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The Essentials of Biblical Discipleship – 1 Timothy 5:1-2

Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity.”

Comparatively speaking, this is much shorter text that seems to be very straightforward. Why should we devote an entire week’s study to these two simple verses? The short answer: because the context requires that we understand them as separate from what has come before and as an introduction to what comes after.

This entire letter is written for the purpose of exhorting Timothy to instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines (1:3). Yet Paul never goes into detail on the errors of these strange doctrines. Instead he focuses on reminding Timothy of the truth. Simply by understanding the truth, all sorts of error will become abundantly evident. One does not study the darkness to understand darkness. The light of Scripture will easily reveal what the darkness conceals.

Another thing to consider is that nothing within this letter is brand new to Timothy. The instructions contained on these pages are reminders to Timothy and assume that he already knows the need and the implications behind them.

One last thing to understand is that these instructions are given because they are needed. The saints in and around Ephesus needed to be reminded of their evangelistic duty (2:1-7). Men and women needed to be reminded that the weekly gathering is a holy time and their attitudes and approach must conform to the holy duty of worship (2:8-10). At least some women within the congregation needed to be reminded of their God-given and God-glorifying task (2:11-15). The high bar of qualified elders needed to be enforced (3:1-7). The duties and qualifications of deacons needed to be prompted (3:8-13). Timothy himself needed to be given a rod of steel in his spine to take his duty seriously and earnestly (4:6-16). If these instructions were necessary, it is because they were, on some level, being ignored or overlooked.

There’s a very simple word that accurately sums up the action or intent of overlooking and/or ignoring the clear instruction of God’s Holy Word: sin. There was sin within the Ephesian church and Timothy was sent there for the purpose of exposing it through the clear teaching of God’s Word.

The connection between sin and false teaching is a very short step. False teaching only exists to excuse, conceal, or even promote sin. Just as biblical instruction will promote godliness and Christ-likeness, so will false teaching promote sin. Sin must never be coddled, excused, or ignored. At every turn it must be confronted, exposed, and corrected. Within the context of the church, the Bible uses yet another very simple term for this action: discipleship.

The Great Commission of Matthew 28 contains only a single command: make disciples. After that imperative Jesus gave two participles of means. This is how you make disciples. Step number one, baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This assumes conversion. Preach the gospel to the lost and welcome those who repent into the family. Once complete move on to step two, teach them to obey all that Christ commanded (i.e. Scripture).

To be a Christian is to be a disciple. To be in ministry is to be a disciple maker. But to be a member of Christ’s body is to be in ministry. Therefore to be a Christian is to be a disciple and to be a disciple maker. It is the business of every Christian to preach the gospel to the lost. But it is also the business of every Christian to confront sin and promote righteousness within the family of Christ. But there is a correct way to go about this business. That is the focus of this text today. These two brief verses contain four principles of biblical discipleship.

There are some initial observations that we must understand. There are only two actions within this text, one positive and the other negative. The sense is “do this” and “don’t do that.” There are also four groups of people identified within these two verses. The negative action (“don’t do that”) and the positive action (“do this”) are directed at all four groups. Whatever we say about one group carries through to the other three.

Biblical Discipleship is Never Combative

Do not sharply rebuke an older man

The older man in question is within the body. This text is speaking to believers about believers. Some older translations say elder instead of older man, but the context clearly indicates age and sex rather than the office of elder. Yet it is the verb that should capture our attention.

Do not sharply rebuke translates the Greek μὴ ἐπιπλήξῃς, which literally means do not strike. The force of the verb indicates that this is something that should not even be considered. Don’t even think about it! The word choice here is very unique as this is the only time in the New Testament it appears. There is a Greek synonym (same or similar meaning) πλήκτης, which Paul used earlier in this letter. In 3:3 he states that an overseer must not be pugnacious (NASB). Literally the term means to be a striker, one who is quick to throw a punch. The sense here, as in 3:3, is not so much a violent temperament with fists (though that is certainly included) but a violent attitude. Words cause just as much damage as fists.

The term Paul has chosen has very little to do with correction and much more to do with inflicting pain. There is a vast difference between a corrective rod (a spanking) for a child in sin and a beating. The two are hardly even comparable. Just so, there is a vast difference between striking out with words and a biblical confrontation of sin.

The prohibition to not sharply rebuke is not a prohibition against correction. Far from it. This is a prohibition against coming against an older man (or anyone) with words that are chosen and used for destruction. To be a disciple and a disciple maker assumes that sin will be confronted. There is no way to teach the saints to obey the Word of God without confronting sin. But that confrontation must never be combative. Perish the thought!

Biblical Discipleship is Always Constructive

But rather appeal to him as a father

The word that the NASB translates as appeal is the Greek word παρακαλέω. The term basically means to call alongside. Paul used this same root in 4:13 when he told Timothy to give attention to the reading, the exhortation, the teaching. The exhortation of Scripture is the call to obey and conform to what it says and commands.

