1 Timothy 1:18-20 – “The Good Fight”
“This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme.”
Everything that we have read up to this point in Paul’s letter to Timothy has been a combination of necessary background and general instruction in order to set up the remainder of the letter. Beginning in chapter two and onwards, Paul begins giving very specific commands for very specific situations. But those commands are coming from the foundation that he is only just completing in these last verses of chapter one.
Paul chooses his words very carefully in this section to paint the picture of warfare. Timothy is entering into a situation that amounts to spiritual conflict. The word that the NASB translates as “fight” (συνείδησις) is a word used to describe military service or military conflict. However, the sense is not that of a single battle/skirmish/fight, but that of a campaign made up of many battlers or a war. To be a pastor is to be a commander under siege. Paul is leaving Timothy in Ephesus to command a garrison under attack.
Another observation that is worthwhile; this fight is a good fight. There are two Greek words that the English translates simply as good. There is not a ton of difference between the two, yet Paul has used both of them very specifically throughout this chapter.
The first word we saw for the first time in v. 5 where it describes the kind of conscience (good) from which love comes. This word for good (ἀγαθός) is qualitative. What I mean is that it focuses on the standard of a thing. Is the item in question useful or beneficial? Does it work as advertised? Then it is good (ἀγαθός).
The next word that our English Bibles translate as good appears in v. 8 where it describes the Law. The Law is also called good but a different Greek word is used (καλός). This word indicates an attractiveness or beauty or fine quality of an item. It is this word that the Greek translation of the Old Testament uses in the creation account found in Genesis 1. God looked at all that He created and called it very good (καλός). This is the word used to describe the Law (v. 8) as well as the fight that Timothy is entering into (v. 18). This fight is not only necessary, but it is good, excellent, and unobjectionable. It is good.
The question is never whether or not to fight, but how to fight. In these verses Paul gives encouragement for the coming fight, reveals the necessary equipment for the fight, identifies the enemy with whom we fight, and gives an example of how to fight.
The Encouragement to Fight (v. 18)
“This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight”
It’s helpful to understand that This command is a reference to the command already given all the way back in vv. 3-5; namely the command for Timothy to instruct false teachers to stop teaching falsely. In a sense, this looks back at everything that Paul has stated thus far all the way through v. 17. This command to confront false teachers through a proper use of the Law and Gospel is now entrusted to Timothy, but that is not all.
in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you
Paul’s orders to Timothy, his command for Timothy to instruct these false teachers, is in perfect harmony (in accordance) with previous revelation about Timothy.
The New Testament church was a phenomenon that can be hard for us to imagine. Before the completion of the cannon, the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, God had granted certain gifts to the church for the purpose of ministry. One such gift was prophecy.
I think we need to make sure that we understand what prophecy is. Prophecy is the divine revelation from God to man and the divine enablement for that man to proclaim said revelation. Prophecy ≠ Preaching. The prophet says, “Thus saith the Lord!” and then proclaims new revelation that is not already recorded. The preacher says, “This is what the Lord hath said!” and then proclaims things already recorded. Both demand that the people of God obey what God has said. But the prophet is declaring new things while the preacher is expounding upon things already stated.
There were legitimate prophets in the early church, though there are none today. We have no need of them as we now have the completed Word. Apparently there were prophets (note the plural) who were given divine revelation about Timothy. Specifically what these were, we do not know. Yet Paul states that these prophecies (that they are both aware of) are in perfect harmony with the instruction that he has left. The prophecies clearly have something to do with Timothy’s ministry.
That by them you fight the good fight
It is because of these prophecies, or by referencing these prophecies in conjunction with the command that Paul has already given that Timothy will stand fast and fight the good and honorable fight. These are the steel that will brace Timothy’s spine. These prophecies combined with Paul’s orders will serve as a reminder for courage has Timothy faces the battle.
How encouraging it is to know that you’re doing the right thing! Even if what you’re about to do is a difficult task, knowing that you are walking in the dead center of God’s will is the most encouraging thing in the world. Here Paul reminds Timothy that the instruction that he has already given is in perfect harmony with previous prophecies about him. Paul is saying, “Timothy, I’m only telling you to live up to what God has already ordained you to do.” Now that’s encouraging.
The Equipment Used to Fight (v. 19a)
“Keeping faith and a good conscience”
Only a fool walks into a fight unarmed. No general would entertain the idea of a campaign without the necessary supplies. No garrison commander would allow himself to be besieged without making preparations. Paul lays out the means, the tools, and the supplies necessary to engage in this good fight: faith and a good conscience.
