Dear Father, What does the scripture mean, 1 Timothy 5:24, “the sins of some men are quite evident going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after.” Does this mean we still can sin after judgment?
Thank you for being the first one to ask a question for this column.
It will first be important to observe the larger context in which this puzzling text is found in Scripture. In 1 Timothy 5:17ff, Paul provides instructions regarding certain matters relating to the elders of a local congregation, namely:
1. they may be supported in their work;
2. if necessary, that they may be disciplined;
3. and, that they are to be appointed with great care and caution.
It is within this concluding segment that the passage in question is found. We also should note that Paul cautions: “Do not lay hands too readily on anyone, and do not share in another’s sins.” In biblical times, the laying on of hands was employed in sacred settings for a variety of applications, such as, setting apart the Levite priesthood, blessing children, healing the sick, and for bestowing spiritual gifts.
But laying on of hands was also employed in setting apart disciples for specific and crucial roles of leadership—in this case, the presbyters (cf. Acts 13:3; 1 Timothy 4:14). The emphasis seems to be, therefore: “Do not hastily appoint one to roles of leadership.” Paul is urging and warning Timothy to study the character of these men, in advance of such a serious matter. It was another indication of that old adage that it is easier to place someone in a leadership role than it is to take them out of it.
The thrust of the passage you are referencing, therefore, seems to be this: Some people’s sins are so evident (open, unconcealed, obvious), that their possible appointment to a leadership role may be dismissed immediately. There is no need to proceed further in the case of well known transgressors.
On the other hand, the “problems” with others may not be so apparent initially. One may be appointed to an important role, only to have their serious character flaws revealed at a later time. Therefore, be deliberate and cautious in the appointments made for leadership roles in the church.