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13. The Ministry of Correction (1 Timothy 5:1-2)

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Do not address an older man harshly but appeal to him as a father. Speak to younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters—with complete purity.

1 Timothy 5:1-2

How should believers practice the ministry of correction?

Timothy was serving at the church in Ephesus. False teachers were attacking the church and some of them were possibly elders (cf. Acts 20:29-30). Some women were seeking to usurp the leadership positions in the church (1 Tim 2:9-15). We’ll see shortly that some of the widows were gossiping and living impure lives (1 Tim 5:6-7, 11-13). Some members had even fallen away from the faith (1 Tim 1:19, 4:1).

Timothy had a timid disposition. It wasn’t natural for him to confront sin in the local church. And it’s the same for us. Many of us would rather just not say anything when others are in sin or are falling away from God. However, Scripture commands us to practice the ministry of correction. Paul said this in 1 Corinthians 5, when a man was having sex with his father’s wife:

It is actually reported that sexual immorality exists among you, the kind of immorality that is not permitted even among the Gentiles, so that someone is cohabiting with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you have been deeply sorrowful instead and removed the one who did this from among you?... Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast affects the whole batch of dough?

1 Corinthians 5:1-2, 6

The members of the Corinthian congregation were actually boasting in their liberality—no doubt, declaring God’s love and acceptance of all types of sin. However, Paul rebukes them and challenges them to correct the erring member.

Sin must be addressed because it is like leaven in bread—it tends to spread. For that reason, each member of the church, not just elders, is called to practice the ministry of correction. James 5:19-20 says,

My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone turns him back, he should know that the one who turns a sinner back from his wandering path will save that person’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

When James says, “save that person’s soul from death,” he could be referring to death as a discipline from God for true believers (cf. 1 Cor 11:30-32) or he could be referring to eternal death (Matt 7:21-23)—that this professed believer living in sin might not be saved. This was one of the themes of the letter of James—many in the church had a false demonic faith (James 1:22, 2:19-20).

This is not just important for our ministry to others, but also as a protection for ourselves. The reality is that we all tend to wander from the truth. Isaiah said, “All of us had wandered off like sheep; each of us had strayed off on his own path” (Is 53:6). Because of our sheep-like nature, we need other members to lovingly turn us back to God. When they do this, they deliver us from God’s discipline and judgment.

How can we practice the ministry of correction? In 1 Timothy 5:1-2, Paul instructs Timothy on how to perform this crucial ministry which was much needed in Ephesus. As we consider the ministry of correction, we will look at hindrances to this ministry, preparations for it, and then how to perform it.

Big Question: What can we learn about the ministry of correction from 1 Timothy 5:1-2?

Hindrances to the Ministry of Correction

Application Question: What are some common hindrances to performing the ministry of correction?1

1. Often the ministry of correction is neglected out of fear.

How will they respond? Will they reject me? Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of people becomes a snare.” Fear often keeps people from doing God’s will and that’s certainly true when it comes to correction.

2. Often the ministry of correction is neglected because of laziness.

It takes work to meet with somebody and challenge them about some sin. However, it must be done.

3. Often the ministry of correction is neglected because of a misunderstanding of Matthew 7:1.

One of the most popular verses in Scripture is Matthew 7:1: “‘Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” This is often used by believers and unbelievers alike to say that we should never judge others. However, that is not what the verse is saying. It forbids hypocritical judging—neglecting our own sin and condemning others. Matthew 7:5 commands us to take the plank out of our own eye so we can see clearly to take the speck out of others. We must correct; however, it must not be done in a hypocritical manner.

4. Often the ministry of correction is neglected because of relativism.

Relativism is the view that there are no absolutes—no right or wrong. It’s the view that says, “What is right for me is right for me and what’s right for you is right for you.” For example, one might say, “For me, living with my girlfriend before marriage is wrong, but who am I to judge somebody else.” Many Christians think like this and therefore would never correct another believer living in sin.

Application Question: What hinders you from lovingly correcting others in sin? How do you overcome your hindrances or how can you start overcoming them?

Preparations for the Ministry of Correction

Application Question: What are some necessary preparations before seeking to correct someone?

Here are some things we must do before we begin correction:

1. Before beginning the ministry of correction, we must confess all known sin.

In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus uses the illustration of a person with a plank in his eye trying to remove a speck from another’s eye. Would you allow a doctor with a large obstacle in his eye to perform eye surgery on you? Why not? It’s because he couldn’t see correctly and therefore would harm you.

This often happens in the church. Sin blurs our ability to see. When there is unconfessed sin in our life, we will make mole hills into mountains and mountains into mole hills.

We saw this when sin entered the world in Genesis 3. Adam essentially blamed God for his sin, “The woman YOU gave me, gave the fruit to me, and I did eat.” He blamed the woman and God—someone who is perfect and holy. Certainly, people commonly get angry at God and blame him for many things.

Another example of this is in the story of David and Nathan (2 Sam 12). David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and killed her husband. Nathan approaches David and tells him a story about a master who owned many sheep. This master had a servant who only owned one but loved this lamb dearly. The lamb would drink from his cup, eat his food, and sleep in his arms. However, one day the master had guests and instead of killing one of his many sheep, he killed his servant’s lamb for dinner. After hearing this, David said, “This man shall surely die!” And then Nathan replied, “You are the man!”

