Sermons & Podcasts

Making Sense of Shipwrecks

September 3, 2023 Speaker: Chris Oswald Series: The Household of God

Passage: 1 Timothy 1:8–20

1 Timothy 1:18-20



I. The Good Law


This salvation is first revealed the Christian’s relationship with the law. Look at vs. 8 with me:


8 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. 


People get very confused about what the law of God is supposed to do in the world. And what it is supposed to do in the Christian life. 


Illustration: WW2 Toaster factories turned into tank factories. 


They say every middle age man has to chose between two hobbies when he gets older. He can either go deep into WW2 history or get good at BBQ. I’m not sure I’ve declared my major yet. Both of those things are pretty great. I was thinking about WW2 history as I thought about the Christians’ relationship with the law. 


We won that war because we were able to convert factories that made consumer products (products for the good life) into factories that made bombs and bullets.


The work of Jesus Christ has done the opposite for the believer.


We are saved by works — just not our works. We are saved by the fulfillment of the law’s righteous requirements. But it wasn’t us who fulfilled it.  Jesus Christ. 


He saved us and made the law a factory that furnishes the good life. 


II. The Glorious Lord


In vs. 12-17, Paul says this is true of him. The law was shelling him and showing him his need for a savior. And then he received mercy and grace. 


12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.


Illustration: An Allah apologist accidentally glorifies Jesus… 


Someone posted a comment made by a Muslim apologist who was rejecting the divinity of Christ. He accidentally would up displaying the glory of God in Christ. 


Imagine believing Allah was stripped naked by his own creation and dragged, whipped, and beaten then finally hanged on a cross and killed. Imagine believing the hands of Allah which are outstretched and contain infinite bounty were forcibly tied together, pierced and broken. 


We have a tremendous salvation. Paul continues in vs. 15


15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.


III. A Great Loss


And all of this has me thinking of that passage in Hebrews… “how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?”


Both that text and this one follow a basic biblical pattern. A great promise is revealed and then some warning against presumption is given. 


For we see the great salvation in vs. 8-17 and then in vs. 18-20 — we see some have made shipwreck of their faith


18 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, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. 


What does Paul mean when he talks about shipwreck of their faith? 


The biblical data doesn’t allow us to make many concrete conclusions. Not only because Paul doesn’t go into great detail about this particular situation, but also because when it comes to disciples, we have two categories of people who are very different in nature and yet appear to us, to be very similar. 


On the one hand you have what you might call the deceptive disciple.


The deceptive disciple appears to be the real deal — at least for a season — but in the end turns out to be counterfeit. 


Jesus’ parable of the sower and the soils addresses this phenomenon. 


18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” — Matthew 13:18-23


And in the story of Jesus, Judas fills this category.


But in addition to the deceptive disciple, you have the deceived disciple. The deceptive disciple is a false disciple temporarily looking like a real one. The deceived disciple is a true disciple temporarily looking like a false one. 


And if Judas is the deceptive disciple, then all of the other men that followed Jesus were deceived disciples. For they all deserted him to one extent or another. 


And if you took a snapshot of them in that moment, you’d say, that’s Matthew 13:20-21


20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.


But these men were restored and became resolute later in life. 


So what does Paul mean by shipwreck of their faith? Are Hymanaeus and Alexander deceptive disciples or are they deceived disciples? 


Time will tell. Some shipwrecks can be salvaged and some will be sunk. Some shipwrecks can be repaired and returned back on their voyage. And some shipwrecks come to total ruin. 


Which will they prove to be? We don’t know. Our job is to do our best to avoid getting into such a perilous position in the first place.


IV. A Good Conscience


We are given one specific reason for their shipwreck. Look at vs. 18


18 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, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. 


The key lesson to take away from this text is that nobody should presume upon the promises of God. Paul is warning Timothy to be careful. Paul doesn’t even trust himself. In 1 Corinthians 9:27, Paul says


“But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”


The literal is “I beat my body and make it my slave.” 


Nobody can presume on God. Not Timothy. Not Paul. 


But at the same time, we should not view shipwrecks as something mysteriously lurking out there ready to surprise us. The cause of this broken faith is clearly presented to us.


“…that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith,”


Now look carefully at the phrase, “by rejecting this.” Paul had just assigned two things to Timothy, “hold faith and a good conscience.” But here we have a singular thing. The definite article in the greek makes it clear. Paul is saying that shipwrecks of the soul happen when people reject a good conscience. 


On the one hand we must not presume. We must be careful. On the other hand, we must not be fearful. We know what causes shipwrecks. People who break faith with their conscience are setting themselves up to crash upon the rocks. 


