“Do not speak harshly to an older man, but speak to him as to a father, to younger men as brothers, to older women as mothers, to younger women as sisters—with absolute purity.” (I Timothy 5:1-2 from I Timothy 5:1-22 )
In the past I have mentioned Albert Barnes as a biblical commentator that I have great respect for. While I have had disdain for other commentators, I can not remember a time when I have disagreed with what Barnes has said. He did his exegetical work in the 1800’s so often his comments do not translate well to our modern times. And he has more patience with Paul than I do.
When I was considering what to say about this passage, I looked at some of the online commentaries available, and, not having consulted Barnes for a while, I went to see what he had to say, and found the comments I have pasted below. [Barnes’ commentary on I Timothy 5:1-2 ] They are pure Barnes – minus the scripture citations he used to support his statements. I have used all the comments he has on the two verses because his treatment of Paul is more generous than I would or could be. Barnes’ mindset is closer to Paul’s than mine. And Barnes simply is a very good writer. I knew I could not improve on what he said, and nor would I. So sit back and read with me what Barnes wrote, and see if what he wrote resonates with you. Shalom.
“Rebuke not an elder – The word “elder” here is not used in the sense in which it often is, to denote an officer of the church, a presbyter, but in its proper and usual sense, to denote an aged man. This is evident, because the apostle immediately mentions in contradistinction from the elder, “the younger men,” where it cannot be supposed that he refers to them as officers. The command to treat the “elder” as a “father,” also shows the same thing. By the direction not to rebuke, it is not to be supposed that the minister of the gospel is not to admonish the aged, or that he is not to show them their sins when they go astray, but that he is to do this as he would to a father. He is not to assume a harsh, dictatorial, and denunciatory manner. The precepts of religion always respect the proprieties of life, and never allow us to transgress them, even when the object is to reclaim a soul from error, and to save one who is wandering. Besides, when this is the aim, it will always be most certainly accomplished by observing the respect due to others on account of office, relation, rank, or age.
But entreat him as a father – As you would a father. That is, do not harshly denounce him. Endeavor to persuade him to lead a more holy life. One of the things for which the ancients were remarkable above most of the moderns, and for which the Orientals are still distinguished, was respect for age. Few things are enjoined with more explicitness and emphasis in the Bible than this. The apostle would have Timothy, and, for the same reason, every other minister of the gospel, a model of this virtue.
And the younger men as brethren – That is, treat them as you would your own brothers. Do not consider them as aliens, strangers, or enemies, but entertain toward them, even when they go astray, the kindly feelings of a brother. This refers more particularly to his private conversation with them, and to his personal efforts to reclaim them when they had fallen into sin. When these efforts were ineffectual, and they sinned openly, he was to “rebuke them before all” that others might be deterred from following their example.
The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity.
The elder women as mothers – Showing still the same respect for age, and for the proprieties of life. No son who had proper feelings would rebuke his own mother with severity. Let the minister of religion evince the same feelings if he is called to address a “mother in Israel” who has erred.
The younger as sisters – With the feelings which you have toward a sister. The tender love which one has for a beloved sister would always keep him from using harsh and severe language. The same mildness, gentleness, and affection should be used toward a sister in the church.
With all purity – Nothing could be more characteristic of Paul’s manner than this injunction; nothing could show a deeper acquaintance with human nature. He knew the danger which would beset a youthful minister of the gospel when it was his duty to admonish and entreat a youthful female; he knew, too, the scandal to which he might be exposed if, in the performance of the necessary duties of his office, there should be the slightest departure from purity and propriety. He was therefore to guard his heart with more than common vigilance in such circumstances, and was to indulge in no word, or look, or action, which could by any possibility be construed as manifesting an improper state of feeling. On nothing else do the fair character and usefulness of a youthful minister more depend, than on the observance of this precept. Nowhere else does he more need the grace of the Lord Jesus, and the exercise of prudence, and the manifestation of incorruptible integrity, than in the performance of this duty. A youthful minister who fails here, can never recover the perfect purity of an unsullied reputation, and never in subsequent life be wholly free from suspicion; compare notes,”