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1 Timothy 5.20-Unrepentant Pastor Must Be Publicly Rebuked In Order to Deter Sinful Behavior in the Church

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Pastor-Teacher Series: 1 Timothy 5:20-Unrepentant Pastors Must Be Publicly Rebuked In Order to Deter Sinful Behavior in the Church-Lesson # 20

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Wenstrom Bible Ministries

Pastor-Teacher Bill Wenstrom

Tuesday January 17, 2023

Pastor-Teacher Series: 1 Timothy 5:20-Unrepentant Pastors Must Be Publicly Rebuked In Order to Deter Sinful Behavior in the Church

Lesson # 20

1 Timothy 5:20 You must continue to rebuke in the presence of everyone those who continue, as a lifestyle, sinning in order that the rest also will be in a state of fear. (Lecturer’s translation)

In this verse, Paul is employing the figure of “asyndeton,” which emphasizes the importance of this command for the Christian community in Ephesus.

“Those who continue, as a lifestyle, sinning” is the participle form of the verb hamartano (ἁμαρτάνω), which refers to elders who are committing sin and are unrepentant about it and not unrepentant Christians in general, which is indicated by the context.

In 1 Timothy 5:17-25, Paul instructs Timothy as to the proper treatment of elders.

Throughout verses 17-25 Paul is addressing the issue of elders, i.e. overseers who possess the gifts of teaching and leadership.

This is indicated by the fact that in verses 17-18 he speaks with regards to their remuneration, which is based on the teaching of the Old Testament.

Then, in verses 19-21, he is addressing the topic of administering church discipline with sinning pastors who are unrepentant, which is to be impartial.

Verse 22, Paul addresses the issue of ordaining pastors and in verses 24-25, the apostle gives the reason for his statements in verse 22 telling Timothy why he should not be hasty in ordaining men as overseers.

Verse 23 is parenthetical addressing Timothy’s health, who is pastor, and is a digression based upon Paul’s statement at the end of verse 22 for Timothy to keep himself pure.

Thus, his statements in verses 24 and 25 should be considered a part of the same discussion.

Now, in 1 Timothy 5:19, the apostle Paul commands Timothy to continue making it his habit of not receiving an accusation against an elder except however, on the basis of two or three witnesses.

Here in 1 Timothy 5:20, the apostle discusses what to do with those elders who have been found guilty of sin as supported by the two or three witnesses.

So once a particular sinful action on the part of the elder has been substantiated by two or three witnesses, Paul now moves to the next step, namely, how to deal with these elders.

That hamartano (ἁμαρτάνω), “those who continue in sin” is speaking of elders who are unrepentant sinners is indicated by the present tense of the verb, which is a customary present that signals an action that regularly occurs.

Here the customary present tense of the verb describes these elders are “regularly” or “habitually” committing sin.

It is emphasizing that these elders are committing a particular sin as a lifestyle or in other words, it is one that they habitually commit so as to hurt the testimony of the church and the spiritual growth of the pastor and as a result his congregation.

It indicates that this sin is not sporadic or occasional (which every Christian does) but a lifestyle and continues to be committed on a regular basis by the elder.

Thus, they have not repented of this sin meaning they have not stopped committing this sin on a habitual basis.

They would be repentant and consequently in fellowship with God if they had stopped committing this particular sin on a habitual basis.

“You must continue to rebuke in the presence of everyone” teaches that unrepentant elders must be publicly rebuked before the entire Christian community in Ephesus.

This is indicated by the following hina purpose clause “in order that the rest also will be in a state of fear” that implies severity and teaches that the action of this verb elencho (ἐλέγχω), “rebuke” results in the congregation fearing church discipline or being publicly rebuked by the entire church.

This purpose clause indicates that this rebuke is public and is speaking of the third stage of administering church discipline which is taught by the Lord in Matthew 18:15-17.

Again the purpose of the rebuke is to get the sinning elder to admit his guilt and repent of the sin or abandon his sinful lifestyle whatever it may be.

“You must continue to rebuke in the presence of everyone” teaches also a general precept of administering church discipline with respect to unrepentant elders.

The fact that Paul addresses this issue of disciplining unrepentant sinning elders implies that there was a problem in the Christian community in Ephesus with elders.

