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Sermon preached on 1 Timothy 5:1-2 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 3/12/2017 in Novato, CA.
1 Timothy 5:1-2
“Do Not Rebuke But Exhort”
As we head into a new chapter in 1 Timothy, we see that Paul is still addressing how Timothy is to conduct himself as a pastor. Though the tone does seem to become a bit more general here, he still is concerned about how Timothy acts as a pastor in the church. And in these two verses Paul especially is concerned with how Timothy interacts with specific groups. He draws Timothy to think of two kinds of classifications of people: classifications of age and gender. Paul tells Timothy that how he interacts with people should take into account their age and gender. There is certainly application here for all of us. This is not just a consideration for pastors. There are lessons here for each of us to think about how we relate to and communicate with other Christians based on their age and gender.
So then, in the first half of today’s message, I want us to see that Christians have become a family in Christ. This is the basis for this passage. Paul tells Timothy that his relating to people in terms of their age and gender should be thought up in terms of family relationships: treat people like fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers. And so, this is the foundation for why Paul can say this here. Paul can tell Timothy to treat Christians as you would family because in Christ we have all become part of one family. You know, I always include some gospel point in my sermon, but I typically put it toward the end. That way I bring the message to a culmination in the gospel. But today I’m reversing that order. Today I’m starting with this gospel point. By the grace of God, part of our salvation is that we are brought into God’s family. Let’s think about that for a bit.
First off, to remember that we are now family in Christ, starts by reminding us how our Christian faith can actually divide us from our earthly family. Remember how in Matthew 10 Jesus said he has come not to bring peace, but a sword. He goes on to say that he sets a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. He says that a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. To clarify, those words don’t mean that every single family will get divided over Christ. We know both in the Bible and in history there are many examples of Christian families who all love and worship the Lord. How wonderful that is when that is the case. Yet, we also know that sometimes families are divided over Jesus. Some believe in Jesus, others don’t, and sometimes this can cause great tension in a family. To clarify, Christians ought not to treat their family members badly who don’t believe. Yet, we know that sometimes unbelieving family members will hate you because of your faith. We also know that unbelieving family members might try to get you to turn away from your Christian faith. This is spoken of even under the old covenant in Deuteronomy 13:6-9. There it talks about that you must not let family members turn you away to false gods. So, under both old and new covenants, there is this reminder that family could serve to turn you away from God.
Yet, for those who have had to make such a sacrifice, to choose the Lord over your earthly families, I encourage you with the words of Jesus in Mark 10:29. There Jesus says that if you’ve given up family for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, that even in this life you will get back even more family. What does he mean? Well, surely, he must refer to the new family we have become in him. There are many wonderful ways we see this truth expressed in the Bible.
First, we see it by the fact that as Christians we are born of God. John 1:12-13 “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” That passage tells us that as Christians we are all born again by the will and power of God. The Holy Spirit regenerates us and that makes us God’s children in terms of this new birth. And that same passage goes on to use language then of adoption. We are now adopted into God’s house. Romans 8:15 says that God now has placed within us his Spirit of Adoption. His Spirit assures us that we are in fact his children now. I loved the beautiful illustration we saw when we went through 1-2 Samuel with the story of Mephibosheth. King David brought Mephibosheth into his own home and made him like one of his sons. Mephibosheth was of the former rival house of King Saul, but David treated him like one of his own sons. Well, God has brought us into his household and sat us at his table. It’s like what we read in 1 Timothy 3:15, we are part of the household now of the living God!
We see this family relationship expressed wonderfully by Jesus in Mark 3. That’s when Jesus’ mother and brothers show up while Jesus is teaching. When the people told him that his family was seeking him, he asked, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” He then pointed to the people there learning from him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Again, Jesus shows the reality of a family connection among his followers.
If we continue to develop this, we can think of all the things that unite us. We are united together as one body, with one Spirit, one Christian hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and father over all (Ephesians 4). We have taken on a Christian worldview. We have God’s moral law to tell us how to live. We have the one Bible to be our rule for faith and life. We have a single communion table by which we eat in celebration of the covenant. We have a connection with our fellow Christians that brings us together. And the Scripture likes to describe all this communion we have with each other in terms of being family.
