“Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, with all purity” (1 Timothy 5:1-2).
Having already focused upon false teachers (chapter one), prayer (chapter two), leadership qualifications (chapter three), and spiritual apostasy (chapter four), Paul the Apostle will now turn his attention to interpersonal relationships here in 1 Timothy chapter five. One Pastoral commentator sets the stage for our look at the opening verses of this chapter by drawing our attention to the familial structure of the church…
“Paul instructs the young pastor about his relationships in the body of Christ. He is not telling Timothy to have a ‘professional’ relationship with his congregation.
- He is to consider all the older men as fathers.
- He is to consider all the older women as mothers.
- He is to consider all the younger men as brothers.
- He is to consider all the younger women as sisters, thinking only pure thoughts about them.
In other words, all the people in the spiritual community of the church should be treated like family.” (1)
Another source builds upon this idea in a very candid manner: “Since the church is a family, it cannot be run like the army!” (2)
In light of this reality, Paul counseled Timothy to interact with other members of the church just as he might engage with the members of his biological family. The first group to be addressed in this manner are men who are approaching (or have entered) their final quarter of life. While some younger members of society often hold little regard for this age group, the Scriptures tell us that it is right to demonstrate respect for those who have reached the autumn and winter of their lives.
For instance, we should not dishonor such men by rebuking them or correcting them in an aggressive, harsh, or abrasive manner. In addition to upholding the general principle behind the fifth commandment, this passage also offers an important psychological insight. Instead of rebuking an elder, 1 Timothy 5:1 tells us that there are better and more effective ways of interacting with those who fit this demographic.
One “better way” involves exhorting (or encouraging) an older man to finish well as he approaches the end of his earthly life. We can find another reminder in the Old Testament book of Proverbs: “The silver-haired head is a crown of glory, if it is found in the way of righteousness” (Proverbs 16:31).
(1) Dick Woodward, New Testament Handbook, pg. 407
(2) Ice, Rhoderick D. “Commentary on 1 Timothy 1-2”. “The Bible Study New Testament”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ice/1-timothy-5.html
“Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers” (1 Timothy 5:1-2 HCSB).
Our perspective toward others often serves to influence the way we interact with them. In the case of an older man within the local church community, 1 Timothy 5:1 encourages us to adopt the perspective of a fellow family member and view that person in a fatherly manner. This brief but important insight reminds us that a church family can often help fulfill the emotional needs of its members in addition to their spiritual needs.
You see, those who put this Scripture into practice help convey a measure of respect and dignity for those who may no longer derive such things from other areas of life. But the family-like structure of a healthy church benefits an older person in other ways as well. For example, an aged person who doesn’t see his children or grandchildren regularly may still enjoy fellowship with the parents and children of his local church family. Children, teens, and young adults may receive a similar blessing as they interact with elders who can share the benefit of their experience.
For instance, a man who came to Christ following a misspent adolescence can help younger members of a congregation learn from his mistakes. A man who has walked with Jesus from his youth can likewise share the benefits associated with a faithful life. In both instances, a man who knows Christ may continue to enjoy a life and ministry that is productive and relevant in his later years.
In like manner, Paul the Apostle counseled Timothy to view younger men as brothers. While this type of interaction may lack the deference of a relationship with a father figure, it often reflects the friendship and camaraderie that exists between peers with shared experiences. We often see the bond that exists in such relationships among those who characterize one another as “brothers from different mothers.”
Of course, there is always the potential for sibling rivalries to develop in such relationships. Yet even these rivalries can be healthy and edifying if there is an underlying foundation of mutual love and respect. As we’re told in the Biblical book of Proverbs, “A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need” (Proverbs 17:17 NLT).
In light of these things, it is not unusual to encounter those who feel a greater sense of unity with the members of their local church community than with those who share their genetic lineage.
“older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, with all purity” (1 Timothy 5:2).
Much like older and younger men within the Christian community, 1 Timothy 5:2 instructs us to adopt an attitude that views women as if they were literal family members. One means of implementing this idea involves the act of “exhortation” as mentioned earlier in 1 Timothy 5:1. This refers to the practice of encouraging someone to do something that must be done. A person who exhibits this characteristic is not unlike a coach or teacher who seeks to help an athlete or student achieve his or her best.
Since the following verses of 1 Timothy chapter five will begin a lengthy section that addresses widows and older women within the church, we will consider the benefit of this approach with younger women first. We can start by observing that a man who treats “…younger women with all purity as you would your own sisters” (NLT) is naturally constrained from engaging in any type of conduct that may be inappropriate. These boundaries also serve to protect the vulnerable from various forms of manipulation or exploitation.
It was important for Timothy to set the right example in this area, for this type of behavior was characteristic of those who sought to introduce false teachings into the church at Ephesus. For instance, Paul the Apostle’s next Biblical epistle to Timothy will provide us with an apt description of those individuals…
“They are the kind who work their way into people’s homes and win the confidence of vulnerable women who are burdened with the guilt of sin and controlled by various desires” (2 Timothy 3:6 NLT).
So a man who observes these parameters from 1 Timothy 5:2 is someone who is sure to set the right kind of example for others to follow in this regard.
Finally, we cannot deny the pain and disappointment that accompanies reports of modern-day authorities who manipulate, exploit, or take advantage of others under the guise of religion. However, a leader who adopts the perspective given to us in 1 Timothy 5:2 is certain to approach such relationships in a manner that is Biblically appropriate, honorable, and ethical.
As one commentary concludes, “Men in the ministry can avoid improper attitudes toward women by treating them as family members. If men see women as fellow members in God’s family, they will protect them and help them grow spiritually.” (1)
(1) Life Application Study Bible [1 Timothy 5:2] Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved.
“Honor widows who are really widows. But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God” (1 Timothy 5:3-4).
1 Timothy 5:3-4 begins a lengthy portion of this letter that involves a subsection of the local church community: “Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need” (NIV).
Unlike contemporary forms of retirement planning, government programs, pension plans, or life insurance, there were no similar means of assistance available to help the aged in the New Testament era. If an elderly widow had no family to assist her, the loss of a husband often resulted in a complete loss of income and meant that she was destined to live in poverty for the rest of her life.
In such instances, it was appropriate for the church to honor such widows and offer assistance. As one scholar explains, “The word ‘honor’ (timao) means ‘to estimate, fix the value, to honor, revere, venerate.’ It has in it the idea of properly appreciating the value of someone or something and of paying that person or thing the respect, reverence, deference, and honor due him or it by reason of its value or position.” (1)
This approach served to restore a sense of dignity for those who could no longer support themselves. It also aligned with several Old Testament passages on this subject, including one that is rather shocking in its defense of those who fell into this category…
“You shall not pervert justice due the stranger or the fatherless, nor take a widow’s garment as a pledge. But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this thing” (Deuteronomy 24:17-18).
“Cursed is the one who perverts the justice due the stranger, the fatherless, and widow. And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’” (Deuteronomy 27:19).
“You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless” (Exodus 22:22-24).
Nevertheless, this passage (and those that follow) provide us with several important qualifications that should govern this kind of assistance. We’ll begin our look at those qualifications next.
(1) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament [1 Timothy 5:3] Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
“But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God” (1 Timothy 5:4 ESV).
It appears there were some elderly widows within the church community at Ephesus who were struggling for their economic survival. This dire condition prompted the Apostle Paul to establish a set of parameters that would help those widows within the church who needed assistance.
The first step involved a delegation of responsibility beginning with an immediate family member such as a child or a grandchild. If no family members were available to help, the church would then step in to provide assistance according to the guidelines that Paul will offer in the following verses. While this approach was relatively simple in theory, it likely proved more challenging in practice.
