Exposition: 1 Timothy 1:18-20
These two verses complete Paul’s opening section in his letter to Timothy. In other posts, we have seen verses of prayer thanking God for his calling and praising his majesty (v.12-17) and an introduction to Paul’s main reason for writing to Timothy – a message to stay strong amongst false teachers of different doctrine, who go on about myths and genealogies, and promote speculation rather than stewardship (v.3-11).
Paul says some pretty encouraging things to Timothy as he signs off this introduction – it’s like he’s showing Timothy what he has been given to deal with this situation. Firstly, he has been given a charge – one imagines a charge from God, entrusted to him by Paul. Timothy has a purpose. His ministry among these folk, in this mixed up congregation, as with all those ministering in churches, has a purpose. There is a reason he is there – God has put him there for that purpose. And going further back, it’s not simply the case that Timothy has been given a job to do, but that prophecies have been made about that work previously – so here is a massive confirmation for Timothy (see 4:14 for more details of the prophecy given to Timothy). You’re here because there is a job to do, and God knows what he is doing, and yes, it is you that he foresaw and foreknew would be here right now. What an incredible encouragement of truth from Paul to his ‘child’; and what encouragement to us: every member, elder and minister has a purpose in the congregation and church that they have been called to, a purpose that God foresaw and foreknew.
Paul goes on: in this pre-ordained role Timothy is to fight the good fight as some translations put it, and whilst that makes for a good hymn-title, the Greek is much more about the role, something like, ‘serve as a soldier in a good military expedition’. Again focussing on Timothy’s charge and fulfillment of a role, rather than focussing on the battle to be won. That said, it is a tough role, a difficult role, and as every soldier in the Roman army would know, it was a role that demanded your all for the honour of your cohort and emperor – better to die true than live running away. In the tough role Timothy has, Paul tells him he has two bits of equipment with him – faith and a good conscience. Balancing faith and conscience is tricky – especially when they say alternate things. Yet if we are walking humbly with our God, recognising the grace of God and his majesty over our lives, they should go hand in hand. When your faith and your conscience, backed with a sure call and sound doctrine, come up against opposition, Paul suggests that would be the time to stand strong and tall. In today’s church with its wide range of theologies and understandings, sometimes it will be right to discuss, but there will be other times when faith and conscience, call and doctrine, tell us it is right to stand up for Christ – not out of hatred and self-importance, but to uphold that ‘charge [which] is love that issues from a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith’ (1:5).
Paul offers the warning to Timothy – if you reject faith and conscience, reject the grace of God and true Biblical doctrine, then you become shipwrecked in your faith (1:19). And it’s incredibly hard to get back afloat, and only possible after major re-building. Hymenaeus (see also 2 Tim 2:17) and Alexander have been removed, rightly or wrongly, by Paul, from his congregation. Better for them to sail in a little dinghy alongside a large vessel while they re-build their faith on sound doctrine, than be on board sinking the whole ship.
Sound Biblical doctrine firing our faith and conscience is an absolute essential of Christian ministry and vocation, and we should rejoice that God calls individuals, men and women of faith and conscience, to the church, ‘for such a time as this’ (Esther 4:14).