Robert Cobb at News For Christians wrote a short sermon on I Timothy 1:19 titled “The Shipwreck of your Faith.” He received (and posted) a letter from a “shipwrecked” pastor, who pastored for 24 years, and then had an affair — and his entire life fell apart. Please read both the letter and the sermon.
Not every shipwrecked Christian was a pastor — many have crashed on the rocks. Maybe you lost your job by your actions, or destroyed your marriage and family through pornography or other kinds of immorality. Maybe you were put out of a church. Maybe, like this former pastor, you feel guilty every time you go to church. You’ve shipwrecked. There is no way back, no way to undo the damage. This letter is for you.
Maybe you haven’t “shipwrecked.” Unless you haven’t sinned anytime in the last 30 years, there’s probably something here for you, too.
Dear Shipwrecked Christian,
These are things you probably already know, but sometimes we need reminders.
You absolutely must remember this:
God’s Faithful and Just Forgiveness
I John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Three things on this verse:
- God’s forgiveness is conditional. The first word in this verse is “if.” You need to talk truth to God about your sin. No excuses, no minimising, no rubbish. Describe it the way He describes it, all of it. It’s not just the sinful action, it’s the sinful attitudes that led to it. If pride, selfishness, anger, or rebellion were part of the problem, name them, too. We can’t get anywhere until you’ve honestly and fully done this. Lance this boil and get it done.
- God’s forgiveness is faithful. You can depend on His forgiveness — it is bound up in His faithful character.
- God’s forgiveness is just. It is the only right and just thing He can do. Why? Because the price has been paid. As bad as your sin was, the price of the death of the Son of God was enough, and God would be unjust to refuse to accept it as full payment.
Don’t sell God’s forgiveness short
This next one is related:
II Corinthians 2:7, 11
7 So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.
11 Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.
If you shipwrecked, you probably think these verse are for other people, telling them to forgive and restore you to fellowship. They speak to you as well.
- “Overmuch sorrow” is not a good thing. Don’t give in to it.
- “Overmuch sorrow” is one of Satan’s devices. Remember, he is known as the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10).
- There are two kinds of false guilt. The first is feeling guilty for something that wasn’t sin. The second, more insidious, is feeling guilty for real sin for which you have been forgiven. With real guilt removed, the only thing left is false guilt.
When sin has been confessed, allowing guilty thoughts and feelings to take hold is impugning God’s forgiveness, accusing Christ of not doing enough. That’s horrible. Get a grip, control your thoughts and feelings, and don’t let the enemy’s lies have any place in your heart. Finish it now, and if it comes back, recognise it and name it for what it is.
Don’t let Satan’s lies take hold in your heart
Fix what you can:
23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
If you’ve shipwrecked, you’ve hurt other people, too. Do what you can to make it right.
- Be honest with them about what you’ve done, and how it affected them.
- Don’t make excuses or blame others for your actions, even if they tempted you to do wrong.
- DON’T ask them to trust you or pretend it didn’t happen. Honestly and humbly tell them you don’t expect that. DO ask them to try to forgive.
- Do anything you can to undo as much damage as you can, and ask them to let you know if they think of anything else you should do.
- Expect to hear accusations, bitterness, and pain — and humbly thank them for being honest, and ask them again to try to forgive you. If they sin in their words in response to you, let God deal with it.
Do as much as you can to make the wrongs right
It’s time to change your focus:
13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
You are where you are, the past can’t be changed, you need to look forward.
- Time spent looking back at your sin isn’t spent “reaching forth unto those things which are before.”
- Focusing on what you lost isn’t focusing on “pressing toward the mark.”
- Thoughts about what can never be restored aren’t thoughts about the “high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
I knew a former pastor who committed adultery. His self-diagnosis? “I loved my job more than I loved the Lord.” If you are always thinking about what you’ve lost, maybe you loved the things you lost more than you love the Lord. If you loved Him as you should, wouldn’t you would be spending that time thinking about how you can grow closer to Him, love Him more, serve Him better? You wouldn’t waste time grieving what is lost — you would be thinking about “the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
Regrets are appropriate. But shipwrecked Christians can make idols of the things lost as a result of their sin. We need to look forward, “forgetting those things which are behind.” Our purpose here is to love, glorify, and serve Him, not to enjoy those things you lost.
Are you “pressing toward the mark,” or looking behind?
Finally, you need to banish self-focus:
Looking on the Things of Others
Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
Consider others first. Self-focus probably contributed to the shipwreck, and our adversary wants to keep bashing you against those rocks. It’s vital for you to think of others first.
