Alfred Place Baptist Church

5:1-2 Christian relationships

I Timothy 5:1&2 “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”

A young man once turned up in the Young People’s Meeting. He was taking a course in the town being an apprentice furniture designer from Oxfordshire. He was confident about his knowledge of Christianity. “If your relationship is right with other people then it is all right with God,” he told me. He demonstrated this to me with an upside-down capital letter ‘T’ – he actually stood one book on the back of another. “When we are not level with other people,” he said, moving the foundation at an angle, “then we will not be straight with God” – the tall pole of the ‘T’ was swaying back and fore. He had learned that from some minister.

That approach, we guess, is very common – ‘Get right with your neighbour and you will be right with God’ – but it is not Christianity. The Scriptures’ chief commandment it to love God, and then, after that, to love our neighbour. That is the revealed order. The Bible says that mankind’s chief problem is that its relationship with God is out of line. For example, the Lord once came to the prophet Amos and showed something to him; “The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord asked me, ‘What do you see, Amos?’ ‘A plumb line,’ I replied. Then the Lord said, ‘Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer'” (Amos 7:7&8). God places the plumb line of his ten commandments against our lives and it reveals that not a single person is true to plumb: there is ungodliness. A mark of that is to be seen in people’s messed-up relationships: there is unrighteousness. When our lives are not pointing to God then the consequences are difficulties in families, in friendships and especially with members of the opposite sex. But if we know the Lord to be our own reconciled God then there will be growing reconciliation with men and women. These exhortations of Paul to Timothy in this text of Scripture will be our delight.

How important is this matter of human relationships? Our relationship with God of course has prime place, but hot on its heels is this matter of how we relate to other people. The Chairman of ‘Relate’ is 51 year-old Ed Straw, the brother of the current Home Secretary. ‘Relate’ is the country’s leading marriage guidance organisation. This month he vigorously attacked what he called “nuclear family supremacists”, that is, people like Christians who promote marriage as an ideal family form. What did Ed Straw want? The Times said, “he recommended that children be taught ‘relationship skills that apply to everyone.’ This would assist pupils at home, work and play and help to foster family life ‘without casting judgment'” (Times, February 4, 2000). Brothers Ed and Jack Straw witnessed their father, Walter, walk out of the family home leaving their mother to bring up five children alone. His own marriage broke up after he and his wife, Jane, had had three children. He now has a baby Odette with his partner Lyn with whom he has been living for ten years. Ed Straw doesn’t have much time for newspaper editors and government ministers who feel obliged to tell people how to live their lives. He says, “What everyone in a relationship wants and needs is to be able to talk to one another, to be self-aware, to resolve conflicts.” Not standards that have been given to us from heaven, that are for our good, but lots of talk to one another about our new infatuations and our old dying marriages, and how ‘it makes sense to split up.’

Christians are also not too enthusiastic about a morality that comes from an unregenerate Caesar. But we are watchful that those who confess Jesus Christ as their Lord and God should live in the kind of relationships with other people that the Creator desires. Consider the larger context of our text. The apostle has been reminding Timothy of the great message of God’s grace in the Saviour, that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1:15), that he “gave himself a ransom for all men” (2:6), and that “the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body” (3:16). That theme is the good news of Christianity and to be declared by Timothy to all the people of Ephesus. Through believing it they can get right with God through the Lord Jesus. This message he exhorts Timothy to command and teach all men, urging him, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young,” (4:12). But just in case Timothy might become overbearing and start to throw his weight around Paul is cautioning him here about becoming abusive, especially towards the elderly, and to women. He is reminding Timothy in our text of what his behaviour should be to other people. We can see that this Christian message is beginning to create within the Roman Empire an alternative society where there are new attitudes between men and women, and between the young and old. The greatest in this new kingdom is the servant.

That is the background to this next section in which the apostle is writing about Christian behaviour amongst the people of God. They have been reconciled to God, and now that same grace must reconcile them to one another. Where does he start? Strangely for us, with Timothy’s relationship with older men. This is very topical. There are plenty of elderly people around. We are all living longer. There is the greying of all our Christian congregations. The Reformed movement was led by young couples who ‘suddenly’ seem to have become grandparents. I was preaching in a Bible Rally on a Saturday night recently in Sheffield. The little church was full, but there were present only two or three people younger than myself. How, then, are we to address older men?

