*** Warning! This blog post will cause severe discomfort if you struggle with the concept of healthy spiritual authority in the church”. ***
1st Timothy 1:18-20
“18 Timothy, my son, here are my instructions for you, based on the prophetic words spoken about you earlier. May they help you fight well in the Lord’s battles. 19 Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked. 20 Hymenaeus and Alexander are two examples. I threw them out and handed them over to Satan so they might learn not to blaspheme God.”
Paul had such an elegant way of dealing with church congregants didn’t he? In modern day American Church settings, I am almost positive Paul would have been called a cult leader, domineering, or a toxic leader for his handling or handing over of Hymenaeus and Alexander. I could only imagine rumors and social media clips that would swirl if any mainline church leaders publicly told their pastors they threw out two congregants and handed them over to satan. I could also imagine the Hymenaeus and Alexander retelling of the story. “ Paul was so close minded and controlling, he refused to allow anyone else to preach in his churches that disagreed with his theology.”
Of course this is not the case. Paul had two primary responsibilities as one of the founding apostles and overseers of the rapidly expanding Gentile Church. One is to communicate a vision for where the church is headed, and the second is to protect and guard over the souls he is called to shepherd from false teachings that would shipwreck a believer's faith.
Paul was not called to be a motivational speaker, professional church celebrity, or a social media influencer. Paul was called to be a builder and protector of the Church of Jesus Christ. A call which oftentimes is met with confrontation and dissent. Paul clearly was not prioritizing making you feel warm and bubbly over leading you to health and truth. No, Paul understood that his call came with immense responsibility and unique spiritual authority. This is why he believed he had the ability to hand over these two trespassers to the enemy for divine discipline.
You certainly don't use this type of language of “handing over” unless you also believe you possess the ability to do so. Which leads me to see that Paul believed that God had given him souls to lead and watch over in his call as an Apostle to the Gentiles. For lack of a better word; Paul functioned as a “spiritual covering and protection” for those he was called to lead. Look, I know that concept makes most of us want to cringe. Oftentimes when we use words like “covering” we feel like we are being exposed to an opportunity for bad leaders to manipulate and take advantage of us. I totally understand that sentiment and I hate that there really is such a thing as toxic leadership that has the ability to hurt innocent, Jesus loving people. Sadly, in a fallen world, there is always a very real and dangerous counterfeit from the enemy to counteract every good thing established by God. Although we cannot subvert or ignore the truth just because we fear a lie. Church leadership and anointed men and women of God play a vital role in leading, pastoring and protecting the Church. Pretending otherwise is another form of man made religion. Does this mean that Church leaders are allowed to act however they want without repercussion? Of course not. But believing that church leadership and authority doesn't exist because you're afraid of being hurt or betrayed is just spiritually dangerous.
The next question would be how does one become identified as an authority in the Church? The short answer is by God, through the affirmation of other trusted leaders. Leadership in the Kingdom is defined by one's willingness to serve and lay down one's life for those they are called to lead. This is demonstrated in the life and ministry of Jesus.
Understanding this and going back to the Scripture above, what does Paul mean when he says he handed these two over to satan? Did he drive them to the gates of hell and personally gift them to the devil? No, I don’t think this is the case. The phrase handed over, can also be interpreted as “surrendered them to”. As in Hymenaeus and Alexander's case, these two had already surrendered themselves to the enemy's leadership. Paul’s spiritual authority and covering as their God ordained leader was acting as a safeguard from the two having to absorb the full consequences of their decisions. What is assumed from other Scriptures, after Paul’s attempts to gently correct the two back into true faith failed, he was left with the only option available. Which would be to dismiss them from his protection in order to protect the others in the body he is called to pastor. In essence Paul is allowing these troublemakers to receive what they are actually chasing. Although Paul's writings to Timothy are usually very clear cut, and as a matter of fact, I have no doubt that Paul’s decisions over these two caused him great heartache and pain as a pastor. Ok, so why the exegesis on spiritual authority? Am I trying to sell something to you as pastor of the Church? No, not at all. I simply am trying to explain a spiritual principle that has blessed my life tremendously as I daily learn to die to self and better trust the leaders God has provided in my life. I, like everyone else, am prone to stubbornly demand that things be done my way. I am learning daily that this approach to life typically leaves me feeling dissatisfied and more discontented. I am also discovering daily that as I learn to trust and work in cooperation with the leaders God has entrusted me to, there is a grace afforded to me to build the Kingdom beyond my ability.
Either way, whether you struggle with the concept of spiritual leadership and covering, or not, I am eternally grateful for you and the fact that we are running this race together.