Wednesday, 31 January 2018
Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear. 1 Timothy 5:20
The words, “Those who are sinning,” are not as obvious as may be realized. Ask first, “Who is Paul speaking about?” Two possibilities arise. He has been speaking of elders since verse 17. Verse 19 then singled out the elders concerning accusations being brought against them. From the immediate context, one might assume that this is obviously speaking of the elders who were found to be properly accused. This is the view of most scholars. It is a fitting view, and holding it is acceptable.
Having said that, Paul may be summing up his thoughts now by including all in the church. Verses 22 (sharing in other people’s sins) and verse 24 (“Some men’s sins”) are speaking in a general sense. Thus, verse 20 could be a transition verse from the specific to the general. This is even more possible because of the verb used, which is in the present tense – “sinning.” This could be speaking of anyone who is actively sinning, such as the offender mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5.
And so, rather than being dogmatic about this, it should probably be considered as a general principle, to be applied to both elders and lay people alike. “Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all.” The sinful actions of the offender are to be brought forth, and they are to be addressed. This speaks of spiritual matters. The church had no authority in the affairs of the government, and so those things which Paul writes of are spiritual matters. Obviously, later in the church age, some governments have mixed state affairs with church affairs, but Paul’s words are directed specifically to spiritual matters. These sins were to be addressed in the open church for all congregants to see for a specific reason. It is so “that the rest also may fear.”
Whatever sin is being addressed – be it the teaching of improper doctrine, inappropriate sexual behavior, stealing, or whatever else arises – the people would see the case being brought out openly. The embarrassment of being addressed in this manner by the offender would then warn the entire church that the same type of formal charge would be brought against the next person who would presume to violate the set standards of guidelines found in Scripture. In this, the people would learn to fear acting inappropriately, and confine themselves to what is sound and proper.
Life application: The words of this verse are instructive, and they are prescriptive. But a problem arises in the modern world which didn’t exist in the past. In many places, there is a church on every street. If someone is accused of doing something illicit in a church, even before an open trial can be held, all they have to do is head down the road to the next church and sit in obscurity there. This doesn’t negate the need of the church to do its job, but it does make it a bit more difficult to follow through with what needs to be done. However, for the person who is willing to stay and receive his rebuke, both the offender and the congregation will ultimately be edified and built up together through the proper conduct which was displayed in accord with God’s word.
Lord God, You have given us the church to fellowship in, and you have given us other believers to share our hearts and our desires with. We thank you for these things, and it is so very encouraging to be able to share in life with those we attend with. Outside of our weekly services, there is the phone, email, or video chats where we can continue in our fellowship. Help us to use these things so that our hearts and minds are used in building one another up, and in staying close to You at the same time. May our every action each day be directed towards You. Amen.