29 November 2011
27 November 2011
Paul mentions almost in passing the regrettable condition of Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom he had handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme (1Tim 1:20). It is a mysterious and spine tingling phrase that is relatively obscure as far as disciplinary measures go. What does it mean to hand over someone to the devil? Is Paul talking about church discipline? Or is he referring to an apostolic prerogative? Or perhaps could he be alluding to some uniquely Pauline measure that consisted in part of chanting imprecatory psalms or offering maledictory prayers? We are left wondering what exactly was involved in this severe measure.
Paul employs the same phrase in the case of the incestuous Corinthian who took his father’s wife, something even the pagans refuse to tolerate. Having already pronounced judgment himself, Paul directs the congregation to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord (1Cor 5:5). This suggests that the measure was not a uniquely apostolic or Pauline privilege. The church herself utilized it with success. The man eventually repented and was readmitted to full fellowship (2Cor 2:6-8). Interestingly, God Himself employed this measure or something like it when He said to Satan, Behold, Job is in your hand; only spare his life (Job 2:6). Of course the rest of the story describes in painful detail the severe physical, mental and emotional assaults endured by Job at the hands of the evil adversary. It was not Job’s sin that demanded suffering but God’s sovereignty that ordained it even though the measure itself seems to have been commensurate with if not identical to the handing over to Satan mentioned by Paul to Timothy.
The precise nature of this spiritual extradition to the powers of evil is obscure. But one thing we may safely conclude is it involved pain and suffering, perhaps physical, certainly spiritual. Hymenaeus and Alexander received a severe censure of church discipline designed to prevent further sin from infecting the church and to reclaim if possible these professing but erring Christians. They must learn not to blaspheme. God would honor this disciplinary measure by lowering His hedge of protection and exposing them to danger. What a terrifying chastisement! Satan is pure evil and a malicious murderer. His nature knows not one ounce of pity. Therefore to be placed under his authority, if even temporarily, would be a frightening and dreadful sentence.
But as Scripture reveals true change in a sinner only comes by way of the cross. It is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1Cor 1:18). The cross was the instrument employed at one and the same time by God’s love and Satan’s malice. Though Satan meant it for evil, God overruled it for good. In like manner, every cross appointed for us is ordained by our heavenly Father who knows what is best and will use whatever means necessary to preserve us from perdition.
Although we may not know exactly what constituted being surrendered to Satan, we do know that like all other disciplinary measures God utilizes it for good – for the good of Christians individually and the church corporately. Let us thank our Lord for His infinite wisdom and steadfast love from which nothing in heaven or on earth can ever separate us.
26 November 2011
|Elder James Pavlic|