Shipwrecked Faith and Disqualification

This command I commit to you, my son Timothy, according to the prophecies that were previously given to you, that by them you might fight a good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.

1 Timothy 1:18–20 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)

I am certain most of us have encountered this passage, either in our own readings, or most likely because it was employed to scare others about losing salvation. The phrase used is shipwrecked faith.

Without spending too much time in the original languages, suffice it to say the idea conveyed by the term shipwreck means to suffer loss by living through it.

But what does it really mean?

Consider a practical application. Shipwrecked ships are no longer suitable for the purposes that they were designed to be employed to do. Shipwrecked ships can no longer be used to convey people and goods. Shipwrecked ships cannot stay afloat keeping the cargo out of the water.

It’s the same way with your faith. If faith is shipwrecked, It’s no longer useful for its intended purposes. That is, it is useless to bear fruit for Jesus.

It doesn’t mean salvation is lost or forfeited. It cannot mean that, as persons live through such things as shipwreck and disqualification.

That’s an important concept to understand when reading the Bible. If a particular passage is about salvation, there is no ambiguity. When Jesus told Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” It’s a clear command.

In a similar manner, those important topics are unambiguous. The soul that sins, it shall die. Or men die once and then comes the judgment. The dangers of perdition are clearly presented.

When it comes to a topic such as losing salvation, are there clear passages?

I would say emphatically, no. The Bible doesn’t tell you emphatically, to be careful you will lose your salvation. Instead, the idea is derived from ambiguity and euphemism as if it exists.

With that concept, let’s examine another term Paul employed and is often misused in a similar way to shipwreck.

Do you not know that all those who run in a race run, but one receives the prize? So run, that you may obtain it. Everyone who strives for the prize exercises self-control in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible one. So, therefore, I run, not with uncertainty. So I fight, not as one who beats the air. But I bring and keep my body under subjection, lest when preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

1 Corinthians 9:24–27 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)

In this case, Paul is using the idea of running a race to teach self-control. Just as an athlete prepares for a race by disciplining his body, Paul extends that to the same discipline of self-control we ought to have as believers. Self-control, not because we might lose salvation, but self-control that we might remain eligible to receive a prize.

To each of us, we make think salvation is a prize won. It is not. It is a gift given to us by a gracious God. Running a race for the prize brings a reward for a job well done.

Lack of discipline can lead to disqualification. That can put anyone in a position of ineligibility to win that race.

Shipwrecked faith and disqualification are not metaphors for losing salvation. They are metaphors for unemployability in being fruitful for the purposes of God. I will say that most of the Bible teaches us to be employable for the purposes of God. The initial part of that is to be saved.

That moves us to the potter.

Paul outlines this idea in Romans 9. This passage is often misused to say something it doesn’t. This isn’t about salvation, but employability by God.

Does the potter not have power over the clay to make from the same lump one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?

Romans 9:21 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)

He uses the familiarity of a potter making vessels. In this case, it serves as a sort of analog to God making men for particular purposes. Humans are not pots. But they are vessels made for use. And they are made from the same clay. And each is made for useful employability by God in a specific way.

The honor and dishonor part speaks to the employability, not the particular usage of the vessel. Humans think a jar to hold wine has an honorable purpose, while a chamber pot made from the same lump of clay has a less-than-honorable purpose. To the potter, both have the same value inherent in their employability and usefulness.

Paul used this idea in another place.

In a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also those of wood and clay; some are for honor, and some for dishonor. One who cleanses himself from these things will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, fit for the Master’s use, and prepared for every good work.

2 Timothy 2:20–21 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)

From a human perspective, honor is measured by a different value than God uses. God measures honor by something being fit for the Master’s use. Can the vessel do the job?

Humans are not wine jars and chamber pots. Though like those, we are made for different purposes from the same material. The honor comes in our being sanctified, which is set aside and ready. That requires the discipline Paul spoke about. When we are in that position we are fit for the Master’s use. That is an honor.

But, wait! You might say, “I messed up. My faith is shipwrecked and I’m disqualified!”

I am going to tell you…

God gives mulligans.

Paul’s usage of the potter pays homage to something he would be very familiar with being an Israeli. It is the writing of the prophet Jeremiah.

“Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause you to hear My words.” Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was making something on the wheel. Yet the vessel that he made of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.

Jeremiah 18:2–4 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)

I do love this entire chapter. God calls Jeremiah to the potter’s house. He is called to watch. In the lesson, the thing being formed becomes marred in the potter’s hand.

Note something else absent from the text. The potter didn’t mar the clay. It became marred. The potter didn’t discard the clay. Instead, he reforms that clay into a vessel of another purpose.

Do-overs are available. Get the do-over, and couple that with some self-control. And God has a vessel set aside to be employed in honor as the Potter intends.

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