I hope that you’re carefully reading this text and are immediately reminded of what Paul said in v. 5. The purpose for instructing these ignoramuses is love. But love flows from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. True love can only come from a heart that has been cleansed, a conscience/mind that has been made to function as it ought, and from a genuine/sincere belief/faith. Paul is describing a Christian who has been redeemed in v. 5. Here in v. 19 Paul uses the same language and tells Timothy that he must hold on to and cling to his faith (his belief in Jesus Christ as the savior) and his good conscience as the tools by which he will fight.
To put it as simply as I can, faith should be understood as the object of belief. Hold fast to what you believe, Timothy. If we were to put a different word to this it would be the gospel. Do not leave it, forget it, or be distracted from it. When dealing with reprobates, the gospel is the only ammunition we have. By good conscience Paul is indicating a soft heart that is eager for righteousness and sensitive to sin. A conscience that is good (ἀγαθός) is a conscience that functions as advertised. When we sin, our conscience should let us know. You cannot engage in spiritual warfare without an early warning system. This war is a spiritual war. By holding to the truth of the gospel (faith) and maintaining a sensitivity of sin (good conscience), Timothy will be able to successfully engage the enemy.
The Enemy Identified (v. 19b)
“Which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith”
To be clear, we war not against flesh and blood, but against the powers and principalities of darkness. Yet every person you will ever meet is either a servant of darkness or a servant of righteousness. Paul tells Timothy how to make positive target identification.
Specifically what is being rejected here is the good conscience alone. The reference points specifically to that item. The connection between the rejection of a good conscience and the suffering of shipwreck should be obvious. Once the conscience is rejected, the faith is crashed upon the rocks.
What does it mean to reject a good conscience?
It means that the people in question are comfortable in their sin and rebellion. God has given all men a conscience in order to bring their thoughts and actions into conformity with God’s will and character. Sin has marred man’s conscience. But some men completely reject and run away from every pull of their conscience. They desire sin and do not want to be pulled away from it.
What’s the connection between rejection and shipwreck?
Heresy almost always begins with sinful living rather than illogical reasoning. In other words, heresy comes from an attempt to justify sinful living. Men come up with ridiculous notions about God and His word as a smoke screen to cover their tracks. It’s a short walk off a steep cliff from unrepentant sin to heresy. Rejecting the pull on your conscience will lead to shipwreck.
There’s some debate on whether we should read their faith or the faith. Did Paul intend to say that sinful living will shipwreck the personal faith of these individuals? Or did he intend to say that sinful living is the catalyst to heresy and the shipwreck of the faith (i.e. the sound doctrine and teachings of Christianity). I am inclined to adopt the second view. The context revolves around false teachers and false teaching. The question of how they got there is answered by their rejection of a good conscience.
Side Note: One of the many reasons that the church cannot tolerate sin involves this topic. Unrepented sin breeds heretics (with many other negative results as well).
The Example of How to Fight (v. 20)
“Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme.”
This verse is not as complicated as it may seem. Paul has already been through Ephesus before meeting Timothy and stationing him there. While Paul was in Ephesus he dealt with these two individuals. This is how spiritual warfare is conducted within the church. It’s one thing to stand for truth against an unbelieving world. What do you do when fighting breaks out within your ranks or on your flank? You refuse the line and get the opposition on the proper side of your shield (i.e. facing you rather than being behind you).
By saying that he has handed over to Satan these two individuals, Paul is not indicating that they are subject to demonic torture or any other such nonsense. He’s saying that they have been kicked out of the church, excommunicated, disciplined out of the membership. They have identified themselves as sin-loving shipwrecks and so they must face our spears instead of hiding behind our shields. The world belongs to Satan while the church belongs to Christ. To send someone out of the church is to send them into the world and into Satan’s domain. They have been handed over to him.
So that they will be taught not to blaspheme
The goal of church discipline is never to take scalps, but for the restoration of a professing brother. When a person refuses to repent and submit to Christ it is only and always because they love their sin more than they love the savior. The only question that remains is why. Are they a believer who is dealing with such deep-seated pride that they refuse to submit? Or are they an unbeliever who made a false profession with a heart of stone? Either way, the church is to set them outside to protect those within, but also to urge their repentance.
Some people require a jolt to be awakened out of their sinful stupor. If that is the case, then this is exactly what is needed for everybody. Church discipline protects the sheep, preaches the gospel to the goats, and identifies the wolves. In all aspects Christ is glorified.