1 Timothy 5:16-25: Elders
August 8, 2019
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
In verse 16, Paul finishes off his instructions about widows (see the devotional yesterday for context), and then turns his attention to how to manage elders. It is important that Christian leaders are giving the right kind of instructions and support and care. How?
First of all, Paul establishes that ruling elders – those who direct the affairs of the church – are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. It is possible that what Paul means by “double honor” is not merely the honorific attitude but what we would call honorariums or salaries. The word for honor was also the word used for a medical doctor’s salary. To confirm that interpretation, Paul then goes on to say that the worker deserves his wages. So Paul first of all is saying that those who are set aside for leadership and teaching in the church should be treated well and paid well.
But what if there is an accusation against an elder? Paul tells Timothy that he shouldn’t even entertain an accusation – don’t look into it, don’t deal with it, don’t be concerned about it – unless there are two or three witnesses. This prescription comes from Old Testament principles of justice. The point is that there must be witnesses (not hearsay) and there must be at least two or three verifiably independent witnesses too. The reality is that people in positions of leadership will attract accusations and attacks – it goes with the territory. But if there are several independent witnesses speaking to some malfeasance, then it must be looked into. If, presumably after due process and fair opportunity to refute accusations, the elders are found guilty as charged, then (because of their public position) the reproof should also take place publicly. The added benefit of this is that when it happens, it means that everyone else wakes up to the reality that keeping your life in order is important. Because such management of elders and pastors is hard, Paul tells Timothy solemnly (I charge you) to keep these instructions without favoritism, without fear or favor, but to do what is right before God.
Then come some brief instructions which are not to be dismissed because they are only a sentence or two in each instance. Timothy is not to be hasty with the laying on of hands. That is, he is not to rush to make an appointment of someone as a pastor or elder or in some ministry role. Take your time. Make sure you have got it right before you formally set someone aside for ministry. Then he is not to share in sins of others but keep himself pure. There can be a club-ish attitude that can develop among people who work together; what once seemed beyond the pale can gradually become thought of as acceptable behavior. Timothy needs to establish an appropriate distance between himself and other people’s faults and sins; he must keep himself pure.
Then Paul gives Timothy a word of medical advice: a little wine for thy stomach’s sake. This advice is famous, not least because it shows that Paul was no prude, but also because he cares for Timothy and cares for his physical health too. We should also care for the physical health of people in Christian ministry.
And then finally, Paul tells him – in essence – not to worry too much about rushing to judgment or people apparently getting away with evil behavior. Sins will bear their own reward in due course, whether quickly or slowly. And similarly, good deeds (like the ones Paul is exhorting Timothy to follow) are also going to have their own impact and effect in due course as well.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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