“Don’t listen to any charge against a church leader, unless at least two or three people bring the same charges” (1 Timothy 5:19 CEV).
This passage provides us with an opportunity to examine the right way to interact with spiritual leaders who may have acted in an ill-advised manner or others with whom we may disagree. We can begin with the recognition that there may be instances where strong disagreements can develop between individual Christians and/or those who hold positions of spiritual authority.
If the disagreement involves a clearly unscriptural teaching or an action that is unquestionably inappropriate for a God-honoring person, we would do well to follow the pattern established by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17…
“…if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”
Nevertheless, Paul the Apostle adopted an alternative approach in confronting the Apostle Peter regarding an issue in the early church…
“But when Peter came to Antioch I had to oppose him publicly, speaking strongly against what he was doing, for it was very wrong… When I saw what was happening and that they weren’t being honest about what they really believed and weren’t following the truth of the Gospel, I said to Peter in front of all the others…” (Galatians 2:11, 14 TLB).
So why didn’t Paul follow Jesus’ counsel from the Gospel of Matthew in this instance? Well, we should note that Peter decided to isolate non-Jewish Christians because they did not keep the Old Testament law (see Galatians 2:11-21). This is what prompted Paul’s response. Since Peter was a recognized leader within the church, his decision influenced several others to follow his poor example. That group included Barnabas, another well-known and respected leader within the first-century Christian community.
For these reasons, Paul employed a corrective principle that differed from the one given to us in Matthew 18. Paul clarified that principle here in 1 Timothy 5:19-20: “… Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.” This approach would undoubtedly exert a strong influence upon others who might also be tempted to wander into various areas of false doctrine.