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The Principle of Rebuke

For the Sake of the Church  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Rebuke is necessary and must be balanced with honor

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1 Timothy 5 NASB95
Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity. Honor widows who are widows indeed; but if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God. Now she who is a widow indeed and who has been left alone, has fixed her hope on God and continues in entreaties and prayers night and day. But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives. Prescribe these things as well, so that they may be above reproach. 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. A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man, having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work. But refuse to put younger widows on the list, for when they feel sensual desires in disregard of Christ, they want to get married, thus incurring condemnation, because they have set aside their previous pledge. At the same time they also learn to be idle, as they go around from house to house; and not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention. Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach; for some have already turned aside to follow Satan. If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed. The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning. I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality. Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin. No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments. The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after. Likewise also, deeds that are good are quite evident, and those which are otherwise cannot be concealed.
Intro: Today, we continue our series “For the Sake of the Church”. Last week, we began to look at some practical points of serving Christ well. And this whole letter (1 Timothy) was written largely in response to the false teachings that were floating around Ephesus. People were being deceived and the church was battling to uphold the truth of the Gospel. In order to do this, false teachings had to be corrected, sin had to be addressed, and lives had to be confronted with the truth. The word we see used is translated, “rebuke” which means to correct.
Rebuke is a necessary part of life and growth- especially for Christians. Why? Because we are striving after godliness. We cannot grow in godliness without rebuke/ correction.
Can you imagine if people never corrected their children? They would behave however they felt like without regard for how it impacted others. These kids would grow up thinking that they were the center of the universe. I can picture them as adults pitching giant tantrums in the public square, demanding that the rest of the world change to affirm their flawed beliefs. They would result to violence and destruction of property, justifying their actions because they have never been confronted with a truth that conflicts with their desires. (I feel like some of you can picture how this might look…)
Rebuke is necessary. But, there are right and wrong ways to go about it.
We can err in rebuke by being too passive. You know- you beat around the bush so much that you really don’t end up saying anything at all! This usually flows out of our desire not to hurt feelings. We emphasize grace yet, we must remember that as the church, we are to uphold truth.
We can also err by being overly abrasive or harsh. This is where you attack like a shark- just biting people’s heads off. (Stop poking each other) We look to uphold truth and forget to love the person while we are at it. We wind up wounding people and neglecting the grace of Jesus all together.
Plus, rebuke can be difficult. Think about Timothy here: He is a young pastor and is charged with correcting people of all ages and categories. He must rebuke older men and women and younger ones too. He must rebuke those who are powerful influences in the community and those who give the most to the church. He must rebuke those who have suffered great loss along with those who are new to the faith. This is no easy task.
So, here in chapter 5, Paul gives us a Principle of Rebuke and then gives some specific examples.

The Principle of Rebuke (1-2)

Let me just read that for you again. (read 1-2)
Bottom Line: Treat others like family.
Discuss: What is the principle of rebuke?
Now, as I say that, I want to clarify: Maybe don’t treat others like you really treat your family… It’s important that we don’t interpret this principle in light of what we know to be normative in 2020 America. Something has been lost in the way we think about family...
But we must think about family in the sense that Paul understood it and be reminded that as a church, we are all in the family of God.
In the 1st century, family was very important.
Fathers & Mothers were respected… that’s the idea behind early church tradition to call those who were influential and instrumental in the church “Fathers and mothers”
So, Timothy was encouraged to rebuke those who were older as if they were his own parents. This means that he does not attack them, but maintains their dignity as he appeals to them. You see, generally, people in the church were not being sinful on purpose. Even when they were wrong, their intent was to be godly. Thus, in order to correct them, it was not necessary to take them to the whipping post, but rather to point them to the truth of God’s Word and explain how they were missing the mark. This requires humility and gentleness, but does not mean that we are not firm in upholding the truth.
Brothers and sisters were appreciated. In fact, many times, they were co-workers in the family business or in the fields. You looked out for one another, protected each other, and oftentimes your best friends were your siblings.
Timothy was encouraged to be pure here. There is likely a temptation to treat some folks better than others or overlook sin in someone’s life because of your relationship. But, as we might recall, love does not rejoice in iniquity (1 Cor. 13:6). Likewise, we might be harder on someone and be tempted to beat them down every time we get the opportunity. This is prideful and wrong. Therefore, we must be consistent and appeal to God’s Word when correcting even those who are younger.
So, when it comes to rebuke, treat one another like family.
Now, with the principle stated, Paul moves to two specific groups of people: Widows and Church Leaders.
This might seem out of place at first glance, but remember that we are talking about Guarding the Gospel. The two biggest areas of concern in false teaching involve these two categories. The widows were often easy targets of false teachers as we discussed in chapter 2. And church leaders, because of their influence, are a most dangerous entry-point for false teaching in the church. And, of course these two groups of people are people who might be difficult to rebuke. So we must understand HOW to approach them.
Paul dedicates a good amount of time and space here in order to help Timothy (and us) as we look to balance rebuke with honor.

