Instilling A Phobia of Sinning
Robert Wurtz II
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Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear. I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality. Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure. (I Timothy 5:17-22)
Timothy was charged before God to execute the directive that Paul writes to him in this passage. This should not alarm us, in that God has established the processes by which He will one day present to Himself a glorious Church without spot or wrinkle. New Birth enables the redeemed to walk even as Christ walked; however, the world is filled with temptations and therefore, there is the possibility, even for the saints, of ongoing sin. This is not a one-off sin, but ongoing, unrepentant behavior. Paul is inspired of God to invoke this directive for the sake of dealing with sin in the present and preventing it in the future.
Once a leader within the churches, or any who name the name of Christ, are discovered to have unrepentant sin in their lives, they are to be dealt with according to our text. Paul warns of two corrupting factors that must be avoided from the start: prejudice and partiality. Prejudice and partiality are sins that reveal the practitioners who practice them to be transgressors of the law. (James 2:9) Righteousness and equity require a right balance. (Psalm 98:9, Isaiah 59:14, Proverbs 2:9, Micah 3:9) When the measure is tilted against a person it is prejudice. When it is tilted in their favor it is partiality. Whatever the reasoning is immaterial; it is the offsetting of the balance that proves the sin. (Leviticus 19:36)
In modern times there is a wholesale desire to “cover sin up” so as to save the reputation is the sinner. (Proverbs 28:13) This is right in one sense, but not before the sin is properly dealt with. This is the key. Our passage reveals the folly of covering sin without first dealing with it. “They who are sinning rebuke before all that others also may fear.” Notice the conjunction “also.” This implies that others are to be added to the one who is sinning so that all will fear. This is done to dissuade the one sinning from doing the sin again. How? It is human nature to avoid humiliation or embarrassment; especially for the regenerated who have had their natural faculties of conscience restored. It is admitted that sinners in the Old Testament were sometimes unable to blush, but this ought not so to be in the churches of God.
Our word fear is the Greek phobos from which we get the English word phobia. Simply put, when we have a phobia of something we are very cautious with the thing. Sometimes phobias can lead to a total aversion to a thing. In one sense, Paul is telling Timothy to instill in the one sinning and the people a phobia of sin. Saints need to think twice before entering into some pattern of sinning. “Rebuking the one sinning before all the rest” will go a long way in instilling that phobia.
It is common among people to find phobias of everything from heights to snakes. In fact, fear is used as a measure to prevent people from doing all kinds of dangerous things. Warning labels are printed on poisonous bottles with a skull and crossbones in order to arrest the attention to the danger the poison presents. Electrical panels have warnings that arrest the sensibilities with pictures of electrocution or shock in order to properly warn the reader. Explosives have warnings to keep fire away. Many similar examples could be presented ad infinitum.
Psychologists would typically consider fear of sinning (hamartophobia) as an irrational fear that needs to be treated. The word is a compound of phobos and hamartema meaning fear of an act of disobedience to divine law. (see Vines S265) However, what happens when a person with a phobia of snakes (ophidiophobia) encounters one in the garden? They jump backwards usually. What about a spider for those with arachnophobia? They are alarmed. Some may say this is irrational; but it is not — unless it is debilitating. A healthy fear of spiders and snakes can be a good thing; especially if you live in countries where a bite from one of these can be fatal. We see then that fear is not always irrational. We should ask, what if Eve would have had a healthy “fear of snakes” and even a healthy “fear of sin” for that matter, in the Garden of Eden?
Moreover, fear in human beings may engage what some have called the “fight or flight” response. What does that mean? If we meet a bear in the woods, the function would cause us to flee if possible, and fight if we have to. What about sin? Do we have anything in scripture that resembles what we are talking about? Indeed we do.
Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. (1 Corinthians 6:18 NKJV)
Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry. (1 Corinthians 10:14 KJV)
For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things. (1 Timothy 6:10–11a KJV)
Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22 KJV)
A Pattern of Sinning
What happens when a person has been discovered to have a pattern of sin over a protracted period of time? Obviously it would mean that there had been no repentance. How should the leaders in the churches of God respond to such things? Moreover, what if we treat this passage in the inverse and sweep the bad behavior under the carpet so to speak? Not only would it have the opposite effect for the one sinning; it would have the opposite effect for everyone else. People hear about sin and they see the behavior themselves. What happens when leadership shows a pattern of enabling the one sinning by refusing to rebuke them before all? You may have guessed it. It encourages others to sin be living there will be no serious consequence.
It is unfortunate and highly destructive to the churches of
God to avoid what Paul charged to Timothy. Men simply believe they can improve upon God’s directives and end up destroying the churches. Many have the false notion that it is better to cover the sin up than to go through the drama of a public rebuke. Obviously, the Holy Spirit does not agree with them. Understand that God is the expert in human behavior, and He knows what it takes to bring about a desired effect. Men are generally timid and have not the fortitude to carry out what God commanded. Their phobia is more of what people will think than a phobia of sin destroying the churches, therefore; they tend to move in what they fear the most.
How different would life be in the churches of God if our passage was carried out with consistency? Sin is destroying churches at profound levels and many are at a total loss as to what to do. They can’t imagine themselves doing what God said in 1 Timothy 5, so they are in despair and confusion. We must start by believing God and by understanding that there is a wisdom to this directive. It is the best course of action that can possibly be taken under the circumstances. If there had been a better one, God would have given it to us. To try to deal with those who go on sinning in a lesser way is to open the door to widespread destruction of both the sinning ones and those who are watching them.