Leaders, by their very nature, can be offensive, because they are called to lead us to obey God’s word. No one enjoys being corrected (except the wise), so challenging people to change or conform to biblical standards can be met with resistance.
When David sinned with Bathsheba, it could not be kept secret, and the prophet Nathan publicly denounced him: “You are the man!” (2 Sam 12:7). David’s response was, “’I have sinned against the Lord.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die’” (12:13). One has to wonder what would have happened if David had not publicly repented.
In 1 Timothy 5:20, the phrase “those guilty of sin” is a present participle, meaning a continuous action of persisting in sin without repenting. After being confirmed by two or three witnesses (1 Tim 5:19), the matter must be taken to the church (Matt 18:16–-18).
The imperative verb “must be rebuked” means “to shame, disgrace, expose, [or] prove one in the wrong.” Jesus stated, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent” (Rev 3:19). The objective of the rebuke is to give an opportunity to repent and be reconciled.
Timothy could not be slack in dealing with leaders who dishonored the church by their sins. Paul gave a most emphatic and authoritative command when he wrote, “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” (1 Tim 5:21).
The standard for church leaders is higher than for other believers. James warned, “Let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (James 3:1).
A healthy fear of rebuke and exposure is vital for holiness. If there are no consequences to sinning, obedience becomes optional. Can men be honored above God’s word?
“It is hard to show tough love, but it is harder still to make an example of those who disobey. Lord, give me courage in my family and ministry to rebuke sin.”