Welcome back to our series in 1 Timothy! Today, we will be looking at the final portion of chapter 5, where the Apostle Paul gives instructions about how to treat officers in the church.
Church Officers (1 Tim. 5:17–25)
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. But those elders who are sinning, you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning. I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.
Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure. Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever.
The instructions in this section deal primarily with the elders, but the principles apply to a pastor’s relationship with any officer in his church. It is a wonderful thing when the elders and deacons (and other officers) work together in harmony and love. It is tragic when a pastor tries to become a spiritual dictator (1 Peter 5:3) or when an officer tries to be a preeminent “big shot” (3 John 9–10).
Apparently Timothy was having some problems with the elders of the church at Ephesus. He was a young man and still had much to learn. Ephesus was not an easy place to minister. Furthermore, Timothy had followed Paul as overseer of the church and Paul would not be an easy man to follow! Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20) shows how hard he had worked, how faithful he had been, and how much the elders loved him (vv. 36–38). In spite of the fact Paul had personally sent Timothy to Ephesus the young man was having a hard time.
This situation may be the reason for Paul’s instruction about wine. Did Timothy have stomach trouble? Was he ill because of his many responsibilities and problems? Or had he tried to follow the ideas of some ascetics (1 Tim. 4:1–5), only to discover his diet was making him worse instead of better? We do not know the answers to all these questions; we can only read between the lines. It is worth noting that Paul’s mention of wine here is not an endorsement of the entire alcohol industry. Using wine for medicinal reasons is not an encouragement for social drinking. As we have seen, while the Bible does not demand total abstinence, it does denounce drunkenness.
Paul counseled Timothy in his relationship to the elders by discussing three topics:
Paying the elders (vv. 17–18). In the early church, instead of one pastor, several elders ministered to the people. These men would devote themselves full-time to the work of the Lord and deserved some kind of remuneration. In most congregations today the elders are laymen who have other vocations, but who assist in the work of the church. Usually the pastoral staff are the only full-time workers in the church (of course, there are also secretaries, custodians, etc., but Paul was not writing about them). There were two kinds of elders in the church: ruling elders who supervised the work of the congregation; and teaching elders who taught the Word of God.
The local church needs both ruling and teaching. The Spirit gives the gifts of “helps” and “administration” to the church (1 Cor. 12:28). If a church is not organized, there will be wasted effort, money, and opportunities. If spiritually minded leaders do not supervise the various ministries of the local church, there will be chaos instead of order. However, this supervision must not be dictatorial. You do not manage the work of a local church in the same manner as you do a grocery store or a manufacturing plant. While a church should follow good business principles, it is not a business. The ruthless way some church leaders have pushed people around is a disgrace to the Gospel.
But ruling without teaching would accomplish very little. The local church grows through the ministry of the Word of God (Eph. 4:11). You cannot rule over babies! Unless the believers are fed, cleansed, and strengthened by the Word, they will be weak and useless and will only create problems.
Paul told Timothy to be sure the leaders were paid adequately, on the basis of their ministries. He quoted an Old Testament law to prove his point (Deut. 25:4). (The best commentary on this is 1 Cor. 9:7–14.) Then Paul added a statement from our Lord Jesus Christ: “The laborer deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7). This was a common saying in that day, but Paul equated the words of Christ with Old Testament Scripture!
If pastors are faithful in feeding and leading the people, then the church ought to be faithful and pay them adequately. “Double honor” can be translated “generous pay.” (The word honor is used as in “honorarium.”) It is God’s plan that the needs of His servants be met by their local churches; and He will bless churches that are faithful to His servants. If a church is not faithful, and its pastor’s needs are not met, it is a poor testimony; and God has ways of dealing with the situation. He can provide through other means, but then the church misses the blessing; or He may move His servant elsewhere.
The other side of the coin is this: a pastor must never minister simply to earn money (1 Tim. 3:3). To “negotiate” with churches or to canvass around looking for a place with a bigger salary is not in the will of God. Nor is it right for a pastor to bring into his sermons his own financial needs, hoping to arouse some support from the finance committee!
