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1 Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. 1 Timothy 5:1–2 (ESV)

Counseling and confrontation are not encounters between professionals and clients; it is an act of mutual love and concern between members of the same family.  Indeed, John MacArthur labels this section of his commentary on 1 Timothy, “Confronting Sin in the Spiritual Family.”

First, the overview:

But before going into specific areas, Paul sets out guidelines indicating how Timothy should relate to four different types of people.

• AN OLDER MAN SHOULD NOT BE REBUKED BUT ENCOURAGED ‘as you would a father’. This does not mean that he cannot be corrected. The ‘rebuke’ Paul speaks of is an expression of strong disapproval. The New International Version expresses well the force of what Paul says by translating it as ‘rebuke … harshly’. If an older man needs correction, Timothy should not be disrespectful or condescending towards him. Instead, he should come alongside him and treat him with the kind of respect he would show to his own father.

• YOUNGER MEN ARE TO BE TREATED LIKE BROTHERS. He should help, support and encourage them.

• OLDER WOMEN SHOULD BE TREATED LIKE MOTHERS, with respect and care.

• YOUNGER WOMEN MUST BE TREATED LIKE SISTERS, ‘in all purity’. Timothy must not play games with their affections, flirt with them or look at them lustfully. He should treat them with the same kind of innocence that he would show to his sister.

These are timeless principles which will help us to keep good relationships with people in our own church family. Let us make sure that we treat those older than we are with the same respect we should show to our parents, that we come alongside and encourage people who are the same age as we are, and that we treat members of the opposite sex with purity.

Simon J. Robinson, Opening Up 1 Timothy, Opening Up Commentary (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2004), 85-86.

In giving these instructions, Paul was training Timothy in such a manner to present a model of godliness. First, Timothy was required to present a model of Christian love, which would declare that those in the church were indeed disciples of Jesus (John 13:34-35). Second, he was to act in demonstrative love toward those in the congregation. Paul himself described love remarkable forbearance and kindness (1 Cor. 13:4-7). Here, Paul lays out the elements of that love in a particular context. Third, Paul taught Timothy how to act in such a way that those in congregation would have a pattern to imitate themselves. The pastor, the elder, the counselor, the more mature sister or brother are to live in such a way that others can see and imitate their conduct (1 Cor. 11:1):

Paul wanted the action of Timothy and the church toward these various groups to win the esteem of the largely heathen population in Ephesus. Proper behavior toward all of these groups demanded respect, compassion, and the giving of financial help where needed. Christians who did this would demonstrate a life-style the pagan population could understand and admire.

Paul and his readers were aware of the spiritual sense in which Christians were related to one another as brothers and sisters (Mark 3:31–35). Paul requested treatment that recognized these family relationships. In giving these directions, Paul was aware of Timothy’s youthfulness; and he wanted Timothy to avoid disrespect, insecurity, or temptation to immorality.

5:1 In dealing with the older men116 Paul urged Timothy to avoid a harsh, insensitive treatment which would not appreciate their age. The term “rebuke,” mentioned here only in the New Testament, describes a severe verbal pounding. Such treatment would show no appreciation for age. The youthful Timothy faced a ticklish situation in appealing to older men, but differences of age did not make admonition to these men any less necessary.

Timothy was not to talk down to younger men, but he was to treat them as equals. The term “exhort” demands a kindlier, more considerate approach than the previously denounced “rebuking.” Those who err would need to receive some rebuke for their behavior, but Timothy was to avoid a pompous approach in relating to them.

…5:2 Paul directed Timothy to treat the older women respectfully as mothers (cf. Rom 16:13). A church leader would find it virtually impossible to heap verbal abuse on an older woman if he showed personal respect for her.

Younger women posed a special problem for Timothy. He was to treat them as sisters and maintain a purity which would banish all evil in thought and deed. The lack of purity among the younger women may have caused special problems for the entire Ephesian church (see 2 Tim 3:6–7; 1 Tim 5:11). The word “purity” calls for modesty and chastity in all relationships.

Paul intended to mold Timothy into a wise leader who could deal individually with his flock. He did not want Timothy only to give admonitions. He wanted him to provide an example which other Ephesian Christians could imitate.

Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, vol. 34, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 144-45.