As seen in 1 Timothy 1:18-20, there is a need for the Christian to maintain faith and a good conscience in order to stay afloat, in a manner of speaking. For some had rejected that, such as Hymenaeus and Alexander, and, as a result, made shipwreck of their faith.
It would seem that these two whom Paul cites by name had been prominent in leading others into error and away from the Lord, for Hymenaeus is also mentioned in 2 Timothy 2:17, 18 as not only one who had gone astray, but also as one who had upset the faith of others as well.
Making shipwreck of one’s faith is not merely dangerous to the soul, but also spiritually fatal. Paul, therefore, took serious measures to try to rescue Hymenaeus and Alexander by delivering them over to Satan “so that they may be taught not to blaspheme” (1 Tim. 1:20).
What Paul did might sound strange, but this is not the first time similar language is used with regard to trying to correct a wayward brother. And it certainly doesn’t mean that Satan was intent and cooperative in helping people become good Christians! For Satan is “…the god of this world” who has “blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). Jesus refers to Satan as being “…a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. …he is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn. 8:44). So what good would it do to deliver anyone to him for correction, and what involvement would he have in that?
First of all, Satan dwells in that domain of darkness that the Christian had been delivered from when having obeyed the gospel plan of salvation and is then “transferred …to the kingdom” of God’s beloved Son (cf. Col. 1:13). So to go back into sin is to go back into that realm of darkness (cf. 1 Jn. 1:5-7). In that sense, the backsliding Christian has once again given himself over to Satan.
Concerning that Corinthian who had been guilty of an incestuous affair, and of which the brethren had done nothing about, Paul had “…decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5), which, again, is very serious. This was done about 7 or 8 years prior to the writing of 1 Timothy. Though this transgressor had already given himself over to Satan through an immoral life, it was now to be dealt with by the church in a public way. This does not mean, of course, that the offender was to be literally put to death by Satan; but the church was to withdraw fellowship from the wrongdoer and, in hopes, that the humiliation that stems from it would lead to this person’s wanting to “put to death” those sinful deeds of the flesh, which is what the “destruction of the flesh” has reference to. Paul declares, “for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13. cf. Gal. 5:19-21,24,25). Paul is speaking here of sinful deeds that are to be abstained from. As Christians, we are always in a battle between flesh and Spirit; and we must, therefore, strive to be victorious by living according to the Spirit and putting to death our thoughts and actions that would conflict with the Spirit. “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so” (cf. Rom. 8:6-7).
Consider Paul. He was a righteous man, yet to keep him from exalting himself above measure, after having been caught up to the third heaven, Paradise, and hearing “inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak” (2 Cor. 12:2-4), and “because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,” Paul says he was given “a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me–to keep me from exalting myself” (v. 7). So God can even use that which is evil or calamitous for the good of those who love and obey Him. James had also pointed that out about “various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (Jam. 1:2,3).
In addition, illness was sometimes brought upon others as a means of chastening. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 11:30, concerning those Christians who were perverting the Lord’s Supper, Paul declares, “For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.”
During a time of miracles, Jesus had referred to a woman’s infirmity, which caused her body to be bent and prevented her from straightening up for eighteen years, to have been “caused by a spirit” (Luke 13:11). And then attributes that to Satan, who had bound her for all those years (v. 16), before the Lord healed her.
In 2 Timothy 2:18, Paul specifies the false teaching with which Hymenaeus had not only destroyed his own faith, but was also damaging the faith of others. The apostle states in verses 16-18, “But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some.”
In 2 Peter 3:16, Peter speaks of those who “distort” the Scriptures “to their own destruction.” He refers to them as being “untaught” and “unstable.” Peter, therefore, warns others, by saying, “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…” (vv. 17,18).
Though we are not told exactly what all was meant in the false teaching that the resurrection had already occurred, it is thought that it was Gnosticism that had influenced Hymenaeus toward his wrong belief. For since the Gnostics had viewed all matter as being evil, but the spirit good, what glory or benefit would they see in a physical resurrection of the body? So it is said that they had taken passages that pertain to being made spiritually alive with Christ to be referring to the resurrection, such as Romans 6:4, where Paul declares, “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” And Colossians 2:12: “having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” And Ephesians 2:5,6: “even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ…and raised us up with Him….” So, according to this view, it would be just a spiritual resurrection, rather than a physical one of the body.
But just because the gospel shows of this spiritual “resurrection” in being “born again” (John 3:3-5), which includes that need of baptism, does that nullify the fact that there will also be a physical resurrection?
Jesus speaks of both of these in John 5:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear shall live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself” (vv. 25,26). Here He is referring to those who are spiritually dead, but then would be made spiritually alive through the word of God. For the Lord’s words are “spirit” and “life” (Jn. 6:63).
He then goes on to contrast this “spiritual resurrection” with the physical resurrection of the body: “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment” (Jn. 5:28,29).
As we see in 1 Corinthians 15:12, some of the Corinthians were teaching that “…there is no [physical] resurrection of the dead.” But if that be the case, then not even Christ was raised; and if that be so, then preaching and faith is vain (v. 14), the apostles would have been false witnesses (v. 15), faith would be worthless, we would still be in our sins (v. 17), those who have died have perished (v. 18), and we who call ourselves Christians would be most to be pitied (v. 19).
But Christ did arise from the dead!
Notice also the importance of His resurrection in view of the following passages:
“And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you– not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience–through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21).
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3).
In that same chapter where Paul shows the futility and hopelessness for all us if there be no resurrection (1 Cor. 15:13-18), he begins that chapter by saying, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (vv. 1-4). What a major part the resurrection is to the gospel!
Paul then mentions some of those who witnessed the resurrected Christ, which includes the apostles and “more than 500 brethren at one time” (v. 6).
And, lastly, if the resurrection pertains to only a spiritual resurrection when sins are forgiven, why did Paul say what he does in Philippians 3:10-12? “that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.”
And may we all do likewise, so as not to make shipwreck of our faith.
Whatever the specifics were concerning Hymenaeus’ false teaching on the resurrection, it was bringing harm to the body of Christ, just as various other false teachings also can.
May we, therefore, acquire a good and complete knowledge of God’s word so that we will not be led astray by any of the religious error that is being taught and practiced in the world today.
by Tom Edwards
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