What about Widows? (3-16)

We should understand that the church adopted the practice of caring for widows from the Jews. This has been a ministry of God’s people since the days of Moses. We can see the church set apart deacons to ensure widows were taken care of (Acts 6).
So, Paul is not arguing whether or not the church should care for widows. That was already established. And, BTW, this is speaking of financial support. There were no government programs to help these women in this time - no Medicaid or WIC. And we see Paul acknowledge this practice (3) and place some helpful qualifiers on these widows.
This was important because the goal is godliness for the church. Let’s look at how Paul separates widows and then we’ll see how this works.
He calls the widows who should be under the care of the church “widows indeed”. These are women whose husband has died and:
She has no family to care for her (4)
She is godly (5)
At least 60 yrs old (9)
Has a reputation of being kind (10)
These women were to be put under the care of the church to help meet their physical needs. The church honors them by supporting them financially, but also holds them accountable to pursue godliness.
Yet, there were other widows who the church ought not put under their physical care: (This does not mean that these people are unimportant to the church) We, as a church, ought to recognize that we are to walk alongside each other, encouraging, praying for, loving and caring for each other. Spiritual care is for all, But, financial support was withheld from widows who:
had family who could care for her, therefore they must do so (This is a correction for the family as well as they are commanded by God to do this) (4,8)
is ungodly- pursuing lusts and worldly pleasures (7).
One cannot expect the church to support her and she live a life that is in opposition to the life God has called us to.
She is young. Paul encourages these to remarry, have kids, etc. (11-15)
Paul has seen widows who are young and without family who end up becoming busy-bodies, lazy, and fall into false teaching.
She is to strive for godliness and give no opportunity for Satan.
Honor and rebuke is necessary in order for these widows to grow in godliness. In order to protect the church, to Guard the Gospel, it is important that the church does not simply become merely a so-called social justice institution. Instead, every ministry must reflect and uphold the Gospel.
Discuss: What are some challenges in balancing rebuke and honor in widows?
Next, Paul addresses church leaders or elders.

What About Church Leaders? (17-25)

Here again, Paul takes the approach of acknowledging the honor due to church leaders and balances it with necessary rebuke.
Paul says (17) that elders (pastors, church leaders) who lead well are worthy of double honor. This is the same word used when we talked about widows that refers to financial support. (We get the word “honorarium” from this- when we pay someone to preach on a Sunday that I take off)
Yes, elders should be treated with respect and treated well by the church. But they should also be compensated well- especially as he works hard to ensure good faithful preaching and teaching. A pastor should not have to ask to be paid well. He should not have to ask to be fairly compensated. —> Paul is saying what Timothy might not feel comfortable saying… indeed perhaps what any pastor may not feel comfortable saying. But, Paul uses both Old and New Testament Scripture to back up what he is saying (18)
Secondly, Paul acknowledges that pastors will naturally receive a lot of criticism, so when accusations come, the church should seek truth and should not be willing to jump onto claims without cause.
I’ve witnessed a number of pastors who have been dragged through the mud because someone who didn’t get their way or was offended by something the pastor said decided to accuse him falsely. Church, seek truth.
But this is not to say that you should ignore known sin. Look at what Paul says in v. 20.
Here’s the point, pastors are flawed people too. If a pastor continues in sin after being confronted in private, then he is to be brought before the congregation. This is what Jesus taught in Matt. 18.
The temptation in the church is to either run off pastors for any reason or no reason or to ignore sin all together. Paul is pointing us to godliness and thus we must balance honor and rebuke.
This is why elders are chosen based upon their calling and their godliness and not just because of their popularity or who they are related to. This is why Paul urged Timothy to take some wine for his stomach… it’s about the Gospel and refuting false teachings.
Discuss: How can churches show honor to pastors while still holding them accountable?
Let’s land this plane, shall we?
The church is called to godliness- to Guard the Gospel. This means that we must balance honor and rebuke; to encourage and to correct one another.
Paul tells us (24-25) that some cases will be more apparent. Some sins are more evident and some good qualities also. We will not be perfect in our role. But God sees all.
One day, we all will stand before His throne and give account for our deeds- both good and evil. And in that day, we must stand on the Good news of Jesus Christ. We must stand as the church of the Living God, the family of God.
And so, I challenge us today to live in pursuit of godliness, balancing honor and rebuke in order that we might grow in the likeness of Christ our Lord.
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