When I read the passage we are looking at today I couldn’t help but remember times that God had spoken into my life through prophetic ministry.
One time in particular came to mind.
I was over on great barrier Island with a group of friends, we’d gone over to camp and tramp and fish and dive. A friend from church was working as a cook at Orama Christian community on the island and had asked us to bring his suite case over with us and drop it off. So we used it to store food in for the first few days we were camping and then two of us tramped over the island to give it to him.
We arrived in the middle of the Orama Christian conference and got invited into one of their meetings by our friend. The guy who was speaking was Des Short, the principle of Faith bible college. When he finished his message he looked straight at me pointed with his figure and in a loud voice said “You”.
Now I thought he was upset that we were there and was going to have us thrown out. You see while my fashion forward style could be described as aging vagrant or transient sage, back then I was a bit wilder. I used to have long hair and a full beard, and this was the only time in my life when I had dreadlocks. I should say the only time I had a dreadlock. We’d been tenting with no fresh water for showers and swimming and snorkling everyday for hours, So my hair was matted into one salt encrusted dread lock, over to one side of my head. We’d just spent two hours tramping over the Hills from Port Fitzroy. The track was a firebreak and went straight up the hill and then straight down the other side, so we were all sweaty. I’d borrowed my mate Tim’s jacket, to try and look descent, but I ended up looking even worse, the problem was Tim was shorter and smaller than I was and I ripped the sleeves and back out of it, and the man at the front said “you… you Young man” and my heart fell.
Then he said that he believed that God had called me to be a pillar in the church and that I would make a mark for Christ. Which freaked me out a bit more than if we’d been thrown out for being too scruffy. God was speaking into my life… it was part of a call to ministry.
There are times when I think I’m not really cut out for ministry, like you probably do as well, that the spirit reminds me of that time. When I find myself trying to cope with pressure and stress I’ve sensed the Spirit say well pillars are supposed to be load bearing. It has been helpful as I have found myself in times of struggle to keep on fighting the good fight… to battle on.
In the passage we had read to us today Paul tells Timothy that he has given him his command and to remember the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected so have suffered shipwreck with regards to the faith. The passage rounds off the opening section of Paul’s letter and completes Paul’s charge to Timothy to oppose false teachers and advance God’s work by faith which result in love. We are going to look at the passage and then look at what it can say to us about avoiding being shipwrecked as we battle on in the faith as well.
Firstly Paul addresses Timothy as his son, as he had in verse 2 and this not only denotes a warm and strong relationship between the two but also that Paul sees Timothy as being his natural successor and representative in this situation. Paul is throwing the full weight of his apostleship behind Timothy. It’s kind of like with the royal family at the moment; the younger royals are stepping up and taking some of the work off the queen and in particular the duke of Edinburgh as he has retired. Like Remembrance Day last year. When they speak they speak with the Queens authority, she as prince William says ‘She is the boss’.
Having given Timothy, the charge to fight the good fight, Paul then turns to how he is to fight, he is to hold on to faith and the good conscience. Ephesus was a major trade city it had been fought over and passed from empire to empire and would have been used to seeing troop garrisoned there. So Paul uses military metaphors. In his letter to the church at Ephesus Paul had told his readers to put on the whole armour of God and here amidst the military language of command and charge and fight, Paul mentions two of those things, faith, which in Ephesians Paul says is like a shield and good conscience which could be likened to the breastplate of righteousness. They are not offensive weapons rather they are defensive things, they are designed to hold ground and repel attacks. It is our faith in God and how that works out in how we act and react that is the best way of refuting false teaching and provide a defence of th hope we have in Christ.
Faith speaks of that invisible relationship with God, that Paul had just finished saying was based on the grace of God, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Good conscience is the way that that relationship with God gives us a moral compass for decision making. It is how we live out that faith we have with God. James puts it like this faith without works is dead. In John’s first epistle he puts it like this ‘everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Who ever does not love does not know God, because God is Love.” As the conclusion to his sermon on the mount Jesus had said those who love him are the ones who hear his word and obey them, put it into action. We are saved by grace by Christ’s death and resurrection, and as we receive that love its transforms us to that we act and react out of that love and grace to the world around us.
