul entrusted to Timothy?  Because the word “charge” here in v. 18  appears also in verse 3, (“charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine”) many commentators limit the meaning of that charge to the instruction that Timothy was to give to the false teachers. Timothy was to confront the false teachers and tell them to stop teaching false doctrine and myths and genealogies that only produce speculations and controversies. That, they say, is the charge that Paul entrusts to Timothy.   I have different take on this. I don’t think that this “charge” is limited to the instruction that Timothy is to deliver to the false teachers. I have several reasons for disagreeing with that view:  
  • First, Paul does not repeat the command he mentioned in verse 3 here in v. 18.
  • Second, verse 3 refers to an accomplished past event while here in verse 18, the word “entrust” is the present tense. Paul is saying, "I am entrusting" this charge. So he seems to be referring to a different charge.
  • Finally, the Greek word for “entrust” carries the idea of entrusting something to someone for safekeeping (BDAG) and also the idea of subsequent transmission to yet another person (Knight).
  My view is that the charge is the instruction that originally came from God and entrusted to Paul. Then Paul entrusts this charge to Timothy and Paul expects that Timothy will entrust this charge to others who will again pass it on to other faithful men who will pass it on again to others.  
  • And so I think that the “charge” here in verse 18 refers to the “stewardship from God that is by faith” in 1:4.
  • This “stewardship” refers to the stewardship of the gospel, the responsibility of overseeing and protecting of the gospel that has been entrusted to Paul. In 1:11 says, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.).
  • It refers to the faithful proclamation, defense, and propagation of the trustworthy message that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And so this charge included correcting those who teach doctrines contrary to the gospel but it is not limited to that. It includes all kinds of service that we do for the gospel.
  Just as God entrusted Paul with the gospel (v 11), so also Paul is entrusting Timothy with this request to guard the gospel (v 18) and then pass it on to others also.  
  • 2Ti 2:2, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.
  • 2Ti 1:14: By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.
  • 1Ti 6:20 O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you.
  And so this is the charge that Paul entrusts to Timothy. It is the stewardship or management or care of the gospel. It should be taken care of, preached, taught, defended, passed on to others. So Paul  says, this charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my son. And as I said, confronting the false teachers was only one aspect of the charge.     Paul commits or entrusts this charge to “Timothy" whom he calls "my child.” As we have learned before, it is possible that Paul calls him this way because under God, Timothy owed his conversion to Paul, who was therefore his spiritual father. Paul also calls Timothy “my son” because he was very dependable to the extent of performing tasks that Paul gave him even though they were contrary to his natural disposition.   To encourage Timothy in his difficult responsibility of overseeing the promotion and protection of the gospel Paul reminded him that the charge that he entrusted to him is actually in accordance with the prophecies that were given to him in the past.   What were the prophecies made to Timothy?   These previous prophetic utterances had probably been of the following nature.  
  • They singled out Timothy for special service in God’s kingdom. Perhaps it was similar to what happened at the church at Antioch in Acts 13:1-3 when, while the believers were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” I think that was uttered not as an audible voice from heaven but through the prophets that were part of the prayer meeting. And so maybe when prophecy was given to Timothy it went something like this: “Separate for me Timothy for the work whereunto I have called him.”
  • The prophecy that Timothy received in the past may also have included a summary of his duties, predicted his suffering, and strengthened him with the promise of divine help in all his trials.
  • At least, such were the prophetic utterances in connection with Paul’s own calling (Acts 9:15, 16; 22:14, 15, 21; 26:16–18). We may assume that in Timothy’s case words of somewhat similar character had been spoken.
  The plural "prophecies" suggests that they were spoken more than once. The prophecies of 1 Tim 1:18 are mentioned in two other places. In 1Ti 4:14 Paul urges Timothy "Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you." In 2Ti 1:6 Paul reminds Timothy to "fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands"   How will these prophecies help Timothy wage a good warfare?   By remembering and responding to these earlier prophecies about him, Timothy will be inspired by them. The prophecies concerning Timothy's call to ministry is a divine confirmation that his calling was from God and so he would be encouraged to be a good steward of the gospel which includes preaching it despite difficulty, protecting it from corruption, and also fighting against false teachers who teach a different gospel.   Paul needed encouragement because the charge that was entrusted to him, which is the stewardship of the gospel, involves warfare.   18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare,   Warfare here is a military metaphor that Paul regularly uses in contexts where the struggle is against opponents of his gospel or against spiritual forces.  
  • 2Co 10:3-5 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,
  • Eph 6:10-12 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
  When we were entrusted with the gospel, we were thrust in a war. Spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms are active, and they are doing their best to entice us with deceptions that will cause us to doubt or to depart from the gospel. Once the gospel no longer has any impact on us, then our lives, our families, the church, society, will fall.   Paul continues to give specific instruction on how Timothy is to fight for the gospel.   In addition to remembering the prophecies about him, he is to do verse 19, holding faith and a good conscience.   “Faith," and "good conscience," could be the weapons of Timothy's warfare along with his spiritual gift. Faith and a good conscience are three times joined together in this Epistle.