Let me add an important clarification here. Being a part of a new spiritual family in Christ doesn’t do away from the fact that you still have an earthly family and thus you still have obligations to your earthly family. This point today that we are a new family in Christ doesn’t change that. Whether your family appreciates or not your Christian faith, they are still your family. The fact that you now have a spiritual family in Christ doesn’t negate your earthly family and your duties toward them. I’ll reference two passages to make that point. First is in two verses. In 1 Timothy 5:4, Paul will talk about how widows in the church must first be helped by their children or grandchildren before the church steps in to help. There it shows that our earthly families still have a role to play, even in some sense above the church. Second, in Mark 7, Jesus spoke against the practice of the Pharisees that allowed a Jews to declare “corban” the honor he would otherwise show his earthly parents in order to somehow give that to God instead. Jesus sharply condemned that practice. That shows that our relationship with God would never mean that we should disregard our obligations to our earthly families; in fact, God is the one who gives us such obligations.
And so, I’ve talked so far about the new family we are in Christ, and I’ve talked about some of the surrounding issues of this. I hope you can join with me in praising God that we are this new family in Christ. It’s grace that makes this possible. After we humans have sinned and rebelled against God, we deserve his condemnation and his alienation. But through the propitiation of Jesus on our behalf, we can be reconciled to God. This reconciliation comes as we put our faith in Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross. If you are visitor here today and have not yet done this, I urge to you to do so today. I implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. Believe in Jesus. Confess and repent of your sins. Turn in faith to him today and be saved. And if you do, one of the many benefits includes you joining God’s family with all other Christians! Praise be the Lord!
So then, we come now to the other half of our message, and really begin to deal more in depth with today’s verses. We see the command in verses 1 and 2 to deal with people on their age and gender as if they were family. Note that in terms of age, this is inherently comparative. It’s not talking about how to deal with old people and young people. It’s talking about older and younger people. They are comparative terms. You’ll need to compare yourself to others in terms of age. To some people, you will be older. To others, you will be younger. There should be at least some difference in how you interact with them.
So, verse 1 begins by saying that we should not rebuke an older man, instead we should exhort him. Interestingly, in the Greek the prohibition here against rebuking is not just for the older man. Grammatically, it would apply to all four groups mentioned. In English it doesn’t quite come across that way. But grammatically in the Greek, it’s saying don’t rebuke any of these groups, but instead exhort each of them, either as a father, mother, brother, or sister. So, the grammar would suggest that there is a kind of rebuke that is not appropriate for any, but there is a way that your exhortation will be tailored depending on the person’s age and gender.
To clarify, the Greek word for “rebuke” here is not the general word we find for rebuke in the New Testament. There are a number of passages that would say that there is a time and place for a rebuke, but it’s a different Greek word in those verses. In fact, in verse 20 of this chapter, Paul talks of such a situation. But there the word for rebuke is a different Greek word. In fact, this is the only place in all the New Testament where this Greek word appears. This word for rebuke in verse 1 is rather harsh word. It’s most literal meaning is to strike out at someone physically. It can be used in a more metaphorical sense to refer to the chastising of someone with your words. And so, verse 1 isn’t forbidding the use of rebuke among Christians in certain situations. Rather, it’s forbidding some harsh form of rebuke that would not treat fellow Christians with the dignity that they should get. Why should they get such dignity? Because they are children of God and our fellow family members in Christ!
Let’s then think further about how we are told to treat these different ages and genders in the church. Thinking first about age, we see a concern to treat the older Christians a certain way. In general, it is a biblical concern that we show honor to the aged. For example, in Leviticus 19:32, the people of Israel were told to stand up in honor when an old man walks into the room. In contrast, Lamentations 5:12 records Israel lamenting how they had been failing to show respect to elders. So, in general, we should show honor to older men and older women.
But Paul takes it a step further. We should treat older Christians as fathers and mothers. Clearly, that it involves giving them honor. Remember the fifth commandment: “Honor your father and your mother.” Of course, when you are a child, that honor involves obeying your mother and father. When you get older, you “leave” their authority in a certain sense, but your obligation to honor them does not go away. That was clear from Jesus’ condemning that practice of declaring corban to get away from caring for your elderly parents. Similarly, verse 4 of this chapter says that earthly children should look to repay their parents in their parent’s old age by helping with their financial needs. Those are simply ways we see that the call for honoring parents continues beyond childhood. That helps us think and apply today’s passage because it speaks to how Timothy as an adult pastor could find a way to honor an older person like a father or a mother, even if he needs to exhort them about something.