Undoubtedly, this was the direct result of the apostasy of many pastors in Ephesus, which Paul discusses in 1 Timothy chapter one.

Of course, there were elders who were not in apostasy but there were some that were otherwise Paul would not have addressed this issue in the first place.

Paul is simply communicating a general precept of the Word of God and the Lord and the apostles’ teaching without reference to whether there was a violation of this command or not.

Paul’s statements in 1 Timothy 1:3 and 4:6 imply that Timothy was carrying out everything he wrote in this epistle including this command in 1 Timothy 5:20, which is addressed to Timothy as indicated by the second person singular form of the verb elencho.

Furthermore, Paul would not have delegated Timothy such a difficult task as the one in Ephesus unless he felt confident that his young delegate could carry out everything he required of him.

Therefore, this command is simply a reminder to Timothy to continue doing what Paul told him to do before he left for Macedonia.

“In order that the rest also will be in a state of fear” is a purpose clause that emphasizes that presents Paul’s purpose for Timothy obeying his previous command to continue rebuking those elders, who continue as a lifestyle sinning.

It also teaches that the public rebuke of the unrepentant elder is not only for the guilty party but also for the entire Christian community.

“The rest” is the adjective loipos (λοιπός), which is referring to the Ephesian Christian community as a corporate but in contrast to the unrepentant elder who is being disciplined by the church for a sinful lifestyle.

“Fear” is the noun phobos (φόβος), which speaks of fear of being discipline publicly by the entire church for a sinful lifestyle.

Paul is teaching that the administration of church discipline with regards to an elder who refuses to admit his guilt and repent of his sinful lifestyle by rebuking him publicly before the entire church will serve as a deterrent to sinful behavior and lifestyles among the individual members of the Christian community.

Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 5:19-20 indicates that he is following the procedure to administer church discipline as taught by the Lord in Matthew 18:15-17.

The Lord teaches in this passage that church discipline begins with a private confrontation.

The believer who is habitually sinning or possesses a sinful lifestyle must first be confronted privately as taught by the Lord in Matthew 18:15.

Also, these sinning elders have been confronted by two or three witnesses as also taught by the Lord in Matthew 18:16.

The third stage of church discipline as taught by the Lord in Matthew 18:17 would require that the entire church rebuke the sinning elder and the last stage would involve him being removed from the fellowship of the church by the entire church.

The third stage is being referred to here in 1 Timothy 5:20.

The fourth stage is not mentioned by Paul since he just says to publicly rebuke the unrepentant elder and does not say to remove them and thus he is leaving room open for repentance for some of the apostate elders in Ephesus.

If the sinning elder does not repent from the rebuke of the entire church then he is to be removed from the fellowship of the church as taught by the Lord in Matthew 18:17.

That Paul is following the Lord’s teaching in Matthew 18:15-17, is indicated by the fact that in 1 Timothy 5:19 he mentions two or three witnesses being used to establish guilt, which corresponds to Matthew 18:16.

Then, in 1 Timothy 5:20, he speaks of publicly rebuking the guilty party, which corresponds to Matthew 18:17.

This indicates that Paul is not instituting a special way of disciplining pastors, i.e. elders.

If these elders repent, they should be allowed back in the fellowship of the church as taught by the Lord in Matthew 18:15-17.

Therefore, there are not two sets of rules with regards to church discipline meaning that the same rules that are used to deal with sinful behavior among individual Christians are to be used with respect to elders.

The same discipline of removing an unrepentant sinner from the congregation should be applied to unrepentant pastors.

The same grace that is to be demonstrated to repentant Christians after they have been confronted with regards to their sin is to be exercised towards repentant pastors.

If the church does not forgive and show grace to repentant pastors, is this not hypocrisy and sin itself and a poor testimony before the unsaved as well as a failure to exercise God’s love?

Paul’s teaching is not only within the framework of our Lord’s teaching in Matthew 18:15-17 but also within the framework of Deuteronomy 19:15-21.

This passage teaches that the punishment inflicted upon the guilty party is to cause the rest of the Israelite congregation to fear of receiving the same kind of punishment if they become involved in sin.

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