  • We have them here in 1:19.
  • But we also saw them together in 1Ti 1:5, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Someone with a “good conscience” is one who acts according to what he know is right. He does not intentionally violate the standard that is right or that he knows to from God. Sincere faith refers to trust in God that is truly there, in contrast to pretense and hypocrisy. This faith is what Paul refers to as the shield of faith in Eph 6:16 with which we “can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.”
  • We also see a combination of “faith and conscience” in 1Ti 3:9. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. Here, faith has a different meaning. Unlike 1:5 where faith is subjective, here in 3:9 faith is objective and refers to the deep truths of the faith that others consider mysterious. This may refer to the gospel or the essential doctrines of Christianity.
  What did Paul mean when he said “holding faith”? It’s not easy to decide what Paul is referring to when he talks of holding faith, but perhaps we should include all of the two elements of subjective and objective faith that we learned from those other texts from 1:5; 3:9 and 6:16.   For Timothy to fight the good fight of faith he needs to have genuine trust in the Lord and at the same time hold on to the gospel and the essential Christian doctrines.   Ideas from Preaching The Word:   So we see first of all that if we are to fight well, we must have a solid grasp on the objective content of our faith, the essentials.   Evangelical ignorance is a fact. Most Christians cannot name the Ten Commandments. Many cannot even name five of them. Many do not even know where they are found. If we are to love God as we ought, we must know the doctrine of God, the doctrine of Christ, the doctrine of salvation, just to name a few. But our knowledge must not come from textbook dogmatics but from the Bible - its history, its narratives, its poetry, its parables, its didactic passages, its apocalyptic sections.   What you know and believe about God is everything, because what you know and believe will determine how you live. Doctrine determines conduct. Right doctrine makes it possible to "fight the good fight."   Second, we see that if we are to fight well, we must hold on to "a good conscience." The conscience was an immense issue for Paul.   In 1Ti 1:5 he told Timothy that the [false teachers have departed from the aim of the stewardship from God which is "love, that comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." In 1Ti 3:9 he taught that deacons "must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience."   Many times Paul testifies to his good conscience.
  • In 2 Timothy 1:3 "I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience."
  • In Acts 23:1 He courageously took his stand before the Sanhedrin and looked at them intently and declared, "Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.”
  • In Acts 24:16, Then standing before Governor Felix he confidently declared, "So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.”
  • In Romans 9:1 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—
  Thus we see that for Paul "a good conscience" is at the very root of fighting the good fight.   John Calvin put this succinctly: "A bad conscience is the mother of all heresies." Conscious disobedience will kill our spiritual life. Obedience to Christ may appear to be legalistic by society's standards, but our conscience calls out. Some habit may be okay for others, but for you it is wrong because your conscience says so. There may be an attitude or thought pattern that no one else can detect and you are free to nourish - at the expense of your conscience. It may be an attachment that is wrong, but the only voice telling you so is your conscience. If your inner voice calls to you, heed it. Do not sin against your conscience. God's Word is clear - we must cultivate "a good conscience."   So that is how Paul dealt with the Timid in the good fight of fiath. Paul encouraged Timothy and instructed him to hold on to faith and a good conscience.   But Paul also had a word for the deserters.

II.       Discipline the Deserter, 1:19b-20

  By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.     The reason it is so important that Timothy hold on to the faith and good conscience is that Paul's opponents have already chosen to reject doing this and consequently have made shipwreck of their faith.   WBC: "Rejecting” indicates a conscious, deliberate rejection, an "active spurning" and not a passive, careless slipping away from faith (cf. Acts 7:27, 39; Rom 11:1, 2).   Paul's opponents made a deliberate decision to abandon this practice of holding on to the essential Christian doctrine and maintaining a clear conscience. “Paul's appeal in v. 19 reminds us that correct belief alone does not guarantee a useful Christian life. Each Christian must combine a right understanding of Christ with a proper response to that understanding. Our faith must produce good works.”   BST: Thus belief and behaviour, conviction and conscience, the intellectual and the moral, are closely linked. So if we disregard the voice of conscience, allowing sin to remain unconfessed and unforsaken, our faith will not long survive. Anybody whose conscience has been so manipulated as to be rendered insensitive is in a very dangerous condition, wide open to the deceptions of the devil (4:1–2). Christian leaders who once were faithful teachers, but who, as a result of some stubborn disobedience in their lives, turned aside from the truth and so ruined their ministry.   The expression some have made shipwreck of their faith may be translated “some have suffered shipwreck regarding the faith”). A similar phrase occurs in …
  • 1Ti 6:21 (περὶ τὴν πίστιν ἠστόχησαν "have swerved concerning the faith")
  • 2Ti 3:8 (ἀδόκιμοι περὶ τὴν πίστιν "disqualified regarding the faith")
  • 2Ti 2:18 (περὶ τὴν ἀλήθειαν ἠστόχησαν "have swerved from the truth").
