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As with an article of clothing, the church has its seams, created naturally by age differences, gender differences, economic differences and so on. These seams, where these various groups come together, often show visible signs of stress. It falls to the Christian leader to cross all these lines from time to time in order to minister effectively. But crossing these lines requires sensitivity and care.
This section is loosely connected with the preceding passage. Timothy, the minister, is still in view, but the topic changes here to ministry in a more general sense. On the one hand, the minister must carry out the task of ministry at every level of the church. The harsh rebuke that Timothy is to avoid using is the depersonalizing "tongue-lashing." This method of correction relies on fear and authority and is often applied when feelings of anger and insecurity are running high. Exhortation is a far more effective method of ministry. It includes correcting, admonishing, encouraging and comforting. This kind of ministry values the relationship between believers far above any need to assert or prove lines of authority. It seeks to promote unity at (almost) all costs.
But more than a caring style of ministry is required to cross with sensitivity the social lines indicated in these verses. In Timothy's day, role relationships within and across social boundaries were well defined. Respectability was determined by one's adherence to such rules of behavior. Becoming a Christian by no means meant that these social rules ceased to apply. On the contrary, all believers were to obey them (compare Tit 2:1-10). As models, Christian leaders, far from being above the rules, were all the more bound by them.
These rules come clearly into play in these instructions. First, in the course of ministry to older men, even if it be correction (such as the Ephesian situation might have required), the minister must treat them with the respect due a father (v. 1). Exhortation will therefore be gentle and respectful.
Ministry to younger men (the same verb, "to exhort," rather than the NIV treat, controls the passage)—or, in Timothy's case, to peers—must similarly not lean on authority, but stress the common bond in Christ.
Paul stresses equally that the rules governing communication and interaction across gender lines must be observed. Ministry here calls for sensitivity and caution. Older women are to be treated with the respect due a mother (v. 2). In ministering to younger women, the male leader has added need to make every effort to avoid giving the impression of unseemly behavior: [exhort] younger women as sisters, with absolute purity (compare 4:12). Incidents of actual moral lapse under such circumstances warn that the utmost care must be exercised here.
Paul urges an approach to ministry that values relationships and personal involvement and applies to all cultures. Yet the rules of respect in social relationships may vary somewhat from culture to culture, and the church and its leaders must be sensitive to obey them. Sensitive ministry will promote the church's unity and guard its witness to those outside.