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Correcting men and women in the congregation (1 Tim 5)

Rebuking the evil doer in the Household of God
NKJV
Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, with all purity.

NAB
Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to)the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity.

ESV
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.

NIV
Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.

 

Introduction

It is a terrible thing when a church deviates from the truth. The second two chapters of Revelation give an account of the Seven Churches of Asia. Only two had not deviated from the truth [1] and two were so evil in the sight of God he could not find anything good to say about them[2]. (Hence the modern approach of always finding something good to say about someone - the truth must always prevail; sin must be pointed out). The issues of Ephesus are not spelt out by Timothy, but Revelation does indicate they had left their first love. They had followed contentious controversies (1 Timothy 1:4), which was followed by disorder (1 Timothy 2:8). Deviation from the truth always leads to disorder. At Ephesus there was anger and disputing (1 Timothy 2:8) along with controversies, quarrels, envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and friction (1 Timothy 6:4-5). Much was about words: they quarrelled about words (2 Timothy 2:14), and had foolish and stupid arguments and quarrels (2 Timothy 2:23). The deviation from the truth led to a church that did not pray (1 Timothy 2:1-8), women using authority (1 Timothy 2:9-15), corruption and confusion over money at the Lord's Table (1 Timothy 5:1-6:20). The errors led to favouritism and elitism, and hence the rebuke at 1 Timothy 5:21 and a deviation from the true gospel.

Error in a church is a difficult thing to deal with. But this is what Timothy was entrusted to do in Ephesus by Paul, in his first letter to him:

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia-remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, 1 Timothy 1:3 (NKJV)

Telling someone else that they are wrong is fraught with many difficulties, but that is what essentially Paul is telling Timothy to do. And he, Timothy, was not to be timid about it:

Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12 (NKJV)

Do you have the right to rebuke and older person?

Evil occurs in a congregation and all stand around and watch it happen; indeed in our modern churches, the evil saps the strength of even the most devoted and sucks them into the spiral of deceit and lies. Anyone who stands firm and states: the Bible does not allow this action of occur is lying. Christians in the congregation have the right to rebuke another person who is in error. I will not expound on the first letter to the Corinthians, and in particular chapter 5 & 6, but Paul sets out that judgement must take place against the: sexual immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner etc. Indeed the command is straightforward:

But those who are outside God judges. Therefore [of those in the church] "put away from yourselves the evil person."

1 Corinthians 5:13 (NKJV)

Principle 1: Christians have the responsibility to judge evil within the congregation

You have a right to judge evil within a congregation. But note you cannot do this outside the congregation - judging the world, other than being pointless because its has already been condemned, it is Jesus' task - ours is to evangelise the world, not judge it. Indeed, Paul acted on this principle: Paul writes in 1 Timothy 1:20 that he had put out of the congregation Hymenaeus and Alexander, so that "they may learn not to blaspheme". He also soundly rebukes Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Timothy 2:17) because of their evil ways, and we can find other examples in the Scriptures.

In defence, the most often quoted verse of a Christian who is being rebuked because he has transgressed or sinned before God, is Matthew 7:1 (Judge not, that ye be not judged). I find this is only ever quoted by guilty parties, who are avoiding at all cost the God given right of the church to deal with evil. Note in the first place, Paul exhorts Timothy to rebuke, not judge. The issue here is not understanding what Matthew 7:1 is really saying. All Christians must be able to discern good from evil - this is done through the Holy Spirit and word of God.

For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. 1 Corinthians 11:31 (KJV)

Here the word for judge is diakrino - which means to: judge, separate or withdraw. It is the same word Jesus used of the farmers who were able to tell the next day's weather from the observing the sky. The instrument we use to judge is the Bible as revealed by the Holy Spirit.

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 (KJV)

Note the word in the Hebrews text is "discerner" - the Greek is able to be translated "judge" (kritikos, that is to discriminate). When you have a choice, whether it is to choose tomato sauce or BBQ sauce for your hamburger or whether to take home, that is steal, a ream of paper from work, you have to judge or discerned what is best. This is one form of judge which does not condemn you. In the same way rebuking a saint in the Household of God is not condemning him or her. It merely points out the obvious - separating clearly the right from the wrong. A parking inspector has the right to discern that your car has been parked too long in a parking spot (or non-parking spot, as the case may be). He then has the right to judge you and issue an-on-the spot fine. Note that he has no right to condemn you - whether or whether not you pay the fine is not his business. You then have the right to be tried before a judge who will either nullify the expiated notice or condemn you. If you don't pay the fine, the court has the right to take you in and condemn you. And this is the difference between you rebuking a sinner and God judging the sinner. Matthew 7:1 is to with condemnation and sentencing - that only God can do. On the other hand Paul is telling Timothy to deal with falsehoods in the church - and all can do this.

