Some more thinking from 1 Timothy 1...
Interesting to note the verses below that draw the chapter to a conclusion:
18Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, 19holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. 20Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.Paul seems to be saying to Timothy that the way in which he's to 'fight the good fight' is - as verse 19 puts it - to hold onto both faith and a good conscience. Note the flow onto the following sentence, which I've put in emphasis above. If we don't hold onto both faith and a good conscience, we're likely to find that our faith is on the rocks.
It's interesting to reflect exactly what it means to hold onto faith and to a good conscience. The word 'faith' is common in 1 Timothy (see 1:2, 1:4, 1:5, 1:14; 2:7, 2:15; 3:9, 3:13; 4:1, 4:6, 4:12; 5:8, 5:9; 6:10, 6:11, 6:12, 6:20). Here, Paul seems to be referring to the gospel message. To hold onto the faith is to watch one's doctrine carefully. To become theologically lax is to endanger one's spiritual health.
It's also important to hold onto a good conscience. This phrase is also found in 1:5 and 3:9 (contrast with 4:2). The reference in chapter 1 shows that a good conscience can come only through the genuine work of the gospel in one's own life - and therefore is an important criterion for spiritual leadership. It seems to refer to having a short account with God and having 'nothing to hide'. Perhaps having a good conscience is tantamount to having no unrepentant sin in one's life and having one's conscience clear in that respect.
Apparently Hymanaeus and Alexander had failed to hold onto these things. We don't know whether their failure was doctrinal or in lifestyle or both. But, nevertheless, their faith was ruined and Paul had instilled some form of apostolic discipline.
I'm personally very grateful for those who help me to watch my doctrine - church leaders, friends and readers of my thoughts here. I'd hope that if I did begin to slip doctrinally that these brothers and sisters would pick me up. The challenge I take from this passage is to make sure that I'm being equally vigorous in my lifestyle and in my godliness. As a leader it's very easy to foster private and public personae. But there's no kidding God - and so one of my prayers for the year ahead is to be able to say that I genuinely am 'holding onto a good conscience.'