Wage the Good War
We’ve been journeying through 1 Timothy over the past four weeks, and one of the things I have noticed is that this letter can feel far away. Part of this is due to the fact that it was written a little less than 2,000 years ago. But it’s not just that. The situation feels far away. An apostle, which we do not have anymore, named Paul writes a letter to a young pastor/church leader (which most of us are not) named Timothy about the local churches in a city called Ephesus, which is both far away and very different from what it was when this letter was written, with specific people in mind at those local churches.
And the language feels far away. It is peculiar. For instance, listen to some of the things we have heard: “Charge certain person to not devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies…(I don’t hear religious influencers described this way very often)”; “(these persons) desire to be teachers of the law (I don’t know any men or women who use that verbiage).
Even in our text: Paul talks about prophecies that were made about Timothy (in your teenage years no one received a vision or prophecy about you). He talks about waging warfare. Even the entire idea of “false teaching”, which has been spoken of a few times in this series, feels far away. We don’t like to think or talk in this way. We don’t hear it very often.
So if, thus far, you feel that it is difficult to connect with this book, that is ok. You are not alone in feeling that away. At the very least I am there with you, and I think a few others would be there with us. 1 Timothy is very personal, and very situational; the characters are real, and the words have personal meaning and would have resonated to Timothy and the other readers.
A Way to Read
So, here is a way to think about the book, and about these statements from Paul to Timothy. we are going to treat these three verses similarly to how we would treat passages that talk about character and ethics of Jesus.
For example, Psalm 1-2 are kingly Psalms. And 1 starts out this way, “blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of mockers, but his delight is in the law of the Lord. And on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, whose leaf does not wither. It yields its fruit in its season. In that he does he prospers.” Who is this man? Whose delight was in the law? Who mediated on it day and night? Jesus! He is the nourished tree whose leaf does not wither, and produces everlasting fruit.
And we say: Lord, make me like this! Help me to walk faithfully. Nourish me with your law.
Or what should we do with the description of Jesus actions of love, service, and obedience in the New Testament. Our first impulse should be thankfulness for the fact that by faith we are united with Christ and so receive the spiritual benefits of his perfect life. Jesus was the perfect fulfillment of what Old Covenant faithfulness was to be, and he was this for us!
And we also say, “Lord, make me like this!” Give grace that I would live in such a way.
Paul and Timothy are not Jesus. We do not get our righteousness through them. But what Paul writes here, and what he expects of Timothy, is faithfulness to Jesus’ teachings. And so, the letter here is for us. By the Work of the Holy Spirit these words to Timothy become words to us. There are so many things in this letter that we need. This is for you and me. So even though it feels far away, God’s grace will bring it near to us in a way that agrees with and stems from Paul’s original intentions. Though it feels like a letter for Timothy, it’s also a letter for us. Though it feels like a book about church leadership, it’s a book about following Jesus.
The Journey So Far
And I’m so excited to get to the text but growing up around woods I learned that you never plunge too far ahead until you’ve backtracked a little bit. It’s easy to get lost walking through the woods because everything starts to look the same. Every tree seems to take the same shape, and the path can be difficult to pickup. You start to lose your bearings, and you start to lose your head. When this happens the best thing to do is backtrack until you see surroundings that you’re familiar with. So let’s do that. Where have we come from?
We saw a charge, its purpose, and why it was necessary in 1:3-7. Paul introduces his letter to Timothy with a command: “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine.” The charge is a command to not teach things that undermine, mute, or contradict the gospel. And its aim is love that issues from a pure heart, good conscience, and a sincere faith. The implication is that true doctrine creates and sustains a pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith, and in so doing produces love. Paul is saying that everything he teaches, and every command he gives to be rid of false doctrine is for the sake of faith that produces love.
And it was necessary because some men who wanted to be teachers of the law were misusing it and in so doing undermining the gospel. Which leads Paul into an explanation of the law and its proper use in verses 8-11.
Paul then spends 6 verses explaining how he came to have this ministry of ensuring that truth was being taught in the local church; how God transformed him from a blasphemer into a faithful gospel teacher (1:12-17).
And then there is a hard stop at the end of verse 17. A very strong, “enough about me”. A point at which I think a summary is appropriate.
