Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren;

1Timothy 5:1, KJV

Many cultures have very definitive and stark expectations on how you interact with authority. Asian cultures teach that even to make eye contact with an authority figure is a sign of disrespect. Many others bar any type of questioning or challenging of any authority as unacceptable. American culture teaches that authority is very important and vital to a society’s structure but we also believe in democracy. We believe our leaders are accountable to the public and one of the functions of a free press is to keep the powers that be honest.

Timothy was a very young minister who was a protégé of Paul the Apostle. Some scholars say that Timothy might have been as young as 16 years old. That would put him at a clear disadvantage with older leaders in the church body. Here is the wisdom: When dealing with older or more authoritative figures openly chastising or challenging them is not the way to go. The word “intreat” in this context simply means “to question.” The spiritual strategy is to not openly contradict or challenge an elder but rather to question them and lead them to another point of view or perspective.

The practical application and outcome of this strategy is helping to save the older leader some face and leading others to deeper or different truth. Put another way, you will get further with honey than anything bitter. Asking an elder leading questions is the honey where open rebukes are bitter pills. An ancient cultural custom, in terms of church leadership, is not rebuking an elder but rather questioning them as a means of showing respect and leading them to truth and light.

1 Timothy 5:1 in context

1Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; 2The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity. 3Honour widows that are widows indeed. 4But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God.

1 Timothy 5:1-3, KJV