1. Exhort an Older Man as if He were Your Father.

“Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father” (v.1). Paul is not saying that there is no place for rebuke in the Christian ministry. The Scriptures are profitable for rebuking and correcting all of us, but on those occasions the preacher does not rebuke as if he were Moses coming down from the mountain with the tablets of stone in his hands. The rebuke of God is just as much upon him too as he waits at the foot of the mountain of God with all the other people. Certainly Paul is not saying, ‘Never rebuke an old man.’ There was a time in the prophet Nathan’s life when he had to rebuke old King David, “You are the man!” (2 Sam. 12:7). The emphasis in our text is upon the word ‘harshly.’ However much the reproof is needed it must not be given harshly.

Paul gives counsel to the Galatians about how to react to a brother “caught in a sin” (Gals. 6:1). The apostle says, “restore him gently.” The word ‘restore’ means to mend or repair. It is used in the New Testament of the fishermen mending their nets. I have gone crab-fishing with my grandsons at the harbour and there has scarcely been an occasion when they did not get their lines tangled up. The worst thing you can do is to savagely pull on those lines. You have to be gentle to sort out the mess and straighten things out again. Present in the Galatian church was a brother “caught in sin”. Gently deal with him in order to restore him. The servant of the Lord must not strive but be gentle with all men.

This is specially the case when you are dealing with an older man because his age calls for respect. You take special care in choosing your words when you confront him. You speak in a kindly manner, and do all you can to affirm your regard for the dignity of his age. Think what the Holy Spirit says, “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord” (Lev.19:32). Think of the way young Daniel in Babylon dealt with the pressure being brought to bear on him to eat the food and wine assigned to him from the king’s table. He went to the chief official and talked to him privately and humbly, asking him for permission to refrain from eating the food. We are told, “Now God had caused the official to show favour and sympathy to Daniel” (Dan.1:9), and he agreed with Daniel’s request. His whole attitude encouraged a sympathetic hearing.

There is an even more striking example of this when a man named Nabal insults David and refuses his men their request for food. When this is reported to David he says “Put on your swords!” (1 Sam. 25:13), and four hundred of them march with David to Nabal’s house. The king is telling them that he won’t leave one of Nabal’s men alive. When Abigail, the wife of Nabal, hears of the folly of her husband she quickly gathers together donkey-loads of food and rides with them as fast as she can to David. We are told that, “When Abigail saw David she quickly got off her donkey and bowed down before David with her face to the ground. She fell at his feet and said, ‘My lord, let the blame be on me alone. Please let your servant speak to you; hear what your servant has to say…” (1 Sam.:25:23ff). There follows a stirring poetic speech rich in respect and wisdom. David is utterly overwhelmed by it, and his opening words are, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me …” (I Sam. 25:32ff). He actually shakes her hand and says to her, “Go home in peace. I have heard your words.” Abigail’s gentleness before this figure of authority defuse the situation.

Another example, even more striking, is of the apostle Paul confronting the apostle Peter. You remember that Peter was the first among the twelve. He had been with Jesus since his baptism and was an eyewitness of great miracles. But there came a time in his life, almost twenty years after the resurrection, when Peter behaved foolishly, and so Paul determined to go to this older man in the faith and not be harsh with him, but things in a church had to be put right. “When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, ‘You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile, and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?'” (Gals. 2:11-14).

This was a make-or-break gospel issue. The future of Christianity was at stake. Was it going to be another Jewish denomination like Pharisiaism – say, ‘Jesuitism’ – or would it be something absolutely new? Paul saw how crucial was this action of Peter’s and he addressed the matter. He was not a peace-at-any-price man. The question could not be ducked, and Paul took his courage in his hands and spoke publicly to Peter because publicly and pointedly he was no longer sitting down and sharing a meal with Gentile Christians because they were second class. Peter’s disaffiliation from them was saying that they needed to keep the food laws of the old covenant if they were going to be proper Christians. We are not told of Peter’s immediate response but we do know that at the end of his life he refers to Paul in Peter’s second letter as “our dear brother Paul” (2 Peter 3:15). So Peter agreed that he had been doing wrong.

