A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy. 1:18-20. 3). Timothy and the good fight (continued).
Whoever these two men were, what we are told about them is that ‘by rejecting conscience, certain persons have suffered shipwreck in the faith; among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander’ (19b-20a, NRSV). The NIV rendering *some have rejected these* is unwarranted. What the heretics had rejected is clearly singular, not plural. The word used for their rejection of conscience (*apotheo*) means to push something or someone away, to repudiate. It implies ‘a violent and deliberate rejection’. Having done this to their conscience, they have *Shipwrecked their faith*. Conversely, it is precisely by preserving a good conscience that Timothy will be able to keep the faith. Thus belief and behaviour, conviction and conscience, the intellectual and the moral, are closely linked. This is because God’s truth contains ethical demands. As Jesus said, ‘if anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out [or “know”] whether my teaching comes from God…’ (Jn.7:17). In other words, doing is the key to discovering, obedience the key to assurance. By contrast, it is when people are determined to live in unrighteousness that they suppress the truth (Rom.1:18).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). ‘A bad conscience is the mother of all heresies,’ Calvin wrote. This may not be an inevitable rule, but it is often true. I have myself known 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.
So serious was the apostasy of Hymenaeus and Alexander that Paul wrote of them: *whom I have handed over to Satan* (20). This is almost certainly an allusion to excommunication, because Paul used the identical expression in relation to the incestuous offender at Corinth. ‘Hand this man over to Satan’, he wrote (1 Cor.5:5), and then explained his meaning: ‘Expel the wicked man from among you.’ (1 Cor.5:13). Since the church is the dwelling place of God, it follows that to be rejected from it is to be sent back into the world, the habitat of Satan. Radical though this punishment is, it is not permanent or irrevocable. Its purpose is remedial, ‘in the hope that through this discipline’ (REB) the offenders may *be taught not to blaspheme* (20). The implication is that, once the lesson has been learned, the excommunicated person may be restored to the fellowship.
In this first chapter, which concerns the place of doctrine in the local church, Paul gives valuable instruction about false teaching. Its essential nature is that it is *heterodidaskalia*, a deviation (*heteros*) from revealed truth. Its damaging results are that it replaces faith with speculation and love with dissension. Its fundamental cause is the rejection of a good conscience before God.
What then should Timothy do in such a situation? Paul does not tell him to secede from the church, which would have been one extreme reaction. But neither may he remain silent in the face of heresy, let alone compromise with it, which would have been the opposite extreme. 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.
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 2:1-15. 2. Public worship.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.