A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy 4:11-5:2. f) Timothy must adjust his relationships.
Paul’s sixth word of advice to Timothy takes us into the first two verses of chapter 5: *Do not rebuke an older man harshly* (the word is *presbyteros*, but here Paul is not using it in its technical sense of a ‘presbyter’, but of an older man generally), *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* (5:1-2). Although a comparatively young man, Timothy found himself responsible for several congregations which were mixed both in sex (men and women) and in age (old and young). Paul now tells him that the sex and age of the people should determine his attitude to them.
Take the older folk first. It may be Timothy’s duty to admonish somebody considerably older than himself. Paul seems to assume that it will be. In this case, he must perform his duty, but to do it as an exhortation, not as a harsh rebuke. These last two words translate the verb *epiplesso*, which seems to imply ‘sharpness and severity’. In other words, Timothy is to give to senior members of the church the respect which is due to age (Lv.19:32) and the affection which is due to parents. He must treat older men like *fathers* (1) and older women like *mothers* (2), which is what Paul himself did to the mother of Rufus in Rome, affirming that she ‘has been a mother to me too’ (Rom.16:13). I find here good biblical warrant for a recognition in the congregation of the generation gap. True we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet it seems to me artificial in the West when students breeze up to me and hail me by my Christian name, even though I am old enough to be their great-grandfather! The Asian and African cultures are wiser, since they encourage young people to address the older generation as ‘uncle’ and ‘auntie’.
Paul also advises Timothy about his attitude to people of his own generation. He is to treat younger men like *brothers*, loving them, and not condescending to them, and younger women like *sisters*, loving them too, although with sensible restraint and *absolute purity* (2).
In brief, the local church is rightly called ‘the church family’, in which there are fathers and mothers, and brothers and sisters, not to mention aunts and uncles, grandparents and children. Leaders should not be insensitive and treat everybody alike. No, they must behave towards their elders with respect, affection and gentleness, their own generation with equality, the opposite sex with self-control and purity, and all ages of both sexes with that love which binds together members of the same family.
There is much practical wisdom here for everybody called to Christian leadership, and especially for younger people given responsibility beyond their years. If they watch their example, becoming a model of Christ-likeness; if they identify their authority, submitting to Scripture and drawing all their teaching from it; if they exercise their gift, giving evidence of God’s call and of the rightness of the church’s commissioning; if they show their progress, letting it be seen that their Christian life and ministry are dynamic, not static; if they mind their consistency, by practising what they preach; and if they adjust their relationships, being sensitive to people’s age and sex – then other people will not despise their youth, but gladly and gratefully receive their ministry.
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 5:3-6:2. Social responsibilities.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.