Old men are often an example to us of quiet wisdom and restraint. Think of Abraham’s response to his nephew Lot when their two groups of herdsmen were fighting over watering their herds. Abraham tells Lot that it would be better for them to herd their animals further apart, and he gives the choice of pasture to Lot. He denies himself for the sake of his young and unwise nephew.

“Exhort him as if he were your father,” says the apostle. In other words, your relationship with your father is supposed to be the standard for how you treat other older men. There is an honour which we are to give to our own fathers. So we are to ‘exhort’ an older man respectfully: the word ‘exhort’ has been transliterated elsewhere as ‘paraclete’. In other words, you encourage him kindly and firmly. There may come a period when life with our fathers becomes very trying. Senility changes them. A stubbornness and lack of co-operation which they had never previously showed comes to the fore. You have to constantly repeat explanations to them each night. “No, there’s not a meeting tonight. Yes, this is your home now: you can’t go home. Yes, Mother has died.” You exhort them, and having to go over it again and again can be enormously trying. But all the time you love them, and are aware that this is your father. You feel wretched with yourself and before God when you have lost your patience with them and fail to love them. Paul tells Timothy that this is how the older people in the congregation are to be treated. Do not rebuke an older man harshly but exhort him as if he were you father.

2. Treat Younger Men as Brothers.

Timothy is being reminded that he a member of a family. The apostle is not talking here about ‘community’ in that broad sense that the word is being used today. Christians are not the only people who take up the words ‘brother’ and ‘love.’ As the 21st century begins we notice that some people are getting tired of individualism and self-focus. The fad about self-love and self-interest has died down. The question, ‘What’s in this for me?’, unbridled introspection, worship that turns me on, and personal analysis – many are ready for a change from all of that self-indulgence. Individualism is out because individualism hasn’t worked. So now we are into ‘community.’ But unless there is the radical change which the new birth brings and unless the living God has become the centre of our lives then ‘community’ becomes just another strategy for feeling better about ourselves. It takes away our loneliness and we feel more ‘connected’ and self-satisfied. Men are again pursuing ‘community’ for self-fulfilment, and in time ‘community’ will go the same way as ‘self-love’ – just another fad.

Paul is not talking here about ‘community’ but about that brotherly love which exists among Christians who have been made brethren in Christ by God’s grace. It is founded upon our common relation to the Saviour, that we are united to him and so with one another. He is our common Lord, common Redeemer, our common portion, the object of our supreme love. He is the reason we keep together. We love one another in Christ. We are both indwelt by the Holy Spirit with a common life – one faith, one hope and one baptism. There is a congeniality we share as brothers in the same family. We sympathise with one another in both our likes and dislikes, and we have a common aim in life. This is the sort of spirit the Bible is talking about when it refers to brotherly love. In fact, if you are a stranger to brotherly love then you are not a Christian. John’s logic is impeccable – if a man does not love his brother whom he has seen how can he love God whom he has not seen? ‘Treat younger men as brothers!’

Brotherly love means I am recognising this person as a fellow-Christian, and I enjoy being with him, and want to promote his welfare. I rejoice with him in his happinesses and grieve along with him in his sadnesses. I worry about him. I stand by him and defend him. I’ll be patient with him and though I won’t always agree with him I will always judge him charitably. Love endures all things, and believes all things, and hopes all things about a fellow Christian. ‘Treat younger men as brothers!’

Having brotherly love means that harshness, meanness, any desire to put down, degrade or wound the feelings of another has no part in your relationship. It means you mortify any feelings of envy or jealousy towards him. There is to be no attitude of superiority, or contempt, or harshness in your spirit at all. “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Brotherly love is the cement, and the blessedness, and the oil of the church’s fellowship. This is a foretaste of what we are going to experience perfectly in heaven. The living God known and loved as our Father, and all of us his sons and daughters. The less brotherly love is seen in a church the more like hell a church becomes. I am sad to say that for some Christians in this world, church as a family does not exist.

