The Greek word translated shipwreck in the King James Version of the Bible can be found twice, both times in the writings of Paul. In the first case (2 Corinthians 11:25) Paul listed some of the hardships he suffered while carrying the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the known world. During his career Paul suffered shipwreck three times! Later he used the word in his first letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 1:19) to warn about people like Hymenaeus and Alexander who had pushed away their faith and good conscience. The result was as tragic as a ship run aground and blasted apart by the pounding surf.
Shipwrecks. Most of us can name a few like the “unsinkable” RMS Titanic which left port on her maiden voyage on April 10, 1912 only to hit an iceberg four days later. The ship sank within three hours claiming 1514 lives. We commemorate the USS Arizona sunk in Pearl Harbor by Japanese torpedo bombers on December 7, 1941 with a loss of 1177 officers and crewmen. And who can forget the Oriental Nicety, one of many names used by a particular ship during her ventures on the world’s oceans? Under the name Exxon Valdez she ran into the Alaskan coast on March 24, 1989 spilling more than ten million gallons of crude oil and creating an environmental disaster.
Shipwrecks have surprisingly common causes though experts provide differing lists. I asked a sailboat captain, John Force, for the leading cause and his answer came back as “Weather is number one and a million others factors are number two.” Weather as a cause of shipwreck, in fact, appeared in the tabulation of every resource I consulted. Fog, rain, snow, ice, and tumultuous winds can overwhelm the stability of the ship and redirect its intended path. In the book of Acts, chapter 27, Dr. Luke recounts the events leading to Paul being shipwrecked on the island of Malta. Imagine a storm so fierce it drove the ship randomly for fourteen days before the captain purposely grounded her on a reef in an attempt to save at least some passengers.
When a man has lived through such an experience and uses the term “shipwreck” to make a spiritual point we might want to pay close attention. What was his message to Timothy?
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.
1 Timothy 1:18-19 NASB
What command had Timothy received? Verses 3-7 of the chapter give the answer. In Timothy’s ministry in Ephesus he was to refute those who taught strange doctrine. The literal definition is doctrine of another kind, i.e., contrary to that taught by the apostles of Jesus Christ. Paul described the teaching as myths, endless genealogies, speculation, and fruitless discussions.
Paul acknowledged (1:18) that Timothy was in a fight and the job would be difficult. Purveyors of false doctrine are entrenched, organized, and determined to spread their views.
Note how the creators of the New Living Translation rendered Paul’s warning:
Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked.
1 Timothy 1:19 NLT
The overwhelming message passing through the world’s media channels today can be summed up with a single word, tolerance. Tolerance sounds promising. “Let’s all get along” seems a better way to live than forming warring tribes that distrust and hate and abuse one another.
But far too often tolerance is interpreted by groups at every point of the political and religious spectrum as “convert to our way of thinking or else.” Anyone who shares a faith or a personal opinion or a system of belief that differs from the group’s is attacked and devalued. Trolls wait under every social media post to pounce without restraint.
Wickedness has become such a part of mainstream culture that one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind, the conscience, has been permanently damaged. Dr. Thomas L. Constable describes the conscience as the “umpire” of the soul. Some no longer possess a working conscience which may explain many of the flame-posts we find on social media. The hatred and venom pour forth with no mental referee standing by to toss a penalty flag and blow the whistle.
Is there a better way? Matthew Kelly writes in The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity, “As Christians we should see social media as a way to bring a positive message of hope to a realm filled with so much negativity and hopelessness.”
Timothy must have had a bent in the direction of debating and arguing. In the same letter Paul gave the young pastor two additional warnings about becoming mired in endless religious discussions. (See 1 Timothy 6:3-5 and 6:20.)
Be honest. How many posts on social media have changed your mind or opinion on a topic? How many drove you to dig deeper and analyze the facts? The usual result of reading something with which we do not agree is bile welling up inside our minds as we attempt to educate those less knowledgeable. And, wow, can we ever let the poison fly!
The sad part of the conscience-free option is that it is a personal choice. The word rejected in 1 Timothy 1:19 describes a strong and deliberate thrusting away. With enough practice we learn to stifle our consciences. Over time the conscience ceases to function altogether. Anything goes.
We are bombarded daily from nearly every source that our beliefs are invalid, the Bible is outdated, and mankind is capable in and of itself of addressing the world’s issues without the need for this Person we worship as God. Like the storm driving wind, pounding waves and torrents of rain into a fragile boat, Satan never quits. His minions never cease their undermining and destructive activities.
Many believers are crumbling under the attack and resorting to the same hurtful tactics in a misguided attempt to defend the faith.
I believe we can disagree with those outside the family of God, and yet do it in a way that reflects the love of Christ. I believe we can and ought to practice acceptance of the sinner without agreeing that the sin is OK or adopting it for our own lives.
And if not, well, closing Facebook would be a better choice.
Firing rounds in a flame war with someone who needs God’s love rarely ends well.
(Opening photo courtesy of user Shick at https://morguefile.com/creative/Schick)