Paul then contrasts Timothy’s holding on to faith and a good conscience with the false teachers who have veered off course and have ended up being shipwrecked. It might seem as if Paul is mixing metaphors here saying Paul needs to be a good solider, a metaphor he uses in his second letter, and a good sailor, as well as having a large military garrison Ephesus was also a major port and people would have been used a regular occurrence for some ships to leave port and be shipwrecked. Paul himself knew what it was like to be shipwrecked. Paul says the reason they have had this happen to them is they have rejected faith and good conscience, in the Greek the word reject is singular, so may apply simply to the good conscience, what Paul told of us the false teachers is that they were getting caught up in controversial speculation in myths and genealogies and were misusing the law and there is a sense here that they had disconnected faith from good conscience. They did not have that moral compass and so were lead off track and up onto the rocks or out into Adriatic and Mediterranean storms and founded in the changing winds of temptation and shifting ethical standards.
Paul finishes this section by refering to two specific people, who we are to assume were false teachers. Hymenaeus, who we only have mentioned here and in 2 Timothy and Alexander who may or may not be the Alexander we meet in Ephesus in Acts, A Jew who tries and tell the crowd what is wrong with Paul and his Christian faith, in second Timothy, Alexander the silver smith is mentioned as someone who Paul says he has suffered much at his hands. Alexander was a common name amongst Jews in Greek society. But Paul says he has handed them over to Satan to learn not to blaspheme. Hand them over to Satan is a way of saying that they have been removed from fellowship, they are outside the protection of the church. However this is not a punishment rather it is in the hope that they will learn. Perhaps part of Timothy’s charge is to teach them and discuss with them the gospel in the hope of them changing their minds. Paul had called himself a blasphemer out of ignorance he had spoken against Jesus Christ and the sense here is that these two know about Christ but have chosen to speak carelessly about God. We tend to link blaspheme simply with using Jesus name as a swear word, but here Paul sees it as much more its speaking falsely about the nature and grace of God.
How does this apply to us, how can Paul’s charge to Timothy help us avoid a shipwreck of faith?
Firstly, we are all in a battle, we all have a fight to fight…following Christ puts us at odds with the world in which we live. It calls us to swim against the tide and sail a different course, our sails unfurled for the wind of the Holy Spirit. You could liken the church to a lifeboat called by Christ to battle the storm to rescue and save people. We need the same encouragement and help that Paul was offering Timothy.
I don’t mean everyone has to have those experiences of a prophetic call to a specific ministry like Timothy did to look back to and remember and be encouraged by. They are not common in the scriptures or today. While I have found those times encouraging and a reminder of God’s call, If I was to depend on those two or three times that God has spoken into my life they would be rather thin threads to help me hold onto the faith and good conscience, they would be distant and dispersed fix points, almost impossible to use to navigate through the shallows and rocks of life. Nor does it mean that you can sit back and say see Howard I knew all this talk about Christian leadership wasn’t for me… “I haven’t had that same experience as Timothy or you.
The best definitions of prophecy is the Holy Spirit taking the timeless word of God and making it timely, applying to the here and now. We are all able to experience and know that in our lives. It is as we focus on God’s word on a regular daily basis that our faith and our good consciences are encouraged and strengthened. As we read it devotionally and as we study it and wrestle to understand and apply it to life, that it is able to point us to our true north in Jesus Christ. Using like Paul does a military image… During desert storm fighting vehicles were unloaded out of planes and off ships and the first thing they would do was stop in a painted square on the runway or port they arrived at. It was a square whose positioning was exactly known so they could recalibrate their GPS systems which enabled them to manoeuvre cross country in the trackless desert and achieve their mission. That is the same as the word of God is for us. It points us to the true north of Jesus Christ.
And…The reality is that scripture says we are called by God, God has spoken and called us to be witnesses to Jesus Christ, as we go in this world. We are called to be God’s people, a royal priesthood as it says in 1 Peter called forth to declare the praises of him who has called us out of darkness into his wonderful light, we are all called to love one another as Christ has loved us. The Holy Spirit gives each one of us gifts that we are to use for the common good.
In the midst of the wrestling with the things that would try and take us away from Christ and shipwreck our faith we are able to remember that prophetic word of God… I’m reminded of Jesus in the desert facing temptation he was able to navigate his way through that by focusing on God’s timeless word made timely to the situation, which came to him as a devote Jewish man from a life of studying the scriptures, and the presence of the same Holy spirit that is poured out on you and I. He remembered it as a rock not on which he would be shipwrecked but on which he could stand, a rock to anchor him in the storms and battles of life.