Here is a rather long quote from a sermon by J. Ligon Duncan III on 1 Timothy 5:1-15, “Caring For the Church”
Now this is a strange passage, isn’t it? It doesn’t have the feel of I Timothy 1,2,3, and 4. The personal nature of Paul’s interaction with Timothy is for the moment set aside, and now some specific practical directions for ministry in the life of the congregation is set forth. And perhaps it seems just a little bit distant for us. After all, we live in an affluent culture, and we have things like disability insurance, and we have term life insurance, and whole life insurance, and investments and 401(k)’s, and nursing homes, and all sorts of other things. And this is a different world. These people are, by comparison to us, much less well off. They don’t have the cultural safety nets that we have, and yet Paul is giving instructions for the church caring for the church in this passage, the principles of which still apply to us today. However different our cultural situation, there are some grand principles for us to apply. We don’t really have time to even begin to do justice to this passage, but let me sketch at least for a few moments some of these great principles.
I. The Church is to be a place of mutual accountability, but care is to be taken in the way we relate to different kinds of members.
Let’s start in the very first of the three sections. Look at verses one and two, because here Timothy is being instructed in how to relate to different people in the congregation. And here’s Paul’s principle: Everyone is not the same in the Christian Church, and therefore, that reality should be reflected in ministry. Now as I said before, that cuts against our own most cherished cultural presuppositions. After all, our Declaration of Independence tells us that all men are created equal, and in our day and time that has been taken to mean that because all human beings are equal, all of them have to be treated in the same way.
And here’s Paul saying, “Timothy, don’t treat everyone the same way in the congregation.” Isn’t that interesting? It is. And it’s so wise and common-sensical, and it’s so biblical. You see, the church is to be a place of mutual accountability. We’re to be holding one another accountable in Christ. We’re to be helping one another in the living of the Christian life. But care is to be taken in the way that we relate to one another as we hole one another accountable. And Timothy is told, “You are not to speak to older men as if they are upstarts. You’re to appeal to them as fathers. And you’re not to speak to younger men in untactful ways. You’re not to speak to them imperiously. You’re to speak to them like brothers.”
You see, already Paul is telling Timothy, we’re a family in the local church, and we’re to relate to one another as a family. And you, Timothy, as a young man, even when you see an older man straying, you are not to speak to him in a harsh and strident and demeaning way. You’re to speak to him as if he were your own father, because God has brought you into His family, and because that family is expressed in the life of the local church, Timothy, you are to express in your dealings with the different members of the congregation your respect for their different stations in the family of God. Those older men are to be treated as fathers in the Lord. Those younger men are to be treated as brothers in the Lord.
And notice he doesn’t just stop there. It’s not just that Timothy is to treat the old in a specific manner and the young in another manner. He’s to deal with men and women differently. He goes on to say, “You appeal to older women as mothers.” These women are not to be neglected in pastoral care. They’re also to be admonished. They’re also to be challenged to live the Christian life, but when those older women sin, they are to be approached despite their standing, and because of their standing they are to be approached with the same consideration as one would approach an erring mother. A loving son is to correct his own mother with humility, a searching of heart, a wrestling at the throne of grace, and spiritual wisdom. And Timothy is to approach the older women of the congregation in this way.
And also notice, he says in verse two, he’s to approach younger women as sisters. They too are to be admonished. Their spiritual best interests are to be looked out for, but they’re to be treated as sisters. They’re to be dealt with in purity. Timothy is to be careful in his relationships with females, especially younger females, that everything would be above reproach; that he would deal with them in the utmost integrity and sexual purity.
And so Paul is telling Timothy, “Don’t treat everyone the same in the church. Recognize their stations.” That cuts against so much that we assume in our culture today. We think that everybody is the same, but Paul knows that everybody is not the same. And therefore, we are to recognize that. God didn’t make some sort of an aggregate, collective, cut-out-of-the-cookie-cutter person. He made individuals. And those individuals constitute the church, and the different stations that they hold in life, these are to be respected as we minister in the church. The church is to be a place of mutual accountability. There may be a time when a younger man in this church sees an older man straying from the faith. That older man is not simply to be allowed to go his own way into sin, but as that younger man calls him back to the Lord he’s to respect his station in life. It’s common sense, but it’s so wise, and it’s so biblical.
That’s the first thing we see in this passage: the Christian church is to be a place of accountability, but we don’t treat everyone the same way.