Like Paul, Timothy is to call others to believe and teach that which is in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God. Or to make a little more sense of it, Timothy is to call the church, the local church to right faith and right teaching, which flows from and agrees with the gospel. He is to ensure that the faith and teaching in the local church fits with the gospel. He is to protect and promote true doctrine.
Which leads us to the text, broken up into three verses broken up into two parts, which can be summarized this way: Wage the good war for the sake of your faith.
1 Timothy 1:18-19a – Wage the Good War
Summary: Paul entrusts Timothy with the work of waging war on false teaching. The word literally means, “military engagement”. Paul says, “wage the good warfare”. It is a strategic assault on a deadly opponent.
This picture is filled out in one other place 2 Corinthians 10:4-5. In verse 4 Paul says “Though we walk in the flesh we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.”
Which means that whatever this battle is, swords and guns are of no use. They will not aid in defeating the enemy.
But who is the enemy? He continues by identifying what it is that he seeks to overcome: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” That is, we destroy knowledge, philosophies, ideas, and statements set against the knowledge of God as displayed in the gospel.
And We live in a world of arguments and lofty opinions. Some here might have the opportunity to actively engage in these. You may know people who give thought to thought, who seem interested in pursuing truth. But for others it might not feel this way. These arguments and lofty opinions might not always be so obvious. They may be lurking behind the words of a friend or family member. They may be veiled in the humor of a sitcom or news story of the local paper. They might be like an apple I grabbed out of the fridge this morning. I started eating it, and it was sweet and juicy, and then when the core was revealed I realized it was a bad apple. The core was rotten. But it sure looked good, and it started out pretty tasty.
What are the weapons? How does one fight against arguments and lofty opinions? It is primarily the public reading of scripture, teaching, and exhorting (1 Timothy 4:11-16). These are the things Paul tells Timothy to do. They are the weapons for war that Paul gives to Timothy. And I see a sort of pattern in it: 1. Read from the Word, explain it (or teach it in a way that makes sense of it and relates it to the gospel), and exhort from it. Use it to call others into right thinking and right living.
More practically for us, the weapon is devotion to the Word of God. Instead of missiles and machine guns we fight with the blessed bible. This charge is first positive before negative: So using the Weapons of the Word is primarily holding up what is pure and beautiful and true. Secondary to this is shooting at false ideas, which is to be done with love and grace.
Timothy’s Call into Ministry
This war is fitting with Timothy’s call into ministry. Here is the story. pastor Joe told us that in the first message that Timothy came to know and follow Jesus at a young age by God’s grace through the faith and ministry of his grandmother and his mother. He was spiritually adopted by the apostle Paul and called into a sort-of apostolic-aid type of ministry. The leaders of the church, including Paul, came around Timothy and laid hands on him. And he was prayed over, and prophecies were uttered about him; like, Holy Spirit empowered statements were made about his future work of serving the people of God. And through these prophecies Timothy was given a gift by the Holy Spirit. And the outworking of that gift was teaching and preaching the Bible for the benefit of God’s people.
I tell you that story not because you are going to experience the same thing, but because I want you to know that God looks after his people. And this is one of the ways he does it. All who trust in the gospel for the forgiveness of sins are sheep in his pasture, and God looks after his sheep. He raises up godly men who look after his flock; elders who will act as under-shepherds until Jesus returns. And their work is to protect and promote gospel doctrine in the church. Your elders are a gift from God to you. They are provision for your souls. They care about you and want your best.
This war is to be waged from faith and a good conscience
A few weeks back Jonathan highlighted three things that gospel-doctrine does, by the work of the Holy Spirit. It purifies the heart, strengthens a bent and broken conscience, and produces a sincere faith.
Because doctrine works upside, inside, outside. You know truth, the Spirit brings it to bear on your heart, and it changes how you live. So if someone asks you why you care so much about believing right things about God; or maybe they ask why you care so much to talk about truth, you can answer a couple of ways. You could say, “it’s because of what these truths have done to my heart.” Or you could say, “it’s because I care about love.”
And this is what has happened to Timothy: What the gospel does has happened to Timothy. And it necessary for Timothy to do this work.
