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Copyright for the journal © 2005
M. S. Thirumalai
STEERING CLEAR OF SHIPWRECK -
1 Timothy 1:18b-19
Pastor Dave Strem
ARE YOU SETTING YOURSELF UP FOR SHIPWRECK?
You think you know where you are going and self-confidently ignore all the warning signs telling you something is not right. If you listen to the wrong people, look at the wrong maps, get too busy to check your bearings regularly, you are setting yourself up for shipwreck. And I do not mean Gilligan's Island. I mean you are going down in frustration, in misery, in a feeling that your life has gotten sidetracked and you do not know how to get it back on track. God does not want that to happen to anybody and so He writes to us through Paul's letter to Timothy about how to avoid, how to steer clear of shipwreck in our lives.
TO FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT AND AVOID SHIPWRECK
Open your Bibles to 1 Timothy 1. Paul teaches us what it means to be shipwrecked and how to avoid it. These verses give us three warning signals that we are headed on the wrong course. He starts off in verse 18 of 1 Timothy. "Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction. In keeping with the prophesies once made about you so that by following them, you may fight the good fight. Holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith."
What does it mean to shipwreck your faith? Does it mean you do not believe anymore? Does it mean you are unsaved? You are not going to heaven? Does it mean losing one's life? What does it mean? And what are the consequences? The next verse is revealing. "Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme." Their lives had become shipwrecked and Paul says "they have been handed over to Satan." That sounds pretty powerful, does it not? Any volunteers to go with them?
LEADERS FOCUSING ON WRONG THINGS
We know a little bit about these guys. They were leaders in the church and they were focusing on the wrong things. They were two of the guys that Paul told Timothy to instruct to stop teaching endless genealogies, myths, and false doctrines. And because of this, they were put out of the church and thereby not allowed to continue teaching with the church's blessing and protection. They were kicked out of the church because of self-arrogance, pride, and knowing just enough to be dangerous. They were leading others astray and were going to lead the whole church astray if they were not stopped. So they were put out. They were pushed out of the church.
CHRISTIANS NOT ATTENDING CHURCH
A recent survey indicated that 10 million professing Christians across this nation have decided against regularly attending church. Ten years ago I did my doctoral dissertation on this subject. I interviewed 600 unchurched professing believers. What happened to them?
Ninety-nine percent of them were not like Hymenaeus and Alexander who were pushed out. Some just walked away from church because they did not like the things that were going on. Some ran away because they felt blamed for different things and felt guilty. "I do not want to be there anymore." And some just kind of drifted away. Most of them were in this category.
Many told me, "I still believe in God. I still believe that Jesus is my Savior. And I went to church a lot, but I just kind of got out of the habit, just kind of walked away." Their lives ended up taking on a different flavor because they did not have the weekly reminder of who God is, who they are, and what God wants and how He wants to pour Himself into your lives. They did not have the Word of God to give them a different viewpoint to counteract the lies and worldly opinions they were exposed to on a daily basis. There is also something uplifting about being in a gathering of people who recognize that God is real and want to thank Him for all He has done in their lives. But they did not get these influences.
HOW DID IT HAPPEN?
None of them decided to make a shipwreck of his or her life, to practically turn their back on God. None of them got up one morning and said, "You know, I think I'm just going to throw away my testimony and do some bad things. I think I am just going to forget about everything God has taught me, everything I believed." It happened so subtly and slowly they did not even realize it had occurred. "How did I get so far away?" And the farther they got, the harder it seemed to be to get back because now they had all this baggage with them.
YOUNG STUDENTS, BE CAREFUL!
High school graduates be careful! There is no greater time in your life when you face more challenges and more opportunities. Things are going to be coming up in your lives in the next few years that will tend to draw you away from the faith and begin to define your lives-career, purpose, and maybe a future mate. Wouldn't these be good decisions to make with God in mind?
In the next 5 to 10 years you are going to face more temptations and have more freedom than you have ever had before. What are you going to do with this time? Will it be a time of self-indulgence for you or will you practice self-restraint while always looking to God and His guidance? Will you be saying, "I have escaped my parents, big brother, big sister, and all these other restraints, and now it is time to escape God, as well?" Do not be surprised if you find yourself shipwrecked a few years down the line. If you did not involve God in these important decisions, do not be surprised if you find yourself shipwrecked at some point in the future.
WARNING SIGNALS OF A FUTURE SHIPWRECK
I want to give you three indicators or warning signals of a future shipwreck in your life. First, you are headed for shipwreck when you forget that you are in a war zone. There is a battle going on in this life. You are headed for shipwreck when you stop battling against evil. That is what it means when it says "fight the good fight." Satan is at war and you are the prize. There is a battle going on for the hearts of men, for your heart and for the hearts of those around you. Satan wants to neutralize your life. Others will look at you and say, "Yeah, they say they are Christian but they are miserable. Look, they do the same things everybody else does. Christianity means nothing to them." Timothy chapter 4 says, "In later times some have abandoned the faith and followed deceiving spirits taught by demons." There is a battle of ideas raging in the church. There are two sides and they are quite divergent viewpoints.
