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
Paul puts holding on to faith and a good conscience together. Faith is not just about reciting a creed. It is not just holding to something as a belief, whether that’s intellectual, or actually more than that, based on God’s revelation given to us in Scripture. It includes that, but more.
James tells us that faith without works is dead, and Paul essentially says the same thing in his letters. Though Paul makes it clear that justifying, saving faith is apart from works, he also makes it clear that works follow. An expressed faith without a corresponding change of life amounts to no faith at all. Paul makes it clear that we’re to hold on to belief in the gospel message. But he also makes equally clear that this is to lead to a changed life.
Timothy is reminded of prophecies once made about him. We’ve all had a sense from God, hopefully through the church, but sadly, far too often that’s largely absent, but some sense from God at least, that God has set us apart for something. We have a gift, some role to play in love in the body of Christ for each other, and for others, as that work extends into the world. Paul is telling us here that it’s not only important to hold on to faith, but also to a good conscience.
The conscience is in a sense the arbiter between right and wrong. But it’s not the standard itself. The conscience is only as good as what informs it. Paul says elsewhere that people can have a seared conscience, evidently having sinned so often against their conscience that it no longer helps or is much of an arbiter at all between any sense of right and wrong, at least not in the way it should be.
So this makes it incumbent on us as followers of Jesus to do all we can to hold on to both faith and a good conscience. What we do must be informed and formed by faith, the faith as given to us in Jesus through Scripture. Given issues today, that is not an easy task.
It’s incumbent on leadership to be the example in this. The church flock will follow that lead, so this is critical. Remember too that 1 Timothy, the above passage is a pastoral letter written for church leadership, for elders who pastor and lead, along with deacons who serve in special roles in the church. The church, yes individual believers are quite dependent on this leadership. They will largely follow.
Paul had to make an example of two men for their own hopeful good, as well as for the good of others, the entire church. So this begins with church leadership, but each and everyone of us in the body are responsible as well. To prayerfully pay attention to the leadership: are they really exemplifying holding on to faith, to the faith, and to a good conscience? And holding ourselves accountable to do the same. In and through Jesus.