Jump Start # 2447
1 Timothy 5:20 “Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning.”
Our verse today surrounds the difficult topic of dealing with elders who have sinned and will not repent. The role of the elder, in our culture today, is often viewed as a life long appointment, like the Supreme Court. And, as difficult as it is to appoint qualified men to the work of shepherding, it’s even more difficult to deal with those who no longer function as they should. Let’s be honest, because of age, some simply can not keep up with the energy that it takes to lead sheep. Failing health and other factors ought to lead an honest man to the conclusion that it’s time to let someone else do this work. But sadly, many plan to remain in that position until the funeral director is called to carry them out. And, more sadly, the church often suffers.
The role of elder is not untouchable. They are accountable, first to God and then to the church that they serve. The verse before ours today, tells the preacher Timothy not to receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of several witnesses. In other words, don’t allow people to take cheap shots at the eldership, nor to accuse based upon speculation, opinions or without facts. The elders are not perfect as we are not perfect. But the flow into our verse today gives us the impression that an elder has done wrong. Sin has taken place and people know about it. Charges or accusation with proof of witnesses is presented. Does this lead to an automatic stepping down of the elder? No. He repents, he stops the wrong, forgiveness and grace abound, and trust can be restored. However, when one doesn’t repent, this is where our verse is found. He has been accused, with witnesses and proof and yet he continues his sinful ways, then he is to be rebuked before all. This may be the step of discipline that leads to withdrawing fellowship from him. He cannot remain as a leader when his example is not right.
It is the end of our verse today that I want to look at. After a public rebuking of a sinful elder, the rest are fearful of sinning. Who are the “rest?” The rest of the elders? The rest of the church? Both? It shows that no one is above the law of God. It shows that God always comes first. It shows a seriousness to the purity of the kingdom and God’s work.
Now, two observations from this.
First, the rebuking of a sinful elder is never heard of in our times. It may be because of the deep dedication so many have for the Lord. It doesn’t have to get to this step because these godly men are aware of their failures and are seeking the mercy of God. They are honest within and trying their best on the outside. But we know, in some places, this isn’t the case. Men have viewed the eldership as a position of power and authority and now see themselves as above everyone else and untouchable. Corruption has replaced goodness and they abuse their authority by running the sheep in fear of them. No one dare says a thing about the elders publically because they know the harsh hand of dominance will come crashing down upon them. The sheep are scared. They suffer. They are not healthy. No one suggests an idea. No one dares to cross the elders. And the long history of preachers that have moved in and soon moved out illustrates that no one challenges these men. In a twisted fashion, brethren hope for a car wreck or a heart attack so the eldership would dissolve and better days could be on the horizon. Who will step up with an accusation or as a witness when they are afraid of what will happen to them? So, corrupt elders are allowed to continue their abuse of the brethren. It shouldn’t be this way.
Second, as our verse ends, “the rest also may be fearful of sinning,” is a grand thought. That too just doesn’t happen much today. This is part of the problem today. People are not afraid to sin. They like sin. They enjoy sin. They brag about sin. They feel no remorse about their sin. They do not feel the need to repent of their sin. And, there is no fear of sinning running through their veins.
What is there to be afraid of? Obviously, the judgment of God. The works of the flesh in Galatians five, ends by saying those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Sin disappoints God and it ought to make us feel bad. Second, there ought to be a fear of punishment from God’s people. This is the context in which this is expression is made. If unrepentant elders are exposed publically, what will the church do to me if I do not repent of my sins? If elders can’t get away with wrong, why should I think that I can? The church longs to honor Christ and be pure. Cleaning house is often necessary. There ought to be a fear of sinning within us. If the elders are publically rebuked, what would happen to me? My reputation? My salvation? My fellowship? My family?
Sin is serious business. It shouldn’t be taken lightly, laughed at or brushed off as no big deal. It is a big deal. It is so big that One from Heaven had to come here and die to cleanse us. Continuing in sin shows how lightly I think of the sacrifice of Jesus and how little I think of God’s holy word.
We should want all of us to do our best. We need to be there to encourage right and discourage wrong. We need to stand upon the platform of God’s holy word. No one gets to bend the rules, ignore the rules or make their own rules. We all must submit to the will of God.
Rebuke an elder before all…rebuke you and I before all. Sin, like a cancer, must be removed from our hearts and our minds. We must walk with the Lord.
Tough words, but necessary for the purity and the unity of God’s people.