BUT THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT IS ...
Turn your Bibles over to Galatians chapter five and look at the contrast. Galatians 5:17:
For the flesh sets its desire against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh for these are in opposition to one another so you may not do the things that you please.
Then verse 18:
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident--immorality, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, envying, drunkenness, carousing… .
And so on! Verse 22 gives the other side:
But the fruit of the spirit is… .
WHAT WILL PEOPLE REMEMBER ABOUT YOU?
When you look back at your life what will be the controlling characteristics, the factors that influenced your life? What did you stand for? What do people remember about you? What was important to you? What did you invest your life in? Was it what we talked about first or was it these things? He wants to pour "love, joy, and peace" into your life. "Patience and kindness and goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." There is a war going on. There are two sides. And you get to pick which side you are going to be on.
YOU HAVE TO MAKE A CHOICE
You have to make a choice because if you are just going to stand there and say, "Well, I'm not going to take a stand, I am just going to hide out and avoid trouble," you are a sitting duck. You are like a boat without a rudder. Not doing what God wants you to do is doing the wrong thing and will lead to behaviors that will result in a shipwrecked faith. You are robbing your life of the future that God has for you.
The world is full of people like that. They want to avoid controversy and trouble. They just want to be left alone. A little boy was playing with his blocks on the floor one day. Dad came home from work and tried to have a few minutes of father-son time by getting down on the floor and saying, "What are you building, Johnny?" Johnny replied, "Shhh, I'm building a church and you have to be real quiet." Dad said, "Well, that's good, but why do we have to be so quiet?" "Because everybody's sleeping." Kids, when your parents tell you to be quiet in church it is not because everybody is sleeping, I hope. Pick your side. Do not be a bystander. Do not sleepwalk through your spiritual life. Do not be a sitting duck for negative influences in your life!
WILL BE SHIPWRECKED WHEN YOU STOP TRUSTING GOD'S GUIDANCE
The second indicator that you are headed for shipwreck is when you stop trusting God's guidance. When you stop believing the Word of God and say, "I have to work things out myself. I am going to trust somebody else's opinion about what is best for me." You believe the lie, "I will be happier with something instead of God's best for me. God isn't out for my best. He might make me a missionary to Guatemala, or something. I might end up in Guatemala like Rick Smart." Rick's life was close to shipwreck a few years ago but now you cannot imagine anyone who feels more fulfilled. Rick and Karen now that they are in God's will in Guatemala. The conveniences of life in America do not compare to doing the work of God, even in Guatemala. A shipwrecked life can be redeemed by God. Those who are shipwrecked have sacrificed God's best for something else. You are headed for shipwreck when you stop trusting God's guidance and stop seeking His lead. Faith has to do with trusting God and relying upon His promises.
THREE WRONG EXPECTATIONS
How do those who start out their Christian lives wanting to trust God lose their faith? Three wrong expectations. First, wrong expectations of who God is and what He wants, what God is doing, how He works, how He operates. That is basically called false doctrine or heresy, lies about God. Second, wrong expectations of the church by putting faith in an organization instead of God. Third, wrong expectations of pastors when you put your faith in the spokesman instead of the Word of God.
Keeping the faith means holding fast to the truth that is declared about God. Our culture offers special challenges. We can get too busy for our own good. Someone might be a strong believer through high school but then he or she goes off to college where there is so much going on that it is a challenge to regularly fit in time with God and His people. And then, after that, there is a new career and possibly a family that needs attention. If one lets these things crowd God out of life, he or she is headed for a spiritual shipwreck. God thought setting a special time each week aside to worship and contemplate God and be with His people was so important that He included it in the Ten Commandments, the foundation of Western law. "Thou shall keep the Sabbath." He wants us to stop every week and reflect on who He is, who we are, your family, and things that are most important in life. You could lose faith when you get wrapped up in busyness because busyness leads to forgetting God and His instructions for life. And forgetting God and His instructions for life lead to shipwreck.
STOP LISTENING TO GOD'S WARNING DEVICE, YOU ARE HEAD FOR SHIPWRECK!
