[ 5 minutes to read ]
“Some men’s sins are open beforehand,
going before to judgment;
and some men they follow after.”
~ 1 Timothy 5:24
“Some men’s sins are open beforehand,” or, they are clearly seen and known. We witness the acts of some men and there is no question that they are sins. It follows then that by their open wickedness, we know the perpetrators to be wicked. Christ said, “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20). I could name men such as Adolph Hitler or Charles Manson and immediately we know these to be profligate men. Their sins have been open beforehand.
It is also true that “some men they follow after,” referring to their sins. Some men are open and known sinners while others sin more secretly. Their sins “follow after,” or are not clearly seen and known, at least for now. They “devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds” (Micah 2:1). They appear to the world to be upright and possess a good heart. Sometimes these ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing are exposed in this life, usually to the surprise of not a few that knew them. Sometimes, however, they are not exposed in this life, but, either way, they will not escape the judgment of God.
The central thought in this verse is that both classes are headed to judgment and neither shall escape punishment. It will not matter that mother and father were fooled, nor even husband, wife, pastor, congregation, or the grocer at the corner market. “Every man’s work shall be made manifest” (1 Corinthians 3:13) when they stand before the Righteous Judge of all the earth.
However, let us now leave the broad strokes and train our eyes to trace the fine lines of this passage. Let us set aside all prejudice and appropriate this verse to ourselves, having the courage to hide it in our heart that we might not sin against God.
Firstly, just as we may classify men as open sinners or deceptive hypocrites, we may assess our own sins the same way. Some sins and sinful tendencies are “open beforehand” and easily identified. In these things, it is not difficult to be very pious. It is a small matter to be faithful to the assembly, to tithe on the first day of the week, to dress modestly, to maintain clean speech, etc. It is usually not a hard thing to avoid the abuse of alcohol and social drinking, gambling, cussing, the company of openly profane persons, etc.
All of the above items are minimal and you may be very strict in them and have a good report of many. However, know this: The Faithful and True Witness says, “I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works” (Revelation 2:23). “And the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is” (1 Corinthians 3:13). If these works are merely a facade of piety with you, they will not be able to stand the trial of fire. You ask, “Should I not then be zealous in good works?” You should! You must! It is expected that the branch will bring forth fruit (John 15:8). However, our works must flow from a pure and humble heart with the glory of God as their designed end in order to be truly good works.
Secondly, there are personal sins that “follow after.” They are not clearly seen by others. They will escape our own eyes if our eyes are dim and drowsy. These are the sins we harbor in our hearts. They are awful, dreadful evils that we feed in secret. These are the sins that we must labor to root out of our heart and guard against their reentry. However, far too many who excel in outward piety are content to let them “follow after.”
It is high time for us to “awake to righteousness, and sin not” (1 Corinthians 15:34). We must be done with the easy generalities and begin to get precise and deal honestly, abruptly, and decidedly with sin. This is serious business. We are not just playing games here. Paul urged the Corinthians, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
Though you look well outwardly, do you have “eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin” (2 Peter 2:14)? Do you indulge in the graphic images of television and then seek after more explicit sights on the internet or elsewhere? Do you expect your wife and daughters to dress modestly and then crane your neck to look at every loose woman that comes by dressed provocatively?
Are you greedy of gain and stingy to give? Does it pain you to give to the church or a brother in need? Do you entertain thoughts of an adulterous rendezvous? Do you harbor a secret rebellion in your heart against your husband? Are you zealous in service in order to feed your pride? Do you wished to be noticed by men when you perform some work? There are untold evils that lurk in our hearts, but do not be deceived: “For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad” (Luke 8:17). It is no mystery why David exclaimed, “Who can understand his errors? Cleanse thou me from secret faults” (Psalm 19:12).
These verses should move every child of God to a serious self-examination. We must lay our sinful selves bare before the thrice Holy God and plead with the Psalmist: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). The Psalmist besought God to search and try his heart. He wanted God to define the wickedness found there. This is where we have failed. We have not sought righteous judgment; we have applied the wrong measurement. We are content to let our sins “follow after” because we are just as good as everyone else is. In this we are not wise (2 Corinthians 10:12).
Finally, our sins, open and secret, are just like the sinners in our text. They are both going to the judgment. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). All things will be laid open and receive “a just recompence of reward” on that day (Hebrews 2:2). There will be no second chances only bitter regrets. May God give us grace to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us” (Hebrews 12:1). Amen.