"Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity."
(1 Timothy 5:1-2 ESV)
Paul’s first letter to Timothy contains advice on many a subject that a young pastor may struggle with in the course of his ministry. As I look back on my years of pastoral work I can certainly identify with every issue raised here, and I thank God that the Bible always provides such accurate insight and solutions to the complexities that churches commonly face in this fallen world.
In Chapter 1 Paul addresses the perennial problem of false teachers and false teaching (1:3-11) followed by a statement on the nature of the true gospel (the antidote false teaching), providing also a testimony of his own conversion experience (1:12-17). This is followed by a reminder that being a gospel minister means to be engaged in a spiritual war, in which sadly all too many men have lost their direction, because they did not cling to the gospel (1:18-20).
Chapter 2 contains a reminder concerning the importance of public prayer for all sorts of people, a practise which we also follow as indicated in our own church bulletin (2:1-7). Paul also gives directions to both men and women as to how they ought to behave in public worship, speaking particularly to the Christian women in the church at Ephesus, who were being influenced by the huge feminine cult of the goddess Diana in that city.
In Chapter 3 Paul lays down foundational truths for church government as he outlines the traits that ought to characterize the ministries of elders (3:1-7) and deacons (3:8-13).
In Chapter 4 he reminds Timothy again of the subtle nature of spiritual deceit, and the importance of training for godliness. He reminds himself that his youthfulness in the pastoral ministry ought not to be an obstacle, but that with the help of God he ought to set an example in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity towards the different age groups found in the church. Paul encourages Timothy to exercise his ministry with the authority invested in him by God through his ordination in the church under the leadership of the council of elders.
Chapter 5 is now before us. This chapter deals mainly with various relationships in the church.
(i) Vv. 1- 2. How to relate to different people and age groups in the congregation.
(ii) Vv. 3- 16. Relating to those in the church who are in need , especially widows, and how to discern and help those who are truly in need.
(iii) Vv. 17-20. Relating to church elders, and some helpful directives concerning how we should deal with full time pastor – elders.
(iv) Vv. 21-25. Finally, Paul charges Timothy to be free from prejudice and partiality as he goes about his duties. He also warns Timothy to be careful not to get dragged into the sins of others. The chapter concludes with advice for treating Timothy's stomach ailment, and a reminder that both sins and good works will eventually become evident.
Since each of those divisions in chapter 5 are relevant and important to us, I will try to deal with all of them in turn. Today we will only focus on verses 1 and 2, in which Paul outlines the importance of dealing with various kinds of people in the church.
Vv. 1- 2 . Relating to different age groups in the congregation
The basis of Paul’s reminder to Timothy is the fact that the church is the household of God (3:15).
The church is to be seen as family – a family called into being by God. In this context Timothy is called to be a pastor-teacher to this local family of God and he is to lead by way of example in speech, conduct, in love, in faith and in purity (4:12). He was called by God to read the Scriptures to his congregation and to teach the Word of God as he had received it from the apostle Paul. This important work if persisted in , says Paul “ will save both yourself and your hearers” (4:16).
But how exactly should he deal with his hearers- his congregation?
Is it to be a “one size fits all” approach?
Apparently not! As we have already seen, the church is like a family, and that is how pastors and all of us need to relate to one another in the church. It is very clear that we do not treat everyone in the family equally. We do not treat the old and young, men and women in the same way. Paul instructs Pastor Timothy that he ought to appeal to older men as fathers, and older women as mothers. Younger men were to be treated as brothers and younger women as sisters. The church consists of these various categories of people who need to be helped to live their lives under the gospel. This is the specific work of the pastor-elder - to help his people to live out the implications of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in this world. We have seen already that he needs to be an example of this in his own life (4:12).
The problem is that older men and older women, and younger men and younger women of the church do not always live in a way that honour the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. So how does a Pastor deal with those who are departing from the faith, or those who are devoting themselves to deceitful spirits etc. (4:1-3)? How do you deal with angry, quarrelsome men in the church? (2:8) How do you deal with women in the church who have more of the local Diana culture than the Christ culture in them? How do we deal with all kinds of believers who get involved in irreverent, silly myths? (4:7)?
Here’s how you do it , says Paul
1. With Respect to Older Men
How do you deal with an older man when he goes wrong?