Various commentators debate on the many ways that this word should be translated. Some prefer comfort, some like admonish, some strengthen, while others stand firm on exhort. Yet the meaning of the word must remain the same. In every situation, whether to older men or younger, whether to older women or younger, Timothy is commanded to παρακελέω them. The command is to call them alongside. The term assumes an unmoving standard to which those that are being exhorted/admonished/comforted/strengthened are called to conform to.

In ancient warfare, an army that is not inline so as to present a unified front is quickly outflanked and defeated. An officer would exhort his soldiers to get on line. The varying nuances depend on who is receiving the exhortation, but the meaning remains the same. It’s a call to conform, to get on line, to obey. But for those already in line it is an encouragement to remain. For those who are about to turn tail and run it is an admonishment to get back in line. To those who are wounded or weary it can be a comfort or a strengthening call to remain right where they are supposed to be.

In other words, to exhort a brother or sister in Christ is to call their attention to the objective and unmoving standard of God’s Word and call them to conform. The tone and approach will always be appropriate to the situation and the individual, but the goal never changes and it is always constructive.

Biblical Discipleship Assumes a Context of Relationship

Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity.”

Many have looked upon this text with the assumption that the main point is that exhortation is to be given out of respect. While that is true, I do not think that is the emphasis here. Paul does not use the imagery of the family simply as an illustration. Paul understands, as does Timothy, that the church is not like a family but that it is family.

I have both written and preached regarding the undeniable truth that the church is built upon the divinely created model of the family. There is a biblical and theological reason that the church’s leadership must first be biblical leaders at home before being stationed to the high calling of overseer or deacon. The task of the father is the same task as the overseer. The task of the mother is the same task as the deacon. To fail at home is to make success within the church impossible.

The point of using these familial relationships as modifiers for the command to exhort is not only to ensure a measure of respect, but is to remind Timothy that older men are indeed father figures within the body. Younger men are your brothers, older women mothers and younger women are your sisters. The members of the local church must be viewed with the same love, respect, and care one would approach their own blood and kin.

Confronting sin takes up a massive portion of what I do as a husband and father. My wife and I jointly instruct our children to obey the commands of Scripture. When there is disobedience (a $10 word for sin) we exhort them to repent. Sometimes that exhortation is accompanied with the rod, but not always. Each situation is unique as is the individual being exhorted. But my wife and I are not above exhortation. Countless times I have been in need of exhortation by my wife. I have needed someone who loves me and cares for me to call me back to the righteous standard of God’s Word. But she has always done so in a massively different manner than the way she exhorts our children. Yes, there is respect that reflects the nature of the relationship. But more than that, there is love.

We confront sin because we love one another. The most unloving thing a parent can do is to never correct sin in their child’s life. The most unloving thing a Christian can do is to stand idly by while their brother or sister persists in sin. There must be confrontation. That confrontation must be constructive. The manner of that confrontation should take into account the nature of the relationship. But confrontation must happen nevertheless.

Just a quick sidebar: A church that functions like a family will accept correction like a family. A body that loves each other, prays with and for each other, feasts upon the Word together, lives amongst each other will also accept correction from one another. They will do this because they know they are loved.

Biblical Discipleship must be Conducted in Purity

In all purity

Many attach this phrase only to the younger women who are to be exhorted as sisters. Yet if we attach this phrase to a noun (younger women) then it only tells us something about the young women and nothing about the action of exhortation. If however we attach this phrase to the verb exhort/appeal then it must be applied to all the groups because Timothy is commanded to exhort all the groups.

Rather than a warning against gentlemanly behavior toward younger women (though that should go without saying), this is a modifier that points all of the exhortation to purity. All exhortation is to be conducted in a manner of purity.

The same term is used in 4:12 to describe the speech and conduct of Timothy that he must model before the church. The word means to be void of filth, to be clean, to be free of contamination. It can be used more narrowly as a reference to sexual purity (chastity), but both in this verse and in the close context of 4:12 it has the broader sense of being free from any and all sorts of ungodliness.

Our exhortations must be free from all motives other than to help, aid, assist, and direct our brothers and sisters back into a right relationship with Jesus Christ. We do not exhort them in a direction where we have ulterior motives. We do not use secular methods of counsel. We do not create man-made and arbitrary standards for them. We do not speak out of hypocrisy. We are commanded to exhort, but that exhortation must be done in all purity and free from any soiled contamination that we might be tempted to bring into the discussion.

If sin is being confronted in a constructive manner, calling those in error to conform to the objective standard of God’s Word. If sin is being confronted with the knowledge and understanding that we are dealing with beloved family members; and if that confrontation is free from all sorts of ungodliness, then there is no need for further elaboration.


This text stands in between the unwavering model and mission of the church and the day-to-day ministry of the church. Confrontation of sin is the work of every Christian, but there is only a single way to do it that honors the Bridegroom. Christ’s bride is in the business of making disciples. But discipleship must never be combative yet always constructive, assuming the context of relationship, and always conducted in purity.


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