There were so-called ‘friends’ of the prodigal son who gathered around him once he arrived in the distant city and had money to spend. They had the smiles for him, and the thumbs up. “OK mate?” “How’s it going, mate?” The drink flowed: “Another round on me.” What a marvellous man! But when all the money had gone his new family had disappeared. “Wealth brings many friends, but a poor man’s friend deserts him” (Provs. 19:4). “Fair weather friends,” we call them. But brotherly love endures. It was seen in Jonathan when he said to David, “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you” (I Sam.20:4). You are suddenly in trouble. You might have lost your job, your salary, you cannot keep up the mortgage payments and might have to get out of your house. Then your friend says to you. “If the worst comes to the worst you can move in with us. It will be a bit of a squeeze, but we’ll fit in. I’ve got enough money for us to live on.” His words takes your breath away, and you know he wasn’t joking. The artless way he said it just reminded you that God owns everything and he will supply your needs one way or another.

What are the marks of a brother’s love for a brother? Patrick M. Morley suggests ten in his book, “The Man in the Mirror”:
When things turn sour you have these people to turn to with the problem.
You can express honest thoughts to them without appearing foolish.
They will let you talk through a concern without giving you advice. They are happy to be just a sounding board.
They will risk your disapproval by suggesting that you are leaving your priorities.
They are prepared to tell you that you are doing wrong.
When you have fallen into sin you know they’ll stand by you.
You know that together you are facing the future. If she is a woman you can share with her friend the struggles that are uniquely a woman’s, while a man can share with his friend the struggles that are uniquely a man’s.
You can trust them implicitly so that if you share a confidence with them it stays confidential.
When you appear vulnerable and weak to them they will think no less of you. You will sometimes end a time together with them by praying (see pp.118 and 119).

That is Christian brotherly love. I look at many of the friendships amongst the students and thank God for that. I pray that they will be friends for life. Solomon said, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up” (Eccles. 4:9-10). Everybody falls down: we enter spiritual wilderness experiences, rejection, family heart-aches, career set-backs, I say, we all fall down. Who will lift us up if there is no one who loves us like a brother? Someone came to see me: “I just needed someone to talk to,” he said. For an hour he went on talking about something, and then I prayed and he left. “You have no idea what that meant to me,” he said. I had only said, “Hi,” and “Good-bye,” and prayed with him. We had another letter this week from a woman who was a student and worshipped with us. She often writes. We never expected that she would keep these links. She was retiring and withdrawn. She never opened up to us about her past, and we never pried. We often wondered during those three years if she were a true Christian. She said in this month’s letter that her time in Aberystwyth were the happiest years of her life. I would never have guessed that because she was not a demonstrative person. She felt loved here.

There is a difference between friendship and brotherly love. Imagine a series of concentric circles. The outside one is the flock of 500 people Jesus gathered of people who believed in him. There were 120 men. There were 70 disciples, and twelve apostles. There were three apostles in a special inner circle, and there was John whom Jesus loved in a special way. So we are not to feel guilty about being closer to one or two people in the congregation. All the five hundred were recipients of Jesus’ brotherly love, but with some of them he was particularly close. But if any one of the 500 was going through a tough time then the Lord knew about it and they always had Jesus to turn to. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Provs. 17:17). So Timothy is to treat the younger men as his brothers in Christ.

3. Treat Older Women as Mothers.

One of our sons-in-law, Gary Brady, recently lost his mother, and he has had to work through his sense of grief. He edits the ‘Grace’ magazine and has used his writing skills to express in its columns his thankfulness to God for her. He acknowledges, “Any good I do as a preacher is due greatly to my mother’s nurture. We must never think motherhood a lowly calling. It is crucial. What impact mothers have. My mother had many jobs, perhaps too many. However, she never looked at these as her career. When she was asked to be London buyer for a boutique she refused as it would harm her career – as housewife and mother” (‘Grace’ magazine, February 2000, pp.10 & 11).