1 Timothy 1:19b-20 – For the Sake of Your Faith
In our passage we see a description of two men named Hymenaeus and Alexander. Paul includes them as a case study on what happens when one rejects the call to believe and teach only that which accords with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God. And case studies are helpful. So, we are seeing a call to wage the good war for the sake of your faith. But what happens when you don’t? What I want to do is orient a series of questions around this case study. We are going to evaluate the case study and syphon out from it as much as we can.
What have Hymenaeus and Alexander rejected?
Here is the surface level answer. They have rejected Paul’s apostolic command “to not teach different doctrine,” which was given to him by Jesus. And this is a big deal, but it gets worse. By rejecting Paul’s command they were rejecting sound doctrine, God’s authority, a pure heart and sincere faith, and love that issues sound doctrine. And ultimately they were rejecting the gospel of Jesus Christ, period. No ifs, ands, or buts. There is no reason for us to feel any sympathy towards these men. They willfully rejected the person and work of Jesus Christ.
What were Hymenaeus and Alexander Teaching?
From context it seems that they were teaching the law, and doing so in an improper fashion. Pastor David said that they were supplementing the righteousness that can only come through faith in the gospel with righteousness through obedience to the Old Testament commands. They were preaching some sort of, “gospel-plus” or, “Gospel-and”.
And this is very clearly, “different doctrine”. Any time someone starts telling you that in order to be in right relationship with God you must trust the gospel anddo something, it’s not good. Any sort of “gospel-and” is no gospel at all. Either Christ fully met the expectations of the law or he didn’t at all.
But this is not the only example of false teaching in the Bible. Other misapplications of the law pop up throughout the New Testament. In Galatians 2 says that Peter was teaching that being right with God involved circumcision, which is gospel-plus. 2 Timothy says that Hymenaeus was teaching that the bodily resurrection for believers has already happened. But that undermines the gospel because Jesus secured our resurrection in his. And if the resurrection already happened then I do not get the benefits that the gospel secures for me.
Even today there are many things being taught that undermine the gospel of the glory of the blessed God. For instance, idea that hell is not real sheds the bible of the consequence for choosing to reject the person and work of Jesus Christ. And the endorsement of multiple paths to God undermines the exclusivity of Jesus Christ. Lastly, teaching that if one has enough faith then he or she will be healthy, or wealthy, adds to what the Bible gives as the true outcome of our faith, and in so doing erodes it.
Different doctrine may not slap you in the face. It won’t always sound like, “was Jesus actually real?” or, “did he really come back from the dead?” Sometimes it is much subtler.
So Hymenaeus and Alexander rejected Paul’s charge and continued teaching things that contradicted the gospel.
What was the result?
They made shipwreck of their faith. And a shipwreck is when a ship gets wrecked. When it hits something that makes it unusable. And the funny thing is that only a small part of the boat has to be hurt in order to be unusable. You could be on the lake in a gorgeous boat sipping a tasty drink in a beautiful captains chair with a couple of 60 HP motor in back; but one good hole in the hull and you are going down!
And Paul knew something about this, because it happened to him three times. Point of the sermon: one should ever sail with Paul.
The idea is that faith is the vessel that brings us to our destination. The destination is Jesus. And faith is the vessel that brings us to him. Now, I want you to not think so much of the Titanic. I want you to think of a really sweet sailboat. Because a sailboat is dependent on the wind. No wind, no sailing. I even googled it to make sure. Paul never road in a boat with a motor. So, faith is the vessel and the destination is Jesus.
But what is the wind? What is it that keeps the boat moving towards its destination? It is the faithful teaching of the word of God, which the Holy Spirit uses to move us towards Jesus. So what shipwrecks the boat? When the wrong wind fills the sails. When we are “Carried along by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4).
Shipwrecked: Notice the verbiage. It is not that their faith was shipwrecked. They “made shipwreck” of their faith. They shipwrecked their own faith. Hymenaeus and Alexander willfully rejected that which would carry them to Jesus. And that is your case study: Two men reject sound doctrine, the exhortation of Timothy and Paul, and ultimately the gospel of Jesus Christ and in so doing shipwreck their faith.
What does Paul do with them?
This is a very real question. How should one respond when a person is perpetually putting forth that which is contrary to the gospel of the glory of the blessed God? That’s serious stuff! So what does Paul do.
