“But he could be my dad!”
This was my primary response when I was counseled by an elder to approach a troublesome older man in the congregation many years ago. I was a young pastor and extremely uncomfortable with having authority over men and women who could be my parents.
But this wise elder reminded me of our passage today (1 Timothy 5:1-2) and it has stuck with me ever since.
1 Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.
1 Timothy 5:1-2
New International Version
In just two short verses the Apostle Paul covers the four relationships in a family: older men, younger men, older women, and younger women. Unlike typical instructions to these families, the veteran pastor is telling a younger pastor how he should relate to them.
The respect Paul is insisting on from Timothy to those who are older than him bears consideration. Most of my readership lives in the United States and we live in a culture that throws away things when they’re old. Sadly, we’ve extended this to older people as well.
Scripture does not encourage this. While Timothy had been given absolute authority to correct the false doctrines being espoused in the Ephesian churches, Paul is clear as to the attitude the servant of God must have when dealing with others. Even while correcting those who are older, he must not be harsh or cruel.
It doesn’t mean he doesn’t correct them or lead them; instead, Scripture is addressing our attitudes while leading them.
Look at how Christian leaders are to treat those younger than us—as brothers and sisters. A local congregation is one of the best witnesses to the world of the life-changing power of Jesus. And our relationships are to be like families. Yes, we’ll have our issues, but our Father is perfect and has instructed us on how to deal with our humanity.
It is important to note the last phrase in verse 2: “with absolute purity”. Positions of power present a unique temptation for leaders—especially younger ones. By maintaining his perspective of these younger women as sisters, Timothy would have a foundation by which to banish lustful or immodest thoughts about them.
Under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, Paul’s goal seems to be equipping Timothy for the relational wisdom he needs to lead all those under his care. As leaders are examples to other Christians, Timothy’s life would also show the Ephesian Christians how they should relate to each other.
In nearly 2,000 years, not much has changed. We as leaders in the church still need to heed the words of 1 Timothy 5:1-2. We must lead well and wisely, but we must treat those older than us with respect—especially when having to correct them.
To those younger than us: they are our little siblings and deserve our respect and care. When those “younger siblings” in the family of God are of the opposite gender, we especially must be careful to regard them with the utmost modesty and chasteness.
Whether or not they could be our parents, whether or not they are much younger than us: our responsibility to the Church is to lead with wisdom, heart, respect, and truth.
Let’s connect! I’ve set up a Facebook account where I’m now sharing my blogs, podcasts, messages, and things I hope help you on the journey.
Interested in more like this? Consider Joel’s book: 31 Days of Spiritual Wisdom: A Month in the Proverbs. Moving through a selection of verses from a chapter of Proverbs for every day of the month, Joel walks readers through a journey of spiritual formation applicable to everyday life. The goal? Knowing how to apply the wisdom of Scripture so we grow in our faith, become wiser, and show the world the life-changing power of Jesus.