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November 22, 2015

Sermon 1 Timothy 1:18-20 . . .“Bad Boys of the Bible:  Hymenaeus and Alexander”

“Bad Boys of the Bible:  Hymenaeus and Alexander”

I Timothy 1:18-20

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

It was late on the night of October 22, 1707, as five warships were made their way back to England from Gibraltar.  But it was dark and cloudy, so they didn’t know exactly where they were or how much farther they had to go.  There was no way to determine their latitude and longitude, especially on a star-less, stormy night.

And since the admiral feared his ships might founder on coastal rocks, he summoned the navigators to put their heads together to determine exactly where they were.  Their consensus was that they were safely far enough west of Ushant, an island outpost north of France and southwest of the English Channel.

But a midshipman, who claimed to have kept his own reckoning of the fleet’s location throughout that cloudy night, took his life into his hands as he approached the admiral, Sir Clowdisley Shovell.  He told him that, by his calculations, they were much father north, closer to the Isles of Scilly.  

Since the Royal Navy forbid subversive navigation by a common sailor, Admiral Shovell had him hanged on the spot for mutiny.

However, on that dark foggy night, that anonymous sailor was right.  For that very night, four of those five warships hit the rocks, plunging two thousand men into their watery graves.

Over the centuries, shipwrecks have managed to captivate and confound historians, scientists and adventurers like no other maritime event.  The RMS Lusitania, for example, was sunk by a German submarine eleven miles off the coast of Ireland.  It went down in eighteen minutes, taking the lives of nearly 2,000 souls, and bringing the US into World War I.  On December 7, 1941, the Battleship USS Arizona was sunk, taking with it 1,177 men.  In November of 1975, the Edmund Fitzgerald, the “Mighty Fitz,” went down with 29 men.  And, three years ago, in January of 2012, thirty-two men, women and children lost their lives off the coast of Italy, on the Costa Concordia.  Even more, researchers tell us that, in the five of our Great Lakes alone, there are as many as 6,000 shipwrecks, which have taken more than 30,000 lives.

How do shipwrecks happen?  There are any number of reasons.  There’s treacherous weather, military conflicts, collisions with other vessels and truly terrible captains.  And when shipwrecks happen, we can do little more than try to salvage abandoned treasures and mourn the lives that are lost.

In Bible times, shipwrecks were the most dreaded catastrophes of all.  In the Old Testament, Jonah would have been shipwrecked, had his fellow sailors not thrown him into the sea.  And in the New Testament, even the apostle Paul was shipwrecked.  He wrote to the Corinthians:  “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked; I spent a night and a day on the open sea.”

But as dreadful as shipwrecks can be, not all of them happen at sea.  Listen to what Paul wrote in his first letter to Timothy, chapter 1:  “Some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”

The word Paul used here for “shipwreck” is “nauageo.”  “Naus” is the Greek word for “large vessel” or “ship,” and “ago,” is the word meaning “to take,” “to bring to a point,” “to impel,” “to depart.”  Put them together and you get words like, “devastation,” “destruction,” “ruin,” and “shipwreck.”

So what did these two, Hymenaeus and Alexander, do to ruin their faith?  What could they possibly have done wrong?

Apparently, both Hymenaeus and Alexander must have, for a time, belonged to the church.  Once upon a time, they believed.  They were fellow Christians, fellow workers with the apostle Paul and were very likely prominent members of the church.  They prayed together.  They sang hymns together.  They worshipped together.  They ministered together.  

But somewhere, sometime, something changed.  Suddenly they rejected what they had once professed and believed.  They defied what they once knew to be the truth.  They went astray from the true course and smashed themselves against the rocks of false teachings and unbelief.  Paul even went so far as to say that they had blasphemed and their words were like gangrene.

This isn’t the only time men have shipwrecked their faith.  He wrote to the Thessalonians, “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter…have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.  Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.”  He wrote to the Romans:  “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.”  And he wrote to the Galatians, “Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned.”

So what did Hymenaeus and Alexander do to ruin their faith?

It’s anybody’s guess.  Maybe they believed like Arius did, that Jesus wasn’t really God.  They said He was divine and performed awesome miracles.  But as good as He was and as powerful as He was, Jesus couldn’t possibly have been God of God, Light of Light, or Very God of Very God.  

Or maybe they believed like the Gnostics did, that the spirit was good, but matter was evil.  And since matter was evil, God could not have become a Man.  He couldn’t have taken on human form.  Instead, Jesus only appeared to be a Man and He only seemed to suffer and die.  And they said that since God had blessed them with such great knowledge and insight, they were true Christians, real Christians.  And anyone else, was not.

Or maybe they believed as Sabellius did, that it was the Father, not Jesus, who died on the cross, or as Montanus did, that the Spirit directly inspired them, or as Marcion did that their gospel, a gospel of love, was purer than the teachings of Paul.

Whatever it was that they professed and believed, Paul couldn’t help but say:  “They have made shipwreck of their faith…so I have handed them over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”

So why was Paul so harsh?  Couldn’t he just have taken a deep breath, agreed to disagree and done his best to get along?

For the sake of the peace and the purity of the church, for the protection of her members and for the honor of the Lord’s name, discipline had to be exercised on defiant sinners.

Imagine for a moment that you’re a schoolteacher and, in your classroom, there’s one boy who’s a real problem, a complete pain-in-the-neck.  No matter what you say, no matter what you do, he refuses to listen and, even worse, he makes it impossible for anyone else to learn.  He shoots spitballs, sets off stink bombs and drives other children to tears.  And all of your teaching, no matter how good, grinds to a halt all because of him.  Can you just take a deep breath, agree to disagree and do your best to get along?

So it was for the apostle Paul.  That’s why he wrote, “I have handed Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.”

What we teach here, matters.  What you believe here, matters.  That’s why we have these words from the apostle Paul.

It was late in 2012 and two men, Jose Alvarenga and Ezequiel Cordoba set out on a 14-foot fishing boat from Mexico to go shark fishing.  Both were experienced fishermen and both men loved the sea.

But on November 17th, northerly winds blew them off course and into a storm.  Then, when their engine failed, they were suddenly at the mercy of the open sea.  For two weeks, rescuers set out on an intense search, but no trace of them or their craft was found.  

Cordoba managed to live for a month.  But when he refused to eat raw fish or drink turtle blood, he lost his life to the sea.

But Alvarenga kept going.  In fact, for the next year, as he drifted 6,700 miles across the Pacific, he hid in a large fish box, his only shelter from the relentless sun, wind and rain and he lived on a diet of tiny fish, sea birds, turtles and rain.

Finally, in January of 2014, he ran aground on the Marshall Islands, after spending thirteen months on the open sea.

In the words of El Salvador’s foreign minister, Jaime Miranda, his story is “one of faith and the will to survive.”  When reporters asked him how he felt, he answered, “I’m happy to have arrived.”

We don’t know for certain what happened to Hymenaeus and Alexander.  Were they ever sorry for what they had believed and done?  We may never know.

But what we can know is how our story ends.  For as we rest on the truth of God’s Word and the word and work of our Savior Jesus, we can know a life that never ends.

We thank You, dear Father, for the lessons we can learn from Hymenaeus and Alexander.  Help us always to remain faithful to You and, by Your grace, to rest on the truth of Your Word.  This we ask in Jesus’ name.  Amen



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