Ministry is tough! How tough? Paul described it to Timothy as “waging the good warfare.” That’s right, the ministry is a difficult task. The fact that this was prophesied to Timothy was a reason to be encouraged to that task. Many people enter the ministry for notoriety or a sense of importance and yet those who are given the task of overseeing the Flock of God need to be sure who appointed them and take strength from the fact that He knows about the difficulties associated with the job.
Having opened this letter with the declaration that Timothy needed to stop some false teachers in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3) and going on to give an overview of the basic point of the ministry, producing love from a pure heart (1 Timothy 1:5), Paul charges the young pastor to take up the reigns of the ministry there.
1 Timothy 1:18-19 This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck,
The necessary tools for him to completes his task are “faith and a good conscience.” Those who have lost sight of these things have come up short. The idea of “shipwreck” here is that they never made it to their final destination. They got on the boat, the Church of Jesus Christ, but that boat did not take them where they had hoped to go. The two elements of successful ministry are also applicable to the Christian life. We need to live having both Faith and a Good Conscience.
Faith: Here we are not talking about our ability to ascent to basic facts, but the facts themselves. There are many people who have faith in many things. Some prefer to have an abstract faith that is based on what they think ought to be. This is not faith at all but a delusion. J.C. Philpot says, “If your doctrine be unsound, your experience must be delusion and your practice imposition.” We have to believe what God says about us and about Himself. We have to take it on His authority. If not, we are not holding to faith but to speculation. Faith has to be in what God has said because faith is taking God at His Word.
The greatest problem we have as fallen human beings is that we don’t want to submit to authority and so, we often struggle to take God at His Word. Our wills get in the way and we skew God’s precepts and promises to fit our preconceived notions. This is dishonest and so Paul adds to simple faith.
Good Conscience: That is, accepting God’s Word, His authority without manipulation. We need to accept what God says about us with unswerving fidelity. Only then will we be able to hold the faith with a good conscience. Paul mentions men who have used the Gospel to promote their own agenda, Hymenaeus and Alexander. We can’t be sure who Alexander was, but we know that Hymenaeus taught that the resurrection had already happened and overturned the faith of some (2 Timothy 2:17-18). What was the basis of his false teaching? Many commentators believe that it was rooted in proto-Gnosticism. The Gnostics were a group of people who began with the teachings of Plato and formulated their religion around his idealism. That is, out there somewhere is a perfect everything but the things we actually see are imperfect copies of that spiritual ideal. This developed into the idea that spiritual is good and physical is evil. Men brought this presupposition into the Christian faith and began to teach that our souls and spirits are saved, but the evil flesh is unsavable. This lead them to teach that once the soul is saved (Hymenaeus’s resurrection) that the body can continue in sin without detriment. Thus, a licentious Christianity was preached and it destroyed the faith of some. Hymenaeus came to the Faith and altered its truths to fit his ideas and tried to make the faith serve him rather than the other way around. Thus, his faith was superficial and did not allow him to arrive at his expected destination, he suffered shipwreck.
In their commentary on this passage, Jamieson, Fausset and Brown say “If one’s religion better not his morals, his moral deficiencies will corrupt his religion.” The Gospel is a story of God’s remedy for sin, about man’s absolute moral corruption and God’s gracious offer of redemption from all of that. It is salvation from sin, not a way to feel better about yourself. Feeling better about ourselves will eventually come, but not in such a way as to give us the freedom to walk in sin without compunction.
I believe that many in the Church today are here to let God serve them through the Gospel. To give them personal freedom to live godless lives. This is not holding the faith with a good conscience. As I see it here, the question comes down to this, Who’s agenda takes precedence? Am I looking for a Gospel that will serve me or a Gospel that demands my service to it? The answer to that question will also determine whether you ship will arrive at the destination that you hope for or become shipwrecked along the way.
I encourage you to listen to the audio of our discussion and to make an assessment of your agenda.
Avoiding Shipwreck – AUDIO