Some of them will recover — and prove to be temporarily deceived disciples.

Some will not recover — and prove to be deceptive disciples. 


But both groups of people got there by running roughshod over their own conscience.


Now I have provided a fair amount of exposition and explanation of the text. And now I want to shift to application and attempt, in total reliance upon the holy spirit, to walk you through one way I suspect some of us are in danger of rejecting a good conscience.


Application: The Danger of a Miscalibrated Conscience


Suppose I wanted to rob a bank. I didn’t want to hurt anybody. I just wanted to take all the money in the middle of the night. And lets suppose the main problem was a fairly complex series of alarms. 


One approach I might consider is to spend a few months relentlessly creating false alarms on the bank. I might even trigger those false alarms every single night for months — somewhere around the time I planned on eventually robbing it.


Or maybe I would only do it when it was raining. Or create some other false correlation. The point is, I want to weary the alarm company, the bank manager, the police with many false alarms. I want them to get frustrated with the alarm system. I want them to try to fix it and seem to be unable to figure it out.


Why? I want them to ignore the alarm system when I actually do enter the building.


Now let me explain why this illustration might serve you.


First, we have an enemy. The whole context of 1 Timothy is warfare. I had planned on talking about that more generally, but I decided a bit of pastoral intervention was necessary. So let us simply stipulate that we have an enemy who Jesus says seeks to steal, kill, destroy.


Secondly, the enemy has many obstacles he must overcome. One of the is the conscience.  One of his strategies is to miscalibrate your conscience. He does this by using bad people.


Let me say that last part more plainly. Friends, we live in a world where bad people with seared consciences manipulate people with overly sensitive consciences. 


Look at 1 Timothy 4:1-5 as an example…


4 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. 


We see here that deceitful spirits speak through people with seared consciences with the aim of creating issues of conscience amongst sincere people where no real issues should exist.


What is the goal? The goal is to create miscalibrated consciences. Why? Because that kind of conscience — an overly sensitive miscalibrated conscience is ripe for manipulation.


Now go back to my bank illustration. What is the long term danger of an alarm that goes off when it should not go off? You eventually stop listening to it at all.


Now let’s recenter a bit. What am I trying to do help us with? I’m trying to help us avoid rejecting a good conscience and thereby make shipwreck of our faith.


The pathway I’m describing here is just one of many. But I do see much evidence in scripture that this is a strategy that Satan used quite a bit in the early church. And to be honest, I suspect it is at work in the lives of some here today.


A highly sensitive conscience is really only a few steps away from being a seared conscience. You can’t stop listening to your conscience, you can’t shut it off, over and over again and expect it to work properly. 


As Martin Luther said at the Diet of Worms, “…to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.”


It is fairly common for Christians to go through phase of painful subjectivity. What I mean by that is a miscalibrated conscience. An extreme vulnerability to man-made rules and scruples. An extreme vulnerability to getting in your own head, etc…


Many Christians struggle in that state for some time. And then, as a resolution to that state, they shut down the alarm system all together.


If this possibly describes you, then you need to come up with a better plan. I know it feels good to have all of the alarms in your head shut off. But that’s not a safe or wise approach.


So how do you do that? 


Firstly, you need to surround yourself with people who are neither conscience binders or conscience ignorers. 


A big part of life involves curating friends who have a godly approach to the conscience. You have to avoid the guilt-trippers and you also have to avoid the “anything goes” types.


Secondly, you need to see the conscience as a necessity for the Christian life. Rejecting it is a recipe for disaster. 


Paul relied heavily on the conscience for his own progress in the Christian life. I won’t go through the dozens of scriptures where he talks about it. But here are a few:


In Acts 23:1 he says, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.”


1 Timothy 1:5, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith,”


2 Timothy 1:3, “I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.


And perhaps most importantly for our purposes: 


In Acts 24:16 he says, “So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.”


I always take pains. Getting a clear conscience involves pain. 


If you love comfort, you’ve probably been shutting down your conscience.


There may be obvious areas of conscience being overridden right now. Not out of a desire to be free of false alarms — but out a desire to have the thing your conscience is forbidding.


This will usually be in an area associated with a strong desire.


Plenty of people have a conscience that would steer them toward financial generosity. But they are compromising that conviction because they desire X, Y, Z.


Plenty of people have a conscience that would steer them toward sexual purity. But they are compromising that conviction because they desire ___.


You have to learn to desire a clear conscience more than the things that you’ll get if you compromise. 


Thirdly Take Communion As It Was Intended


What is going on here is the remembrance of what God has given us and why he has given it to us. Communion should be abstained from because of sin. But also, it should involve some examination.


23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. 


 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 11:17–32.




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