This sermon was preached at Niddrie Community Church on February 25, 2018.
You can listen to it here (32 min.), or read the manuscript below.
Nowadays, we’re surrounded by people who run around, with glasses at the end of their noses, eyebrows always furrowed, clipboards clutched under the arm, telling others what they can and cannot say.
“Excuse me, Most Reverend Mez, sir, you cannot call David a moany git. Think about his feeeelings.”
These folks will probably end up knighted by Prince Charles, your politically correct “Defender of the Faiths”, for heroism in speech policing. They’d have made fantastic Pharisees in Jesus’ day.
Jesus says, “Your daddy is Satan.”
Pharisees say, “Umm, Jesus, sir, you can’t say that.”
Jesus says, “Eat my flesh or go to hell.”
Speech police say, “Umm, Jesus, sir, you CAN’T say that!”
But, then or now, the speech police won’t have a problem with, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” That sounds nice and cuddly, something an educated and tolerant Labor MP might say, right?
So, if the peacemakers are blessed, what’s the deal with our text tonight, all about warfare and handing men over to Satan?
In 1 Timothy 1:18-20, we learn that Christianity is a religion of war, for hard men and brave women. We learn that the peace Christians make comes through the war Christians wage.
THE MAIN POINT TONIGHT IS PLAIN: There is a good fight to be fought. We must fight.
We’ll understand this main point as we look at the three questions Paul answers.
1. What is Paul’s command to Timothy?
2. Where is Timothy to find confidence as he carries out Paul’s order?
3. What is to happen when men and women inside the church fight against Timothy?
QUESTION 1: WHAT IS PAUL’S COMMAND TO TIMOTHY?
We read Paul’s command to Timothy in verses 18 and 19. Look at them with me.
“This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child…wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience.”
Paul commands Timothy to wage the good warfare, to fight the good fight, by holding faith and a good conscience.
Before this letter was even written, and beginning, middle, and end of 1 Timothy, this is Timothy’s order, from the Apostle Paul himself.
Timothy was to be fully dedicated to it, as the most loyal of soldiers under Christ.
He is commanded to fight the good fight by personally holding to the sound doctrine Paul taught him and by personally walking in integrity—with a good conscience—both in public and private, avoiding hypocrisy’s castration.
As a soldier of Christ, he is to believe no lies. He is to hold firmly all truth. He is to walk with discipline on the right path. He is to kill every bit of sin he finds in himself.
Timothy’s combat orders in Ephesus require him to fight the good fight by teaching clearly, and boldly, all the sound doctrine Paul taught him.
He’s to teach the true gospel of Jesus Christ. He’s to teach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. He’s to instruct the church how it must conduct itself. He’s to ensure that qualified leaders are put in place, both elders and deacons. He’s to oppose, at every turn, all false teaching and false teachers in the church.
This was the fight of Paul’s life. And it was to be Timothy’s as well. Paul comes to end of his last letter to his own son in the faith, in 2 Timothy, and says, “My son, I have fought the good fight. I fought it, and fought it well…with honor…to the end. Son, do the same.”
So, what does this mean for us today?
Brethren, we too are at war. And we too are to fight well.
The United States, unfortunately, is still at war in Afghanistan. The sane and sensible mission is for us to kill every single towel-headed Taliban fighter, guilty by association for all who died on September 11th. Every Soldier, Sailor, Airman, and Marine shares the mission and shares allegiance to my nation and our code of valor. But not everybody is infantry. Not everybody is a fighter pilot. Not everybody runs supplies or has the same rank.
The same is true for this church. We’ll have some shared duties in our fight, and some different duties in our fight, according to the offices and roles to which our Great General has assigned us.
What’s the same?
Each member of this church is duty bound to fight the good fight, holding faith and a good conscience.
Each of us must take hold of all of God’s Word in faith—learn it, believe it, and obey it. When our beliefs and feelings and opinions and preferences come against God’s Word as enemies, we must slay them all with the Scriptural sword.
Each of us must make sure that everything taught from this pulpit is in agreement with what God says in the Bible.
Each of us must put our sin to death, must walk with integrity and honesty, must not be dirty, two-faced hypocrites.
The whole point of our Statement of Faith is to make clear exactly what each of us is committing to hold to as a summary of Biblical, Christian teaching.
The whole point of our Church Covenant is to make clear exactly how each of us is committing to walk, consistent with Christ’s commands, with a good conscience.
If all that’s the same, what jobs are divided up among us?
Elders, it’s your job to especially lead us in this. Know that your duties are duties of combat, duties of war.
Your job is not to accumulate friends and comfort. It’s not to fit in at the conferences held by the cool kids.
