Meditations in 1 Timothy: 33: Personal Exhortations
1 Tim 5:21 I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favouritism.
Paul has just covered the serious subject of elders and in particular dealing with elders who go astray. It has been serious stuff and it requires a serious commitment to the church and its ministry to follow through these things. They are sometimes difficult and the temptation may be to ignore misdemeanors of leaders and hope the problem will go away, but that is not the way of righteousness.
It may be because of this that Paul brings a very strong exhortation to Timothy: “I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.” (v.21) Look at that language: “I charge you.” That is as strong as you can get when giving an instruction. But it is more than that: “I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels.” i.e. I stand before God the supreme authority and Jesus his Son, the secondary authority, both who are over me and over us, and before them I make this demand. That is strong stuff. With all of heaven looking on to back up what I say, I make this demand of you.
So what is the demand? “to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.” (v.21b) Now why is Paul saying this? No reason is given but I wonder if it is because Timothy is a young man and may be swayed by emotions that have not yet been tempered by the wisdom of the years. If there are elders not up to the mark, you are not to let your feelings for one or other of them cloud your judgment. The fact that some of them are probably a good bit older should also not affect your judgment. You are a minister of God, answerable to Him and you don’t act or make judgments on your own whims or fancies!
But then comes another exhortation or, rather, three mini-exhortations that seem linked together: “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.” (v.22) Now because this all follows on from the fairly lengthy passage about elders, there is no suggestion that this is a general instruction but one linked to the ordination of elders. We have seen previously (4:14) how this procedure took place with the laying on of hands and prayer and prophecy. It is again mentioned in 2 Tim 1:6. We must assume, therefore, that this is a warning not to ordain men hastily, men who have not been checked or proven, men who may have things wrong in their lives and if they do, and Timothy ordained them, he would be sharing in that wrong. No, says Paul, “Keep yourself pure.” i.e. keep yourself free from carelessness and sin by doing these things hastily.
In all this Paul is aware that Timothy is a young man who needs both encouragement and exhortation, a young man who possibly veers towards being too timid (see 2 Tim 1:7). It is possible that worry and concern are tendencies that Timothy has as a young leader and these cause him to sometimes have an upset stomach so that Paul now gives him health encouragement: “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” (v.23) Some have suggested that the water was not good but I suggest the use of wine was more to help his digestive system.
It is a difficult role being a leader, having to be alert to all that is going on with the local flock, working constantly to fend off the temptations of the enemy and his endeavors to bring down the people of God, so it is no surprise that Timothy needs all these encouragements. So Paul adds what are almost afterthoughts about the behaviour of people: “The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not cannot be hidden.” (v.24,25) What is he actually saying?
“The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them.” (v.24) Sometimes observing human behaviour is simple and straight forward because the sins of men are sometimes quite obvious and the consequences of their sins quickly come to fruition and they are brought down by those consequences. Little discernment is required here for it is clearly obvious what is going on, but sometimes “the sins of others trail behind them.” i.e. their sins are not so obvious and the outworking or consequences of them seem to take a little while to become apparent. This is more difficult because until the consequences make obvious the sin that has been going on, it may need discernment or a word of knowledge to reveal it.
Then, “In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not cannot be hidden.” (v.25) The truth is, declares Paul, that good deeds are always obvious and can be clearly seen, but even deeds that are not good will eventually be revealed because they will have consequences and those consequences will always become visible. So, Timothy, (implied) don’t rush into things; take your time over this matter of raising up other leaders. Let their lives reveal what they are really like and let the flock judge, so that your role is simply one of confirmation or acknowledgement of what God has done in them, and also, if there are wrong things in them, they too will become obvious and stop you acting wrongly. It’s not easy being a leader!