Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Wage the Good Warfare

“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, holding faith and a good conscience. 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” (1 Timothy 1:18-20, ESV).

As Paul has been entrusted with his own commission from the Lord (1:1, 11-16), he commits to Timothy, his beloved “child” (or “son” in the faith), a “charge” (noun paraggelía, cf. v. 5), linked to the verbal paraggéllō (to “charge” or “command”), of which Timothy was not only on the receiving end (6:13-14, 20) but also on the giving end (1:3; 4:11; 5:7; 6:17) as Christ’s delegated and authoritative ambassador.

Timothy’s active role in the Lord’s work was somehow initiated by “the prophecies previously made …” Prior to the completion of the NT, prophets were positioned in the local congregations (Acts 13:1-3; 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 2:20; 3:5). As a fairly young Christian, Timothy’s potential in God’s service was recognized by the brethren in Lystra and Iconium (Acts 16:1-2; note elders in each church, Acts 14:23). Paul invited the young man to join his mission team (Acts 16:3-5), and Timothy was entrusted with a gift [chárisma] through or by means of [diá] prophecy (1 Tim. 4:14a), implemented through or by means of [diá] the laying on of Paul’s hands (2 Tim. 1:6; cp. Acts 19:6). This was along “with” [metá] (in addition to) the laying on of the eldership’s hands (1 Tim. 4:14b) as a customary endorsement and confirmation appointing Timothy to this ministry (cp. Acts 6:6; 13:2-3; 1 Tim. 5:22).

Using military language (cf. 6:12; 2 Tim. 2:3-4; 4:7),1 the charge is to “wage the good warfare.” Confronting false teachers is an unpleasant but necessary duty of the Christian soldier’s engagement against opposing spiritual forces (cf. Eph. 6:10-12), while “holding [‘having,’ NKJV; ‘keeping,’ NASB] faith and a good conscience,” which, in the context of “love,” is the “aim” of the charge (cf. v. 5). Sadly some, “rejecting” [apōthéō], repudiating or throwing away both faith and a good conscience (cp. v. 6) “have made shipwreck” (a change of metaphor),2 not necessarily “their faith” (ESV) but tēn pístin – “the faith.” By essentially abandoning their own subjective and foundational “faith” (incl. trust, reliance, obedience toward God), the instigators are also subverting the entire system of faith (gospel) itself.3

Now Paul starts naming names and particularly has in mind “Hymenaeus and Alexander.” The name Hymenaeus is mentioned again in 2 Tim. 2:14-18 with Philetus, men who were advancing empty, unprofitable, irreverent teachings, including the assertion that the resurrection [of the dead] (cf. 1 Cor. 15:12-19) had already occurred, which Paul regarded as cancerous, a deviation from the truth, subverting the faith of some.4 The name Alexander recurs in 2 Tim. 4:14-15, a metalworker who had done great harm to Paul and strongly opposed his teaching, thus Timothy is warned to beware of him. A man named Alexander is also included in Luke’s report of the uprising in Ephesus near the end of Paul’s three-year ministry there (Acts 19:33-34), one who attempted to defend the local Jews but was drowned out by the hysteric idolaters. Whether any, all, or none of these references apply to the same persons cannot be confirmed. 

The expression “handed over to Satan” occurs only twice in the NT: here and in 1 Cor. 5:5a. Christians who carelessly return to their former sinful lifestyle have walked into “the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:26; cf. 2 Cor. 4:4; 2 Pet. 2:19-21). Those who are defiantly impenitent are to be turned back over to Satan’s realm (cf. John 8:44, 47; Rom. 1:28), i.e., let them experience the world of Satan in the hopes they will want to return to God. This is a disciplinary measure involving dissociation. The main purpose is “for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:5b). The intention is to produce recognition of sin, shame, and godly sorrow leading to repentance, restoration, and salvation (cf. 2 Thess. 3:14; Jas. 5:19-20). Another aim is to keep the church morally pure (1 Cor. 5:6-8).

The expressed intention of Paul’s disciplinary action toward these men is “that they may learn [paideúō, ‘be disciplined’] not to blaspheme,” the verbal form [blasphēméō, cf. 6:1] of the adjectival blásphēmos of which Paul himself had been guilty prior to his conversion (v. 13). The verbal sense means to speak against or use slanderous or abusive speech.Contextually Hymenaeus and Alexander would have been among those espousing deviant doctrines, devoted to myths, endless genealogies, speculations, vain discussion, along with misunderstanding the law they desired to teach (vv. 3-7). In so doing they were ultimately speaking against the sound doctrine of the glorious gospel (inclusive of grace, faith, and love) taught by Paul, Timothy, and other faithful disciples (vv. 4, 5, 10b-11, 14, 19).  

--Kevin L. Moore

     1 As a Roman citizen writing to churches in Roman provinces, military imagery is not uncommon in Paul’s letters (see also 1 Cor. 9:7; 2 Cor. 10:3-6; Eph. 6:10-18; 1 Thess. 5:8; Philem. 2), although “fighting” can also be understood as an athletic metaphor (cp. 1 Cor. 9:24-27). Note that waging a good warfare often involves running away from certain impediments while pursuing reinforcements (1 Tim. 6:11-12).
     2 This is imagery with which Paul is particularly familiar (Acts 27:41–28:1; 2 Cor. 11:25).
     3 The articular expression “the faith” typically alludes to the system of faith, the comprehensive message of the gospel (cf. Acts 6:7; 13:7-12; 14:21-22; Rom. 1:5; 16:26; Gal. 1:23; Col. 1:23; Jude 3). The noun pístis is employed in a variety of ways in the NT, including allusions to faithfulness, reliability, solemn promise, proof, pledge, trust, confidence, faith, and the body of faith or doctrine (BAGD 662-64). While context is the primary determining factor in ascertaining the sense, biblical faith cannot be divorced from assurance, conviction, certainty, and associated action (cf. Mark 2:5; Heb. 11:1, 6, 8 [cf. 5:8-9]; Jas. 2:14-26). A mere intellectual belief that is inactively confined to one’s heart is not the kind of “faith” advanced by Paul, as demonstrated by his recurring emphasis on “obedience” (Rom. 1:5; 5:19; 6:16, 17; 15:18; 16:19, 26; 2 Cor. 7:15; 10:5, 6; Philem. 21; cf. Rom. 10:16; Phil. 2:12; 2 Thess. 1:8; 3:14).
     4 Preterism (from the Latin praeter, “past”) is the belief that all biblical prophecies have already been fulfilled, including Christ’s return, the resurrection of the dead, and the final judgment (cf. 2 Thess. 2:1-3). Modern-day preterism focuses on the Roman ransacking of Jerusalem in the summer of AD 70, a.k.a. the AD 70 Doctrine. See K. L. Moore, “Preterism: What’s the Big Deal (Part 1),” Moore Perspective (3 June 2020), <Link>.
     5 Jesus was repeatedly accused (falsely) of doing this (Matt. 9:3; 26:65; Mark 2:7; John 10:33-36), and was also on the receiving end (Matt. 27:39; Mark 15:29; Luke 12:10a; 22:65; 23:39). Paul had been guilty of this himself and compelled others to do it (Acts 26:11; 1 Tim. 1:13), then was on the receiving end (Acts 13:45; 18:6; 1 Cor. 10:30). See also Mark 3:28, 29; Luke 12:10b; Acts 13:45; 18:6; 19:37; Rom. 2:24; 3:8; 14:6; 1 Cor. 10:30; 1 Tim. 1:20; 6:1; Tit. 2:5; 3:2; Jas. 2:7; 1 Pet. 4:4.

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