Gary talks of her energy: “My mother was never one to sit down. When she eventually did she would fall asleep. She instinctively agreed with Proverbs 10:4 “Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth,” and Ecclesiastes 9:10 “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” … and, perhaps, New Testament verses about self-control. She was determined to make every day count – up early, working hard, being diligent. Her attitude was workmanlike. She would say things like, ‘You’ve got to make your brain work,’ ‘You need to keep at it.’ She would attack me for my ‘couldn’t care less attitude.’ A favourite rejoinder to laziness was an ironic ‘Lie down there and I’ll fan you.’

Mrs Rose Marie Brady became a Christian after Gary had become a preacher: “I prayed many years for her conversion and at last God answered. It seemed impossible, yet it happened. I saw changes in my mother I hardly imagined. They could have come only by God’s grace.”

I write these things about one son and his mother to help bring your emotions under the power of the truth. In a Christian congregation all the older women are to be treated as mothers. Think of the Lord Jesus upon the cross and he calls his mother to the attention of the apostle John and he says to him, “Behold your mother.” Mary’s husband Joseph had died, and now her first-born son Jesus would soon be dead. Here was an older woman who needed protection and support, and Jesus tells John to treat her as his mother. That was the attitude of the apostle Paul himself. He writes to the congregation in Rome and he speaks of the mother of a certain Rufus, and he says that she “has been a mother to me too” (Roms. 16:13). Paul treated Rufus’ Mum like his own. There was a likeness which grace had made. He did not have to pretend she was like his mother. Grace had put them in a new relationship.

The journalist and author Julie Burchill writes in yesterday’s “Spectator” and says, “My mother died last month, and I do miss her. I miss her most of all because she was the only person I’ve ever known who was remotely like me. This is the curse of the Teen: when our hormones kick in, all we want to do is to get away from our parents and be with persons like us. Too late we realise that, if we’ve been lucky enough to be blessed with good parents, they’re the only people like us we’ll ever find. All our roaming and searching was in vain, then, forsaking our heart’s ease for a soft parade of straw dogs” (“Spectator,” ‘Diary,’ 12 February 2000, p.9). That’s why there should be no generation gap in the new covenant church. The parents and the children are one. Remember the very final verse of the entire Old Testament describing the fruits of Messiah’s reign – “He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Mal.4:6). With that promise the Old Testament ends.

God wrote on the tablet of stone, “Honour your mother,” and that tablet was put in the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies. Everyone is to treat his or her mother with honour. As a boy Gary Brady was not a churchgoer and neither was his mother, and yet God had written the things of his law on both their hearts. They were also living in the nation of Wales that has formerly known the workings of great saving grace. So parent and child were without excuse if honour were absent from that relationship. Gary writes, “I was brought up on the basis of this law. She wanted me to obey and honour her and my dad. It is one reason I have lived so long. I had friends who shouted at their mothers in the street, something I never dreamt of.” If he had failed to honour her would she ever have been persu aded to have become of follower of Jesus Christ?

We honour our parents because they are made in the image of God. We honour our parents because the law of God requires it. We honour our parents for their office as the ones who brought us into the world – they did not say, “We’ll kill this one in the womb.” You were given birth and life and nurture. Hours of toil were bestowed upon you, innumerable sacrifices were made for you every week. Honour your mother! Women themselves are undermining such an attitude. One of the slogans of some feminists is “Motherhood – Just Say No!” There are constant sly attacks on being mothers. One lady wrote to “Dear Abby” and described her mother as “a professional woman who collected a husband, a daughter, and a dog to enrich her life.” According to the daughter, the only one not damaged by this enrichment was the dog (The Northwest Arkansas Times, September 28, 1974). What pathetic wit.