He hands them over to Satan: This is that “far away” language that I referenced earlier. It is striking, unfamiliar, and frankly a bit uncomfortable. And it’s confusing. Paul hands Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan, “that they may learn not to blaspheme”. I want you to know that I have question marks in my head about this phrase. And I want that to be encouraging for you. When I started working through this text there were so many questions that I could hardly see the road. There’s still a few scattering the ditches, but I feel like I can see the destination. I think that what the Lord has for us here is clear.
What we will do is make a few observations about this phase.
It is a visible act that reflects a spiritual reality. It is an act of the church that reflects a spiritual reality. It is something that the church does because of something that is true spiritually.
Let’s talk about it this way. There are two kingdoms; the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world. And Jesus is the ruler over God’s kingdom, or God’s people. And the local church is a visible picture and representation of God’s kingdom. And Satan is the ruler over all that willfully reject Jesus.
Hymenaeus and Alexander are teaching the dogma of Satan’s kingdom. This is why Paul later refers to false teaching as the “doctrine of demons”. These men are convincing people who belong to God of things that belong to Satan. Or to say all of this another way, these men are working for Satan’s good. And they are working against the good of God’s people.
The text says that they were blasphemers, which is the same word that he used about himself when he wrote about his life before Jesus saved him. He is saying in no unclear terms, “these men do not belong to Jesus, and are leading others away from him.” Which means that handing them over to Satan is a visible act that fits with the spiritual reality.
it means put someone out of the visible church family:
It is to say that the person is no longer a part of our covenant family. I want to be clear on this. We do not have bodyguards that stand at the entrance of the building to make sure no Hymenaeus’s and Alexander’s get in for service. That is not the idea. In fact Paul includes Hymenaeus in his second letter to Timothy, which means that the guy is still hanging around. He might have been visiting services at different churches in Ephesus.
But the body would have known that he was not of them. Here at Cities Church we have a covenant membership. My wife and I stood with the members of this church in a congregational meeting and covenanted with them. Similar to in marriage, we made commitments about how we would live in relationship with the other members of the body here at Cities.
But if we give ourselves over to beliefs and actions that clearly undermine and contradict the gospel, without repentance, we are shipwrecking our faith. and the proper response to someone who willfully chooses to abandon the gospel is to put that person out of the covenant family.
This is for the purpose of this act is repentance, recovery, and restoration
if you hear anything about this phrase, “handed over to Satan”, hear this. It is a loving act, to the church and to Hymenaeus and Alexander. Paul says it this way. I handed them over to Satan (put them out of the Church body), “that they may learn not to blaspheme.” To say it another way, “I have put them out of the covenant family so that they would learn the true gospel”.
There are two layers to how this works. First, The Holy Spirit uses this act to awaken a person to his or her own faithlessness. It is like the shock of jumping into frigid Lake Superior on a warm summer day. And, under Christ’s kingship Satan becomes and instrument of good. The bad that Satan intends for the person who has been put out of the family can awaken that person to the goodness of God and the gospel.
Therefore Wage the Good War for the Sake of Your Faith
I want to frame this positively: it would be easy to say, in light of what we just saw, “you don’t want to be shipwrecked, do you? Then you better listen up!” Instead, I want to say, “Jesus is the greatest, most beautiful and delightful treasure. He will satisfy your soul. He will provide for you. His love will become the song that your heart longs to sing. Therefore wage the good war, that you would reach your destination.
Wage war on your…
Thoughts, which tend to speak lies about yourself and others.
Your intake, which includes myriads of false ideas.
On the ideas of your peers
The culture around you
And wage war by…
Protecting and promoting the gospel of the glory of the blessed God. Or, to put it another way, pursue the bible in relationship, seeking to know the real Jesus and the true gospel, pursuing avenues of growth in your understanding of the Word, and wielding the Word in various contexts and in your own heart and mind.
And this table is one of the ways that we wage war here at Cities Church. We love Jesus together by celebrating the Lord’s Supper every week because we believe that the gospel is to be remembered as often as possible. Jesuis is the fountain of true doctrine and the perfect example of obedience to it. And he perfectly embodies what it means for true doctrine to have its right effect: a pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith that produces love. The realities of what the father planned for Jesus, and his purpose in them, led Jesus to a cross, into a tomb, and ultimately to the father’s side as the resurrected and ascended king. And so we look to him.