There are a number of proverbs that speak of how we treat our fathers and mothers. Some of them deal with how adult children would treat their parents. Let me quote you a few. Proverbs 19:26, “He who mistreats his father and chases away his mother is a son who causes shame and brings reproach.” Proverbs 20:20, “Whoever curses his father or his mother, his lamp will be put out in deep darkness.” Proverbs 23:22, “Listen to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old.” These and many other verses tell us that there is a call for honor to show to your parents, even when you have grown up and become an adult. You don’t mistreat them, or chase them away, or curse them, or despise them. Rather, you listen to them and show concern for them and look to honor and respect them.
The challenge for Timothy is what to do when you need to confront them about something. Timothy will need to exhort them, but he’ll need to do it as if he were exhorting his father or his mother. Surely this will involve gentleness. Depending on the situation, probably most of the times it means he should be coming as a humble appeal. He should seek to persuade more than demand. He should give thought as to the time and place to have the conversation. And so, it will be a challenge for Timothy and us when we need to lovingly confront an older person in the church. But there is a way to do so with humility and respect that treats them like how you should treat a parent in that situation.
So then, Paul says we need to treat those younger than us, as brothers and sisters. Notice that it doesn’t say that we treat those the same age as brothers and sisters. It says that we treat those younger than us like that. We don’t treat them like children, but like younger brothers and sisters. When we think of labels we could use to relate to other peers, I think of labels of all sorts: enemies, associates, neighbors, friends. But here Paul says treat them like brothers and sisters. We have fraternal relations with each other! The word fraternal means “brotherly”. Interesting that you go on to college campuses and they have fraternities and sororities (sororal means sisterly). There you have these groups that say they are going to treat each other as brothers or sisters respectively. Well, that is what Christians are supposed to be doing. We are one big fraternity of sorts, though please don’t take that with a negative connotation as sometimes fraternities have. Rather, it’s like what Proverbs 17:17 says, “A brother is born for adversity,” meaning that a brother is there to help you in your time of need. Or like Proverbs 18:24 speaks of a friend who sticks closer than a brother; there the idea is that brothers do stick close to each other, and so to a find a friend that excels even that is a wonderful thing. Biblically and morally, brothers and sisters are supposed to stick together and support each other. We see that a lot in terms of brothers taking care of sisters. I think of how Jacob’s 12 sons acted to avenge the honor of their sister Dinah after she was treated as a harlot. I think of how Absalom looked to vindicate his sister Tamar after she was evilly violated by Amnon. Those are both rather dark examples, and how the brothers reacted was less than commendable, but certainly they showed care for their sisters.
Looking at verse 2 we see that Paul gives Timothy an extra qualification here regarding the younger women. Not only is he to treat them as sisters; he is to treat them with purity. And not just purity, with all purity. Surely, sexual purity is particularly in mind here. I could see this especially important when it comes to a pastor, that he doesn’t take advantage of his position and influence with the younger women in the church. He needs to treat them with complete purity. Just like a brother would treat his sister with such purity, so too must Timothy treat the younger women in the church.
So, again, bring this back to what Timothy would need to do if he has to exhort either a younger man or women in the church. He exhorts them like a sibling, because in Christ they are! Again, he is not harsh with them. He acts in love and out of love for them as a brother or sister. He’s concerned for their well being and just wants the best for them. Ultimately, a pastor knows that God’s way is the best way for them, and will be looking to urge them and spur them on toward God’s way. And so, he does so as a brother to them.
Trinity Presbyterian Church: fathers, and mothers, and sisters, and brothers, God has made us a family together in Christ. This passage reminds us of the connection we have in Christ. And it’s an important reminder that there will be differences among us that should be accounted for in our interactions with each other. Differences in age and gender should not be simply ignored. There will be other differences too amongst us. We will have different ethnicities among us. Some of us may have more money than others. Some of us might be white collared workers and some blue collared workers. Some might be stay at home moms, while others are students, or retired. There can be lots of other differences among us. The balance we find in Scripture is that on the one hand those differences begin to go away in terms of who we are in Christ. Here we see that different ages and genders are still all family in Jesus. Yet, nonetheless, those differences are still here and present. We are still going to be either male or female. You will be either younger or older than others. We can’t and shouldn’t ignore those realities. We shouldn’t ignore our other differences either. But there is a way that we can appreciate the diversity among us in a way that also acknowledges our connection and unity in Christ. Today’s verses have reminded us again to this truth. What a wonderful testimony to the way God brings different people together as a family in Jesus Christ. Let us live as such by the grace of God and to his great glory. Amen.
Copyright © 2017 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.