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Daily Devotional • February 14

Michael Smith
Turned Over to Satan?
A Reading from 1 Timothy 1:18-2:8

18 This charge I commit to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies made earlier about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, 19 having faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have suffered shipwreck in the faith; 20 among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have turned over to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme.

1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is right and acceptable before God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For

there is one God;
    there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
6     who gave himself a ransom for all

— this was attested at the right time. 7 For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth; I am not lying), a teacher of the gentiles in faith and truth.

8 I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument.

Paul considers Timothy his “loyal son in the faith” (1Tim. 1:2) and as such mentors him as a maturing leader of the church in Ephesus by sharing this puzzling (at least to me) piece of instruction: “By rejecting conscience, certain persons have suffered shipwreck in the faith; among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have turned over to Satan, so that they may learn not to blaspheme.” Turned over to Satan?

There is a similar idea from Paul in his letter to the Corinthians: “You are to hand this [sexually immoral person] over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:5). What is going on here?

After consulting biblical commentaries, the most sense I can make of these passages is that they are about a form of church discipline we typically refer to as “excommunication.” But that term historically has been understood in a variety of ways, all the way from barring unrepentant Christians from Holy Communion, to its use in the sixth-century Rule of Benedict to prevent monks from attending common meals or prayer until they make satisfaction for serious infringements against the community, on threat of eternal exclusion from the salvific community unless they make reconciliation.

In all cases, church discipline is not primarily about punishment but about motivation for repentance and reconciliation. Presumably, Christians do not want to make shipwrecks of our faith. Sometimes we need the concerted help of the Church to prevent that from happening.

Michael G. Smith served as bishop of North Dakota for 15 years and is currently the Assistant Bishop of Dallas. He works with the Navajoland Iona Collaborative and is a Benedictine Oblate and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

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The Diocese of Northern Philippines
St. Thomas' Episcopal Church, Houston
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