As Paul’s representative and a spiritual shepherd in Ephesus, Timothy had many responsibilities. Paul has already carefully instructed him on how to guide and minister to the various groups in the church, while being mindful that believers are to conduct themselves in a way that glorifies God and builds up the church. Timothy has to watch his own life and doctrine as well as watch over his flock.
Now Paul charges Timothy (take note of the times he does this) to “keep these instructions without partiality” (v.21). The charge is given not only on earth but in the sight and presence of God, Jesus and the angels. How wonderful it is to remember that all that we say and do is in God’s presence. In the highly secularised modern world, we often forget this larger picture. In many ways, that which is unseen is more real, significant and long lasting than that which is seen (2 Corinthians 4:18). How aware are we of this unseen presence of God in our worship services and during all other times?
Timothy is given further instructions. He is not to practise favouritism (v.21), for this would result in abuse and complaints. A pastor will lose his integrity if he favours only certain groups in church. Timothy must be impartial in keeping Paul’s instructions and show no favouritism in his relationships with church members. Also, he should take care when selecting leaders (1 Timothy 3:1–13). He should “not be hasty in the laying on of hands” (referring to ordination or commissioning; v.22). How much damage can be done in church because of poorly chosen leaders! The ones who choose them have to share the blame and the guilt (v.22).
Spiritual discernment and pastoral wisdom are needed in assessing people. While some show their inner corruption quickly and visibly, others may be able to hide them for a long time (v.24). Likewise, the inner character of people may not be revealed through a hasty assessment (v.25). Spiritual and character formation is a process, and sufficient time must be given to make a careful and prayerful assessment.
The medical advice on taking some wine for stomach problems and other ailments in verse 23 seems to be out of place in the passage. Paul may have included this out of pastoral concern for Timothy and to clarify that “purity” is not inconsistent with taking some wine, which is contrary to the false teaching of asceticism.
Reflect on mistakes you may have made in assessing people. What lessons have you learnt from these mistakes?
What are the negative effects of favouritism in family and church (Genesis 25:28; 37:3; 45:22)? How can it be prevented?