For example, some widows might have preferred to approach the church for support rather than make their needs known to the members of their families. One Pastoral commentator highlights an important perspective in commenting upon that possibility…
“Sometimes people don’t want to ask their family for help, yet in God’s sight, He would rather that the family be the first place we go to for help. Some people are too proud to ask their family for help, but I wonder if sometimes our financial hardships are the very things that God wants to use to help repair families, to force them to work together and take care of each other.
This is what we are to ‘learn’ (vs. 4 ‘learn to show piety’) with our families – to take care of each other. I think it’s important that the church not short-circuit this kind of thing by stepping in and rescuing people when they need to learn to do things God’s way. Sometimes the embarrassment of asking the family is what a person needs to motivate them to take care of their own needs properly” (1)
So regardless of whether their preference was motivated by an internal family dynamic or some other reason, these instructions helped provide a clear directive to elderly widows (and others) regarding their primary and secondary means of care.
On the other hand, family members who were responsible to fulfill this obligation were not permitted to evade it by casting such responsibilities upon the church. We’ll see a Biblical example of how some attempted to shirk that responsibility (and Jesus’ response to their efforts) next.
(1) Rich Cathers, 1Timothy 5:1-16 [1:5] http://www.calvaryfullerton.org/Bstudy/54%201Ti/2018/54%201Ti%2005a.htm
“But if a widow has children or grandchildren, they should first learn to fulfill their duty toward their own household and so repay their parents what is owed them. For this is what pleases God” (1 Timothy 5:4 NET).
This passage from 1 Timothy 5:4 shares an association with another well-known Scriptural teaching from the Old Testament. You see, the Biblical book of Exodus provides some important direction regarding parental relationships within the portion of Scripture known today as the Ten Commandments…
“Honor your father and mother, that you may have a long, good life in the land the Lord your God will give you” (Exodus 20:12 TLB).
An adult child who was no longer under direct parental supervision usually fulfilled this responsibility by helping to meet an elderly parent’s financial and/or material needs. However, the religious establishment of Jesus’ day established a clever loophole that enabled a child to circumvent that responsibility while aiding those same religious leaders. Jesus identified that evasive (and unbiblical) maneuver in the New Testament gospel of Mark…
“For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban”—’ (that is, a gift to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do’” (Mark 7:10-13).
“Corban” referred to money or property that had been dedicated to God but was still possessed by the owner. That designation permitted the owner to use the asset in question but rendered it ineligible to be sold or given to someone else (such as a needy parent). These religious leaders then gained access to those resources once the owner passed away.
Not surprisingly, Jesus rejected this attempt to nullify God’s Word. 1 Timothy 5:4 then went on to ensure that children maintained a similarly God-honoring attitude towards their widowed parents. One source highlights an important perspective in commenting upon this responsibility…
“Care for parents in their declining years is but small payment for the many years they cared for us. We were helped in every way by them when we could not help ourselves, Can we not return in kind such care? It is good to know that God sees and appreciates our efforts if no one else does.” (1)
(1) Don De Welt, Paul’s Letters to Timothy and Titus, [Comment on 5:4] College Press, Joplin, Missouri Copyright 1961
“Now she who is really a widow, and left alone, trusts in God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day” (1 Timothy 5:5).
This portion of Scripture offers a list of identifying characteristics that defined a widow who was eligible for church assistance. First, a qualifying widow had to be someone who was “left alone.” In other words, she had to be someone with limited financial resources and had no family members available to help.
The next defining quality was that she had to be someone who “trusts in God.” One New Testament scholar explains the concept of “trust” as it appears within this passage…
“It speaks here of a widow who has as a habit of life set her hope upon God with the result that the hope has become permanently fixed as a settled and immovable trust. One could translate, ‘has directed her hope at God,’ or, ‘has her hope settled permanently on God.’” (1)
Another source adds…
“Genuine poverty often drove widows to exemplary lives of prayer and faithful dependence upon God. For such widows, the church is to be the visible hand of God in providing for needs.” (2)
This was followed by “continues in supplications and prayers night and day.” We might find the best illustration of this attribute in the example of a prophetess named Anna and her encounter with the infant Jesus…
“Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:36-38).
It was that kind of example that led one commentator to make the following observation concerning such widows: “With the hardships and perhaps tragedies she has faced, she can have a heart for others and truly intercede on their behalf. Only eternity will reveal the enormous importance godly widows have played in the ministries of God around the world.” (3)
However, there was another type of widow who served to contrast the example given to us here in 1 Timothy 5:5. That sort of widow is identified in the following verse: “But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives.” We’ll examine this unusual description in greater detail next.
(1) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament [1 Timothy 5:5-7] Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
(2) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2161). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
(3) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2503). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
“But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives” (1 Timothy 5:6).
The type of widow mentioned here in 1 Timothy 5:6 serves as a contrast to the godly widow described earlier in 1 Timothy 5:5. Unlike the widow in our first example, this second type of widow is self-disqualified from consideration as a person who might be eligible for help. In this situation, the church may rightfully say, “We can’t assist you because you are not pursuing a life that honors God.”
As a practical matter, this means that it is inappropriate for a church to help someone maintain a God-dishonoring lifestyle. Now to be clear, there may be instances where a church offers assistance to those who are seeking to recover from past mistakes and begin new lives in Christ. However, a person who demonstrates little or no genuine desire to honor God is someone who excludes him or herself from a church family who can help meet his or her legitimate needs.
In this instance, the visible act of living for “…pleasure and self-indulgence” (AMP) reveals a mindset that is described for us in the Biblical book of Romans…
“Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God…
Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” Romans 8:5-8, 12-14 NLT).
In light of this, we can say that our choices and decisions often serve to demonstrate our spiritual concern (or lack of it). For instance, a person who walks by the Spirit is someone who anticipates the reality of eternal life. That belief should then go on to influence their choices. Unfortunately, the same is also true of those who live according to their sinful natures.
In the remorseful words of one source, those individuals“…may yet live many years before their funerals are held; but as regards the precious hope in Christ, they are dead already.” (1)
(1) Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on 1 Timothy 5:5”. “Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament“. “https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/1-timothy-5.html“. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
“And these things command, that they may be blameless. But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:7-8).
While modern-day families often have greater options for elder care than those who lived in the Biblical era, the basic concept behind 1 Timothy 5:3-8 remains unchanged. The idea is that family caregivers and those who receive such care are each responsible to set good examples. In other words, there is a mutual responsibility to honor God for both the caregiver and the recipient so “…they may be blameless.”
For instance, a family member who cares for an elderly family member must be sensitive to the fact that advancing age, physical infirmity, loss of freedom, and declining capabilities often cause pain, irritation, and/or frustration for the elderly. These unfortunate realities may sometimes cause an elder to lash out at those who seek to help.
For a care-giving family member, it’s important to recognize that such factors may lead to hurtful comments and attempt to be gracious and forgiving. As we’re reminded in Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
While it is natural to focus upon the obligations of family caregivers within this passage, it would be inappropriate to leave these verses without considering the responsibilities incurred by those who depend upon their care. For example, the difficulties that often accompany old age do not entitle an elder to interact with others in an unkind or insensitive manner.
You see, those who receive assistance also have certain obligations towards those who care for them. An elder who complains incessantly, makes hurtful comments, or continually insists on having his or her own way must remember that he or she will account to God for his or her behavior.
While it is proper to offer respect and deference to the aged, an elder is responsible to act in a manner that is worthy of such respect to the best of his or her ability. The following commentator summarizes this difficult topic as well as the mutual responsibility that exits for the aged and their family members…
“What is true of the Church is true within the family. If a person is to be supported, that person must be supportable. If a parent is taken into a home and then by inconsiderate conduct causes nothing but trouble, another situation arises. There is a double duty here; the duty of the child to support the parent and the duty of the parent to be such that that support is possible within the structure of the home.” (1)
(1) Barclay, William. “Church And Family Duty (1Ti_5:3-8)”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible”.