Such an attitude cannot survive being in Christ. Our affection for older women is not based only on their being made in the image of God, or that we are commanded to honour our parents, but that within the church the older women are believing, worshipping, praying mothers. To understand Elisabeth Elliot you need to know something of that mother of hers whom she has written about in “The Shaping of a Christian Family” (Thomas Nelson, 1992). She tells her readers, “Mother always had her ‘little rocker’ as she called it, in her bedroom, next to the little antique sewing table which stood under the window. On top of its crisp white linen cover was the neat stack of Bible, hymnbook, and the small red prayer notebook with a pen handy. Mother, as erect as Whistler’s mother, sat in her rocking chair, reading, singing softly, praying, and occasionally jotting something in the margin of her Bible or in the notebook … She read the Bible – read it, prayed over it (‘Wonderful Counsellor, open Thy word to my heart. Open my heart to Thy word’), marked it, quoted it, asked the Lord to help her to understand, remember, and live by it. She believed every word of it to be inspired by God, profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness … In her notebook is a prayer list for each day of the week, with the names of us six children at the top of each day” (op cit, p. 173 – 175).

The congregation has many older women like that. So we are to treat them with the same affection and high regard as our own mothers. In this we are to be an example to the world. Brian Edwards says, “I stood in the inevitable post office queue a few years ago when an elderly man ahead of me was collecting his pension and that of his wife. The counter clerk returned the wife’s book with an apology: ‘I am sorry, your wife hasn’t signed it.’ The immediate response of her husband was ‘The silly old cow.’ That went through me like a knife. If that was the way he spoke of her in public I dreaded to think what he said to her in the home” ( Brian Edwards, “The Ten Commandments For Today,” Day One Publications, 1996, p.168).

John Stott makes an interesting observation on these words, “Treat … older women as mothers;” “I find here good biblical warrant for a recognition in the congregation of the generation gap. True, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet it seems to me artificial in the West when students breeze up to me and hail me by my Christian name, even though I am old enough to be their great-grandfather!” (John Stott, “The Message of Timothy and Titus,” IVP, 1996, p.125). I find this attitude to be particularly demeaning in sheltered homes for the elderly. Someone called Maggie Kuhn wrote, “The ultimate indignity is to be given a bedpan by a stranger who calls you by your first name” (Observor, 20 August, 1978). The congregation has to be an example to the world of affection and honour to older women.

4. Treat Younger Women as Sisters, with Absolute Purity.

Isn’t that a high standard? “Absolute purity.” It is a good translation. The phrase literally is ‘all purity,’ that is, exclusive purity. We are called to live like that in this impure civilisation. ‘Vogue’ magazine is the world’s top fashion journal. It has a French and English language edition. On Friday the Times was reviewing the latest magazine and it said in bold type, “There is scarcely a word or an image in the 300-page French ‘Vogue’ extravaganza that hasn’t to do with sex” (The Times, Feb. 11, 2000, p.39). How wearying and narrow a view of God’s creation. How cripplingly limiting. How tempting, causing a restlessness nothing can satisfy. How impure! And we are called to live in absolute purity in such a culture.

There is an incident recorded of Jesus sitting teaching a crowd of people in the courts of the temple at dawn and a crowd of Pharisees and religious teachers storming into the meeting dragging a woman, her face full of fear and shame, her clothing disarrayed. “We’ve caught this woman in the act of adultery. Moses in his law says she should be stoned to death. Now what do you say?” It was, of course, a trap. They were not interested in the fate of the woman. They wanted something with which to discredit Jesus. If he had said, “Go ahead and stone her,” then he would have appeared harsh and merciless. If he had told them Moses was wrong, or had commanded them to let her go he would have been undermining the truth of the Scriptures and the seriousness of this sin.

What the Lord did actually say to them was, “Let the man who has never committed a sin – of act or word or thought or omission – let the one who never lusted after a woman in his heart – let him be the one to pick up a stone and stone this woman.” Jesus turned from them, looked down and wrote on the sand, and when he next looked up he saw only the woman standing there, because “Those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first” (John 8:9). I want to ask you, would you have had the right to pick up a stone and throw it at her? Are you without reproach? Are you perfectly pure in act and word and thought? Any man here? Then we are all a bunch of sinners. That is exactly what we are.

