Friday, March 4, 2011

Fighting for the Faith – 1 Tim 1:18-20

Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme. (NIV)

The wording of this passage in different translations doesn’t seem clear to me. Maybe it’s just me but I would like to know exactly what “this instruction” is. Is it an instruction to fight the good fight or to follow the prophecies? If it is to follow the prophecies, it would have been an enormous help had Paul included what they were. It isn’t until we reach the fourth chapter that we receive a hint about the prophecy. 1 Tim 4:13-14 Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. (NKJV) From this, it appears that Timothy’s gift was to preach the Word (exhortation) and proclaim good doctrine. This fits with the opening of this chapter as Paul has commanded Timothy to correct people who have been preaching false doctrine. It also fits with Paul’s examples of Hymenaeus and Alexander who have blasphemed, perhaps by teaching false doctrine.


Since I can’t say exactly what the prophecies were, I do want to talk about prophecies that people receive from or give to others. Timothy received his gift through prophecies made not by a single person but by the eldership or presbytery. This wasn’t a single person walking up to another and announcing in the name of the Lord what he would or should do. This was a group of men who were in unity of purpose and conviction that this is where God was leading Timothy. The Holy Spirit had to have directed this because the Scripture is clear that the gifts come from Him. 1 Cor 12:11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. (NIV) God can use a single person to do the same thing, however a single person is also prone to his own imagination.

There are many churches today that are full of people who conjure up some interesting prophecies. I’ve been among them and have heard their utterances. I’ve heard heresy and I’ve heard great inspiring messages. I’ve heard predictions that seldom turn out the way they were spoken. I’ve heard excuses why they didn’t happen the way they should have. Quite frankly, I think most of these prophecies come from people who are so caught up in what they think is a gift from God that they don’t understand that they are actually being dragged away and enticed by their own evil desire (James 1:14) to be recognized as someone important.

I believe that if churches today would exercise just one test when a prophecy of future events is given, there would be about 95% fewer people claiming to be prophets. Deut 18:20-22 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die. And if you say in your heart, “How may we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?” - when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously, you need not be afraid of him. (RSV) We aren’t following the Old Testament law now, but we should rebuke anyone who has made a prediction and it hasn’t come to pass to stop it. They have been proven wrong once and should not be heeded again – the New Testament equivalence of what the Law taught.

For the rest of those who claim to be prophets, who are not bringing a message concerning future events but expounding on God’s Word, we need to hear their teaching and examine the rest of Scripture to see if it is true. We need to follow Paul’s instruction and command them not to teach false doctrine if it doesn’t agree with what God has already said; for we know that God will not provide a revelation that changes what He has already stated.

I have no problems with people who will rebuke me for doing wrong or encourage me about what I’m doing. If they say that the Lord is working in me, I’ll praise God for that. However, I’m very wary of anyone who tells me that the Lord told them to tell me something.

Fight the Good Fight

This phrase will probably be rendered politically incorrect. Oh my, he is encouraging violence. He is using words that someone will act on and become a bully or worse. Sorry, I digress. However, there are some who may not understand how to fight the good fight. They will verbally assault others in an attempt to correct doctrine. They will do abhorrent things to drive home their point. Sometimes there is a fine line between telling someone correcting and being obnoxious. Jesus was able to walk that line, but I’m not. See Matt 12:34 and 23:33 where Jesus calls those who oppose Him a brood of vipers. I think that Nehemiah gave a good example of someone going over the line. Neh 13:25a And I contended with them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair; (RSV)

Paul gave advice about how to contend for the faith. 1 Cor 16:13-14 Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. (NASB) Before I can fight, I must be alert to what is wrong. There are too many people who simply accept whatever they hear preached, read, hear, or see on the internet. They aren’t alert. They also do not stand firm. If someone challenges a tenant of their faith, they cave in because they really don’t have a good grasp of what they believe. They also cave in when they don’t want to believe something is sin when it is hard for them to quit. Finally, any rebuking or correction of another must be done in love. It is too easy to feel vengeful or hatred toward a person, especially if they have attacked you and your faith.

Paul also made it clear that our fight isn’t physical. 2 Cor 10:3-5 For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. (RSV) Our war is for the souls of man and that can’t be won by physical threat or intimidation. We are not like some religions that believe that those who don’t believe the same should be killed until there are only believers. People who don’t know the truth will convert to save their mortal bodies. Instead, we rely on the power of God to work in our presentation of the Word of God. The strongholds are belief systems and doctrines that are contrary to the Gospel and the truth about our God. They come at us in arguments and claims about God that are not biblical. If we are to battle these things, we must make sure our thoughts are aligned with Christ. We must give our thinking to Him as we develop a view of the world that He has shown us in the Bible. We can’t view sin the way the world does by minimizing it with words that don’t provide the full impact of the meaning and consequences that sin does.

Hold On

Sometimes it gets really hard to hold on to what we believe. It is easy to slip gradually into a stupor because we are distracted by the world or we simply get tired of fighting. The church at Sardis had a reputation for being alive but they had actually given in to the world. Jesus rebuked them and warned them. Rev 3:3 Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don't wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief. (NLT) Holding on requires that we constantly go back to what we have in the Bible and what we believed and saved us. We must hold on to this. Note that Jesus tells us to turn to Him again. We may think we are holding on if we are active in our church, attending meetings and going to Bible studies. We may even be helping the poor and needy, and visiting the sick. However, if we are not holding on to our relationship to Jesus, we are in trouble.

If we start to do things that bother our conscience and excuse our actions, we will not be able to hold on. Little things creep in and cause a shipwreck to our faith. It can be listening to music that doesn’t glorify God. The words are a little rough and over time, even the vulgar words don’t offend your conscience any more. The same thing applies to TV, movies, or books. One time cheating on one question on a test leads to more. One extra glance at a co-worker leads to lust, flirting, and even adultery. It progresses until faith is shipwrecked.

I don’t know what Hymenaeus and Alexander did leading up to blasphemy, however it is clear that it led them far enough from the Lord that Paul had to deliver them over to Satan.

Deliver to Satan

This sounds very scary. One thing is sure. When we are in fellowship with each other, we are stronger and able to resist Satan because Jesus is with us. Matt 18:20 “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them." (NKJV) Before Jesus made this statement, He taught about church discipline. When a person refuses to listen to rebuke for sin, Jesus gave a very simple solution. Matt 18:17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. (NKJV) The person is put outside the protective power of fellowship in the church.

What happens to a person who is disciplined like this? Rom 1:24a Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts… (NIV) You can read the rest in Romans 1:24-32. There is a downward spiral of depravity until they spiritually hit rock bottom. There can also be physical consequences of their sin that results in illness, depression, alcoholism, mental instability, and many other problems. Each person doesn’t follow exactly the same path, but it does result in spiritual depravity. Hopefully, they will come to their senses, repent, and be reinstated in the church.

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