Put yourself into this difficult position. In the course of your day you hear a rumor or know of another Christian who is sinning against the Lord. What do you do? Sadly most of us are so out of touch with godliness that we have an immediate reaction to just ignore it after all, what is it to me if another Christian is living in sin? But the reality of Scripture is that you are your brother’s keeper. We are indeed responsible to help others be holy; and when we see that holiness failing we should help to bring about that change with an appropriate rebuke.
While our text this morning will come from 1 Timothy 5:1-2; a plain application of it comes right from Galatians 6:1 ” Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” (NASB95)
Please open your Bible to 1 Timothy 5:1-2 and read it with me. Read 1 Tim 5:1-2.
If we could summarize the rule for interacting with other people we could do it with one word: “RESPECT”. Aretha Franklin Got it right. When we are preparing to confront another believer in sin we must keep in mind that this is a brother (mother, father, sister) in Christ – treat them that way.
He starts with older men and older women. Treat them the way you would your own father or mother. Paul is obviously drawing a connection to the Leviticus 19:32 injunction to stand before the grey headed and honor the aged in connection with revering God.
Keep in mind that at that time, respect ran a lot stronger through the Old Testament culture, and middle eastern culture in general than it does in our American culture today. But respect matters.
In terms of common courtesy we think of respect as important but in terms of attempting to correct a Christian living in sin, respect is paramount.
The word used as “appeal” in the NASB and “exhort” in the NIV is the same word used to describe the Holy Spirit elsewhere it means comforter or “someone who comes alongside”. The intent of a rebuke must never be destruction or even just “winning” or being right. The goal of a Christian rebuke is always the encouragement or restoration of a Christian living in sin. For the some of man did not come for judgement for for redemption, we also must come with redemption as our only goal. If we will seek redemption we may not always get it. I can recall one instance in particular where the rebuke properly given still did nothing more than harden the resolve of the individual in question. But redemption, correction was always the goal.
In Timothy’s case the application is specific. He is not to be abusive in any manner in his dealings with others. He must treat older men with the respect due to the aged, older women likewise he must treat with the respect and deference he would give his own mother. Younger men and women are not to be towered over and badgered into compliance but appealed to as a brother.
The principle for us is that we are called to restore a sinning believer gently – with Love. You are our brothers keeper. It is your responsibility to help one another in holiness and sometimes that means doing the hard work of a rebuke tenderly given.
Notice that the command to restore is transformed by the adverb “gently”. Some people are naturally confrontational and they’re just plain gruff. They bark loud and they look mean. That is not a Christian rebuke. Others are fluffy and wishy washy and they just won’t rebuke anyone no matter what, that is not a Christian response to sin either.
If we are going to respond correctly to sin it must be appropriate to the person who is sinning.
If we note that an older believer is sinning against the Lord we must not harshly attack them but we should appeal – plead with them rationally and calmly the way that we might appeal to our own earthly father or mother. We would never in that instance be justified for discarding respect for the sake of waging a verbal holy war.
In the same way we must not, because we are older or more experienced talk down to or belittle a younger believer who is living in error. They must be kindly treated as we would treat a brother or sister. We may and perhaps must speak frankly and call sin sin but we must also let respect and love gently temper the hard edges of our words so that our rebuke is no mere attack but is readily discernible as helping them back to holiness.
Timothy is specifically warned to be extra careful with in his relationship with younger women. The capacity for moral failure is ever present and Timothy must guard against it. He must treat younger women like sisters, which is to say not only with respect but also with an appropriate and intentional purity.
For both men and women, special care must be taken in dealing with the opposite sex. In Timothy’s case the warning was appropriate that he as a young man be extra pure in his dealing with young women. 2 Timothy 3:6 describes the false teachers who made a habit of seducing young women in their own homes. Christian men must never permit their flesh to get in the way of relationships with other Christian women. The same principle applies in the other direction.
The principle is this: guard your own righteousness as well as theirs. While the context for Timothy is the temptation towards sexual immorality the respect principle is as much about preventing sinful outbursts of anger. That principle together with this one tells me that when you must rebuke a brother or sister in Christ for sin it must come about in a way that attempts to ensure holiness is the end result.
This is the premise of Luke 17:3 “ Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” The goal is always forgiveness. But that forgiveness cannot come without repentance. But if you do well you will be able to share in fellowship and communion with your brother.