Those evil men in the cold light of dawn had made two great mistakes: they came to Jesus to trap him, and then they went away from Jesus leaving him. Do you understand? They abandoned the only one who could help them. They should have stayed there with the woman and said, “We take our place alongside her. Our only hope is that God has not sent his Son into the world to condemn the world. Be merciful to us too O Son of God!” Who else is able to deliver people from sexual distress but Jesus? The reason I say that is because I myself have been helped by him. This is not some theory, but it is from my experience that I say he can help us all.

There was an occasion when Pastor Wilhlem Busch had been asked to speak on this very subject in a small town near Lippe at a meeting for teenagers. He went into a room and then blinked at what confronted him, the noise, and thick tobacco smoke which hung over the place. Some of the boys had brought whisky. There was girls sitting on boys’ laps. He said to himself, “And you are going to speak here? Well, old feller, you’ll need plenty of courage.” There was a moment of silence and Pastor Busch’s opening words were, “We can experience heart-breaking distress in our sex life.” You could hear a pin drop. A girl moved off the knees of a boy and all those teenagers looked at him. They had all seemed so lively and excited and happy, but the attention with which his words were greeted showed the truth – “we can experience heart-breaking distress in our sex life.”

The Bible has much to say on this theme, but people think it is irrelevant. They believe that we have grown out of the Bible, but in fact this is the only book that can make them happy. One day Pastor Busch was sick-visiting in his city of Essen and he walked into a men’s ward in one local hospital to be greeted warmly by six men. They had seen him making his rounds and were ready for him. “‘Pastor Busch,’ they said, ‘We’d like to ask you a question.’ ‘Okay, I’m listening.’ From the very first glance, I knew they were going to ask me a trick question. One of them, under the watchful eyes of his fellow patients, asked, ‘You believe that God is all-powerful, don’t you?’ ‘Yes, I do,’ I said. ‘Well,’ he continued, ‘here is my question: Could your God create a rock that would be so heavy that even he himself couldn’t lift it?’

“Have you seen the trap? Whether I answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’, the conclusion would be the same – God is not all-powerful. I thought the matter over for a moment, and wondered if I should explain this to him, but it all seemed so stupid to me that in turn I asked him a question: ‘Sir, before answering, I’d like to know whether you have sleepless nights over this question.’ ‘Sleepless nights?’ he asked, a look of blank astonishment on his face. ‘Oh no!’ ‘Well, it’s like this,’ I continued, ‘my time is limited, so I answer only those questions which are depriving people of their sleep. Tell me, sir, what is hindering you from sleeping?’

“The answer was immediate: ‘I’ve got a problem with my girlfriend. She’s pregnant, and we can’t get married yet.’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘if that’s what is causing you sleepless nights, let’s talk about it.’ ‘All right, if you want to,’ he agreed, rather surprised. ‘But what does that have to do with religion?’ he asked. I answered, ‘Your question about the rock has nothing whatsoever to do with Christianity. But it’s not so concerning that affair with your girlfriend. In this instance you were at fault. You broke one of God’s commandments in having sexual relations with her. So now you are trying to rack your brains and find a way out – an even greater sin. You see, you are stuck in the mud. Your only chance of getting out is to turn to God, and to repent, by confessing to him, “Lord, I have sinned.” Then, and only then, will the Lord begin to do something for you.’ The young man listened attentively. He realised that Jesus was interested in the burden which was weighing on his conscience. He could help him and repair his wasted life” (Wilhelm Busch, “Jesus Our Destiny” Inter Publishing Service, 1996, pp.172&173).

What does the Bible say about your relationship with younger women? It says you are to treat them like your kid sister, with absolute purity. This Christian girl is your dear sibling, and of course you are close to her, and you – she loves and admires as a dear older brother. You must do nothing to break that trust. You share the same Father who has taught you the same values and given you the same goals in life. You are in tune with one another, enjoying the world of ideas, and thankful for your heavenly Father’s love. You sacrifice for her, and you are concerned for her physical well-being, her emotional security, and supremely for her spiritual welfare. You have a sense of responsibility for one another. Your brotherly and sisterly love is never claustrophobic, exclusive or possessive. You draw out the potential and encourage the strengths of one another. That is the love of a brother and sister. Touching does not come into their love. Of course they may hug when they see one another and hug when they leave.

