1 Timothy 5:1-15: How to Help Without Hurting
August 7, 2019
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
While a pastor’s task is to be focused on the public delivery of the Word (as we saw yesterday), there are innumerable specific and complicated matters which require not the public broadcast but the finely wielded scalpel to bring healing and health. Paul now shows Timothy how he is to apply the gospel in some classically difficult situations.
First, how is Timothy to deal with those who are older than he is, perhaps more mature in some ways, even in positions of authority and responsibility in the church, when such individuals are in the wrong or behave or teach badly? There are traps and landmines everywhere here. Do nothing, and the disease will get worse. Do something, and you risk disunity as the man’s followers will be incensed by your arrogance and their leader’s humiliation. So Paul tells Timothy that he is indeed to address those who are older than he is when they are in the wrong, but he is not to rebuke them harshly but exhort them like a father. What does that mean? It means no public shaming. It means personal conversation. It means ensuring that the individual knows that you respect them for all they have done for the Lord throughout their life. It means encouragement and exhortation along the lines of “wouldn’t it better for everyone if you did such-and-such, rather than so-and-so? Can you see how much better that would be?” A personal exhortation to improvement, not a public wrist slap.
What about younger men? They can feel forgotten or marginalized. Treat them as brothers. Don’t lord it over them. Don’t push your new authority upon them. Be brothers with them.
What about older women? Treat them as mothers. What about younger women? Treat them as sisters, with absolute purity. This last was probably particularly important in Ephesus, where it is possible that the false teachers were preying on the flock in more ways than one. But Timothy must treat younger women as sisters and have absolute purity in action and thought thereby.
In short, the model for his personal interactions with the church is to be that of the family, not the boardroom, not the business or corporation.
Now Paul addresses a particular situation that faced the early church: the widows. The early church had long set itself to take care of those who were in difficulty in its midst, and this often meant the widows, and yet this had proved difficult to do with unity and appropriateness right from the beginning (Acts 6:1). God cares for the widows, and so we are to care, too — and yet we are not to be naïve that sometimes people can pretend to be in need and not really be in need, and that sometimes younger widows can only be temporarily widowed before wanting to marry again. So Paul lays down principles for ensuring that the older widows only receive help when they really need it, and that younger widows look to start a new family rather than get into the habit of relying upon the church for things that they could provide for themselves.
Today most churches do not have a problem with distribution of food to widows, but there are parallel difficulties. Strange to say, it is often those who are most vulnerable who (inadvertently often, though not always) can be the occasion of most division, because emotions run high when it comes to the vulnerable. But leaders, while motivated by compassion, are not to lose their heads, become naïve, or leave the wider church open to being manipulated and taken for a ride by ungodly people posing as in need, when really – as Paul warns with clear-eyed deliberateness – some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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