Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, (1 Timothy 5:1)
Timothy had been charged with the task of refuting false teachers and guarding the doctrinal purity of the church in Ephesus. He was relatively young and there were those who would use his lack of experience to discredit him.
Yet, Timothy had a lot going for him. He was a personal friend and ambassador of Paul, and had received a supernatural anointing of some sort through the laying on of the apostle’s hands. Timothy was young, but he was no novice. He had a good reputation long before Paul chose him to help him with his ministry. And from all appearances Timothy’s life was godly.
Still, he had to be careful. There were certain social and interpersonal mistakes that could damage Timothy’s ability to lead. One was the unwise treatment of older men.
In most cultures, age is something to be honored. While it is true the aged are sometimes overlooked, and those in this number who are weak are taken advantage of, for the most part, age still evokes respect.
But this doesn’t mean older men are necessarily more spiritual than younger men, or more likely to be right. In fact, for years I read this verse so quickly I failed to recognize the obvious: Paul is telling Timothy to rebuke older men! He is merely saying he should do it carefully, as a son to a father.
How does a son treat his father? I suppose the answer to this question differs with circumstances. However I must say I have met sons with fathers who possess difficult personality traits, who still find a way to show them proper respect and honor. Under most circumstances, no son wants to publicly humiliate or rebuke his father. This should be a general rule with any older man. Nothing impacts a man more than the belief someone is attacking his reputation, and a public rebuke is the worst approach.
Therefore, when an older man must be rebuked, it must be done in a way that does not intentionally attempt to discredit him. This does not mean there is never a point at which someone’s teaching must be refuted in public. Yet, the older I have become, the more I realize how much value people put on their reputation as they age. After all, if we are young and we make a mistake, we can chalk it up as youth, and we have our whole life to make things right. But when we are old, our life is the sum total of every decision we have made, and we have less time to prove to others we are any different from what we are perceived to be.
In the same way, an older man must not seek to embarrass a younger man in front of others. In fact, Paul tells Timothy to treat younger men as brothers. I think he is talking about a healthy relationship with a brother where we are honest with one another while wanting the best for one another.
As they say, “boys will be boys” and men of any age are going to have disagreements. Egos are going to get involved. If we aren’t careful we will lose sight of the very truths we are trying to preserve. I think this is what Paul wants us to avoid.
Dear God, teach me to treat everyone with respect. In Jesus’ name, Amen.