By Gary Shogren, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica
The Bible does not tell us to refrain from correcting our elders; this is a misunderstanding that arises from 1 Tim 5:1 KJV, “rebuke not an elder”. We should understand that there is more harshness implicit in “rebuke”; the NIV for example says “Do not rebuke an older man harshly”. Although we might also refrain from rebuking any Christian harshly, Paul pays special attention to situations where Timothy (thought of as youngish, probably around 40 years old) will have to correct older people.We might understand “elder” in two ways. One is an older person. That sense is reflected in 5:2, where one should speak to an older woman as to a “mother”. The other is someone who leads the church as an Elder. In the second case we should also look to 1 Tim 5:19 NIV – “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.” Special care must be taken not to attack Christian leaders without grounds.
There does not seem to be any reason for limiting Paul’s instructions to refer only to an Elder or to an older person; the verse is relevant for our interactions with either one.
There is no reason in these verses for failing to speak to an older person because of his age or because of his office. There is absolutely no justification for what some church leaders do: erect a shield around themselves, since a mere layperson should never “touch the Lord’s anointed” (Ps 105:15). Paul goes on to complete the thought in 5:1, “but exhort him as if he were your father.” That is, in a loving and respectful manner, inquire about what seems to be inconsistency in his life.