“Do not let a widow under sixty years old be taken into the number, and not unless she has been the wife of one man, well reported for good works: if she has brought up children, if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work” (1 Timothy 5:9-10).
Many churches maintain benevolence funds to assist those who may be in need. Such funds exist to help those who are not in a position to provide for themselves. Judging from the passage quoted above, it seems that the first century church also maintained a similar type of benevolence fund. That fund seems to have incorporated a roster of widows who were eligible for support and is variously identified as “the roll” (AMPC), “the number” (KJV), or “the official support list” (HCSB) depending on the Biblical translation of this passage.
What follows here in 1 Timothy 5:9-10 is a list of distinguishing characteristics and qualifications for use in identifying those who were eligible for support. One source explains why such qualifications were necessary…
“A widow who was ‘taken into the number’ incurred certain responsibilities in order to maintain her eligibility for the church’s charity. For example, she needed to be frugal lest someone reproach her for living an extravagant lifestyle and the fellowship for supporting it (5:6–7). Likewise, she needed to meet certain criteria related to her earlier life and character (5:9–10). The point was not to keep a widow out of the program, but to ensure that she served her fellow believers in every way she could if she was going to receive support.” (1)
While we may be far removed from the cultural and economic conditions that framed these first-century eligibility requirements, one Pastoral commentator illustrates the timeless quality of God’s Word by explaining how these general principals might be implemented today…
“…several years ago I called a widow in my church and asked her to visit a lady whose husband’s funeral service I had just conducted. The death had left the lady without family or friends, and I asked the widow to visit her because she would understand the woman’s need—she had been through it herself. They became warm friends and grew in their relationship to God because of it. A widow can and should serve in some way in the church.” (2)
We’ll take a closer look at these qualifications and also consider some disqualifying factors beginning next.
(1) Word in life study Bible. (1996). (electronic ed., 1 Ti 5:3). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
(2) J. Vernon McGee, Thru The Bible with J. Vernon McGee, 1 Timothy 5:1-25 Relationship Of Ministers To Different Groups In The Local Church, Copyright 1981 by J. Vernon McGee
“Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work” (1 Timothy 5:9-10 ESV).
1 Timothy 5:9-10 offers a few additional qualifications regarding widows and their potential eligibility for assistance from the church. The first consideration involved an age provision. Just as many different types of benefit programs are associated with our physical ages today, the first stipulation for a widow under consideration for assistance was that she had to be a minimum of sixty years of age.
In a first-century era where average life expectancies might only reach fifty years or less, a sixty year old person would be quite old. At that stage of life, a widow was unlikely to remarry or maintain the ability to provide for herself. Therefore, a woman who reached that milestone was someone who might be a candidate for help from other members of the Christian community.
In addition to this age provision, there were several other qualifying characteristics to consider as well. Much like the character of a church leader mentioned earlier in 1 Timothy 3:2, a widow under consideration had to be someone who reflected the qualities of loyalty, dedication, and faithfulness in marriage. Another factor involved her general reputation. Was she known to be someone who sought to help the afflicted?
Another good character reference involved her home life. What kind of influence did she exert upon her children? While children may sometimes stray from a Godly upbringing, it was important for a widow under consideration to be a person of God-honoring character who set a good example for her children to follow.
Then there was her relationship with other members of the church. Did she interact with them in a Christ-like manner? Was she someone who inspired others to praise God for her example or did she inspire others to respond in a different manner?
These questions (and others like them) served to identify those who were genuinely eligible for help. However, they also demonstrate the highly applicable nature of God’s Word for modern-day readers. You see, these characteristics are far more than just a list of support qualifications for first-century widows. Anyone of any age, culture, or time period should prayerfully seek to develop these same God-honoring qualities in their own lives.
“But refuse the younger widows; for when they have begun to grow wanton against Christ, they desire to marry, having condemnation because they have cast off their first faith” (1 Timothy 5:11-12).
While we don’t have first-hand experience with the situation described for us in 1 Timothy 5:11-12, we can draw some inferences from the information provided here.
First, it seems that those who joined this first-century “widows list” pledged to devote their lives to serving Christ. While a newly-widowed young woman may have been sincere in taking such a vow, there was a realistic possibility that she might feel differently later. Therefore, part of Timothy’s leadership responsibility involved protecting these young widows from themselves to a certain extent.
You see, a younger widow might not perceive that her commitment to that vow might eventually yield to a desire for marital relations and motherhood. That would violate a Biblical tenet that all would do well to observe: “When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; For He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed– Better not to vow than to vow and not pay” (Ecclesiastes 5:4-5).
We find a similar warning in the Biblical book of Deuteronomy: “When you make a vow to the LORD your God, do not put off doing what you promised; the LORD will hold you to your vow, and it is a sin not to keep it” (Deuteronomy 23:21 GNB). Taken together, these passages remind us that God takes such things seriously.
However, these admonitions are not exclusive to the Old Testament…
“Above all, my friends, do not use an oath when you make a promise. Do not swear by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Say only ‘Yes’ when you mean yes, and ‘No’ when you mean no, and then you will not come under God’s judgment” (James 5:12 GNB).
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:33-37 NIV).
As one commentator adds, “This is not a disparaging statement about marriage, but a disparaging comment about making a vow in Christ’s name and not keeping it (i.e., as divorce does also).” (1)
(1) Dr. Bob Utley. Free Bible Commentary, [1 Timothy 5:11] Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL09/VOL09_05.html
“But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith” (1 Timothy 5:11-12 ESV).
In addition to the admonition against breaking a vow or pledge, one source draws our attention to another important application from this passage…
“Paul did not condemn young widows for wanting to get married, only observing that many unmarried women are so hungry for marriage and companionship that they don’t conduct themselves in a godly way in regard to relationships. Many people get into a bad romance or spoil a friendship, because they are desperately needy for relationship. It’s a common occurrence that Paul warned against.” (1)
This leads us to a different audience for these verses: the person who chooses to abandon his or her faith in Christ (or “casts off her first faith”) in order to pursue a marriage relationship with someone who has little or no interest in following Jesus…
“Paul’s harsh words against widows who remarry initially appear inconsistent with his command for younger widows to remarry (v. 14) and his teaching elsewhere (Rm 7:1–3; 1 Co 7:39). However, the text probably referred to a widow who remarried an unbeliever (2 Co 6:14), abandoning her faith under the spouse’s influence. ‘Original pledge’ (lit. ‘first faith’) refers to the widow’s former faith in Christ.” (2)
Perhaps the best-known Biblical warning against this course of action is found in the New Testament book of 2 Corinthians…
“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-15).
A “yoke” is a device that is placed between two animals that unites them when pulling a wagon or a plow. Much like the challenges faced by those who attempt to yoke two mismatched animals, this passage warns us that problems are certain to result whenever a Christian is harnessed in marriage together with someone whose first priority is something other than Christ.
While it’s possible for a Christian marriage partner to exert a positive spiritual influence upon his or her spouse, the opposite is often more likely to be true in these types of relationships. Thus, we are provided with the Biblical admonitions given to us in the passages quoted above. Those who disregard these warnings in pursuit of such relationships do so at great risk.
(1) Guzik, Dave, 1 Timothy 5 – How To Treat People In The Church, https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/1-timothy-5/
(2) Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J. P., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (p. 1805). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
“And besides they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not” (1 Timothy 5:13).
This verse presents us with another issue that carries modern-day implications: the threat of idleness and the temptation to “…start gossiping and become busybodies, talking about things that are none of [our[ business” (CEV).
From a first-century perspective, a Godly older widow was likely to hold a far different mindset than most younger widows. You see, the approaching prospect of departure from this earthly life would naturally serve to direct her attention to things of eternal significance. That, along with the maturity that often accompanies a lifetime’s worth of experience, would encourage an older widow to reject frivolous pursuits like gossip and nosiness in favor of activities that were far more spiritually productive.
