I am notoriously bad at guessing people’s ages. And this is not just for folks who are far distant from my own age. It’s not like I just can’t guess how old children are, or the elderly. Basically, I’m usually a few decades off when it comes to everyone (only a slight exaggeration there). I’m often surprised to find out that someone is significantly older (or younger) than I am… which could make the application of this week’s text hard to work out.
In 1 Timothy 5, the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy on how to treat other people and he separates them out into different age and gender categories: older men are to be treated one way, younger men another, older women and younger women. “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity” (vs. 1). So, the Lord directs me to treat some guys as father figures, and some as brothers, depending on their age. If, however, like me you have a hard time discerning how old someone might be, I don’t really suppose you can ignore this text!
It appears what Paul has in mind runs a lot deeper than simply evaluating someone’s age and treating them accordingly. What he is addressing here is a matter of the heart. How we engage with others is a measure of who we truly are. How we treat others says more about our own character than it says about them. Paul’s words to Timothy do not direct him to treat others as they really deserve, his instruction concerns Timothy’s heart. If Timothy is haughty, self-assured, and proud, his treatment of others will show that inner character, or lack thereof. On the other hand, a Christ-like character will show in how Timothy engages with others.
“Actions speak louder than words.” An old adage, but a true one if ever. But, even more true is the realization that our actions arise from who we are on the inside. Jesus addressed this issue in metaphor. When talking with His disciples regarding being “unclean” before God, Jesus challenges the traditional notion that touching or eating something unclean defiles you in God’s eyes. Instead, Jesus teaches, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth… What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart” (Matthew 15: 11, 18). Jesus could not have been clearer—how we treat others reflects what is genuine in our hearts, either Christlikeness or otherwise.
This week in worship we will look at Paul’s directives on how we are to treat others. Two characteristics will jump out at us—graciousness and humility. And, these traits arise from the heart—and not just any heart or every heart, but a heart that has been transformed by the truth of the Gospel; a redeemed heart that is growing and being trained in godliness will show in our treatment of others—no matter what their age!
In preparation for worship this week, read 1 Timothy 5:1-16.
1. Why would Timothy want to, or need to, “rebuke” someone (vs. 1)? What does this say about the “rightness” of Timothy’s actions?
2. Paul does not spell out for Timothy what it looks like to treat an older man like a father, or a younger woman as a sister. What do you think he has in mind? How does the end phrase, “in all purity,” apply?
3. Paul moves on to talk about widows next. Why do you think he focuses on this particular population?
4. Paul’s initial instruction is to treat them with “honor” (vs. 3). What might that entail, and why would that be the correct action with a widow in particular?
5. Paul is clearly worried about the treatment of widows, both to do justice to them and to encourage faithful discipleship in the body. Where do you see both traits communicated?
6. Verse 8 can be a challenging verse to apply in all situations. Where might it be hard for a family to care for a loved one? How can you be faithful to these commands in your particular situation?