Principle 2: A Christian has the right and responsibility to discern whether an action of another is sin or not

However, Matthew 7 does remind us of something else. Hypocrisy is an evil that has occurred in all generations since Adam. Hypocrisy is doing one thing after saying another: the Bible orders us to "walk the talk". This Jesus does by way of example: The beam in our own eyes (Matthew 7:3) need to be removed before approaching the speck in some else's. This is common sense. Someone with a rock in their eye will not be able to see clearly enough to see the speck in the other and furthermore, you will be agitated, impatient and confused, with tears running down your check, making any move in the direction of the speck dangerous - you are more likely to damage the other person's eye than do good to it, until your own is clean, clear and healed. Note that this process takes time - merely confessing our sin is not good enough. We need to actually deal with the temptation that led to the sin, and flee from it. Healing takes time - and nothing heals better than at the feet of Jesus in prayer.

Be ever so careful that the sin you are about to rebuke is not dominating your own life. Paul exhorts Timothy to "pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Flight the good fight of faith". Our walk with the Lord is not some passive exercise - it is an ongoing war, most of all with the "I" that wants to dominate my life, and believes it has the right to do so - it has no such right, and indeed the "I" needs to be crucified every day. Hypocrisy will destroy the congregation:

An hypocrite with his mouth destroyeth his neighbour: but through knowledge shall the just be delivered. Proverbs 11:9 (KJV)

Principle 3: Avoid hypocrisy - A Christian must walk the talk

When a church is misled by wicked leaders

The Old Testament is replete with examples of what happens when evil is perpetrated in the house of God. Saul was elected King of Israel by popular choice:

And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he repeated them in the hearing of the Lord. So the Lord said to Samuel, "Heed their voice, and make them a king." 1 Samuel 8:21,22b (NKJV)

Saul's deviation from the truth, in that he thought sacrifice was more important than obedience; "Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. 1 Samuel 15:22 (NIV)

The issue was one of covetousness and greed. God had authorised King Saul to attack Amalek and destroy him and all he had (1 Samuel 15). We note two opposing things: God's command was to "utterly destroy all that the Amalek's had" (verse 3). The ESV puts the command of the Lord very strongly and says; "devote to destruction all that they have". The issue with our lives when we turn from our old wicked ways to the new path of righteousness is that we want to bring with us the trappings of the old life. Those things that appear fine on the surface will hinder our walk with the Lord. The things of this world will prevent communion with God and sap our strength in our pursuit of righteousness.

Conversely we also note the disobedience of Saul. The sheep and goats that King Saul returned with from battle were not sinful in their own right, but the failure of Saul to OBEY led to God stripping the kingdom of Israel from him and handing it to the household David of the tribe of Judah. Verse 11 shows the utter disappointment of the Lord as He speaks to Samuel:

Now the word of the Lord came to Samuel, saying, "I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments." 1 Samuel 15:10, 11a(NKJV)

The lesson is plain, God demands obedience - from the ruler downwards. The response was for Samuel, as in the case at Ephesus for Timothy, to rebuke the elder. Here Samuel had to rebuke the King of Israel. However, before he does this Samuel spent the night in communion with God. Samuel therefore had the authority to approach King Saul thus:

Then Samuel said to Saul, "Be quiet! And I will tell you what the Lord said to me last night." 1 Samuel 15:16 (NKJV)

We can take a lesson from Samuel here. Never approach the rebuke of an older man, or anyone else for that matter without being in prayer. Doing this you will have accomplished three things -

(1) You will have dealt with sin your life, (and you will have sin) which can be confessed and dealt with,

(2) You will ascertain truly whether this is a war worth fighting and

(3) You would have planned your rebuke carefully.

Not every war is worth fighting. Although we all desire a pure and tranquil church, this will never occur. The true and faithful saints of the Church of Thyatira, that represents the Catholic Church, where neither told to leave the church or rise up in arms against its wicked leaders. Sometimes rebuke needs to come from God, because there are no words that you can utter that will change the course of the matter. In the case of the Church of Thyatira - God rebuked them, and the faithful saints were exhorted to: "Hold Fast".