However, a younger widow who was lacking in those qualities was likely to learn something far different: “They also begin to gossip and try to run other people’s lives” (ERV). Perhaps even more disturbing is the fact that these qualities were also characteristic of the false teachers who had worked their way into the first-century church. For instance, consider the similarities between the concerns noted here in 1 Timothy 5:13 and those who were promoting false doctrine in the early church…
“As I urged you when I went into Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith. Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk” (1 Timothy 1:3-6).
“For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain” (Titus 1:10-11).
For a Godly young widow, this was not the sort of behavior that was appropriate to emulate. As another commentator observed centuries ago…
“It is a great error and abuse of religion, to make it a cloak for idleness or any other sin. The servant who waits for the coming of his Lord aright, must be working as his Lord has commanded. If we are idle, the devil and a corrupt heart will soon find us somewhat to do.” (1)
(1) Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary [Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15] https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=mhc&b=53&c=3
“They also learn to waste their time in going around from house to house; but even worse, they learn to be gossips and busybodies, talking of things they should not” (1 Timothy 5:13 GNB).
The verse quoted above mentions two different types of people: “gossips” and “busybodies.” While these references are closely related, there are some subtle differences between them. For instance, a “busybody” is a talkative, meddlesome person who pries into the affairs of others. One such reference to this type of behavior is found in 2 Thessalonians 3:11. On the other hand, a “‘gossip” is a person who spreads rumors or idle, fruitless tales. (1)
One of the best ways to handle gossip is to refuse to participate in spreading it. If we are faced with a situation that could eventually lead to rumor-mongering or promote idle, fruitless speculation, the proper response is to first engage in a private, direct conversation with the person (or persons) involved.
Consider Jesus’ guidance on this subject from the Gospel of Matthew….
“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back” (Matthew 18:15 NLT).
Jesus also offered another good incentive to refuse to take part in gossip…
“I promise you that on the day of judgment, everyone will have to account for every careless word they have spoken” (Matthew 12:36 CEV).
The word translated “careless” in that passage conveys the idea of laziness or something worthless. In the verse that follows the passage quoted above, Jesus also went on to say this: “Your words now reflect your fate then: either you will be justified by them or you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37 TLB). This reminds us that Christ will call us to account for every idle, careless word we’ve ever spoken. That future reality should prompt us to refrain from participating in gossip or meddling in the affairs of others today.
Finally, the Old Testament book of Proverbs offers several practical insights that we would do well to remember and apply in this area…
“Don’t tell your secrets to a gossip unless you want them broadcast to the world” (Proverbs 20:19: TLB)
“He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy and faithful in spirit keeps the matter hidden” (Proverbs 11:13 AMPC).
“Gossip is spread by wicked people; they stir up trouble and break up friendships” (Proverbs 16:28 GNT).
“Where there is no wood, a fire goes out, and where there is no gossip, contention ceases” (Proverbs 26:20 NET).
(1) See Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, “busybody” [pg. 207] and “gossip” [pg. 407]
“Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully” (1 Timothy 5:14).
Paul the Apostle’s counsel regarding remarriage here in 1 Timothy 5:14 seems to run counter to a statement he made in the Biblical book of 1 Corinthians…
“A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 7:39-40 ESV).
While these directives may appear to contradict one another, it’s important to consider the context for each message. For instance, 1 Timothy 5:3-16 addresses the role of the church in assisting older widows who had no other means of support. That portion of Scripture established several parameters that served to determine when it was appropriate to render such assistance.
Some of those factors included a widow’s age (sixty years or older according to 1 Timothy 5:9), her general character, and the presence of other family members who could help. Paul then went on to differentiate those widows from others who were younger and might seek to remarry after the loss of a husband.
There were two important considerations regarding these younger widows. As mentioned earlier, Paul was concerned that their desire to enter another marriage relationship might eventually grow stronger than their devotion to Christ. He then identified another potential risk: the danger associated with too much idle time (see 1 Timothy 5:11-13).
That brings us to Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. Singleness was the preferred option for those who could accept it. For those who could not do so without falling prey to unhealthy choices (like the younger widows within the church at Ephesus), 1 Timothy 5:14 provided encouragement to remarry.
Finally, one author directs our attention to the latter portion of this verse and its admonition “…to give the enemy no opportunity for slander” (NIV)…
“Here we have another example of one of the main thoughts of the Pastoral Epistles. They are always concerned with how the Christian appears to the outside world. Does he give opportunity to criticize the Church or reason to admire it? It is always true that ‘the greatest handicap the Church has is the unsatisfactory lives of professing Christians’ and equally true that the greatest argument for Christianity is a genuinely Christian life.” (1)
(1) Barclay, William. “The Perils Of Idleness (1 Timothy 5:11-16)”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible“.
“For some have already turned aside after Satan” (1 Timothy 5:15).
This passage serves to focus our attention upon the consequences that may occur whenever we fail to make God-honoring choices. Here in 1 Timothy 5:11-15, that scenario likely involved those who had broken their vows or entered relationships with those who had little or no interest in serving Christ. Unfortunately, these choices were much like exit roads that ultimately led to the same destination: “…some have already turned away to follow Satan” (NASB).
So how can we explain this response? Well, perhaps some of these individuals had come under the negative influence of false teachers. It’s also possible that they had been persuaded to abandon Christ through their relationships with spouses who were outside the faith. Whatever the reason, it’s clear that negative consequences had already started to spread within the church.
The most serious of those consequences involved a decision by some members of the church to forsake God’s path to follow Satan, their spiritual adversary. Since the Scriptures identify Satan as a being who is evil (Matthew 6:13), wicked (1 John 2:13), a liar and murderer (John 8:44), and a deceiver (Revelation 20:10), nothing good can ultimately result from that choice.
This also serves to remind us that our decisions often lead to tangible repercussions for better or worse. In the worst-case scenario, some of those decisions might lead to consequences that resonate eternally. In the case of the church at Ephesus, those ramifications likely assumed multiple forms…
“Some of the young widows had given up their commitment to serve Christ… perhaps either by following false teachers and spreading their false doctrine or by marrying unbelievers and bringing disgrace upon the church.” (1)
Much like those mentioned here in 1 Timothy 5:15, we also make real choices in real time that lead to real consequences that carry a real eternal impact. Perhaps this is why Ephesians 5:15-18 tells us, “Be very careful, then, how you live-not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”
Finally, this section ends with some closing instructions: “If any believing man or woman has widows, let them relieve them, and do not let the church be burdened, that it may relieve those who are really widows” (1 Timothy 5:16). If we follow the practical instruction given to us in 1 Timothy 5:3-16, we are sure to make good, God-honoring decisions regarding family members who genuinely need our support.
(1) MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (1 Ti 5:15). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
“Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Timothy 5:17).
This passage tells us that church leaders who work hard to explain what the Bible says and means should be treated with additional respect. As mentioned earlier in our look at 1 Timothy chapter three, these congregational leaders are variously identified as “elders,” “pastors,” “rulers,” and/or “overseers.” These designations serve to distinguish those who exercise care and authority over a church congregation.
While a gifted teacher may sometimes make this responsibility look easy to a casual observer, we may may not fully appreciate the challenges that a congregational teacher often encounters. This helps explain why such leaders deserve to be recognized, especially in terms of honor and financial compensation.
However, one source presents us with an alternative view to consider regarding this passage…
“Some leaders have one spiritual gift and others another. Leaders must focus on their giftedness and allow other gifted Christians to pick up the slack. Some believers are wonderfully gifted for leadership, often in several ways. Those who function in several areas need to be rewarded for their efforts and protected by the church in their areas of ineffectiveness. We as the body of Christ rejoice in the giftedness of our members, but we also need to remember that we desperately need one another (cf. 1 Cor. 12:7)!” (1)
Since no single minister is equally gifted in every area of ministry, this author makes an important point that bears repeating: “Those who function in several areas need to be rewarded for their efforts and protected by the church in their areas of ineffectiveness.” This reminds us that God’s call to leadership may sometimes require us to minister in areas that correspond poorly with our gifts and/or personal strengths. Much like Paul the Apostle’s “thorn in the flesh,” these challenges often serve to further our dependence upon Christ.