Others may not be able to trust you right now. If your shipwreck was sexual in nature, children’s ministry is a problem. If it was financial, you can’t handle money for people. And so on. The charitable response for you? Make it easy for them. Tell them you don’t expect them to trust you, and behave accordingly. It’s the only charitable thing to do. Let them see that you understand the consequences of the sin.
This is especially true if you used to be a pastor. No pastor can trust you, nor should he. He is tasked with protecting the flock, and as far as he knows, you might be dangerous. Don’t do anything that looks like Absalom — trying to steal hearts. Don’t do anything that looks like trying to win trust. The less you try to be trusted, the more chance for trust to grow. Tell your pastor you want to know if anything concerns him, and if it does, just stop.
Others may need warnings. Don’t spend all your time talking about your shipwreck (see above), but don’t hesitate to warn others, especially if you see evidence they are headed for the rocks. This is Biblical — we have the account of David’s disaster and what came of it, the consequences of Solomon’s sin, etc.
The Bible says the Master Planner can bring good out of all things (Romans 8:28). Perhaps He will use your shipwreck to help protect others from danger. Don’t expect a big ministry in this — big ministries are deadly for shipwrecked people, often hurtful to those they injured. But be alert to danger to others, and humbly tell them what you did to yourself and others. Don’t waste your shipwreck.
Exhorting One Another
Others need encouragement, and you can do that. Spend as much time with other believers as is consistent with your other responsibilities. Check out Hebrews 3:13 and 10:25. Be a full-time encourager. Your shipwreck may bar you from public ministry — but you can pray. You can let your pastor know you are praying for him often. You can let missionaries know you are praying.
You can see who is serving, and send notes of appreciation. Do it anonymously so it doesn’t look like you are trying to build a following. Anonymous encouragements are just as valuable, and safer for you.
If you know the Scriptures, use them to encourage others in private conversation. Quit thinking about big things you might have done and focus on little things you can do.
Read John 13:1-20. It’s hot in the Middle East, and people wore sandals, and the roads were dusty. Washing feet meant washing away the sweat of a hot day on the roads, and everything that stuck to that sweat. It wasn’t always “clean” dirt — animals walked on those roads, too. This was not a pleasant job.
You think you are disqualified from serving because of your shipwreck? Think again. Someone needs to clean the toilets. Someone needs to cut the lawn at the church, or at the homes of the sick and elderly. Someone needs to visit the shut-ins that can’t ever come to church again. If you think those things are beneath you, you haven’t come to terms with your sin, and you haven’t come to terms with Christ’s actions in John 13.
Perhaps the pastor needs someone who will go with him on emergency calls in the middle of the night, someone who will keep his mouth shut during the call and after it. Perhaps someone needs to dust the piano because the janitor missed it. Someone needs to pitch in and help with cleanup after church fellowship dinners, or sweep the front steps of the church, or do a litter pickup around the grounds on occasion.
Proclaim the Gospel. Tell people the good news of what Christ has done. The Great Commission is not just for those who haven’t sinned. If anyone knows God’s forgiveness and love, it is you. A single soul saved for all eternity is more important than everything you’ve lost in this life. Maybe the Lord will give you the joy of bringing one to Him this year.
Look around, and start serving. Get off of the rocks, get on a ship that is sailing, and even if you can’t be an officer, you can hold a rope. Maybe you used to be a better navigator than the person doing it, but someone needs to swab the deck. You might not be able to man a lighthouse, but someone needs to light a running light on the side of the ship.
Whether “shipwrecked” or not, my life is not about me. It’s about loving the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. It’s about loving His people, and serving Him by serving them. Life on this earth means service in whatever role we can. There is always something to do, and our Lord’s church needs you to be doing it, rather than thinking about what you can’t do.
If you are truly looking to serve, it is impossible to remain shipwrecked
Shipwrecks hurt, and often do damage that can never be recovered this side of glory. We all hit the rocks, we’ve all been among them. Sometimes, by God’s grace, we recognise the danger in time, turn from it, and all that happens is the hull takes a small scrape. We can sail on almost as if nothing happened. Sometimes, we escape with seemingly nothing, and all seems over.
All is never, ever over in the service of the Lord. You’re needed on board, and your Master expects you to be there. The only thing worse than being shipwrecked is staying shipwrecked.
Yours in the Lord’s Service,
A Fellow Mariner