David had unconfessed sin in his life and therefore was ready to murder a man who only killed a lamb, when he killed somebody’s husband. David couldn’t see properly because of his own sin and, therefore, misjudged the master’s sin. That happens often with us. It is the cause of much strife and discord in our lives. When we are not continually confessing and repenting of our sins, it spiritually blinds us. Therefore, if we try to correct others without first correcting ourselves, we will often misevaluate and hurt them. We’ll hurt them either by not handling the sin as severely as it should be handled or by being too severe.

Are you confessing and repenting of any known sin?

2. Before beginning the ministry of correction, we must make sure that we know the facts.

Proverbs 18:17 says, “The first to state his case seems right, until his opponent begins to cross-examine him.” Often when hearing one side of the story, we get upset and come to a quick judgment. However, a wise person hears both sides and gets all the facts before making a judgment.

Matthew 18:15 says, “‘If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother.” It says if someone sins, we should go to him or her one on one first. In doing this, every word can be confirmed. Before beginning the ministry of correction, we should ask questions and get the facts. Understanding not only what happened but also the intent behind the actions affects how we minister to an erring person. This is very important in the ministry of correction.

3. Before beginning the ministry of correction, we must gain wisdom to perform this ministry.

Certainly, we gain this wisdom through prayer. James 1:5 says, “If anyone lacks wisdom let him ask of God who gives liberally” (paraphrase). We should pray for God to give us wisdom on how to minister to an erring person. However, we should also ask others for wisdom. Many times, God provides his wisdom through the insight of others, especially those who are wiser and more spiritually mature than us. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Plans fail when there is no counsel, but with abundant advisers they are established.” Sometimes this counsel may include answering the question, “Who would be best to approach the person who is in sin?” The person with the closest relationship might be most effective in ministering to them. If we are going to perform the ministry of correction, we must gain wisdom from God, which often comes through prayer and the counsel of others.

Application Question: How have you seen or experienced the ministry of correction being performed incorrectly for lack of proper preparation?

Performing the Ministry of Correction

In Performing the Ministry of Correction, We Must Not Rebuke Others Harshly

Do not address an older man harshly but appeal to him as a father.

1 Timothy 5:1

Paul begins his instruction to Timothy on how to correct the members of the church with a prohibition: He should never harshly address someone in the church. This seems to not only apply to older men but also to everyone else. The word used for “address” is unusual. It only appears here in the New Testament.2 It is a strong term that means a “harsh, sharp, or violent rebuke.”

Why should believers never harshly rebuke others? No doubt, the manner of the rebuke will push some away. Ephesians 4:15 says for us to speak the truth in love. Our manner of speaking is just as important as the words we say.

Interpretation Question: Does Paul mean that Christians should never rebuke someone in sin?

Now this does not mean that Christians should never rebuke others. The word “rebuke” simply means to point out wrong either in conduct or thought. Christians are clearly called to do this, particularly through using the Word of God. Consider the following the verses:

Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof [rebuke], for correction, and for training in righteousness

2 Timothy 3:16

So communicate these things with the sort of exhortation or rebuke that carries full authority. Don’t let anyone look down on you.

Titus 2:15

Those guilty of sin must be rebuked before all, as a warning to the rest.

1 Timothy 5:20

When correcting someone in sin, it must not be done in a harsh manner.

Application Question: Why should believers never rebuke others harshly? How have you seen rebuke abused in relationships either in the church or elsewhere?

In Performing the Ministry of Correction, We Must Correct in an Encouraging Manner

Do not address an older man harshly but appeal to him as a father.

1 Timothy 5:1

As we have considered how to not perform this ministry, we must ask, “Then, how should we rebuke others who are in sin?” Paul said we must “appeal,” or it can be translated “exhort.” This word comes from “parakaleo” in the Greek. It means to encourage, admonish, entreat, appeal, or even strengthen. “It has the idea of coming alongside to hold up one who is weak. The related word parakletos is a title of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 14:16, 26, 15:26; 16:7).” 3

As the Holy Spirit comes alongside us to strengthen and encourage us to be holy, we must do the same with others. No doubt, this is part of Christ’s intention in Matthew 18:15-17—the church discipline passage. He said,

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you, so that at the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector.

In Matthew 18, when one person approaches someone in sin, then with two or three, and finally with the church, these are appeals to repent and be holy. These meetings are not meant to be a form of condemnation but a means of strengthening the brother or sister so they can turn from sin. It is not until the final step, when the sinning person fails to respond to the church, are they to be removed from the congregation. The whole process is an offer of support and help until it is ultimately rejected. It is only then that they are disciplined.

When ministering to those in sin, we are called to appeal, encourage, and strengthen them. Similarly, Galatians 6:1 says, “Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness...” We should restore the person gently—not in a harsh manner.

Application Question: How can we correct a person gently in an encouraging manner?

1. When correcting someone, we must use a gentle conversational tone.

Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle response turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” If we raise our voice or get agitated, we may provoke them to unnecessary anger and keep them from responding to God. Tone matters.