Those who prayerfully do the best they can in such areas should be protected by the church and recognized for their service in less than ideal circumstances. Nevertheless, those who serve with excellence, especially “in the word and doctrine,” should be acknowledged and compensated to a greater degree whenever possible. In the words of another source, “One honor goes to him because of the position which he occupies. Extra honor goes to him if he serves with distinction.” (2)
(1) Dr. Bob Utley. Free Bible Commentary, [1 Timothy 5:17] Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL09/VOL09_05.html
(2) Kent, Homer A., Sr. “Obligations of Pastor and Congregation to Each Other.” Bibliotheca Sacra 124:496 (October-December 1967): 332-38 [pp.182-183]. Quoted in Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on 1 Timothy 2021 Edition [2. The discipline and selection of elders 5:17-25] https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/1timothy/1timothy.htm
“For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages’” (1 Timothy 5:18).
1 Timothy 5:18 is a Biblical verse that is far more significant than it may appear. You see, the references contained here within 1 Timothy 5:18 tell us something important about the larger subject of Biblical inspiration. But before we get to that subject, there are a few last items to consider as we close our discussion of support for church leaders.
Three brief insights from the following authors can help advance our understanding of this passage…
“The principle that those who serve God’s people should be paid (when possible, of course) is supported by the passages of Scripture quoted by Paul: Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7… Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 9:11 that if one sows spiritual things (such as labor in the word and doctrine), it is entirely appropriate for them to reap material things among those who they do the spiritual work.” (1)
“The ox must be allowed to eat from the place where it works. Likewise, the elder must be allowed to receive financial support from the people to whom he ministers.” (2)
“Men called of God would preach whether they are paid or not, but God ordained they are to live by their ministry (1 Cor 9:7–11). Paul says that even the animals reaped from their toils as was told they should in Deuteronomy 25:4.” (3)
While Paul the Apostle sometimes engaged in outside employment to support his ministerial work, he also made certain to endorse the legitimacy of full-time ministry as well. Perhaps the clearest expression of Paul’s support for vocational ministry is found in the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians…
“Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:13-14).
Paul also communicated the proper attitude towards ministry support in his epistle to the Galatian churches when he said, “Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches” (Galatians 6:6). Therefore, 1 Timothy 5:18 presents us with an important principle: if God is concerned for the welfare of an ox as it is fed from the work it performs, then how much more should a minister of God’s Word receive support from those who are fed through his ministry?
(1) Guzik, Dave, 1 Timothy 5 – How To Treat People In The Church, (17-18) https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/1-timothy-5/
(2) Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (1 Ti 5:18). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
(3) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2504). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
“For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages’” (1 Timothy 5:18 ESV).
To grasp the significance behind 1 Timothy 5:18, it’s important to note the three-fold structure of this passage…
- “…the Scripture says.“
- “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.“
- “The laborer deserves his wages.“
Notice that 1 Timothy 5:18 quotes an Old Testament passage (“Do not muzzle an ox…” [Deuteronomy 25:4]) alongside the words of Jesus as recorded in Luke 10:7. It then refers to both as Scripture. This brief passage thus informs us that God’s inspiration of the Bible covers both the Old and New Testaments. The following authors also alert us to the true significance of this passage…
“Writing sometime between A.D. 62-65, Paul quotes from Luke 10:7 and calls it ‘Scripture’ (1 Tim. 5:18). Therefore, Luke’s Gospel must have been in circulation long enough before that time in order for both Paul and Timothy to know its contents and regard it as Scripture. (By the way, this was no minor claim for Paul to make. In effect, he was making the bold assertion that Luke’s Gospel was just as inspired as the Holy Jewish Bible-the Old Testament he treasured so much!)” (1)
“This reference is a remarkable testimony to the divine inspiration of the gospel of Luke, with Paul quoting Luke 10:7 as authoritative Scripture. Paul had been accompanied by Luke on some of his earlier missionary voyages. Luke would even be with him in his last days (II Timothy 4:11). Paul probably had frequent contact with his physician throughout his later life. He must have had ample opportunity to read Luke’s gospel, perhaps even helping him with its composition. He realized not only that it was truly a product of the Spirit’s inspiration, but also that these particular words had been spoken by the Lord Jesus, and thus were of special importance in this connection.” (2)
“Thus Paul here quoted from the Christian gospels, extending to them the full authority and status of Scripture. As 1 Timothy was written during that period shortly before Paul’s second imprisonment, the bearing of this on the date of Luke’s gospel, which he here quoted, should not be overlooked. Here is an insurmountable denial of the late dating of Luke. ‘The conclusion is inevitable that the writer of this epistle was acquainted with and quoted from the gospel of Luke.’” (3)
(1) Norman L. Geisler, Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist [pg 241]
(2) Institute for Creation Research, New Defender’s Study Bible Notes [1 Timothy 5:18] https://www.icr.org/bible/1Tim/5/18/
(3) A. C. Hervey, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 21, 1Timothy (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950) [p.99] quoted in Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on 1 Timothy 5:18”. “Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament”. “https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/1-timothy-5.html“. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
“Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses” (1 Timothy 5:19).
1 Timothy 5:19 continues with some valuable counsel regarding accusations that are brought against someone who serves in a leadership capacity. This important topic will occupy the focus of our next few studies.
We can begin by observing that the “two or three witness” standard mentioned here has its origin in the Old Testament Law…
“Whoever is deserving of death shall be put to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses; he shall not be put to death on the testimony of one witness” (Deuteronomy 17:6).
“One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established” (Deuteronomy 19:15).
“Whoever kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the testimony of witnesses; but one witness is not sufficient testimony against a person for the death penalty” (Numbers 35:30).
This principle serves to remind us that those who hold positions of authority are held to the same standards as others. We can turn once again to the Old Testament Law for additional insight into this fundamental concept: “You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:15).
So we must verify an accusation against someone who holds a leadership position with two or three other witnesses just like anyone else. The difference is that a person who holds an official position of power, authority, and responsibility is someone who faces greater accountability. You see, the following verse will go on to tell us that a person in a visible position of leadership is subject to a visible rebuke for sinful behavior.
But before we discuss that passage, we should also recognize that this principle offers protection for church leaders as well. One source offers an explanation that we will explore more fully in our next study…
“Church leaders are not exempt from sin, faults, and mistakes. But they are often criticized for the wrong reasons—minor imperfections, failure to meet someone’s expectations, personality clashes. Thus, Paul said that accusations should not even be heard unless two or three witnesses confirm them. Sometimes church leaders should be confronted about their behavior, and sometimes they should be rebuked. But all rebuking must be done fairly and lovingly and for the purpose of restoration.” (1)
(1) Life Application Study Bible [1 Timothy 5:19-21] Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved.
“Do not accept an accusation against an elder unless it can be confirmed by two or three witnesses” (1 Timothy 5:19 NET).
In today’s internet age of online commentary and opinion, it is relatively easy for an individual with a grievance (real or imagined) to bring an accusation (real or imagined) against a product, an organization, or a person.
For instance, an advocacy group might seek to flood social media with auto-generated allegations against those who hold opposing views. Unscrupulous vendors may post fictitious “reviews” that are designed to reflect poorly upon a competing product, service, or business. Churches or other religious organizations may find it necessary to disable the comments section of a media presentation to eliminate a platform for spammers, cultists, militant secularists, or others who seek to promote a different agenda.