Disciplining the elders (vv. 19–21). Church discipline usually goes to one of two extremes. Either there is no discipline at all, and the church languishes because of disobedience and sin. Or the church officers become evangelical policemen who hold court and violate many of the Bible’s spiritual principles.
The disciplining of church members is explained in Matthew 18:15–18; Romans 16:17–18; 1 Corinthians 5; 2 Corinthians 2:6–11; Galatians 6:1–3; 2 Thessalonians 3:6–16; 2 Timothy 2:23–26; Titus 3:10; and 2 John 9–11.
In our current passage, Paul discussed the disciplining of church leaders. It is sad when a church member must be disciplined, but it is even sadder when a spiritual leader fails and must be disciplined; for leaders, when they fall, have a way of affecting others.
The purpose of discipline is restoration, not revenge. Our purpose must be to save the offender, not to drive him away. Our attitude must be one of love and tenderness (Gal. 6:1–3). In fact the verb restore Paul used in Galatians 6:1 means “to set a broken bone.” Think of the patience and tenderness involved in that procedure!
Paul’s first caution to Timothy is to be sure of his facts and the way to do that is to have witnesses. This principle is also stated in Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16; and 2 Corinthians 13:1. I think a dual application of the principle is suggested here. First, those who make any accusation against a pastor must be able to support it with witnesses. Rumor and suspicion are not adequate grounds for discipline. Second, when an accusation is made, witnesses ought to be present. In other words, the accused has the right to face his accuser in the presence of witnesses.
A church member approached me at a church dinner one evening and began to accuse me of ruining the church. She had all sorts of miscellaneous bits of gossip, none of which were true. As soon as she started her tirade, I asked two of the officers standing nearby to witness what she was saying. Of course, she immediately stopped talking and marched defiantly away.
It is sad when churches disobey the Word and listen to rumors, lies, and gossip. Many a godly pastor has been defeated in his life and ministry in this way, and some have even resigned from the ministry. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” may be a good slogan for a volunteer fire department, but it does not apply to local churches. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” could possibly mean that somebody’s tongue has been “set on fire by hell!” (James 3:6)
Paul’s second caution to Timothy is to do everything openly and truthfully. The under-the-counter politics of city hall have no place in a church. “I have spoken openly to the world… I have said nothing in secret,” Jesus said (John 18:20). If an officer is guilty, then he should be rebuked before all the other leaders (1 Tim. 5:20). He should be given opportunity to repent, and if he does he should be forgiven (2 Cor. 2:6–11). Once he is forgiven the matter is settled and should never be brought up again.
Paul’s third caution to Timothy is to obey the Word no matter what his personal feelings might be. He should act without prejudice against or partiality for the accused officer. There are no seniority rights in a local church; each member has the same standing before God and His Word. To show either prejudice or partiality is to make the situation even worse.
Selecting and ordaining the elders (vv. 22–25). Only God knows the hearts of everyone (Acts 1:24). The church needs spiritual wisdom and guidance in selecting its officers. It is dangerous to impulsively put a new Christian or a new church member in a place of spiritual responsibility. Some people’s sins are clearly seen; others are able to cover their sins, though their sins pursue them. The good works of dedicated believers ought to be evident, even though they do not serve to be seen by people.
In other words, the church must carefully investigate the lives of potential leaders to make sure there is nothing seriously wrong. To ordain elders with sin in their lives is to partake of those sins! If welcoming a heretic in our home makes us partakers of his evil deeds (2 John 10–11), then how much guiltier are we if we ordain people whose lives are not right with God?
No pastor or church member is perfect, but that should not hinder us from striving for perfection. The ministry of a local church rises and falls with its leadership. Godly leadership means God’s blessing, and that is what we want and need.
1. Too often church leaders are targets of criticism because the congregation has unrealistic expectations. How do you treat your church leaders? Do you find fault or do you show appreciation?
2. Do your church leaders receive enough financial support to allow them to live without worry and to provide for the needs of their families? If not, what should the church do?
3. What should you do if you suspect an elder of sinning?