2. When correcting someone, we must be patient.

Proverbs 25:15 says, “Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a soft tongue can break a bone.” With many sins, it is a process to be set free, and we need to patiently walk with people through the process. In fact, even the process Christ gives for church discipline requires patience: again, we minister alone, then with two or three, and then with the church. Through patience with prayer and Scripture, God often changes hearts and sets people free.

Application Question: Why is encouraging, strengthening, and coming along side someone struggling with sin important in the correction process? Why is a gentle tone and patience so important? How have you experienced the effectiveness of this type of ministry?

In Performing the Ministry of Correction, We Must Use Familial Respect and Affection

Do not address an older man harshly but appeal to him as a father. Speak to younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters—with complete purity.

1 Timothy 5:1-2

Timothy was pastoring a multi-gender, multi-age, and multi-ethnic church, which presented various inherent difficulties. Some pastors tend to neglect the older crowd and focus on the young. While others focus on the old and neglect the youth. Because the church is a family, we must minister to everybody and yet recognize distinctions among the family—especially that of age and sex.

Observation Question: How should we correct those who are older or younger in age?

1. When correcting older members, we must show a special respect.

Respect for the elderly was engrained into Jewish theology. Leviticus 19:32 says, “‘You must stand up in the presence of the aged, honor the presence of an elder, and fear your God. I am the Lord.” Proverbs 16:31 says, “Gray hair is like a crown of glory; it is attained in the path of righteousness.”

In the same way, we must demonstrate a special honor and respect when ministering to those older than us. We must exhort them in the same manner we would our father or mother. They must be corrected when in sin, but it must be done in a manner that honors their age.

2. When correcting younger church members, we must respect them as brothers or sisters in the Lord.

Paul says to treat the younger men as brothers and the younger women as sisters. One might think that Paul would say “treat them as younger brothers or younger sisters” but he doesn’t do that. The older members are not supposed to treat the young in the church with an air of superiority. They should demonstrate brotherly or sisterly affection towards them. This is very similar to Peter’s words to the elders in 1 Peter 5:3, when he said, they should not “lord” over those entrusted to them.

Obviously, this can be very difficult for those from a hierarchal culture; however, it is the door to an effective ministry with the young. It is a very incarnational ministry. In the same way that Christ humbled himself and became a man to save humans, the aged, though deserving of respect, must humble themselves as they correct and minister to the young in the church.

This humility and brotherly affection from the aged often opens the door for a more influential ministry to the young; whereas those who demand their respect, often push the young away.

Application Question: How is this teaching counter-cultural—treating older members as parents and younger members as brothers and sisters? Why is this an effective ministry model, especially when correcting someone?

In Performing the Ministry of Correction, We Must Guard Ourselves from Temptation, Especially with the Opposite Sex

Do not address an older man harshly but appeal to him as a father. Speak to younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters—with complete purity.

1 Timothy 5:1-2

Finally, Paul adds that Timothy should treat the women with absolute purity. Sexual misconduct is probably the most common reason for pastors to fall out of ministry—not keeping wise boundaries with the opposite sex. However, in the ministry of correction, one must not just protect themselves from sexual temptation but from temptation in general. Consider the following verses:

Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too.

Galatians 6:1

And have mercy on those who waver; save others by snatching them out of the fire; have mercy on others, coupled with a fear of God, hating even the clothes stained by the flesh.

Jude 1:22-23

When ministering to someone caught in sin, it often exposes us to the same temptation. The one seeking to restore a person caught in false doctrine is exposed to the same error. The one seeking to restore a person caught in sexual sin is exposed to the same spirit of lust. Paul said that we must “watch” ourselves. Jude says that we must seek to save them with a disposition of mercy for the person, hate for sin, and fear that we could stumble ourselves.

To minister to those caught in sin with a spirit of fear is wise, for we are all vulnerable of falling. Sadly, many try to perform the ministry of correction without a humble spirit of fear and fall into sin themselves. First Corinthians 10:12 says, “So let the one who thinks he is standing be careful that he does not fall.”

When performing the ministry of correction, we must be careful of temptation, especially with the opposite sex. We must minister with hate for the sin, mercy for the person, and fear from falling into sin.

Application Question: How can a person guard himself or herself from temptation when ministering specifically to the opposite sex? When performing the ministry of correction, how can people guard themselves generally from temptation?

Conclusion

How can we perform the ministry of correction?

  1. In Performing the Ministry of Correction, We Must Not Rebuke Others Harshly
  2. In Performing the Ministry of Correction, We Must Correct in an Encouraging Manner
  3. In Performing the Ministry of Correction, We Must Use Familial Respect and Affection
  4. In Performing the Ministry of Correction, We Must Guard Ourselves from Temptation, Especially with the Opposite Sex

1 The subheadings in this section are adapted from Steve Cole’s sermon The Ministry of Correction (1 Tim 5:1-2), accessed on 5/20/16, from https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-15-ministry-correction-1-timothy-51-2

2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 184). Chicago: Moody Press.

3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 184). Chicago: Moody Press.

Related Topics: Church Discipline

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