These present-day realities help make the ancient counsel given to us in 1 Timothy 5:19 even more timely and compelling: “Don’t pay attention to an accusation against a spiritual leader unless it is supported by two or three witnesses” (GW).
This directive recognizes that a good church leader must sometimes confront those who engage in various forms of inappropriate conduct. While such confrontations are ideally designed to help others become more Christ-like, some may choose to respond in a more negative or contentious manner. Thus, the principle given to us here in 1 Timothy 5:19 serves to protect a leader from baseless, frivolous, or undeserved accusations.
One commentator expands upon this idea with the following observation…
“Throughout Scripture, an accusation of misconduct against any member of God’s community must be substantiated by testimony from multiple witnesses (Deut. 19:15; Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1; Heb. 10:28). This standard of reliable evidence is all the more essential when charges are brought against an elder, whose office deserves special respect and whose maturity the church has (presumably) verified (3:1–7; 5:22, 24, 25)” (1)
Another well-known preacher from an earlier generation offered some clever and practical advice for dealing with unfounded accusations against an elder…
“[Charles] Spurgeon advised in Lectures to My Students that when people come to a pastor with gossip, he should say, ‘Well, all this is very important, and I need to give it my full attention – but my memory isn’t so good and I have a lot to think about. Can you write it all down for me?’ Spurgeon says this will take care of it, because they won’t want to write down their gossip.” (2)
(1) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2162). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
(2) Guzik, Dave, 1 Timothy 5 – How To Treat People In The Church, https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/1-timothy-5/
“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.
“Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear” (1 Timothy 5:20).
A careful analysis of this passage reveals a critical detail that might easily be overlooked. You see, the sinful behavior referenced within this verse was not a mistake, an accident, or a momentary indiscretion. Instead, this passage refers to “Those who are sinning…” or those who were continuously engaged in sin. The following translations clearly serve to establish this connection…
“As for those who persist in sin…” (ESV).
“Those who continue in sin…” (NASB).
“Confront those who persist in sinning…” (Mounce).
When continued, unrepentant sin occurs, a decision to address the matter in a public setting with wisdom, discernment, and sensitivity may be in order. This not only minimizes the potential for gossip and unwarranted speculation but also provides an example that may help deter others who are inclined to follow a similar path.
One Pastoral leader strikes an appropriate balance in his analysis of this passage…
“If the facts are known that a church leader has sinned, he is to be rebuked. The question arises, Is this to be done publicly? I believe that when a member of a church sins and it does not concern the congregation it should never be brought out into the open, nor should it be confessed publicly.
However, when a leader of the church, an officer in the church, sins, and it has hurt the church, then I think it is time to call names. It may also be time to drop his name from the roll of membership. Great harm can be done to a church by sin in the life of its leaders, and this is the way Paul says it should be dealt with.” (1)
The Scriptures also address the public nature of a rebuke in the continued presence of sinful behavior in the New Testament letter of 1 Corinthians…
“When you have gathered together, I am with you in spirit. Then, in the name of our Lord Jesus, and with his power, hand such a person over to Satan to destroy his corrupt nature so that his spiritual nature may be saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:3-5).
Finally, one commentator summarizes the essence of this passage with a concluding thought…
“Elders are not to be condemned on insufficient evidence; nor are they to be exempted from discipline because of their office and authority if their sin is demonstrated.” (2)
(1) J. Vernon McGee, Thru The Bible with J. Vernon McGee, 1 Timothy 5:1-25 Relationship Of Ministers To Different Groups In The Local Church, Copyright 1981 by J. Vernon McGee
(2) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2162). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
“I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality” (1 Timothy 5:21).
In addition to what we read here concerning the subject of partiality, the Biblical epistle of James also addresses this topic in a very direct manner…
“My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others? For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, ‘You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor’—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?” (James 2:1-4 NLT).
This reference to favoritism (or partiality) identifies someone “…who, when responsible to give judgment, has respect to the position, rank, popularity, or circumstances of men, instead of their intrinsic conditions, preferring the rich and powerful to those who are not so.” (1) However, these cautionary references are not exclusive to the New Testament…
“You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small as well as the great; you shall not be afraid in any man’s presence, for the judgment is God’s…” (Deuteronomy 1:17).
“You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous” (Deuteronomy 16:19).
“…Judge carefully, for with the LORD our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery” (2 Chronicles 19:7 NIV).
Thus, we should remember the words of Acts 10:34: “…God shows no partiality and is no respecter of persons” (AMPC). In the words of one Pastoral author…
“The exhortation was against being a respecter of persons, giving preferential treatment to some. Every person is equal in God’s eyes. So if I, as a minister of God, become a respecter of persons, then I am misrepresenting God. How important it is that we understand that everyone is of equal importance in the eyes of God. God loves us all the same. He doesn’t have favorites. He loves us all supremely, and we should follow His example. We need to treat all people, regardless of their status in life, with dignity and respect. To do less is to offend Him.” (2)
(1) G4382 prosopolempsia Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words © 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers
(2) Chuck Smith, The Word For Today Bible, study note on 1 Timothy 5:21 pg 1593
“Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure” (1 Timothy 5:22).
There are several ways to understand the idea of “laying hands upon someone” when used in the context of 1 Timothy 5:22. For example, we can associate this reference with the ceremonial act of ordination to a position of ministry. As implied in the passage quoted above, this type of leadership appointment should never be taken without prayerful and detailed consideration.
This should also prompt us to recall Paul the Apostle’s counsel regarding the appointment of elders from earlier within this letter: “But let these also first be tested…” (1 Timothy 3:10). For instance, it would be unwise to ordain a gifted person into the ministry before that person is ready to assume the challenges associated with a ministerial position.
One way to avoid that issue is to look for the traits and characteristics mentioned earlier in 1 Timothy chapter three as well as the Pastoral Epistle of Titus. Those attributes include the following qualities…
“…not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence… not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:3-7).
“…blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict” (Titus 1:7-9).
These qualifications provide us with some important standards to consider in the area of church leadership. For instance, a person who holds a position of wealth, prominence, or status is not necessarily suited for a church leadership position based on those qualities alone. If we exclude or minimize the characteristics given to us in the passages quoted above in favor of such qualities, we may be faced with an unpleasant, embarrassing, or disastrous situation later.
Much like a sports team that promotes a promising athlete to the major-league level before he or she is ready, those who promote a gifted, but ill-prepared person to a leadership position also bear a degree of responsibility if that person should ever fail.
“Do not lay hands on anyone hastily and so identify with the sins of others. Keep yourself pure” (1 Timothy 5:22 NET).
We can heed the admonition given to us in this passage if we prayerfully and carefully consider those we seek to promote before we promote them. While any fallible human being is susceptible to falling into sin, there should be no obvious character deficiencies or advance warning signs that might later cause one to think, “I should have seen that coming” when considering others for advancement.
In addition to serving as a cautionary message, we can also apply this passage in several other ways. One commentator provides us with a range of potential applications…
“We all have enough sin of our own; we do not need to add to it by partaking in the sins of others. There are many ways we can do this. We can share in the sins of others by setting a bad example before them. We can share in the sins of others by approving of them or ignoring them. We can share in the sins of others by joining a church that spreads dangerous teachings.” (1)
Another potential application involves the restoration of an errant Christian brother or sister. In this view, the phrase “laying on of hands” signals an act of reinstatement, acceptance, and fellowship. Therefore, a leader who prematurely restores someone who has fallen into sin will be called into question if that person subsequently fails to demonstrate the fruit of a truly repentant life.
Finally, this verse closes with a brief but important reminder: “Keep yourself pure.” You see, it is possible to focus upon these standards in others to such a degree that we fail to apply them to ourselves. Much like a signal or an alarm, this passage should remind us to observe an important Biblical admonition: “…let the man who feels sure of his standing today be careful that he does not fall tomorrow” (1 Corinthians 10:12 Phillips).
