Meditations in 1 Timothy: 28: Respect and Honour People
1 Tim 5:1,2 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.
We have seen, we have said, Paul instructing Timothy on various facets of leading the church in Ephesus. He has focused so far on general issues of exercising his ministry and upholding the word. Now Paul turns to more personal matters, or issues of dealing with people in the congregation.
Implied within all that he says, we should note, is the idea that leaders / elders / shepherds / overseers, call them what you will, are responsible for their flocks and not only does that mean preaching and teaching the flock, but caring for it and on occasion correcting it. Because he is a young man, Paul sees that Timothy may have a particular difficulty and it is in the way he deals with older men in the congregation. There may be times when a situation arises where he, as the leader, ought to speak to an older man about his behaviour.
How we treat other people is a sign or measure of how much God has done in us. Leaders can forget they are servants and think they have power and authority to throw around, but Paul thinks otherwise (read 2 Corinthians to catch his heart in this whole area). The apostle Peter taught, “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers.” (1 Pet 2:17). Paul in his teachings made it more specific: “the wife must respect her husband,” (Eph 5:33), “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect,” (Eph 6:5), “respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you,” (1 Thess 5:12), “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect,” (1 Tim 3:4), “Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect,” (1 Tim 3:8), “In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect,” (1 Tim 3:11), and “All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect.” (1 Tim 6:1)
Paul thus sees certain people worthy of respect by nature of their position. Peter teaches a more general respecting of all persons and he extends this to non-Christians: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Pet 3:15) Respect for those older than you was, of course, built into the Law: “Each of you must respect his mother and father,” (Lev 19:3) and “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly.” (Lev 19:32)
If you have to rebuke a man older than yourself, he challenges Timothy, don’t resort to harshness but see him and respect him as if he were your father. Respect for the aged, we have just noted, goes right back to the Law. Oh that it would be restored to the church today! But this raises the question about how we should treat all people. We might say it seems an almost irrelevant question because surely we are called to love everyone, for example Jesus taught, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (Mt 22:39 quoting Lev 19:18) and then, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (Jn 13:34) Surely, therefore, it is obvious how we should treat one another – with love. But what does that mean?
Well the apostle John spelt it own in practical terms: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 Jn 3:16,17) Of course Paul spelt it out in 1 Cor 13:4-8 “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” So it seems fairly obvious.
So why does Paul say to Timothy, “Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (5:1,2)? How do we treat brothers, mothers and sisters? (at least when the family is not dysfunctional!) Very simply, we are for them, we love them and we respect them and we think honourably about them. We would think nothing wrong about them and want nothing wrong for them. This is the bench mark that Paul sets for Timothy when he has to deal with men and women in the congregation and perhaps correct them. How would you correct your sister? Hopefully with love and care, wanting to maintain a good ongoing relationship. How would you correct your mother? Carefully! With gentleness and tenderness and not wanting to say or do anything to upset or hurt. How about correcting a brother? Surely with wisdom and in such a way as he might receive you and your words of correction, again knowing that you want to maintain a warm ongoing relationship with him. All of these things thus apply when the leader finds himself in a position when it is necessary to admonish and correct a brother or sister in Christ. See them as your literal brother, sister or mother and treat them accordingly. In that way they will get the best treatment from you. May that be how it is in church life.