Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. (1 Timothy 5:1-2 ESV)
Paul was not speaking of the elder of the church but older people in the church. He went on to speak about younger men, as well as older women and younger women, so it is clear from the context he speaking about generational differences, not leadership.
One of the realities of the church is the multi-generational spread of its members. Most of the time we are with people our own age, but church, like family, involves all ages, and this reality is a significant factor in understanding and serving within a church. The principle he taught is respect for one another born out of love. The ones older than us we should treat like our parents, or perhaps our older brother and sister. The ones younger, like our younger brothers and sisters, or perhaps even like our children if we are old enough.
Why do we respect each other in the Christian family? Why do we care for one another? Several reasons can be given. First, because we have all been purchased by the blood of Christ. Each one of us is precious in that sense. Each one of us is redeemed through His death on the cross and as such are of inestimable worth and value.
How do we love Christ? How do we love anyone? By loving and respecting those things that they love.
If we came into someone’s house and saw precious and expensive items there, we would be careful not to bump into them, to knock them off their shelves, or to break them. We would recognize that this was something very important to the owner, bought at a high price. Surely we should think the same way about one another in the church. Each Christian has been purchased by the same blood, and is enveloped by the same eternal love. Each is of inestimable value. Regardless of how much we might like or dislike one another (based on our flesh, of course), we should love and value one another based on the love of Christ and the payment of His life for each soul.
Second, we should love and respect one another because we also desire love and respect from them. If we disrespect them they will return it in kind. Christ said, “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:2 ESV). If we respect them, they will also respect us.
If you think about it, not only are we to love everyone else in the family of God, but they are to love us as well. They are commanded as much as we are commanded. So it would be our obligation to make our selves more lovable, easier to deal with, more gracious, more approachable, more endearing. We should do this not in an insincere or manipulative way, not for our sake alone, but in the spirit of unity and for the sake of the transformation of life. We should be as nice as the Holy Spirit seeks to make us to be.
Third, we should respect one another because this enables us to work together more effectively. When there is division and hurt feelings in the church it is difficult to bring people together. So, we must be considerate to one another for the sake of God’s mission.
Finally, we should respect one another because the church is meant to be a family and not merely an organization. Every family has more than a mere functional connection. Family means relationships, fellowship, love, compassion, sharing together of life’s great and sometimes difficult moments. The church of Jesus Christ is like this - a family that does not merely function but one that loves in the name and by the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
Do you have a problem with someone at the church? Ask God to give you the grace to see them through His eyes. Develop His love and compassion for them. Let Him take the burden of dislike off of your heart. Love them as a precious soul that Christ died to save. Treat them with respect and consideration. And you will find that they will treat you with the same respect.
There certainly is a time and a place for discipline when someone persists in sinning, unrepentant of his or her actions. (See Matt. 18:15-20 and 1 Tim. 5:20.) But that is a discussion for another time. Our first obligation when a brother or sister fails is to pray, and then to seek in gentleness and love to win them back to Christ by love (Gal. 6:1-2).