The source quoted earlier follows with a valuable insight: “This connects to an important idea. If Timothy was called to observe and assess the lives of others, it was important that he pay even more attention to his own life.” This passage of Scripture should thus encourage us to seek God each day for the wisdom, perception, and discernment necessary to make good decisions.
We can avoid identifying with the sins of others if we prayerfully seek God’s illumination for any similar “blind spots” that may exist within our own lives.
(1) Guzik, Dave, 1 Timothy 5 – How To Treat People In The Church, https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/1-timothy-5/
“No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities” (1 Timothy 5:23).
1 Timothy 5:23 has been the source of considerable controversy for many within the Christian community over the years. We can begin our consideration of this passage with a question: why would Paul the Apostle advise this course of action?
To address this question, it’s helpful to remember that water quality in the ancient world was often poor. This meant that wine (or wine mixed with water) was sometimes safer to drink. Since the fermentation process helped eliminate some of the harmful elements that might be present within a body of water, a person who suffered from a digestive disorder would be better served to drink a little wine.
This brief passage also touches upon two larger topics: alcohol consumption and the permissibility of medicinal remedies.
We can begin with the medicinal aspects of this passage by remembering that the context of this verse involved Timothy’s physical health. With this in mind, it’s interesting to note that the Biblical author Luke is known to have accompanied Paul during the period in which he wrote this letter. Since Luke was a physician by trade, it’s possible that he had a hand in suggesting this course of treatment. (1)
We should also note that “a little” wine was prescribed for Timothy’s digestive ailment and his “frequent infirmities.” Today, we might associate this directive with the word “dosage.” In other words, “wine” was the prescribed remedy for Timothy’s afflictions and “a little” was the recommended dosage.
This has led one Biblical scholar to conclude, “Paul recognizes a medicinal value of wine. Believers are free to make use of ordinary means in caring for themselves. It is no mark of faith to reject the advice of doctors or to forego medical treatment.” (2) Another commentator bridges the gap between wine as a medicinal remedy and the subject of alcohol consumption that we’ll consider next…
“This is a text which has much troubled those who are advocates of total abstinence. It must be remembered that it does not give any man a licence to indulge in drink to excess; it simply approves the use of wine where it may be medicinally helpful. If it does lay down any principle at all, E. F. Brown has well stated it: ‘It shows that while total abstinence may be recommended as a wise counsel, it is never to be enforced as a religious obligation.’ Paul is simply saying that there is no virtue in an asceticism which does the body more harm than good.” (3)
(1) See Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on 1 Timothy 5:23”. “Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament”. “https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/1-timothy-5.html“. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
(2) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2162). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
(3) Barclay, William. “Advice For Timothy (1 Timothy 5:23)”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible”
“Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1 Timothy 5:23 NIV)
In his Biblical letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul the Apostle offered the following guidance regarding alcohol abuse: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). “Debauchery” expresses the general idea of moral corruption- and alcohol’s role in that regard is recognized among those who have seen or experienced its effects.
The Scriptures offer a glimpse into this harsh reality with the record of an incident in the life of Noah. Noah was a God-honoring man who once got so drunk that he passed out naked (Genesis 9:18-22). We can find another example in the book of the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk (see Habakkuk 2:15-16) as well as the shockingly immoral account of Lot and his daughters (Genesis 19:30-38).
Although the Scriptures do not mandate complete abstinence from alcohol (John 2:1-11), a decision to voluntarily limit one’s freedom in this area will often prove to be the wisest course of action. While two Christians of good conscience may differ regarding the propriety of alcoholic beverages, each should agree that the Bible clearly condemns alcohol abuse. We find one such condemnation in the cautionary message of Proverbs 23:29-35…
“Who has anguish? Who has sorrow? Who is always fighting? Who is always complaining? Who has unnecessary bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? It is the one who spends long hours in the taverns, trying out new drinks. Don’t gaze at the wine, seeing how red it is, how it sparkles in the cup, how smoothly it goes down. For in the end it bites like a poisonous snake; it stings like a viper.
You will see hallucinations, and you will say crazy things. You will stagger like a sailor tossed at sea, clinging to a swaying mast. And you will say, ‘They hit me, but I didn’t feel it. I didn’t even know it when they beat me up. When will I wake up so I can look for another drink?’” (NLT).
Therefore, we would be well-advised to follow the Bible’s counsel regarding alcohol consumption…
“Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery (or corruption), not in dissension and jealousy… Take care that your hearts aren’t dulled by drinking parties, drunkenness, and the anxieties of day-to-day life… Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (Romans 13:13 [NIV], Luke 21:34 [CEB], 1 Peter 1:13 [NIV]).
“Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later. Likewise, the good works of some are clearly evident, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden” (1 Timothy 5:24-25).
It is sometimes easy to observe the sinful behaviors of other human beings but some types of sinful conduct may not be noticeable at all. Of course, it is also true that there are many who are highly skilled in disguising their sinful activities- at least for a while.
In considering this passage, it’s important to begin with the recognition that every genuine Christian is a “work in progress” to one degree or another. Since God is patient, merciful and gracious, those who truly desire to live God-honoring lives may be permitted to overcome their sinful inclinations in private and avoid the discomfort associated with their public display. In this respect, we can apply the words of Romans 2:4: “…God’s kindness is intended to lead you to turn from your sins” (CJB).
On the other hand, we cannot hide sinful and unrepentant behaviors forever. Consider the following Biblical admonitions concerning this subject…
“There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed. There is nothing kept secret that will not come to light” (Mark 4:22 GW).
“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13 NIV).
“…do not judge anything before the time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive recognition from God” (1 Corinthians 4:5 NET).
There are many who seem to believe they can ignore such counsel and adopt an attitude of disrespect towards the God of the Scriptures without any repercussions. In fact, Israel’s King Solomon discussed this attitude when he wrote, “Because God does not punish sinners instantly, people feel it is safe to do wrong” (Ecclesiastes 8:11 TLB).
While it may seem as if people will never be called to account for their inappropriate behaviors, no one “gets away with it” forever. As we’re reminded in Romans 2:6, God “…will give to each person according to what he has done” (Mounce). Therefore, we would do well to humbly ask God to help us overcome our sinful inclinations now, for it is better to address such things in the present than deal with the consequences of inaction in the future.
“The sins of some people are obvious, going before them into judgment, but for others, they show up later. Similarly good works are also obvious, and the ones that are not cannot remain hidden” (1 Timothy 5:24-25 NET).
“I have seen everything in this meaningless life, including the death of good young people and the long life of wicked people” (Ecclesiastes 7:15 NLT).
When the guilty are punished, it’s not unusual to hear someone remark that he or she “got what they deserved.” Yet one of the great paradoxes of human existence is that people don’t always get what they deserve in life, at least as far as we can tell.
For instance, we might expect a God-honoring person who reflects the qualities of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 to receive the blessings of a long, healthy, and prosperous life. On the other hand, we might also expect those who are cruel, mean-spirited, and immoral to be repaid in kind. But that is not always the case. Instead, the honorable sometimes perish while the wicked appear to prosper.
This was a reality that Solomon, the human author of the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes found senseless, (CEV), useless (GNB), and pointless (GW). Yet Solomon was not the only Biblical author to make this observation…
“… I almost stumbled and fell, because it made me jealous to see proud and evil people and to watch them prosper. They never have to suffer, they stay healthy, and they don’t have troubles like everyone else…Yet all goes well for them, and they live in peace. What good did it do me to keep my thoughts pure and refuse to do wrong?” (Psalm 73:2-5, 12-13 CEV).
Like Solomon, the Psalmist also struggled with this seeming contradiction- until he had a change of perspective…
“It was hard for me to understand all this! Then I went to your temple, and there I understood what will happen to my enemies. You will make them stumble, never to get up again. They will be terrified, suddenly swept away and no longer there. They will disappear, Lord, despised like a bad dream the morning after” (Psalm 73:16-20 CEV).