v.1 “Do not rebuke (epiplēssō - lit. to strike at) an older man (lit. presbuteros – an older man or a church elder-) , but encourage or exhort ( parakaleō) him as if he were your father”. Incidentally, the word "elder" here is not used in the sense in which it used generally in the Bible i.e. an officer of the church (see 5:19); it is used here in the sense of an older man as the ESV correctly translates.So Paul is not saying that one should ignore the sins which an older man may commit in the context of the church. The emphasis here is on the harsh tone in which it is done. Don’t rebuke (lit. don’t strike at him) an older man . Don’t be aggressive to him. If correction is necessary, says Paul, it should be done by way of an exhortation, literally a coming alongside him and speaking to him as if it were your father. Your relationship with your own father is supposed to be the standard for how you treat other older men. Similar counsel is also given in Galatians 6:1 in terms of dealing with a brother who is “caught in a transgression”. Paul counsels the Galatians to restore ( katartizo – lit. to mend) such a person in a spirit of gentleness . So, Timothy as a pastoral role model must be gentle in dealing with older people who sin, because his age calls for respect, something that our modern generation has forgotten. The law of God in Leviticus 19:32 reminds us in this regard: “ You shall stand up before the gray head and honour the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God…”
There may come a period when life with an older man becomes challenging. Unfortunately, sin fuelled by Satan never ceases with age. We have to fight sinful impulses until the very end. The limitations of an older body tends to cause frustrations. Add to that the very real experience of memory loss and so a stubbornness and lack of co-operation which an older man had never experienced before, becomes evident. The Bible says that we must gently exhort such men, sometimes again and again. This can be very challenging, but we love them through this difficult phase of their lives, remembering that in the Lord they are our fathers. Paul tells Timothy that this is how an older man with sinful manifestations is to be treated in the congregation. Do not rebuke an older man harshly but exhort him as if he were you father.
2. With respect to younger Men :
'Treat younger men as brothers!’ When younger men in the church sin, Paul advises Timothy to treat them as brothers. “Do not be harsh with them” is implied here. Again, we must not be tempted to think that this means that we are to ignore their sin. We are simply learning here that we are to deal with the sin of a younger man in a particular way. We are to come alongside him as a brother (note the family relationship again!). A brother stands with you when you have fallen.
Proverbs 17:17 says : “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity”.
Everybody falls down at some time. Everybody has their spiritual wilderness experiences, and family heart-aches, and career set-backs. A brother will stand with us in such times. A brother is a person who tells you the truth. He doesn’t beat around the bush. He is prepared to tell you that you are doing wrong, but when you have fallen into sin you know that he stands with you. When you appear vulnerable and weak he will think no less of you. He will pray with you and counsel you back to health. A true brother always remembers that he is a fellow sinner, saved by the grace of God. He knows that only the grace of God keeps him, and therefore he is not judgmental in that sense, although, if he is a spiritual man, he will represent the mind of God to his fallen brother. So Timothy is to treat the younger men as his brothers in Christ.
3. Treat Older Women as Mothers.
When older women sin (and again we remember that there is no one that does not sin), how shall a pastor like Timothy deal with them? Paul says : “Treat them as you would treat your mother”. How do you treat a mother? With utter respect! Mothers and Fathers are highly honoured in the Bible: “Honour your father and your mother”( Ex. 20:12).
And so the NT has some special reflections on mothers in this regard. The Lord Jesus thinks of his mother on the cross. He says to the apostle John in the face of His impending death : “Behold your mother.” Following this, John took her into his house and looked after her (Jn. 19:27). So too with Paul. He writes to the congregation in Rome and he speaks of the mother of a certain Rufus, and he says that she “has been a mother to me as well” (Rom. 16:13). That is the attitude which must underlie the discipline of an older woman. When an older woman sins in the church and it becomes known to the elders, such a one must not be ignored and she must be admonished and treated appropriately. She is to be approached with the same consideration as one would approach an erring mother. A loving son must correct his own mother with humility and spiritual wisdom. And Timothy is counselled here by Paul to approach the older women of the congregation in this way.
4. Treat younger women as sisters, with all purity.
How would Pastor Timothy, himself a young man, deal with any young woman who had fallen into sin in his congregation? Paul counsels him, “treat her like your sister, with absolute purity”. Absolute purity” means never doing anything that would cause her any harm – physically, mentally, spiritually or emotionally. Timothy is to be careful in his relationships with females, especially younger female. In every way he needs to conduct himself with the deportment of a minister of the gospel . He needs to be above reproach. He needs to deal with his sisters in the Lord with the utmost integrity and in all purity. All Christian fathers and mothers are committed to the ideal of “absolute purity” for their sons and daughters. You must do nothing to break that trust. That is the love of a brother and sister.
We are called to live like that in this impure civilisation. We are called to live in absolute purity in such a culture where young vulnerable people are easily exploited.
And so we learn from this text to be sensitive and respectful to one another. Sensitive ministry will promote the church's unity and guard its witness to those outside. We need to learn to value relationships in the bonds of the gospel . We need to learn to respond appropriately to different ages and sexes, keeping the directives of the Bible in mind. Rules of respect in social relationships may vary somewhat from culture to culture, and the church and its leaders must be sensitive to obey them, but the biblical culture is clear.
This goes against so much that we assume in our culture today. We think that everybody is the same, but Paul knows that everybody is not the same and we need to recognize that. This is God’s design and command , and we will do well to respect that.
May God endow us with rich wisdom to live as the church of God in this fallen world. May God give us grace to show thorough respect for one another, without compromising on sin, and always remembering that we ourselves are also capable of sinning. Therefore a patient, respectful, gentle ministry will be the only pastoral ministry that will serve us well in the ministry of the church.