So Timothy is to stand by his sister, help her discover her gifts, offer her encouragement and prayer and support. He doesn’t get extremely close to one sister, so that she begins to feel she is being stalked, while ignoring the others. He might feel closer to one, but he is just as much a brother to the others. He must resist infatuation with one sister.

If you have a close relationship with one member of the opposite sex then, as it goes on, it must have marriage in mind. Of course, not all close friendships will end in marriage. As the friendship goes on one person may come to the conclusion that they are not prepared to spend the rest of their lives with that person. That question mark over every close friendship between a brother and sister in Christ means you are careful about pairing off, and what you do when you are together. The words of Paul here are very convicting, “absolute purity.”

Think and pray about this friendship. Weigh carefully before God the implications of investing yourself in this particular relationship. Someone has said, “Jesus did not choose his friends in the wake of a surge of emotions or because a person happened to be endowed with a good figure or fine features. He engaged his mind in every decision he made and always submitted these decisions to his Father, seeking his approval before he acted. Sift your motives with care, asking: Why am I wanting this relationship? Is it for my benefit or the other person’s or both?

“Absolute purity” means never doing anything that would cause that person harm – mentally, spiritually or emotionally. It means being concerned that they continue to grow spiritually. It means that you do all in your power to ensure that they go on serving God faithfully, and that you are drawing out their full potential. If you value the ideal of “absolute purity” then you won’t skip the ‘friendship’ stage of a relationship, you wont mistake a physical relationship for love, you wont let yourselves be isolated from other vital relationships, you wont be distracted from your primary responsibility of preparing for the future, and you will not be discontented with God’s gift of singleness.

“Absolute purity” means every relationship becomes an opportunity to model Christ’s love; your unmarried years are a gift from God; you can’t own someone outside of marriage; you avoid situations that might compromise the purity of your body or mind.

All Christian fathers and mothers are committed to the ideal of “absolute purity” for their sons and daughters. The Welsh singers Tom Jones and Cerys Matthews of ‘Catatonia’ have made a record of that old duet, ‘Baby, it’s cold outside.’ In the song the man is trying to persuade the woman not to go home yet and stay longer, and she is producing counter arguments why ‘I really must go,’ – ‘But Baby it’s cold outside.’ One of the pleas she raises is this – ‘My father is waiting at the door.’ Now that is a great argument to produce. You have a father who cares for you, and takes responsibility for you, and he will be waiting for your return. He won’t go to bed until you are back, even if – ‘Baby it’s cold outside.’ Our fathers and mothers are committed to “absolute purity.” They have their own regrets and their own experience, and at night they are waiting for you to get back from your date, and for the sound of your key in the front door.

We fathers are conservative and protective, especially when our daughters go off to university. I am hopelessly out of tune with this culture. For example, the halls of residence in our universities are now mixed halls. Men and women live in adjacent rooms, and share the same kitchen. I can just about comprehend that. But they share the same bathrooms and showers, and that is something I find unacceptable, and, I guess, most women students also. They want a bathroom in which they feel secure and totally safe and feminine without strange men knocking on the door and pushing against it. There needs to be bathrooms for women only, because there are such attacks on purity. I have the same feelings about mixed sex wards in hospitals. We prefer male and female wards for the same reasons.

“Absolute purity” is a great standard. Implemented it would mean far fewer abortions, and far less single mothers, an end to the epidemic of AIDS and other sexually transmitted disease, and it would mean much more happiness and fun in the world. Because the great lie is that Christian teaching takes away the joy of life. That rumour comes from the pit. It is actually “absolute purity” that makes us happy younger people and older people.

There are two useful books on this theme. There is Elisabeth Elliot’s “Passion and Purity” (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1984), and Joshua Harris’s “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” Multnomah Books, Oregon, 1997). But the best book of all on relationships is the Bible, and the best person to help you is the “Wonderful Counsellor”, the Lord Jesus Christ.

13th February 2000 GEOFF THOMAS