It’s to fight for truth and holiness in this church. Teach us the whole and hard truth. Never hide it for the speech police.
Today, the battle rages most fiercely around sexuality. You must prove your loyalty right there.
Call men to be men. Tell us what the Bible says, that the effeminate—men who play at being women, men who refuse responsibility—will not see paradise.
In courageous love, call homosexuals to full repentance, not just of perverted sexual action, but of perverted sexual desires.
Call women to be women. Tell them to stop trying to run the world, to be content as man’s helper.
Teach us the Word. You are our officers. We need you.
Christian men, you are to wage this war as men.
The responsibility for the long-term faithfulness of this congregation, our long-term holding to sound doctrine and obedience to Jesus, is on your shoulders. You are men. Primary responsibility is always yours in this church.
Our feminist world wants your manhood cut off and tossed out. It wants you to believe that fighting and contending and arguing is bad, because it’s so aggressive and combative and it just isn’t compassionate.
The world doesn’t want you to fight like a man. The world wants you to be a woman. Just put on a dress and have a nice cup of tea, lads!
Don’t give in to the enemy. “Fight the good fight” isn’t some abstract command you can obey by prancing through the heather singing “All We Need is Love”. Paul says wage the good war, because you’re in a war. Fight the good fight, because you have to have the approach of a fighter.
We need you to fight the good fight like men. Take responsibility. Take ownership. Take the lead. Be hard. Be like Paul and Timothy, knights, warriors for Christ.
Christianity is not a religion for soft and passive men. When men don’t fight, the world goes to the Devil.
You remember that bloke, Adam, right? His woman was tricked by the Ancient Dragon, Satan himself. When Adam came on the scene, his bride had succumbed to that dragon’s tempting tongue. She had disobeyed God.
God had made Adam to be a fighter, and here was the moment for fighting. But did he get between his bride and the dragon and slay the dragon? No. He rolled over. He didn’t fight. He gave in. He surrendered.
And the world fell into darkness.
When men don’t fight, when they don’t assault God’s enemies and defend God’s women, the world goes to the Devil.
Christian women, you are to wage this war as women.
While men own primary responsibility, and fight as hard warriors for the good of this church, they need you to walk in womanly godliness. Women, men need you to encourage them to fight the good fight. Without your help, men will not fight as they ought.
Godly encouragement from godly women is jet fuel for men to press on in battle.
Don’t try to pacify your men. Don’t try to make them soft. Don’t try to make them act like women, to put down their weapons. See the good fight, see the good men for the fight, and make sure those men know you’re behind them.
QUESTION 2: WHERE IS TIMOTHY TO FIND CONFIDENCE AS HE CARRIES OUT PAUL’S ORDER?
When one man calls another to fight, something like a pep talk can be expected.
Sports are combative in nature. I remember summer training in high school. It would be 38 degrees outside, so humid you could drink simply by opening your mouth. As we sprinted up the hill by the side of our school over and over and over again, the coach would yell, “The other guys ain’t doing this right now! They’re sitting on their lazy butts playing video games. They ain’t working as hard as us!” We were preparing for the combat of the upcoming season, and the focus of our coach’s pep talk was us. It was all about our hard work, our ability, our dedication.
But that’s not the focus of Paul’s pep talk, not when it matters most.
“This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare”
Paul talks about these prophecies later in the letter.
1 Timothy 4:14 reads, “Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the elders.”
Prophecies had been made about Timothy when the elders ordained him to minister with Paul.
What’s prophecy? The content of prophecy is the very word of God, and it was given to men through a man or woman, used as a mouthpiece. God spoke to people through the prophet.
Every word said in prophecy is God’s word. Therefore, every word of real prophecy is true and to be believed and obeyed by God’s people, because God is true and to be believed and to be obeyed.
So, what were these prophecies about? I don’t have tons to go on, but, if we look at the content of prophecies made about Paul coming into ministry, I think it’s my best guess to say that they basically said: “Timothy, this will be your job and what’s required of you. I, the Lord, will make you fit for it, but it’s going to be rough going. Take heart, for I’ll be with you to help and strengthen you all the way.”
“Timothy, you must fight. It’s a fierce, and a good, fight. Take heart. Remember the prophecies made about you.”
Instead of pointing to Timothy, and saying, “Look within for confidence for the fight ahead”, Paul says, “Look to God’s Word.”
Now, this matters for the elders here tonight.
