II. HOLDING FAITH AND A GOOD CONSCIENCE
In verse 19 Paul continues, “Holding faith and a good conscience, which some thrusting away have become shipwrecked regarding the faith.” This verse tells us how to war the good warfare. In order to war a good warfare, we must hold faith and a good conscience.
A. Faith, Our Believing Act
The word faith in the expression “holding faith” refers to our believing act; hence, it denotes subjective faith. As we have indicated, this faith rises up in us when we come to the Word and are infused with God through the Word and by the Spirit. The subjective faith moves within us to bring about an organic union between us and the Triune God. In this union we receive the divine life and nature to become God’s many sons and the many members of the Body of Christ, the new man, to be the corporate expression of the Triune God for eternity. We must war the good warfare by this kind of faith, not by trying to keep the law.
B. A Good Conscience
Along with faith, we also need a good conscience, a conscience without offense (Acts 24:16). A good conscience is a safeguard of Christian faith and life. Faith and a good conscience go together. Whenever there is an offense in our conscience, there will be a leakage, and our faith will leak away. A good conscience accompanying faith is needed for warring the good warfare against the dissenting teachings in a troubled local church.
It is difficult to say whether the relative pronoun “which” in verse 19 refers just to conscience or to both faith and conscience. It may refer to both, since subjective faith is closely related to the conscience. As we have pointed out, if we do not have a good conscience, we cannot have living faith. Likewise, if we do not have a living faith, we cannot have a good conscience. Faith and a good conscience can be compared to a married couple: faith is like a husband, and conscience is like a wife. Since subjective faith and a good conscience go together, I prefer to regard the relative pronoun here as having both faith and conscience as the antecedent. Faith comes from our contact with God and brings us into the organic union with God; conscience is the organ touched by God after we contact Him by faith.
By thrusting away faith and a good conscience, some “have become shipwrecked regarding the faith.” This shows us the seriousness of thrusting away a good conscience. To keep faith and a good conscience is a safeguard for our Christian faith and life. The word shipwrecked implies that the Christian life and the church life are like a ship sailing on a stormy sea, needing to be safeguarded by faith and a good conscience.
Those who thrust away faith and a good conscience become shipwrecked regarding the faith. In this verse Paul speaks both of subjective faith, our act of believing, and of objective faith, those things in which we believe. In speaking of those who are shipwrecked regarding the faith, Paul has in mind the objective faith, the contents of the complete gospel according to God’s New Testament economy.
In verse 20 Paul goes on to name two of those who have become shipwrecked regarding the faith: “Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan that they may be disciplined not to blaspheme.” Hymenaeus was a heretical teacher (2 Tim. 2:17), and Alexander was an opposer, an attacker, of the apostle (2 Tim. 4:14-15).
It is worthy of note that here Paul mentions names. Being more careful or “spiritual” or “heavenly” than Paul, we may not be willing to mention names under any circumstances. God took the lead to mention the name of His enemy— Satan. God has never said, “My people, I have an enemy. But because I am so merciful, patient, and all-embracing, I don’t want to expose him or mention his name, in hope that one day he will repent.” As God has singled out the name of His enemy, Paul mentioned the names of Hymenaeus and Alexander.
Furthermore, Paul does not tell us in verse 20 that he has been praying for Hymenaeus and Alexander. He does not charge Timothy, “Timothy, learn of me to pray for those who injure you as I have been praying for Hymenaeus and Alexander.” On the contrary, in 2 Timothy 4:14 Paul says, “Alexander the coppersmith did many evil things to me; the Lord will repay him according to his works.”
Paul tells Timothy that he has delivered Hymenaeus and Alexander to Satan “that they may be disciplined not to blaspheme.” How utterly different this is from saying that he committed them to the Lord’s gracious hand that they may receive His mercy. Paul expected Satan to work for him to discipline Hymenaeus and Alexander.
First Timothy 1:20 is a most unusual verse dealing with a negative matter. Two people are named not by a backslidden brother but by the leading apostle. Furthermore, they are delivered not to God, nor to the church, nor to a spiritual person, but to Satan.
Paul delivered Hymenaeus and Alexander to Satan “that they may be disciplined not to blaspheme.” Paul does not say “punished”; rather, he speaks of being disciplined. Discipline is somewhat different from punishment. When parents deal with their children, they may tell them that they are punishing them. However, that is not actually punishment; it is loving discipline. The discipline in verse 20 may refer to the destruction of the physical body (see 1 Cor. 5:5).
Through the carrying out of a certain discipline Hymenaeus and Alexander would learn not to blaspheme God, slander God’s economy, nor damage the apostle’s ministry. To deliver persons like Hymenaeus and Alexander to Satan is to exercise the authority that the Lord has given to the apostle and the church (Matt. 16:19; 18:18) for the administration of the church against Satan’s evil plot.
(Life-Study of 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon, Chapter 2, by Witness Lee)