When a Christian thinks about “stormy seas” stories, they probably think first of Jesus speaking to the wind, “Peace! Be still!,” and watching the waves and the disciples’ worry dissipate. I would much rather preach that happy sermon any day than wrestle with some more sobering stormy sea stories in Scripture.
But these are sobering days and we need straight talk from the Bible right now. One of those truths is this: Sometimes God calms the storm, but other times the ship goes down. We need to represent Christ well in both scenarios.
In the coming days, let me share a few shipwreck stories from the Bible and offer a few lessons for Christ followers as we navigate these stormy days for our nation and world.
We begin today with 1 Timothy 1, where Paul mentions a couple Christians who have shipwrecked their faith on the rocks of some kind of compromise and/or lack of integrity.
Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with 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 and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1:18-20)
We don’t know the particulars, but we do know that these two guys were “church going” dudes, probably with some influence, who gave themselves over to ways of thinking or being that violated a core tenant of Christian faith. They have apparently disregarded or deafened themselves to the inner guidance of “a good conscience” (the Holy Spirit?) that all believers possess.
Paul adds that their wayward thinking and divided hearts has resulted in “blasphemy.” We tend to reserve this severe word for overt and intentional acts of desecration and defiance before God. We should pause, however, and remember that Hymenaeus and Alexander were probably well-meaning but misguided church-goers, who had somehow found themselves drawn away from the Way of Jesus by a sweet sounding and culturally popular alternative.
David DeSilva notes that a dominant theme running throughout Paul’s letter to Timothy and Titus is “a concern that the Christians should present the best possible face to Greco-Roman society and live in the manner that most enhances the positive reputation of the Christian movement while not compromising on essential points (e.g., participating in idolatrous religion)” (An Introduction to the New Testament, 748). He calls attention to the following admonitions to Christians in their public discourse:
“so as to give the opponent no occasion for slander” (1 Tim 5:14)
“in order that God’s name and the teaching might not be slandered” (1 Tim 6:1)
“in order that the word of God might not be slandered” (Tit 2:5)
“in order that the opponent might be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us” (Tit 2:8)
“in order that they might adorn the teaching of our Savior God in everything” (Tit 2:10)
Today, in this moment, many Christians are fighting the wrong battle, and letting go of faithful allegiance to Jesus and dragging their conscience through the mud of political tribalism. Around the world and across this land, the admonitions above are being ignored and Christ’s name is being put to shame and slandered by the compromised witness and conflicted message many of his followers are sending.
Many are fighting a culture war instead of “fighting the good fight” of faith (1 Tim 6:12). Many are consumed with ousting a political enemy, rather than “holding on to faith and a good conscience.” Many who take Jesus’ name on their lips are willing to play dirty and prop up a bully thinking the political ends justifies the disgraceful means. I’m concerned some are shipwrecking their faith and they don’t even see the water rising and the credibility of their “disciple-ship” slowly beginning to sink.
But all is not lost with our God of mercy and second chances. In the jarring language of Paul, he speaks of handing these wayward Christians “over to Satan to be taught” a hard but necessary lesson. This does not mean condemning them to Hell for eternal destruction! Far from it. Rather, this speaks of eventual restoration after being released to reap the unhappy consequences of their godless direction. When someone successfully “sears their conscience,” they become deaf to the voice of the Spirit and Scriptural truth. When someone becomes locked inside a narrative or ideology at odds with the Spirit of Jesus, God has no choice but to honor their freedom and let them be driven along by the winds of the unholy spirit for a while.
But there is mercy in being shipwrecked if it means the destruction of one’s wayward vessel or misguided ideology. Restoration is possible when the ship of fools finally crashes upon the Rocks of Repentance. Marooned on an island of sober self-reflection, perhaps the Spirit of God will once again be able to penetrate hearts and stir up a desire for Christ’s Kingdom shores.
On that sacred shore, the Son of Righteousness rises on a New Day of fresh possibilities. Jesus prepares breakfast for a repentant Hymenaeus and Alexander and lovingly invites them into His boat to begin charting a new course.