Scripture Reading: 1 Timothy 5:1-6:2a, Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 7:39-40
It was my first time driving in a funeral processional. I’d always been a passenger, not the driver. But on this day I was in the car alone, hazard lights flashing, trusting the cars in front of me to lead me safely to the funeral home. A couple dozen cars drove along, speeding up and slowing down in unnatural rhythm, trying our best to keep too much space from forming between each car in the line. A police officer in a black sedan with flashing lights would block an intersection until some of us passed, and then he’d speed up, siren blazing, to beat the lead car to the next intersection.
The last stretch of the drive took us down a busy four-lane highway where we came to a stop, assumedly due to afternoon Nashville traffic. But the cause of the delay soon showed itself: two long lines of cars had parted, moving to either side of the road and stopping in silent, reverent lines, waiting for us to pass. I felt like an Israelite driving through the Red Sea on dry ground, passageway granted by a supernatural turn of events. Maybe that sounds melodramatic, but in a world where we daily insist on our own truth and our own way, the gesture struck me as an unlikely bastion of decency in an individualistic society. The last shall be first. Those who mourn shall be comforted. It was the gospel in everyday clothes.
In our reading today, Timothy, a young pastor of a young church, was learning to lead his congregation in caring for one another. Paul, an older, more experienced brother in the faith, was writing to bolster Timothy’s faith and offer some practical advice. The headline of this particular part of his letter? Support and honor.
These are actions most of us agree to in theory. Support those in need; honor one another as fellow image-bearers of God. Those who do not know Jesus recognize these concepts too, even if they call them by a different name. It’s the reason the line of cars didn’t plow over the police officer that day and insist on their right to the road: we recognize there is a “right” thing to do. The problem comes in moving from theory to practice; we might agree that supporting those in need is good and important, but exactly who is “in need” and how to support them—there’s the rub.
The first two verses of today’s reading set the crucial premise for the detailed, context-specific instructions Paul gave Timothy on the subject: “Don’t rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters with all purity” (1 Timothy 5:1-2). Fathers, brothers, mothers, sisters. In other words, regard your fellow church members as family and act toward them accordingly.
The Church—the family of God—is to care for one another in love and sincerity. We are to move past good intentions and into action, even though it means risking tension, disagreement, and misunderstanding. If we are indeed family, then we can work it out together, forgiving our imperfections and ignorance along the way, gently helping one another grow in the ways of truth and love as imitators of Christ. And if we are followers of Christ and co-laborers in His gospel, then His reputation, not ours, is what is ultimately at stake.
As a family who knows the life-changing, life-giving grace of Jesus, may the countercultural support and honor we show one another cause the world to stop and wonder: Who taught them to love like this?