Secondly some church activities are too trivial to fight. In the early church this surrounded the eating of "unclean" food, to the end that Paul had to rebuke the Colossian from judging (condemning) saints who had eaten non-kosher food. What food a person eats is inconsequential to the pursuit of righteousness and godliness. Today, generally what we wear (bearing in mind the guidance Paul gives Timothy on this matter), the version of bible we use, or the order of the meeting, is inconsequential in our walk with the Lord.

Samuel clearly had worked out what he would say to Saul. He had also gathered evidence:

But Samuel said [to Saul], "What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?" 1 Samuel 15:14 (NIV)

Samuel had worked out what had happened, had spent a night in earnest prayer with the Lord, and approached Saul early the next day, well prepared and well planned.

Principle 4: Always be in prayer before rebuking a wayward Christian

We often condemn wrath and anger, but God does not - he condemns the manner in which it is applied. Samuel slept on the issue of Saul's disobedience, and planned his rebuke. He exercised righteous wrath. Our rebuke of a sister or brother in Christ also requires this principle to be applied. Over and over again the Psalmists praise God because he is slow to anger and the same principle applies to us.

He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, but he who is impulsive exalts folly. Proverbs 14:29 (NKJV)

Indeed Paul reminds Timothy to exercise care when rebuking those in error - the older man needs to be treated like a father, an older women like a mother, a young man like a brother and a young women like a sister. Furthermore, we need to make absolutely certain we are right. This may mean taking about with others, studying the scripture and being in prayer.

A stone is heavy and sand is weighty, but a fool's wrath is heavier than both of them. Proverbs 27:3 (NKJV)

A man who rebukes someone in error, whose wrath is based on hypocrisy or fallacy, can have severe and irreversible repercussions. The hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees condemned many to damnation:

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. Matthew 23:15 (NKJV)

Indeed rebuke should the final action - Paul uses "teach and exhort", where the teaching must come first. Don't expect an understanding of godliness if you have not first taught the truth. Remember 2 Timothy 3:16 - the Bible is used firstly to define the way to go (doctrine). It also can be used to define when you have lost your way (reproof), to help you get back on the right way (correction) and as a means to ensure you don't run aground again (instruction).

Principle 5: Always be slow in rebuking a wayward Christian - haste leads to disaster

The purpose of the rebuke is to protect the House of God, and return no benefit to the individual. That is, this exercise is not one to elevate ones self in the eyes of the congregation. All exhortation must be done in love for the saint in error. Six times Paul uses the word "love" in the first letter. Timothy had to carry out a hard task. He was given the apostolic authority to do so, and he was to root out the evil in the church of Ephesus: but all was to be done in love and in purity.

Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12 (NKJV)

Furthermore, there can be no partiality. If several people are involved in sin, all must be exhorted and rebuked in the appropriate manner. In verse 21 of this chapter, Paul tells Timothy he could not be partial. Love demands impartiality. Anything else is unacceptable.

Hamilton Smith writes: "Occasions may arise when evils are manifested in the Christian circle that rightly call for rebuke. Nevertheless, in administering rebuke we are to recognise what is due to age and sex, and thus be careful that the rebuke is given in a right spirit. The rebuke may be right and yet have no effect, or even do harm, because of the wrong spirit in which it is given. A right rebuke in a wrong spirit is simply meeting the flesh in the flesh.

Age is to be respected, even if rebuke is called for. An elder brother is not to be rebuked sharply (N.T.), but exhorted with all the deference that a son would pay to a father. The younger men are not to be treated as of little account, but rebuked with love as brethren, the elder women with the deference due to a mother. Younger women are to be dealt with in "all purity", thus avoiding the careless familiarity that nature might adopt."

Principle 6: Only ever act in love, and in the right spirit.

Why bother?

God hates sin. The Psalms states this clearly: "Thou [O God] hatest wickedness." (Psalm 45:7). Spurgeon retranslates this as "There can hardly be goodness in a man if he be not angry at sin; he who loves truth must hate every false way."

Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 2 Timothy 4:2 (NKJV)

The Church needs to seen as the ambassador of Christ - it must be sent to glorify God and bring glory to God. Error in the church must be deal with in order that sin does not render the church impotent in its evangelism of the world.

Principle 7: Exhort the wayward Christian in order that the Church may truly glorify God

 

Endnotes

[1] Smyrna and Philadelphia

[2] Sardis and Laodicea

David L Simon (CCC 15 November 2009)
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