Hymenaeus et al and the Shipwreck of Faith

Shipwreck on Tubbataha Reef, Philippines

This weekend, President Boyd K. Packer gave a powerful talk on the storms and tempests that could shipwreck our faith. He reaffirmed the critical role of those in in the safety of the harbor to guide home those in danger’s way. Elder Quentin L. Cook also spoke of the reality of shipwrecks of faith that exist in the church today: those that once believed are somehow lost and become spiritual cast aways. These are friends who with us experienced a mighty change of heart and sang with us the song of redeeming love, but now no longer sing (Alma 5:26). So often they separate themselves from the healing balm of the gospel that they so desperately need to be well.

There is no shortage of these sad stories. Yet with surprising frequency, we read of similar stories in the church anciently. Hymenaeus (whose name stems from Hymenaios, the Greek god of marriage) is another one of those obscure characters tragically referenced by Paul. Hymenaeus was an early Christian from Ephesus, and though an adversary of Paul, became useful as a bad example for instructing Timothy.

It seems that Hymenaeus, along with Alexander his associate, saw their faith shipwrecked, and found themselves delivered unto Satan (with the hope that they would learn and return to the fold).

18 This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare;
19 Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck:
20 Of whom is Hymenæus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme. 1 Timothy 1:18-20

I find the NIV version very instructive:

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 (NIV)

The sad story of Hymenaeus, though short on details, demonstrates a number of red flags the we can take note of to guard our own faith from shipwreck. In the face of the tempest, abandoning our faith in Christ is like tossing a life-preserver to the deck because it feels restrictive. As we abandon the one, and cling instead to rationalization, we set adrift our conscience, making us a ship with no rudder in a great storm.

16 But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.
17 And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenæus and Philetus;
18 Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.   2 Timothy 2:16-18

There is some thought that Hymenaeus, and Philetus (a Greek name that means beloved) were early adopters of what became Gnosticism since they believed the resurrection had already transpired and there would be no future resurrection. But before their apostasy, they fell victim to something seemingly more banal: babblings. The NIV translates “profane and vain babblings” as godless chatter. Not surprisingly, those that over-indulge become increasingly ungodly. Depending on the intensity of these babblings, they may lead to the abandonment of faith, conscience and become blasphemy and overt opposition to God. Paul describes such indulgences as gaggraina (gangrene) which will spread uncontrollably in the body of the afflicted, but also spreads in the body of the church. Alexander, the coppersmith (presumably the same fellow mentioned in 1 Timothy 1) is a good example if how the gangrenous babble corrupted others to the point of apostasy and becoming openly adversarial to the teachings of the apostle Paul:

14 Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works:
15 Of whom be thou ware also; for he hath greatly withstood our words.
16 At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge.
17 Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.
18 And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.  1 Timothy 4:14-18

The blogosphere and blogernacle both hold great potential as tools to strengthen the church and reach out to those that have not yet found it.  It also holds the potential for nourishing and encouraging godless chatter and a tendency to treat things that are holy in a profane way. The other day, I stumbled upon a blog by a cast away that seems to relish in the misery of his own shipwreck.  His blog is the embodiment of toxic godless chatter. It’s spirit of anger and contention feel like the front of a great storm on the horizon: dark, ominous and depressing. I wish I had the energy to engage him. I don’t and won’t. Like Nehemiah, I have bigger fish to fry. Perhaps being delivered to Satan will teach him and motivate him to come back to the fold. This weekend I was instead impressed that it is far better for me to cherish the safety of the harbor. Rather than focusing on the wind and the waves, I prefer to focus on the lights that line the harbor–they are still burning.

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2 thoughts on “Hymenaeus et al and the Shipwreck of Faith

  1. Another good post. Too bad that those who have turned away from faith and would be so much blessed by it, cannot or will not see that it is the best answer. I pray to endure to the end.

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