1 Timothy 5:17-25 is about setting high standards*. Its about the need for Christian leaders to be careful about the way they live so that we don’t bring Jesus’ name into disrepute and undermine our message.
Christian Leaders should be honoured and cared for
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” (v17-18)
Here we learn that there were different kinds of elders in the New Testament church. There were some elders who were volunteers, or what’s called “lay elders”. They are responsible for the spiritual and pastoral oversight. And they’re also the ones who direct the affairs of the church. Back in Timothy’s day the majority were “lay elders,” working full-time jobs to support their families and then overseeing the church as volunteers.
There were also some elders who were specially gifted to preaching and teaching the Bible full-time. These are elders who aren’t just “able to teach” (which is required of all elders) but these are elders who’ve been given a special spiritual gift of communicating the Christian faith to people. For these elders, their primary calling is to study and teach the Bible. Those called to lead the church, especially the full time pastors are worthy of what Paul calls “double honour.” Now some people might say that this means that if the full time pastors are good at what they do, then they should be paid double the normal salary of a pastor. We like that idea! (Only joking!) It’s more likely that “double honour” here refers to two different kinds of honour. If they are good leaders and godly men, you should respect them and listen to them. Those who have been set aside to lead the congregation full time, those whose calling is teaching the Bible are also worthy of the church’s financial support, which is a second kind of honour.
We honour our leaders by respecting them and being willing to submit to their spiritual oversight. And we honour them by supporting them financially, if they’re employed by the church.
Christian Leaders should be held accountable
Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, 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 favouritism. (v19-21)
Leaders who lead well deserve honour. But what are you going to do when a church leader runs off the tracks? With an elder or leader who’s doing wrong.
First of all, in verse 19 there’s a word of caution. Just because you hear a rumour, you don’t necessarily believe it. Rumours were as rife back then as they can tend to be these days. But the hard part comes next. It’s easy to talk about people behind their backs. Character assassination. Gossip. And we condemn people out of hand without ever checking the facts. We won’t do it publicly, but it in whispers. And what happens? Everyone takes two steps back. Nobody’s prepared to bite the bullet. Nobody wants to get involved. And the situation just keeps on going. Because nobody’s got the guts to do anything about it. Paul says you just can’t do it that way. Neither option is good enough when you’re dealing with something as important as an accusation against an elder or a leader in the church. Don’t gossip about it. But you must deal with it. Up front. In public. With integrity. Verse 20 says “Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly so that the others may take warning.” If you keep quiet about it and sweep it under the carpet how will other leaders and potential leaders be warned?
It’s a hard policy to put into practise. It’s a lot easier just to gossip or to turn a blind eye. Christian leadership is extremely important and Christian leaders should be held accountable by the rest of the church.
Christian Leaders should be screened carefully
Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure… The sins of some men 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 cannot be hidden. (v 22-25)
Paul says “Don’t be hasty.” He says be careful who you choose leaders. Don’t go appointing elders who you haven’t checked out properly because the sins of some men are obvious, they reach the place of judgement ahead of them. In other words – when judgement finally comes on some people, whether he’s meaning human or divine, it won’t come as a surprise because their sins are so evident and obvious.
But the sins of others are different and trail along behind them and it takes a while to see the truth.
Paul’s advice is – allow enough time to see the reality. When it comes to appointing elders, be very, very careful. There’s a lot at stake. There’s nothing like the wrong sort of Christian leaders to bring Christianity into disrepute. We need to set a high standard in the way we choose our leaders and the way we hold them accountable.
We need to take this very seriously as a church and a denomination.
* This blog is a summary of a recent sermon by Alistair Anderton.