As a church we’ve been going through a series titled “God Alive Church” reading through the pastoral epistles of 1 & 2nd Timothy and Titus. It’s been a joy for me personally to read and discover God’s plan for the church and how He intends that the life of the church be shaped by the gospel. The gospel changes the way we relate with each other – the family of God. The gospel allows us to live out our God given roles within the church and the home. The gospel produces God glorifying lifestyle. A godly life is the product of the gospel! Last week we got into some more practical applications of the gospel life.
As we read through the first 16 verses of 1 Timothy 5, we learnt about the 5 signs of a healthy church life:
a) Being considerate and respectful of one another
b) Giving generously
c) Testing and validating believers
d) Seeking sexual purity
e) Avoiding slanderous talk.
This week we look at v17 through 25, Paul gives instructions to Timothy on how to care for the elders in the church. We probably are well versed with the care that needs to be given to the congregation but what kind of care would need to be given to the elders? If this were an organization, probably this question about caring for your leaders wouldn’t come up. We know however that the church is the family of God. In a family everyone takes care and responsibility of each other. So what does it look like?
17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” 19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. 22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. 23 (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) 24 The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. 25 So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.
Let me put it out there that it feels a little strange to preach on this topic being an elder myself. I wouldn’t want to lay it down as though these were my own thoughts. These are the words from Scripture – and so let’s remind ourselves that this carries the authority from God.
Coming back to this passage, I believe there are three ways by which we can care for our elders:
1. By supporting them (v17-18)
2. By being prudent in handling accusations against them (v19-21)
3. By being patient in selecting them. (v22-25)
1. By supporting them (v17-18)
17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”
The first verse starts by mentioning let the elders who rule well as a prerequisite for considering those worthy of double honor.
What does that mean? For this we’ll turn 1 Peter 5 which I think is a great measuring stick for an elder to assess himself:
2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight,[a] not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you;[b] not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
Elders are called to be shepherds of the flock. The imagery is of a shepherd tenderly and gently taking care of his sheep. How do they shepherd and oversee the flock of God?
a) By doing it willingly and not under compulsion
b) By doing it eagerly without desiring some shameful gain
c) Not abusing the flock but rather being examples to them.
And it says when the Chief Shepherd appears, elders that have “ruled well” will receive the unfading crown of glory. And that surpasses any other incentive or kickback in this lifetime – receiving honor from God!
Another thing we see here is “double honor”. What does that mean? I think it means a couple of things. Firstly, it means respecting and submitting to their leadership. And this is not an easy thing to do in our natural self. Our natural self runs away from submitting to any kind of authority. Be it parents, or spouse, or teachers, or boss, or government or God. In our sin, we are prewired to rebel against all authorities. But that changes when we come to know and believe in Jesus. We realize that though Jesus is God the Son, He submits to the Father and is fully obedient to Him. In God’s wisdom He created authorities in our lives to help us understand the intimate relationship between the members of the Trinity. So even in your church setting, when you submit to the leadership of your elders and other people who might be discipling you, know that you are becoming more like Christ in that process.
Secondly, I think honor also refers to financial support. How can we say that? Because of v18 which quotes two verses. The first verse says “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” which is an OT reference. Now I don’t any of us is familiar with farming analogies so this will need some explaining. What this means is when the ox is plowing the field, it deserves to partake in some of his own labor. The command is to not muzzle the ox when he is trying to eat the grain. Apparently in OT times other nations would actually muzzle the ox and not allow him to eat. The Israelites had to stand out in terms of its fairness and compassion towards animals. Similarly, Paul uses this verse to state how elders who “labor in the word” need to be treated fairly by receiving financial support for their ministry. He explains this in a little more detail in 1 Cor 9:9-14:
9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?
Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.
Then the next quote that Paul uses in 1 Timothy 5:18 is “The laborer deserves his wages.”
This is a command from Jesus when Jesus sends out the Twelve in Matthew 10 and 72 disciples in Luke 10.
“And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house.” Luke 10:7
This kind of financial support is given to the elder so that it can free him up to focus on the work that God has appointed him to do for the church.
Also we notice in v17 is that it mentions “those who labor in preaching and teaching”. When you think about labor what pictures come to your mind? It’s wearisome, tiring hard work to be able to communicate God’s truth accurately!
It’s like a person holding precious jewels (Word of God) and sharing it with his friends with utmost care. That’s why this passage doesn’t agree with those preachers that expect a spontaneous revelation from God to preach God’s Word. Lack of preparation is justified by saying that they are led by the Spirit. That’s not how it is. There is labor that goes into preaching and teaching the Word of God. Why? Because it takes work to remove the pre-conceived notions and erroneous thoughts we may have about God and our own hearts. The hard work is not in creating a sermon. It’s easy to manufacture a man made message. The hard part is to remove the baggage to allow God to speak clearly and powerfully through Scripture. The preparation time is bathed in prayer asking God to help us apply this to the congregation.