As the Psalmist began to seek the answer to this question from God’s perspective, the truth became evident. From our vantage point, it may seem as if some will never have to answer for their deeds but as we’re reminded in the New Testament book of Romans, “…each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12).
“The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden” (1 Timothy 5:24-25 ESV).
“Here Paul is reminding Timothy that some people hide their sins well. He is encouraging him to remember that such people will eventually be exposed. This principle is demonstrated virtually every time a well-respected pastor or church leader is revealed to have betrayed the trust of his congregation by engaging in some long term sinful practice.”
Unfortunately, the paragraph above was written by someone who later resigned from a church leadership position for secretly engaging in an adulterous affair. (1) Like many other fallible human beings, this person knew what was right but struggled to act upon that knowledge. So how can we identify and avoid a similar situation?
Well, one subtle pitfall to avoid involves the mental process of compartmentalization. This describes the act of isolating our actions, feelings, or responsibilities into separate behavioral “compartments.” While this may represent a good time-management strategy, a problem develops when we attempt to separate incompatible values or activities from one another. A person who isolates and compartmentalizes his or her relationship with Christ will find it easier to indulge in sinful behaviors. He or she will also find it easier to justify thoughts and acts that are incompatible with Jesus’ teachings.
Another danger involves rationalization. “Rationalization” can be defined as “a way of describing, interpreting, or explaining something (such as bad behavior) that makes it seem proper, more attractive, etc.” (2) In a spiritual sense, this takes place whenever we seek to exempt ourselves for engaging in a Biblically inappropriate behavior.
While these terms are relatively new, they actually describe old behaviors that are packaged in a different way. Consider the following observation from the Old Testament book of Proverbs…
“This is the way of a woman who commits adultery: She eats, wipes her mouth, and says, ‘I haven’t done anything wrong!’” (Proverbs 30:20 GW).
Another translation of that passage says, “An unfaithful wife says, ‘Sleeping with another man is as natural as eating’” (CEV). In this rendering, “doing what comes naturally” serves as the justification or rationalization that permits one to engage in an adulterous affair.
It’s important to recognize that God sees through our efforts to excuse such things. These psychological rationales (and others like them) will eventually crumble for “we must all stand before Christ to be judged and have our lives laid bare—before him. Each of us will receive whatever he deserves for the good or bad things he has done in his earthly body” (2 Corinthians 5:10 TLB).
(1) This quote has been altered slightly to protect those who were victimized and hurt by this incident.
(2) “Rationalization.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rationalization. Accessed 1 Mar. 2021.
“Some people’s sins are obvious, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others surface later. Likewise, good works are obvious, and those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden” (1 Timothy 5:24-25 HCSB)
The Biblical book of Revelation contains two chapters that consist entirely of messages from Jesus to seven churches that were active during the New Testament era. However, that portion of Scripture is more than just a series of personal letters; it also contains many important truths for those who are willing to examine them closely.
The ancient church of Ephesus was the first church to receive such a letter. Following a brief introduction, Jesus began His message with a simple but important statement: “I know all the things you do…” (Revelation 2:3 NLT). Although this letter was addressed to a church that existed centuries ago, we can also say that this statement is applicable to everyone. In other words, Jesus can say, “I know all the things you do” to every human being who has ever lived.
This may represent a troubling or comforting thought depending on the individual. For instance, those who seek to hide their misconduct or believe they can escape the consequences of their actions should be especially concerned by this message. The reality is that Jesus has seen every secret thought, every hidden motive, and everything we’ve ever done- and He alone can say, “I know all the things you do.“
On the other hand, let’s consider a scenario where someone chose to follow a God-honoring path in the midst of pressure to conform to a different course of action. Or perhaps there was a time when that person made a Biblically appropriate choice even though no one seemed to notice or care. In those instances, it’s easy to assume that such choices go undetected and unappreciated by others.
Nevertheless, the passage of Scripture given to us here in 1 Timothy 5:24-25 serves to assure us that Someone is watching and Someone does care. No matter what the situation, Jesus knows all the things we do- and good works that are not obvious cannot remain hidden. In the words of one commentator…
“There are some whose good deeds are plain for all to see, and who have already won the praise and thanks and congratulations of men. There are some whose good deeds have never been noticed, never appreciated, never thanked, never praised, never valued as they ought to have been. They need not feel either disappointed or embittered. God knows the good deed also, and he will repay, for he is never in any man’s debt.” (1)
(1) Barclay, William. “Commentary on 1 Timothy 5:24-25”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible”.
“Remember, the sins of some people are obvious, leading them to certain judgment. But there are others whose sins will not be revealed until later. In the same way, the good deeds of some people are obvious. And the good deeds done in secret will someday come to light” (1 Timothy 5:24-25 NLT).
Perhaps we should not be surprised to learn that there are occasions when the God-honoring deeds of others may not be obvious. For instance, anyone who follows the Biblical accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry will quickly learn that He saved some of His harshest criticisms for those who sought to engage in the external display of spiritual piety. In fact, Jesus even went so far to say, “Everything they do, they do to be noticed by others…” (Matthew 23:5 CEB) in describing the attitude of those individuals.
Therefore, it would seem prudent to err on the side of caution when we are presented with an opportunity to publicize our acts of benevolence. Although we may gain a measure of satisfaction and affirmation from the knowledge that others are aware of our good deeds, the only audience that really matters belongs to God.
Those who seek to deflect attention from their good deeds may also have the following portion of Jesus’ message from the Beatitudes in mind…
“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men.
Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly” (Matthew 6:1-4).
This has led one source to offer the following observation…
“Some obviously seem to be good at once. Others are more retiring and modest, and it is only with the passing of time that their actual goodness becomes known. Even if we cannot see good, there may be some which will come to light later. The lesson to draw from all this is that we should not judge a person on first acquaintance, but rather allow time for true character to show itself.” (1)
(1) William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, pg.2098
“The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not cannot be hidden” (1 Timothy 5:24-25 NIV).
“For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29).
Before we continue into the final chapter of 1 Timothy, we should stop to consider the tragic and heartbreaking situation that occurs when a spiritually gifted person in a church leadership position is discovered to have privately engaged in inappropriate behavior.
When such revelations come to light, it may be difficult to understand how God could have continued to effectively minister through someone who was secretly involved in such activities. While the frailties and inconsistencies of human nature fall outside the parameters of this brief study, the Scriptures do provide us with an explanation that sheds light on this question.
You see, the Apostle Paul makes the following observation in the New Testament book of Romans: “God’s gifts and calling can’t be taken back” (Romans 11:29 CEB). While the immediate context for that passage involves God’s faithfulness towards the nation of Israel, this verse also contains an application for those whom God has called to various leadership positions within the church.
For instance, let’s consider the example of a person who is exercising a God-given gift for Pastoral leadership while privately engaging in an inappropriate relationship. If God were to immediately rescind that spiritual gift in the face of such activity, then it would no longer be a gift. At best, that God-given ability would represent nothing more than a probationary appointment, for a gift that can be revoked by the giver can no longer be defined as a gift.
This helps explain how a person with God’s gift for church leadership can effectively minister from the pulpit even while actively engaging in inappropriate behavior behind the scenes- at least for a while. Now to be clear, God may limit or suspend the ability to exercise that gift in the face of continued or unrepentant or dishonorable behavior. We should also be aware of the Biblical admonitions found in Numbers 32:23 and Galatians 6:7…
“…take note, you have sinned against the LORD; and be sure your sin will find you out.”
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.”
God’s ability to speak through those whose private lives are inconsistent with their public persona is not limited but make no mistake- no one “gets away with it” forever. The consequences always come- it’s only a matter of time.