Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers,
2 the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity.
(1 Tim. 5:1-2 NAS)
Aimee Byrd recently wrote an excellent article on the relationships between men and women. She rightly critiques the multiplying of rules that make interacting with the opposite sex so complicated. (I will take a moment here to plug her new book, which I have not yet read. I am greatly looking forward to it. It is called “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”). Aimee has done some excellent work, calling for a renewal of simple friendships between brothers and sisters in Christ. Anyway, her latest post has caused some discussion on the web. Some edifying, some not so much.
So I started thinking, naturally, about 1 Timothy 5:1-2, particularly where Paul commands Timothy to think of younger women as sisters and older women as mothers. This verse has always puzzled me, maybe it is because I never had any sisters. But I also know that there is much abuse that takes place between siblings. What does one tell a woman or a man who was abused by a brother or a sister? Did Paul mean here that we are to treat our sisters in Christ as a good brother would treat his sister?
Perhaps. Of course, a healthy sibling relationship can be a tremendous blessing to all. If it happens that way, then that would be wonderful to emulate in the church.
But when Paul wrote to Timothy, it was not at all a given that brothers and sisters were living together in chastity and purity. Caligula was emperor, and we all know what that did to the reputation of purity among siblings.
I’ve been thinking about it and thinking about Heidelberg Catechism question and answer # 1.
“What is thy only comfort in life and in death? That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful savior Jesus Christ…”
Natalie Hoffman writes,
Her body belongs to Jesus, not her abuser. And by the way, not only does YOUR life and body belong to Jesus, but your spouse’s life and body belong to Jesus as well. So if you’re not treating your spouse’s life and body with loving honor, then you’re missing the point of grace.
And that got me thinking. I think that Paul’s point to Timothy is deeper than simply a reference to a sibling group. The reason that we as believers are one family is that we are all members of Christ, of his flesh and of his bone (Ephesians 5:32).
This union with Christ is so unbreakable and so close that Jesus considers mistreatment of one of his children the same as mistreatment of himself. Consider what he said to Saul of Tarsus:
Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? (Acts 9:4 KJV)
Likewise, to the sheep and the goats
Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matt. 25:40 KJV)
Think about what that means. Christ considers what is done to his members as being done to his own person. Why are you persecuting ME, not others, but me? When Paul applies it to Timothy, he means that when he is speaking to a young woman who is a believer, he better remember that she is a sister – a member of Christ, a prophet, priest and king. A firstborn son. A daughter of a king.
And he better remember this. Whatever he says to her, whatever he does to her, whatever he coerces from her, Jesus will consider it as done to his own person on the day of judgment. Because that is precisely what it is. On the other hand, the respect and honor, kindness, gentleness, patience and love we show are considered as shown unto Jesus himself. “Be careful to entertain strangers, for some have entertained angels unawares.”
And even greater, in the body of Christ, you are serving Christ himself with every cup of water given, every meal served, every person clothed.
On the other hand, every harsh word, every act of contempt and hatred, every intimidation and power-play over one of Jesus sheep, He takes it very, very personally.
He does not take kindly to the abuse, ridicule, insults, contempt and hatred of the members of his body – of his flesh and of his blood.
Here is what we all must keep in mind. the young woman in the congregation, the older woman in the congregation, the young man and the old man – they aren’t objects to be used and controlled according to the pleasures and whims of the pastor, but they are dearly loved members of the body of Christ. Whatever is done to them is done to Christ.
Remember that, and you won’t need any “Billy Graham rule”. Love will flow from the heart, if, of course, you belong to Christ.
Take courage, you who have been mistreated and abused and assaulted in the name of Jesus, your Lord is coming again. He grieves with you and he hates what was done to you. He will come with recompense and vengeance.
He truly will. For by faith you are members of his body and are greatly loved by the Creator and Maker of the universe.
3 responses to “Brothers and Sisters”
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There’s a huge qualifier at the end of the verse that helps to explain further how “brothers and sisters” should play out: “with all purity”.
In other words, treat the younger women as sisters, but do so in a pure way. Obviously, don’t sexually abuse or harass them, but also don’t use the “you’re my sister” line as an excuse to behave inappropriately toward them. For example, I greet my sisters with hugs, but it’s not necessarily an appropriate way to greet my sisters in Christ. (Depending on the relationship and situation, I think that a hug is fine, but discretion is very important.)
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