An illustration would be of a mother that takes time to think and prepare a meal for her kids that would nourish them and also make it enjoyable for them. Just making a tasty meal is not enough; she makes something that’s healthy for them. After 3-4 hours when the meal is prepared the kids enjoy the meal.
This labor is not just in words but also in deeds. There is labor in discipling people with a lifestyle that’s consistent to the message.
7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. (Heb 13:7)
We are all called to be disciple-makers. (Matthew 28:19-20) Disciple-making happens not just verbally but as you show people how to love, obey and trust Christ. That’s why it becomes hard to teach someone forgiveness when you yourself harbour unforgiveness in your heart.
Having said that, let me also say that elders don’t perfectly obey their sermons. That’s why we need to preach the same message to ourselves. Elders are also sinners saved by grace. We are need of Christ’s grace each day as much as anyone else. So the question is what should the church imitate and absorb from the elders? Their pursuit of Christ.
1) Are they pursuing Christ through prayer and the Word? If yes, copy that
2) Are they frequently repenting of the idols in their lives? If yes, copy that
3) Are they humbling themselves before the gospel every day? If yes, copy that.
So one of the first ways by which we can care for our elders is by supporting them: showing them honor, submitting to their leadership, financial support and imitating their pursuit of Christ.
2. By being prudent in handling accusations against them. (v19-21)
19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.
The lives of the elders are always on scrutiny because they lead the church. Therefore there are always going to people who would disagree with decisions they take or have some accusations against them. What biblically we see here is that the God honouring way of handling accusations against elders is by admitting a charge only when evidence is provided by two or three witnesses.
This is not absolving them nor overlooking the accusations made against them but being fair to the God called and appointed elders of the church.
V20 talks about the case where an elder is proven guilty of a disqualifying sin and continues to persist in it. In this case, the elder who is persisting in rebellion will need to be publicly rebuked and corrected. This is important because it highlights how seriously the church views sin matters. A public correction reassures the congregation that a disqualifying sin by an elder will not be covered up. As we know elders are pace-setters. Therefore, even in sin matters if they aren’t corrected, it will begin to affect the church negatively.
We know of a lot of churches which have been broken because disqualifying sins of elders were covered up or tolerated. Just imagine the brokenness among believers when they find out that their pastor is caught in adultery or homosexuality. Furthermore, they are even more discouraged when they see these things being covered up or tolerated. One of the other disqualifying sins according to 1 Timothy 3 is also “he shouldn’t be a lover of money”. Yet there are many churches in the world where the pastor is an outright lover of money and his lifestyle is being applauded. It’s damaging to church!
After telling this to Timothy, Paul presents a picture of a heavenly court with God the Father, Jesus and other angels looking on. In front of this heavenly court Paul testifies and commands
Timothy to be faithful in rebuking any elder publicly who has persisted in disqualifying sin. When it comes to this, there is no room for being biased or partial.
I really think a lot of the churches in world would look very different if disqualified leaders would be publicly rebuked as laid down in this passage. How much more purer and devoted would the church be as a result of this? Also, I think the church would look a lot more different if the church was more prudent in admitting charges against the elder. This is the second way how you can care for an elder.
3. By being patient in selecting them. (v22-25)
22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. 23 (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) 24 The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. 25 So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.
Laying on of hands is a biblical symbol of appointing ministers to service either elders or deacons. What Paul was telling Timothy is that he shouldn’t be quick in appointing elders. Not before he assesses their theology, lifestyle, maturity and witness. And these things take time. That’s why v24 says “the sins of others appear later”. This is contrary to what we see in the world. For eg: if you’ve gone to seminary and got a degree – people say “you are fit to be an elder automatically”! Or if you’re involved in church activities, “well you should try ministry”. In fact v22 says that if you appoint someone hastily to be an elder, you also share in the responsibility of the elder’s future sin. That’s what it means when it says “nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure”. Time and time again we see examples of people being pushed too early to lead a church without having their lives analysed. It wrecks havoc.
Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out. (Proverbs 10:9)
Your sin will find you.
That’s why I added this point of being patient in selecting elders because the best way you can also love your brother who has potential and is passionate about Jesus is to also wait until he matures in his speech and lifestyle before he is given that role. In Acts 19:10, it is reported that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks! That is astounding! Now just imagine the requirement for elders in each of those churches. Must’ve been huge. More than anyone else they would’ve wanted to have elders in place merely to organize themselves. Yet Paul says “do not be hasty in the laying on of hands”. How does that speak to our culture where we want everything to happen instantly? Yes, we should disciple people…give them opportunities to serve the church…train them to be more effective in evangelism but be slow when it comes to appointing them as deacons or elders. “Let them be tested first…let them not be a recent convert”…those are the instructions for deacons and elders.
The encouragement is in v25 where it says that “So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.”
The good works (lifestyle) of people will also be evident, so if you are living life in your community, your community will be in the best place to identify you as someone who can be qualified as an elder.
This passage gives us a good guideline on how can we care for our elders : by supporting them, being prudent in handling accusations and being patient in selecting them. What are some places where you feel God has been speaking to you today? Is it something God wants to change in your beliefs? In your attitudes? In your actions?