As you know, there will be days ahead when you will want to quit, when what seems to be vanity in your work makes you question whether you should be in the fight—or if you shouldn’t just do something else…
When to teach exactly what the Bible says will get you more enemies than you want to love…
When some guy you’ve been evangelizing for 10 years says he’ll follow Christ, then bails after a couple weeks…
When you keep telling church members what they need to do and they just won’t listen…
When sin isn’t being put to death in the lives of the sheep, when they talk behind your back, when they lie and bite…
Look to God’s Word. It tells you that to shepherd the flock is a position of honor. It tells you that your labor in the Lord is most certainly not in vain. It tells you that Christ sees all your trials and burdens, and will thank you for your service when it’s all said and done—no matter what complaints, no matter what battles, no matter what injuries you have to put up with in the meantime.
Take heart, elders. Be encouraged in your calling by God’s Word. And fight on.
Fellow members, this matters for us too.
Paul’s word to Timothy is a good word for you. Your whole life will be one humdinger of a fight, and your enemies won’t buy you free cake for your faithfulness to Jesus.
Your government will try to make you an outlaw.
Your employers will try to make you redundant.
Your neighbors will shun you.
But God’s Word says stand with Christ anyway! Call sin, “sin” anyway! Evangelize anyway!
It says that you will suffer for the sake of Christ. But not one hair on your head will be harmed apart from Christ’s will, which is working everything for your eternal good.
Timothy is to fight the good fight, confident in the Word of God. And so must we.
QUESTION 3: WHAT IS TO HAPPEN WHEN MEN AND WOMEN INSIDE THE CHURCH FIGHT AGAINST TIMOTHY?
The answer is found in verse 20.
“By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”
There were those who belonged to the church, but then made shipwreck of their faith. They stopped fighting alongside Christians, and began fighting against them—like the Scotsman who joined with the English to betray our dearly beloved, William Wallace. They stopped holding to the true doctrine that Paul had given the churches. They stopped obeying Jesus. They started acting just like his enemies.
Among these shipwrecked sinners, Paul calls out Hymenaeus and Alexander. Paul wasn’t afraid to call out false teachers by name, and neither should we. We don’t pet wolves. We put them down.
Paul calls out Hymenaeus again in 2 Timothy, for teaching that there would be no physical resurrection in the future. But, if I were to guess, based on what we know was at the heart of the false teaching in Ephesus at this point, I think Hymenaeus and Alexander were leaders among the false teachers wrongly teaching the law.
Paul hands them over Satan, a direct example for Timothy and the church in Ephesus to follow whenever dealing with false teachers and unrepentant sinners.
What does it mean, that they were “handed over to Satan”?
Well, the world can be understood as having two parts: the Kingdom of Satan and the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.
All men are born into Satan’s Kingdom, enslaved in sin under his rule.
But Jesus insists on having every last one of his people live in his Kingdom, as his subjects, under his rule. And Jesus always gets exactly what he wants.
He came and died to set each one of his people free. He rose from the grave on the third day. He returned to heaven to rule from his throne. And he sent his Holy Spirit, to snatch each of those for whom he died right out of Satan’s clutches. The Spirit gives each one of Christ’s loved ones faith in Jesus, taking them out of the Satan’s Kingdom, and putting them into Christ’s Kingdom.
The church in Ephesus, and our church, is made up of royal citizens of the Kingdom of Christ—his great work of salvation celebrated every time we have a baptism or eat the Lord’s Supper together.
But, when a church member refuses to hold to and walk in the truth, he ain’t acting like a citizen of heaven. He’s acting like an enemy. He’s blaspheming God, just like Satan and all his illegitimate children.
When Paul handed these men over to Satan, he was saying, “So, y’all insist on acting like devils, huh? Alright, have your way. You’ll no longer be recognized as a Christian. Go, live in Satan’s world. You will not walk in blasphemy as one of us.”
This is how Timothy and the Ephesian were to deal with the false teachers. Sadly, this is exactly what we’ve had to do to folks in the past. I promise you, we’ll have to do it again.
As a church, we love Jesus. So, we must love the honoring of his name more than the comfort that comes with not fighting and just letting sin slide.
Unrepentant sinners must be removed from our membership. If we do not take this responsibility seriously, we will die.
Some who are handed over to Satan truly belong to him, and will go to hell. Others actually belong to Jesus, and will be so tormented by life in Satan’s world, that they will once again come to Christ and life with his people. That is our hope for everyone we excommunicate.
Timothy, and we, must fight to teach sinners not to blaspheme our King.
Well, it is well past time for me to be done. So, let me end with this.
The war didn’t end when Timothy died. There is a war to be waged, and we must fight. If we coast, we will die. If we try to be peacemakers the way the world wants us to be peacemakers—making peace with sin instead of killing it, making peace with lies instead of bombing them—we will die.
We. Must. Fight.
Thank God, it’s a good fight.