I take the fifth commandment and Ephesians 6:1-3 very seriously (“Children obey your parents in the lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and your mother’ for this is the first commandment with a promise, ‘that it may go well with you and you may live long in the land.’”). Unfortunately, my “serious take” on this text has led me into a practical direction that is both bizarre and indefensible: I don’t speak the truth to my authorities when they are obviously wrong. It’s an uneducated praxis that builds its house atop the first phrase of 1 Timothy 5:1 (“Do not sharply rebuke an older man,”) while completely ignoring the second (“…but rather appeal to him as a father.”).
The truth of the matter is, I’m surrounded by righteous, mature people who have invested in me ever since they met me. Some of these people have known my family since before I was born. And since my birth, they have cared for me, loved me, prayed for me, challenged me, encouraged me, and been second, and third and fourth parents to me. They have given to me with a level of generosity that I couldn’t possible repay, nor would they want me to repay it.
Obviously, these people mean a lot to me which is why it is so painful to watch them occasionally head in a direction or make a decision that is completely wrong. But it’s intellectually and emotionally difficult for me to say so to them out loud.
While the whole world reads this and in a chorus asks, “Why?!”, I’m already stuck holding the question. There are a lot of contributing factors. Temperament, for one. I’m not go-get-‘em type of guy. I’m trying to be, but it’s not easy. I’d rather stay with my books and my computer and my students then don the armor of a “worldchanger” and make things happen. Furthermore, I’m more than aware that guys and girls my age have a penchant for over estimating the value of their insights. I don’t want to be one of those guys. In fact, my rejection of people like that falls well into unchristian territory. And lastly, have a wholly inadequate view of 1 Timothy 5:1-2.
1 Timothy 5:1-2 states, “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.” Looking at this sentence, you’ll notice that there are only two verbs, “rebuke” and “appeal”, one is a negative command, the other is a positive command –meaning, “don’t do this; do this”. Foolishness says that there are situations where you cannot obey one of these commands without violating the other. For instance, I can’t point out my parents or church leader’s failures to them (the second command) without violating the first command. That is patently false and unashamedly stupid. The only reason Paul is writing this is because it’s assumed that Timothy is speaking truth to those around him.
[NOTE: This application may seem a bit off target since the whole conversation depends on whether or not timothy was actually a person in authority. If Timothy is an elder in the church, then Paul’s command makes sense to say, you have the obligation, but walk softly. I know this is a much larger conversation, so we’ll leave that for another time. All I’m trying to note here is how Paul is speaking to younger man in relationship to those who are around him. While this is not an explicit command from someone under authority toward someone in authority, I think there is enough biblical precedent on the subject for this conversation to be Biblically on-topic.]
The point is this, among many cautions and instructions, Paul specifically tells Timothy not to let his age get in the way.
The most important thing to observe is that, as much as we may enjoy denying it, my friends and I are adults. We are fortunate enough to be surrounded by much more aged and experienced adults, but we may take our place amongst the ranks of those who have “grown up”. My friends and I have come a long way due to the patient, tender care of those adults who came before us. For us not so speak-up when we see them in error is to deprive them of the very thing they invested into us.
So my temperamental preference has led to selfishness. My immature attempting at humility (based squarely on a harsh judgment of my peers) has led to selfishness. My anemic exegesis of an important Biblical teaching has led me to selfishness.
Ironically, when everything does hit the fan and everything I knew was going to happen happens, I then pace around in frustration asking why those in leadership didn’t see it coming. Of course, the reason they didn’t see it coming is because I didn’t have the guts, the humility and the conviction to pick up the phone and say, “Hey, our train is coming off the tracks in 6 months, we need to talk.”
I guess that means I’m all out of excuses. So I enter this weekend with a goal: to be more lovingly truthful towards the people who have been lovingly truthful towards me. That is going to be extraordinarily difficult.
There is a problem worth mention before we leave this subject. What do you do if those in authority won’t listen? Off the top of my head, I can think of a four responses.
1. Pray, for sure. It’s always a good idea to appeal to the Authority of the authority (I won’t quote the plethora of scriptural references on this subject, others have already done that).
2. We can also be persistent. I want people to listen to me, but I know that if I’m always saying the same thing, I’m encouraging them to disregard me. Nevertheless, I am obligated to speak the truth in a way that they will hear as often as I can get them to hear it. At the very least, doing so would grant me the confidence of knowing I had tried.
3. We should also listen to others. The golden rule sparkles nicely in the light of this discussion. If we want to be the kind of people that are heard, we need to be the kind of people that listen.
4. Most importantly, we should love those around us. The difference between correcting someone out of frustration and anger and appealing to someone out of our love for them is the difference between obeying and disobeying 1 Timothy 5:1-2.