Holding Forth the Faith with a Clear Conscience
by Pastor Paul M. Sadler
“Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck” (I Tim. 1:19).
The Civil War was a dark chapter in the history of America. Thankfully, we have lived to see the abolition of slavery with its various forms of cruelty. But few realize that the underlying issue of the conflict was states’ rights, which has never fully been resolved to this day.
Several years ago, our family visited Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Needless to say, it was a memorable experience. The Battle of Gettysburg was one of the defining moments of the Civil War. As we stood on Cemetery Ridge, it wasn’t difficult to envision the battle that took place there on July 3, 1863. General Lee’s strategy was to attack the Union Army head-on and split it into two parts. It was called “Pickett’s Charge.” The idea, of course, was to divide and conquer.
Envision for a moment over 12,000 Confederate soldiers, with guns in hand, yelling at the top of their lungs, charging toward you. The initial wave of soldiers covered an area nearly one mile wide. It would be enough to make a strong man tremble. As we know, the North was triumphant that fateful day, but scores of good men lost their lives in the cause. Lieutenant General John B. Gordon of the South stated after the war that he believed, “It was the providence of God that the North won for had the South been victorious, the nation would have been fragmented.”
THE IMAGES OF CONFLICT
Perhaps the most touching moment of the visit came when we visited the National Cemetery where President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysbury Address. There were 15,000 present the day he spoke these memorable words:
“Now we are engaged in a great Civil War, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.”
Brethren, we too, are engaged in a great conflict—a conflict between good and evil, between righteousness and unrighteousness. The heavenly ground upon which we stand has been hallowed by the precious blood of Christ. Furthermore, it is consecrated by the sacrifices of those courageous soldiers of the Cross, both living and dead, “far above our poor power to add or detract.” Therefore, when the battle grows intense, let us not draw back as some have done. I personally believe this was the intent of Paul’s words to Timothy, “Holding faith, and a good conscience.” In other words, stand fast, don’t be discouraged, never give up the fight, always do what’s morally right!
“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; holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck” (I Tim. 1:18,19).
The use of the term “son” by the apostle is a clear indication of his affection for Timothy. Although Timothy’s heart had been cultivated by his mother and grandmother, it was Paul who led him to Christ and nurtured him in the faith. We might have ten thousand instructors, but we normally only have one spiritual father who will naturally care for our spiritual welfare. This was the case with Paul and Timothy. Paul had become a spiritual father to this young man.
As we examine the record, we learn that the battle was so intense at Ephesus that Timothy had apparently become discouraged. Probably every child of God at one time or another has suffered from discouragement. This is another one of those things that fall under the category of: it’s not a matter of “if,” but “when.”
You can be certain that any time we’re discouraged we’ve taken our eyes off of the Lord. We begin to dwell on the circumstances around us. Since that’s enough to depress anyone, we try to deal with things in our own way. It usually goes something like this, “Step aside, I’m taking charge!” Of course, the harder we try to control things, the more complicated they become until we come to the end of ourselves. Then the lamentation is heard throughout the realm, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen!”
This is where Timothy was; he was ready to throw in the towel, as it were. While the counsel of many today would be to visit a psychologist, Paul always sought a biblical solution when dealing with the Lord’s people. He encourages his young friend by reminding him of his spiritual roots. Timothy had been called of God. You see, he had lost sight of that. Paul effectively draws his attention back to the things of the Lord.
Son, remember those “prophecies which went before on thee.” Notice, “on thee,” that is, Timothy. Clearly the prophets of grace, most of whom were probably with the Lord by this late date, had confirmed his calling of God. They apparently foretold what great things would be accomplished through this young man’s ministry to the glory of God.
In essence, the apostle is saying to his young friend, “Timothy don’t dwell on the circumstances, evil as they may be. Get your eyes back on the goal, the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Why are you so astonished that ungodly men are opposing and threatening you, it’s part of the territory, my son? Beloved, you must never forget you are called of Him and entrusted with that precious deposit. If God be for you, who shall be against you?” Thankfully, we know Timothy recovered from this temporary setback because a year later he is still faithfully serving the Lord when Paul writes to him a second time (II Tim. 1:1,2).
FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT OF THE FAITH
With the apostle well along in years and facing a possible death sentence at Rome, Satan was turning up the heat on Paul’s companions. He knew the torch of grace would soon pass to them after the apostle’s death. One by one they departed from the apostle leaving the Church without field commanders, which eventually resulted in the religious confusion of the Dark Ages (II Tim. 1:15; 4:10,16).
But Timothy stood fast in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. It could well be that the prophets predicted he would be the lone voice after the apostle’s death to proclaim the message of grace in its purity. Church history bears out that after Timothy’s martyrdom, Paul’s gospel was compromised by the traditions and commandments of men. Sadly, it was diminished to a mere flicker of light until the Protestant Reformation.
For years Paul had been preparing Timothy for the inevitable—his departure to be with Christ. So when Timothy received word that the apostle would soon be executed in Rome, it came as little surprise. After Paul recovered from the initial shock that the ruling had gone against him, he writes to Timothy these touching words:
“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (II Tim. 4:6,7).
Paul was a “ready” servant of the Lord. He was ready to visit Rome to minister the Word. Here, speaking of his impending death, he was ready to be offered, which is a subtle reference to the Old Testament libation. The libation, or drink offering, was poured over the sacrifice as an additional act of worship (Num. 28:10-14). The apostle wanted the end of his life to be looked upon as a testimony, one final act of worship, something over and above. In our case, we will probably face some sort of terminal illness, but may our desire be that of Paul’s, to glorify God with our last breath.