The third indicator that you are headed for shipwreck is when you stop listening to God's warning device. That is what it means when it says "hold on to your good conscience." Conscience is to the soul what pain is to the body. It is a warning device that something is wrong and something needs to change. Something needs to get fixed. Conscience is a God-given device that reacts when something threatens your soul or your spirit or your life's well-being. You are headed for shipwreck when you drown out your conscience. Let me explain a little bit more and clarify what your conscience is really there for. Many people think that conscience is there to teach you what is right and what is wrong. I mean, after all, does it not say somewhere "Let your conscience be your guide?" That is in the Bible somewhere, isn't it? Yeah, it is right there in Hezekiah. Right there next to "Cleanliness is next to godliness." And a bunch of other things we think are in the Bible that are not. The Bible does not say "Let your conscience be your guide." The Word of God is to be our guide.
YOUR CONSCIENCE - ITS USEFULNESS AND LIMITATIONS
The conscience does have an important purpose. It is to let you know, it is to warn you, it is to indicate that something that you know is wrong is being violated. The Word teaches us what is right and wrong. The conscience is given so that when we know what is right and we are in danger of violating that, it tells us to avoid it. As Paul tells us, there are some things we are born knowing are wrong (Romans 2:14-15). And there are other things we must learn to seek or avoid because they are for our benefit. But there is a danger. A person can actually damage his or her conscience by ignoring or continuously acting contrary to its instructions.
The longer one continues to act contrary to conscience the weaker the conscience becomes. It becomes molded around the new choices and lifestyle. A belief that it is wrong to cheat on one's spouse or one's taxes can be erased to the point that only the fear of getting caught will deter the behavior. The Bible calls this process "searing." To sear or burn a conscience is to deaden its response to wrongdoing. A serial adulterer or adulterous has no conscience toward cheating on his or her spouse. Does this mean it is 'ok' for that person because he or she does not 'feel' it is wrong? No! It actually indicates a damaged soul and seared conscience.
If you let conscience be your guide, you are saying, "I will do what my conscience tells me. What I feel good or feel bad about will be the determination." And if you do not know that something is wrong, then you will go ahead and do it but you feel 'ok' about it. You become ruled by your feelings rather than ruled by the truth. "Well, I do not want to look up that IRS rule because I do not want to find out I am wrong. I do not want to open up the Scripture because I will find out it makes a difference in the choices I make and who I marry or not and I do not want to know that because he (she) looks so good."
DO NOT RUN BY YOUR FEELINGS
And so you run by your feelings. And that sets you up for shipwreck. God has given you a conscience so that you will link what you know and what you do together. And realize that your conscience is informed via your mind. You teach and inform it by speaking to it. It is a rational process. The Word of God is to be the chief source for our conscience-to inform and educate it. Another danger with conscience is that it can be ill-informed. It can be conditioned to react to something it shouldn't. It can be legalistic, brutal, and self-serving. That is why it is so important to let the entire Word of God educate your conscience. Be warned! Pleasure, power, and status are great deceivers. Their teachings can seduce our consciences to act in ways contrary to what we have learned that is consistent with God's Word.
FAITH IS NOT SIMPLY YOU BELIEVE
So your faith is not simply something you believe. Your faith has to be something that you live. You are not happy because of mere belief. You are happy, you are fulfilled because you find God has been real in your life. He has made a difference. You have seen His hand on your life. You have experienced it in real life. And so God gives you your conscience to link your life with your beliefs. When you consistently violate your conscience, you become a hypocrite--"I believe this, but I am consistently doing that."
Nobody wants to make a drastic mistake in his or her life. Nobody wants to do the wrong thing and have to regret it for the next 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years. You do not want to make that kind of mistake, but if you do not do the right thing, you are doing the wrong thing and it is going to bite you. You may say, "Well, I am just not going to do anything. I am not going to be right, I am not going to be wrong." If there is a right thing for you to do and you do not do it, you are doing the wrong thing and you are missing what God has for your life. Trust God. Hold on to your faith. Keep a good conscience strong by exercising it daily.
TAKE YOUR LIFE SERIOUSLY: WORD-INFORMED CONSCIENCE CAN SLAY TEMPTATION BEFORE IT WRECKS HAVOC
Fight the one who wants to destroy your life, the roaring lion looking for someone to devour, for a life to chew up and spit out. But you have the edge because the only way that he can cause you to be shipwrecked is if he takes your life more seriously than you do. When you start thinking these things do not matter, you are setting yourself up for shipwreck. When you start taking your life less seriously than Satan does, you are setting yourself up for shipwreck. But you can overcome it. And you do not have to do it alone because you have Christ in your heart and your life. Ephesians tells us to put on the whole armor of God so when the wiles of the devil come, you will be able to stand against them. A key component in the spiritual armor of the Christian is the Word of God. Ephesians 6:17 likens the dominating presence of the Word of God as a helmet for the head, which provides protection for our thinking and conscience. The Word of God is like a lighthouse designed to protect and inform those who look to it for direction.
As temptation arises a Word-informed conscience can slay it before it wrecks havoc in life. Learn God's Word and put into practice what you learn and your life and conscience will be protected from the consequences of wrongdoing.
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