Question & Answer Forum: Interpersonal Relationships

Did Paul tell Timothy to treat an elderly person as a father would treat a son (1Timothy 5:1)?

As the question implies, this passage deals with an older person, an elder. The word elder sometimes refers to an overseer (see Titus 1:5, 7) and other times to one who is simply older, as in the case of the prodigal’s elder brother (Luk 15:25). The context determines the meaning. In this passage, an elder stands among younger men and women and older women. Clearly, this passage is not dealing with overseers, but with those who are older than Timothy.

In the previous chapter, Paul told Timothy to command and teach (1Ti 4:11) “these things.” Some could discount Timothy’s words because of his youth (v 12), but Paul gives two factors that outweigh Timothy’s youth: Timothy is dealing with “a faithful saying” (v 9) which has the authority of heaven behind it. Second, he was to exemplify in every aspect of his life the truths he taught (v 12b). Now the passage at the beginning of chapter 5 provides a balance. He was not to let his youth hinder his work (4:12), but he was never to forget his responsibility to act consistent with his years.

Within the context, it hardly seems likely that Paul told Timothy to speak as a father would to his son when he addressed older men. To keep the parallelism, Timothy would also have to treat elderly women as though they were daughters and treat younger brothers and sisters as they would treat their elders. He would treat the older as if they were younger and the younger as if they were older. The more likely understanding of the verses is that believers in the assembly are to act in a family-like way toward each other with respect and kindness. Timothy was not to beat (literal meaning: Thayers) older men with his words, but to entreat (encourage, ESV) them as he would a father (5:1). He was to act toward an older woman as though she were his mother, and toward younger men and women as though they were brothers and sisters (v 2).

In the family of God (Eph 2:19), all are brothers and sisters. However, Paul’s admonition to Timothy reminds us that in displaying our family relationships, showing respect and care for more mature believers is appropriate.

D. Oliver

How important is a confession for a person who has offended me?

The question exposes at least two problems in a Christian’s mind. Both the direction and focus of the thinking are inconsistent with the Scriptures.

The Lord taught, “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Mat 7:12 ESV). When he speaks of the way others treat us, the word is “wish.” Demanding how they treat us is not in this (or any other) passage. We suffer their wrongs with a keen sense of how hurtful that is. We wish they would apologize and understand the suffering they have caused. We are not, however, responsible for their behavior. We are responsible for our behavior. The Lord’s command addresses our treatment of others. We learn how hurtful wrong behavior is by suffering it ourselves. We act toward others with a sensitivity we have learned by experience. So the question should be, “How important is a confession for a person I have offended?” I am responsible to confess my faults to those I have injured (Jam 5:16). I cannot demand that they make a confession to me.

But the focus is mistaken in this question. Love doesn’t take account of evil (1Co 13:5 RV). Rather than a believer’s looking for an occasion to exact what others owe him (Mat 18:28), his focus should be on how great a debt God has forgiven him (v 32). In this parable of an unforgiving servant, the degree of the debt (10,000 talents vs 100 denarii: $50 billion [USD] vs $5000, Logos Weights and Measures) is not the only comparison. Owing to the king is much more serious than to a fellow-servant. Wrongs done to God are much more serious than wrongs done to me. Am I in God’s place to stand over a fellow-servant and demand a confession to me? Thinking like a servant (Servant, actually: Phi 2:5), I will demand of myself a hasty, fair, and thorough confession to others for what I have done to offend them, but will make no demands on others who, in my estimate, have offended me.

D. Oliver

If a person doesn’t apologize for wronging me, must I forgive him?

The steps given by the Lord in Matthew 18 (vv 15-17) are not a tool to force others to settle with an offended party or else be punished by the assembly. The objective of the Lord’s teaching is to help us gain (or win back) the offending brother. Also, as some manuscripts show, the reading could be, “If your brother sins, go …” (v 15 NASB). The context seems consistent with this, since the Lord, like a shepherd, is concerned about recovering one who has strayed (vv 12-14). We should therefore want to “gain” a brother whose wrongs have led him away from the Lord. That brother’s will may not yield to the Lord and therefore he will suffer a more serious consequence (v 14). The remainder of the chapter (vv 21-35) addresses wrongs done to other believers. Peter asks if there is a limit to forgiveness when his brother has wronged him. In the question, a brother has hypothetically sinned against Peter seven times. Peter does not mention that the brother ever confessed his wrong. Peter wondered if forgiving him seven times was sufficient. The Lord extends the limit to almost 500, but indicates in the ensuing parable that forgiveness should never have a limit.

Paul teaches this. “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph 4:32). God graciously forgave us, finding no reason in us for our forgiveness, but finding His reason in Christ alone. Therefore, whether or not another confesses to us his offense against us, we are to immediately account the matter “paid in full,” forgiven, with no repayment expected – no apology, confession, tears, waiting period, or sullen shunning. For the “offended party,” extending forgiveness is a Christian duty. For the “offending party,” enjoying that forgiveness will involve confession.

With our children, we may insist on a consequence for an offense, in order to teach a lesson. In brother-to-brother relationships, though, we are not responsible to “teach that brother (or sister?) a lesson.” That’s the Lord’s responsibility. Job 36:22 reminds us: “Behold, God exalteth by His power: who teacheth like Him?”

D. Oliver