For “the time of my departure is at hand.” The word “departure” is a nautical term that has the idea to loose the ship from the mooring and set sail. As far as Paul was concerned, he was ready to set sail to be with Christ, which is far better. The apostle could also confidently say, “I have fought a good fight…I have kept the faith.” In addition to summarizing his lifelong ministry for the Lord, Paul meant this as a word of encouragement for Timothy that he should strive to do the same. It was his prayer that Timothy would be able to say this at the end of his life. Paul didn’t want his young friend to have any regrets.
“That thou by them mightest war a good warfare.” There are many good and noble battles being fought today; the battle over abortion, stem cell research, religious liberty, etc. While Christians should stand up and be numbered on these issues, the Church will never turn the tide of this world system. In fact, opposition against Christian values will grow worse and worse as we approach the Rapture. The answer is not reformation. We will never conform the world to our way of thinking. Rather those who oppose the truth need to be transformed by the gospel.
So then, the only fight that produces lasting results is the good fight of the faith. You see, until the lost are saved and come into a knowledge of the truth, there is no hope for change. In regard to the Church, until it submits itself to “the faith,” Paul’s special revelation, it will continue to flounder in a quagmire of confusion. This is why it’s essential that we stand in the defense and confirmation of Paul’s gospel. Those who understand Paul’s distinctive apostleship and message are the last bastions of hope for the members of the Body of Christ who are fighting the wrong battle.
What battle are we to be fighting? Clearly, it’s to make all men see what is the fellowship of the Mystery—the special revelation that was committed to Paul concerning Christ. Interestingly there are two major revelations of Jesus Christ.
“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John” (Rev. 1:1).
The Greek word that stands behind the English term “revelation” in this passage is apokalupsis, which means the unveiling. In this context, it has to do with the revelation of Jesus Christ according to Prophecy. The Book of Revelation is merely an extension of the earthly ministry of Christ, which confirms that Christ will one day return in power and great glory to destroy the kingdoms of this world and establish His kingdom of righteousness for one thousand years (Matt. 24:14,29-31 cf. Rev. 11:15; 19:11-16; 20:5-7). The good fight of the faith in the coming day of the Lord will be to stand in defense of the kingdom gospel. This is the basis for the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
“But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11,12).
The Greek word that stands behind the English term “revelation” here in Galatians 1:12 is also apokalupsis. In this context, however, it has to do with the revelation of Jesus Christ according to the Mystery. Paul received the unveiling of Jesus Christ in grace. This is the heavenly ministry of Christ concerning the Body of Christ, which was kept secret from ages and generations past. The apostle says, “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by His grace.” This special revelation came through Paul; he was God’s divinely chosen apostle to make known the manifold riches of His grace.
The good fight of the faith today then is to stand in defense of the gospel of the grace of God. This is the basis for the fulfillment of the commission of reconciliation. At the Judgment Seat of Christ, the Commander in Chief is not going to hand out honors to those who were defending the wrong commission. Which commission are you defending? Our marching orders are clear. God will not hold us blameless if we disobey the commands of Christ set forth in the manual of grace found in Paul’s epistles (Acts 20:24 cf. I Cor. 14:37).
MINISTERING THE GOSPEL WITH A CLEAR CONSCIENCE
“Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck” (I Tim. 1:19).
It is essential to minister the Word with a good conscience. Apparently there were those in Paul’s day that were careless in this regard, which greatly hampered their ministry. Conscience simply means “with knowledge.” When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, “they knew that they were naked” and sinned against God. The moment they partook of the forbidden fruit their consciences were activated, for we are told that they knew the difference between good and evil (Gen. 3:5-7).
Those who lived under the dispensation of conscience were to do all known good and abstain from all known evil. While we are no longer living under the regulations of that dispensation, God has never rescinded man’s conscience. It’s still alive and well in each of us. Luther once said, “It’s a dangerous thing to disobey your conscience.”
Our conscience is an early warning system that warns us against wrongdoing. We might liken it to a railroad crossing. When danger is approaching, in the form of a coming train, red lights begin flashing as the gates come down. But the railroad warning system is powerless to stop you from going around the gates and putting yourself in harm’s way. In a northwest suburb of Milwaukee, a car full of teenagers on their way to school one morning thought they could ignore the flashing lights and beat the oncoming train at the crossing. They were wrong, dead wrong! Objects approaching perpendicular to one another are always traveling faster than they appear to be. In other words, it’s much more difficult to judge distance accurately.
In like manner, the conscience has the ability to warn us of danger, but it, too, is powerless to keep us from sinning. If we fail to heed the warning and sin, we do so of our own volition. There are several consequences for disobeying the conscience, the primary one being guilt. The message Paul was sending to Timothy was this, always do that which is right in the Lord’s work. He was to abstain even from the appearance of evil for the sake of the gospel and his conscience.
We recently saw a news magazine that did an undercover camera investigation of a well-known national ministry. Apparently the tele-evangelist pledged he would pray over each and every letter he received from those who had sick loved ones—God was waiting to heal them!!! He encouraged the Lord’s people to send their requests, and handkerchiefs, along with a generous gift. The following week, what the undercover investigation recorded was the staff removing the checks from the envelopes and discarding the letters without even reading them, let alone praying for each request. The answer to the health, wealth and prosperity gospels of our day is Paul’s gospel.
Brethren, here at the Berean Bible Society every letter is read and every request honored. Whether it’s regarding a question, information, prayer request, or simply a book order. We also issue a receipt and acknowledgement for every donation. Of course, this doesn’t mean that things don’t occasionally fall through the cracks, but I think you’ll find our staff to be very conscientious. We are strong believers in accountability in the Lord’s work. Thus, it is our earnest desire to hold forth the faith with a clear conscience!