“having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck” (1 Timothy 1:19).
1 Timothy 1:19 presents us with the second appearance of the word “conscience” within this chapter. Since there will be two additional references to the conscience later within the book of 1 Timothy, it is important to maintain a good understanding of this idea.
As mentioned earlier, the word “conscience” can be defined as “the soul as distinguishing between what is morally good and bad, prompting to do the former and shun the latter, commending one, condemning the other.” (1) Much like an umpire, judge, or referee, the conscience arbitrates between right and wrong. This passage thus highlights the damage that may occur whenever we refuse to allow the Spirit of God to lead and inform our consciences.
To help communicate this danger, Paul the Apostle used the visual image associated with the wreckage of a seafaring vessel. Having lived through at least three literal shipwrecks (see 2 Corinthians 11:25), Paul’s use of this word picture was hardly accidental. As one commentator from an earlier generation observed, “May all who are tempted to put away a good conscience, and to abuse the gospel, remember that this is the way to make shipwreck of faith also.” (2)
We should also note that this was no mere theoretical danger, for Paul had two specific examples in mind: “of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Timothy 1:20). The use of the term delivered is both informative and instructive. You see, the fact that these two individuals were “delivered” in this manner likely indicates that there was a progression involved in this disciplinary action.
For instance, Paul undoubtedly applied Jesus’ teaching from Matthew chapter eighteen in dealing with this issue. With this in mind, it seems probable that Paul took several steps to address their inappropriate behavior before turning to this last resort: “I’ve handed them over to Satan so that they can be taught not to speak against God” (CEB).
In modern day parlance, we might say that Hymenaeus and Alexander had two options in regard to changing their inappropriate conduct. They could choose the easy way or the hard way. The easy way involved repentance and a sincere request for God to help them live and act in a manner that was honorable to Him. Unfortunately, these men chose the hard way. We’ll discuss what that entailed next.
(1) G4893 syneidesis https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g4893
(2) Henry, Matthew. “Matthew Henry Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible” [vv 18-20] https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/1-timothy-1.html. 1706.