  By rejecting the faith and a good conscience they heretics suffered shipwreck in connection with the Christian faith. But of course this includes suffering shipwreck with regard to their own personal faith.   Paul mentions two individuals who have made a shipwreck of their faith: among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander,   “Hymenaeus and Alexander” were obviously known to both Timothy and the church. The two men mentioned here were probably prominent in the church or as we have seen, they were most probably elders.   The name of Hymenaeus is mentioned again with Philetus in 2Ti 2:17 as teaching that the resurrection is past. It seems that despite the action taken against Hymenaeus, he apparently continued to spread false teaching.   Alexander is a name that is mentioned four other times in the NT. Bible scholars tell us that the name Alexander was a very common name then as it is now, and therefore it is impossible to know for sure if any one of the four times the name is mentioned elsewhere in the NT could be the Alexander mentioned in here 1 Tim 1:20.   H-K: The Hymenaeus and Alexander to whom Paul refers here in 1 Tim. 1:20 were leaders among the Ephesian heretics. They were self-righteous persons who yearned to be law-teachers, although they understood neither the words which they were speaking about with such confidence (see on verse 7). As we saw in 1:4, they specialized in myths and fanciful stories about genealogies. They even blasphemed God and the gospel.   WBC: Their action of blasphemy is in the present tense indicating that blasphemy is part of their lifestyle, a continual practice.   And so what does Paul do with them? whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.     What does “hand them over to Satan” mean?   Paul may be using a language that has become a “semitechnical phrase to refer to excommunication. The idea is that life in the church as the sphere of the Spirit and life outside the church as the sphere of Satan. Thus Paul does not mean literally giving them over to Satan to “go to work on them,” as it were. Paul may have been saying that he had removed the offenders from the fellowship and spiritual protection of the church and placed them back out into the sphere where Satan is still at work and where they would experience his malice.”   BST: Since the church is the dwelling-place of God, it follows that to be ejected from it is to be sent back into the world, the realm of Satan.   WBC: This does not exclude any idea of possible physical punishment, but that is not its primary purpose here.   The only other time the phrase "to deliver to Satan," occurs in the NT is in 1 Cor 5:5. Instead of boasting over the immorality present among them and their tolerance of it, the church was "to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." The difference between this verse with 1Ti 1:19 is the personal verb “I have handed over” which suggests Paul’s more direct role in the disciplinary action than in 1 Cor 5:5, where with the same language, Paul instructs the Corinthian church to “hand this man over to Satan.”   The text does not say when this excommunication occurred but Paul tells us its purpose: that they may learn not to blaspheme.   NAC: The purpose of handing them over to Satan was not merely punitive but chiefly corrective or formative in purpose. By excluding them from the fellowship of God's people, Paul hoped that Satan's affliction of the troublemakers would teach them not to insult the Lord by their words and deeds.   Lessons:  
  • How are we to regard the Christian ministry? Christian ministry is more than proclamation; it is combat. The names change, but people like Hymenaeus and Alexander have managed to infiltrate groups of professing Christians down through the ages. What then should Timothy do in such a situation? Paul does not tell him to just leave the church but neither may he remain silent in the face of heresy, let alone compromise with it. Instead, he was to stay at his post, and to fight the good fight of the faith, both demolishing error and contending earnestly for the truth.
  • How are we to encourage the timid soldiers? we can’t expect God to talk to us as He did during the NT times. Many ministers of the gospel cannot go back to a time when Jesus appeared to them personally or spoke in an audible voice or a dream. But for one thing, what we see here is that the importance of the Christian community.
  In whatever we might define as a “call” or some sense of inner direction we should remember the value of the confirmation of other Christians. While we have the inner leading of the Spirit in daily life (Rom. 8:14), we must not disregard the Christian community, the church, to give us direction and to confirm — or call into question — what we may believe is the ministry God is calling us to fulfill. Their counsel will serve as the prophecies given to Timothy.  
  • But here is anohter thing we can do to encourage them. REmind them to know the essentials of the Christian faith and obey God’s Word. [Illustration: I heard of a testimony of a pastor who lost his ministry because he violated his conscience. He got involved in fornication.]
  • What about the deserters? What do we do with them? WE are to discipline them. The discipline included Timothy charging them to stop their false teaching. But if they continue to disobey, they were to be removed from the church. Church discipline should be restored, but we must remember that the purpose was to restore and not merely to punish. If they the people who are disciplined repent, they should be restored. But I think the bigger problem of the modern church is that it does not discipline any more.