Study 5 HYMENAEUS AND ALEXANDER
PAUL’S FIRST LETTER TO TIMOTHY
by Francis Dixon
Scripture Portions: 1 Timothy 1:18-20; 2 Timothy 2:15-19
The verses upon which this study is based are very solemn – 1 Timothy 1:18-20. Hymenaeus and Alexander were two prominent men in the Church at Ephesus, who undoubtedly were Christians but who had become seriously sidetracked by the Enemy. They had taken in and propagated false teaching, and as the result of this the apostle had to hand them over to Satan in order to teach them not to blaspheme. The purpose was to restore them; it was that they might be taught, that they might be disciplined, and this seems to indicate that they were Christians who had been led astray and who needed to be disciplined by the Lord. When Christians wilfully persist in disobeying the Lord there is need for discipline, and sometimes this discipline is very severe. This reference to Hymenaeus and Alexander brings a warning to us all. What are the lessons that we should learn from these two men?
1. THE TERRIBLE DANGER OF SPIRITUAL RELAPSE THAT FACES EVERY CHRISTIAN
We assume that these two men, and the others whom they had led astray (note the word ‘some’ in verse 19), were once devoted Christians, regularly attending Church and witnessing to the grace of the Lord. Gradually they became slack, their consciences became blunted, and they grew careless and lost out spiritually. Then they embraced false teaching, with what the New Testament calls heresy. This could happen to any one of us, for the Devil is still active and he is constantly seeking to trip up Christians and to upset God’s work. We know this because as we look around in the Church today we see many casualties. The Apostle Paul had this in mind when he wrote 1 Corinthians 9:27. The reference here, however, is not to the dangers of false teaching but to the danger of false living – and can the two be separated? Paul was not afraid of being lost, but he was afraid of being rendered useless to the Lord for further service. All this should make us give earnest heed to 1 Corinthians 10:12 – but never read verse 12 without also reading verse 13. There is no need for any one of us to fall or to fail – look up Jude 24.
2. THE DREADFUL INFLUENCE OF ONE DISOBEDIENT CHRISTIAN
We note two things here: firstly Hymenaeus and Alexander were not the only false teachers in the Church. Why, then, were they judged for their grievous sin? Surely because they were the leaders in this evil work. Secondly, Hymenaeus’ name is placed first. Why? Because he was the ringleader in this false teaching. This comes out in 2 Timothy 2:17-18. How solemn it was that Hymenaeus was not only guilty of false teaching but he was responsible for destroying the faith of some. No wonder stern measures were taken to remove these men from the Church. It is often better for a Church when some people leave – look up Romans 16:17.
3. THE SERIOUS NATURE AND DAMAGING EFFECT OF FALSE TEACHING IN THE CHURCH
In 1 Timothy 1:20 Paul calls it “blasphemy”. Why did he use such a strong word? Because their false teaching was a reproach upon the Divine character and the revealed truth of God. But notice in 2 Timothy 2:17-18 that the apostle says that false teaching spreads “like gangrene”. J.B. Phillips very expressively transliterates this by saying that these false teachers “are as dangerous as blood poisoning to the blood and spread like sepsis from a wound”. False teaching in the Church is like a gangrene or a malignant tumour in the body. It eats away the healthy tissue, it spreads and it eventually kills. We need to be awake to this danger in our day; but most of us are not awake, we are asleep.
4. THE CLOSE CONNECTION THERE IS BETWEEN WHAT WE BELIEVE AND HOW WE BEHAVE
The case of Hymenaeus and Alexander shows us that there is an inseparable connection between faith and morals. In 1 Timothy 1:18-20 there is a striking sequence. First, these men “put away a good conscience”; then, they “shipwrecked their faith”; then, they lived lives that were careless and undisciplined. If we stifle conscience our faith will be affected; and then our lives will be affected. Every moral breakdown leads from a breakdown of faith; and every breakdown of faith leads from a conscience that has been dulled. How very important it is to keep a clear conscience – look up Acts 24:16.
5. THE JUDGMENT OF THE LORD MUST COME UPON CHRISTIANS WHO LIVE CARELESSLY AND WHO REFUSE CORRECTION
The judgment that came upon these two men is mentioned in 1 Timothy 1:20. They were “handed over to Satan”. What do these words mean?
- (1) They may refer to the Jewish practice of excommunication. According to synagogue practice, if a man was an evildoer he was first rebuked. If that proved ineffective he was banished from the synagogue for thirty days. If that failed to produce repentance he was then put outside for good.
- (2) Paul may have meant that he had handed them over to Satan’s territory – the world, as distinct from the Church.
- (3) Perhaps it means that Paul had the power to call down physical chastisement upon these two, as suggested by 1 Corinthians 5:5. Satan was held to be responsible for human suffering – compare 2 Corinthians 12:7.
Does such a thing happen today? Do Christians ever suffer physically because of sin? – look up 1 Corinthians 11:29-30. Christians in the Church at Corinth had been coming to the Lord’s Table with sin in their lives that had not been judged. Because of this some of them had suffered physical sickness and others had died. This was the Lord’s judgment upon them. It was His chastening – look up Hebrews 12:6-11; and why did He chasten them? – the last phrase in 1 Corinthians 5:5 gives us the answer. Hymenaeus and Alexander were chastened of the Lord “to be taught not to blaspheme” (1 Timothy 1:20), and that their spirits might “be saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5). Paul hoped and prayed that as a result of the severe discipline imposed upon these two men they might both be brought back into full fellowship with the Lord and with His people.
Let us cultivate a tender conscience, a sensitivity to the voice of the Holy Spirit, a firm and a growing faith, a deep understanding of God’s Word and a daily walk that in all respects is well-pleasing to Him.