Monday, October 24, 2016

1 Timothy 5: 1-2 : “Managing Relationships in the Church”

"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.
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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  ( parakaleōhim 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.
Amen.


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