The Warning To Timothy
“This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.” (1 Timothy 1:18–20)
Paul has a desire for Timothy, and that is that Timothy retain and treasure faith in Christ and a good conscience, because a lack of these things leads to shipwreck. Shipwreck is a description of the destruction and ruin that can come upon one who walks away from God by not trusting Christ and not maintaining a good conscience.
When we know the truth, sin and error will work against our conscience. We will know and be aware of our wrong, and our conscience will bear witness to our error (See Romans 2:14-16;9:1-2). When we ignore the testimony of a conscience that is educated by the Word of God and moved by the Spirit, we know that we are persisting in sin. This can only lead to destruction.
Paul warns Timothy that shipwreck is possible. In no circumstance can we assume that shipwreck is a positive thing. Neither should we dare think that one cannot and will not make shipwreck if they ignore God’s Word, His Spirit, and the pangs of conscience. If one makes shipwreck, he cannot continue as he did before. Some shipwrecks may possibly be repaired. Some shipwrecks may be irreparable. Regardless, shipwreck means that life will not go on as if it were in good repair. Ministry cannot continue as if one’s life were in good shape. Shipwreck is destructive to peace of mind, one’s family, one’s conscience, one’s walk with God, and all else in the person’s life. Those shipwrecks from which one can recover are not things that will be fixed over night.
Some shipwrecks are large scale disasters. Paul spoke of two men who had been turned over to Satan that they would learn not to blaspheme. Paul was speaking of church discipline, or excommunication, when he said this (See 1 Corinthians 5:1-5). There is no way that we could ever put into words just how serious this is and how sobering it should be to us. When one is excommunicated from the church and left at the mercy of the devil, there is no knowing exactly what will happen when the flesh is destroyed as God allows Satan to plague such an one. The purpose of this is to bring the shipwrecked person to repentance. One thing is sure, and that is that while the person is turned over to Satan, God is still in control of the process, and “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31)
Should the shipwrecked person refuse to repent and change their ways, we find that destruction can indeed be a final sort of destruction. We read of some whose sins led to death (1 Corinthians 11:17-34). Solomon was used of God to say, “He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.” (Proverbs 29:1)
I am convinced that one can sin to the point that his life is taken. We are solemnly warned of this: “If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.” (1 John 5:16) Sin has no other end than destruction.
Shipwreck is a reality. Please do not minimize sin and shipwreck and act as if the consequences thereof are small. There are times that one must step down from the ministry. There are times that the time out of the ministry is permanent. Shipwreck, when minimized as if it has neither consequence nor impact upon the ministry, can only lead to more heartache and destruction. Please, let us not fall prey to the folly of minimizing shipwreck!
With the above things in mind, we must also address one argument that has been presented in the past regarding disqualification from the ministry. It is said that, since God said, “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance,” (Romans 11:29) that one cannot be disqualified. After all, God gives gifts that are eternal, and God does not repent of His calling.
First of all, let us realize how simply shallow and errant this interpretation of the passage is; because it ignores the context in which it was written. The question is asked whether God had cast off His people Israel (Romans 11:1-2), to which a negative reply is given. The apostle then proceeds to present his case based upon the fact that God had given many gifts and made many promises to Israel that He would forgive their sins and make them His people. Paul establishes this argument by appealing to a specific passage of Scripture to show them that God keeps His promises despite the sin of Israel: “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good? Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and he hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it.” (Numbers 23:19–20) Balack the king of Moab desired Balaam the prophet to curse Israel. Balaam stated that, though he tried to do so, God had spoken a blessing upon Israel, and would not repent of it. God had given Israel the gift of being His people, and He was not repenting of doing so. Paul stated that, though Israel was temporarily blinded, their ultimate end and salvation was of God, who promised that He would save Israel and make them His people.
This text can be of great comfort to us when we sin, because we know that God will indeed forgive the sin of His people and not cast us away. It is what comforted Jeremiah when he looked around and beheld the devastation of Jerusalem that came because of their idolatry. He said, “It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22–23) God’s faithfulness to His promises was the reason that He was merciful to Israel and refused to completely destroy them. This is also why He spoke to cold, callous, and careless Israel in Malachi’s day, saying, “For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:6) Despite our sins, God keeps His promises. That should indeed comfort us, because we know that those of us who are trusting Christ are securely safe in His steadfast, unchanging love.
What we cannot do, however, is rejoice that this verse tells us that a person cannot disqualify himself from the ministry. That is to disregard the context of the Scripture as God’s promise not to abandon Israel, but to also ignore the fact that people have disqualified themselves and lost God’s blessing upon their labors. Saul is a case in point: He was rejected from being king (1 Samuel 13:13-14;15:22-23), and God departed from Him (1 Samuel 28:15-19). Furthermore, if one could not disqualify himself, it nullifies the qualifications presented in First Timothy chapter three, and makes a mockery of God’s Word by presenting a Bible that conflicts with itself and has portions which are incorrect. This is absolutely unacceptable to any Bible believing person. In fact, this is sin, as we have seen in the previous two articles.
The above truths are hard truths, and they cannot be softened. Sinful men who insist that shipwreck and disqualification cannot happen, or that they are not so serious as many of us believe, must be warned. We must not act as if sin’s consequences are small. We must not act as if our sins will not affect us negatively and even destroy us. We are told that such must be rebuked. “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.” (1 Timothy 5:20)
Finally, this series of articles should not be viewed as harsh, judgmental, and unforgiving. The fact is, we cannot present the forgiveness of sin, God’s mercies toward the sinner, and God’s restoring power unless we first present sin as destructive and damning. Those who desire to stand with God’s Word dare not treat sin lightly. They must present the exceeding sinfulness of sin. Only then can we see the glories of the grace of God. “Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20–21) If you are a minister who has fallen and disqualified himself, please take sin seriously. I plead with you to be as David, who confessed his sin and accepted the consequences. Only then can you truly be restored in your walk with God. I do not profess to know your future. I do not know whether or not your ministry can be restored. Maybe it can, and then maybe your reputation is so greatly damaged that you can never again fill the qualifications of First Timothy chapter three. I do know that God will forgive you and restore you to a holy walk with Him, and that is what is of utmost importance.