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The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – Absolute Impartiality (5:21)
Absolute Impartiality (5:21)

Finally, the matter must be judged and (if warranted) discipline must be administered with absolute impartiality. This is meant to ensure both a just evaluation and the consistent application of discipline in actual cases of sin. And this is no casual footnote to the guidelines Paul has already issued. First, he uses the strongest terms to bind Timothy and the church leadership to this principle: an apostolic command, with God, Christ Jesus and the elect angels acting as witnesses. An awareness of the presence of God in the believing community is a strong inducement to obedient Christian living (5:4; 6:13; 2 Tim 2:14; 4:1). It was precisely this awareness—of "the LORD your God, who is among you" (Deut 6:15)—that motivated the newborn community of Israel to obedience.

Second, the two phrases that command impartiality take up a dominant theme in Scripture. The judgment of God is said to be completely impartial (2 Chron 19:7; Rom 2:11; Eph 6:9; Col 3:25; Jas 2:1; 1 Pet 1:17; compare Sirach 35:12). So strong was this belief in God's impartiality that it became a requirement that God's people reflect it as they discharged leadership duties. This applied doubly to leaders of the community, such as the judges whom Jehoshaphat appointed (2 Chron 19:7), whose role was to represent God among the people. It is quite possible that Paul had this Old Testament story in mind, since the two verbs that appear in the Greek Old Testament, "keep" and "do," also occur here. In any case, impartiality is a requirement in the discharge of church leadership duties, because church leaders are God's representatives among the people.

The gravity of the situation addressed here certainly calls for immediate action. But Timothy is not to allow the pressures of the moment to force him to conclude that expediency alone is the objective. On the one hand, the reputations and feelings of people are at stake, and expediency, which might suggest the need to take shortcuts, often does not take them into account. On the other hand, sometimes expediency forces real problems to be swept under the carpet. The instructions envision a process designed to aid the church's leadership in making responsible decisions about discipline. The process emphasizes attention to the problem, justice and appropriate disciplinary measures. No matter how urgent the moment might seem, church unity and witness will be better served if the procedures outlined here are followed.

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