A. Note first, the description of the work of the elders- “rule”. Some versions will translate this a bit more mildly as “lead” or “direct the affairs of the church.” But either way there is clear authority involved.
When elders function well they provide clear leadership for the church. They are not mere advisors to the congregation.
B. This “ruling” is further defined as laboring in teaching/preaching Scripture. This is the ultimate way in which elders lead. Elders do not lead on their own authority but through the authority of the Word. Thus, when the elders provide direction which is in line with the Scriptures the church is expected to follow, even to obey (Heb 13:17). If the elders’ leadership is not in accord with Scripture then the congregation would be duty bound to resist the leadership.
Teaching then is at the heart of biblical leadership. Too often today “leadership” means committee structures, advertising campaigns, fund raising and program management. Some of these things might come into play, but biblically pastoral leadership is simply saying, “This is the way marked out by Scripture, follow me as we walk this way.”
Some find here the basis for two types of elders- teaching elders and ruling elders. We do not think that distinction holds. 1st, the word translated here “especially” can also be translated “that is,” which would make good sense in this context. 2nd, elders by definition must be able to teach (3:2)- teaching is the distinctive characteristic.
Lastly, on this point, note that Paul says the ones who lead well “labor” in preaching and teaching. The word used here is a strong one. Teaching the Bible well requires real effort. It is no ho hum affair. In addition to the thinking, researching, etc. there is the gravity of speaking to God’s people on His behalf.
C. Paul’s main point, then, is that elders who lead well (as described) are worthy of double honor from their congregation. The meaning of “double honor” is not made explicit. From the OT basis that is given financial support is clearly in view as part of it. Double honor may mean “much honor” and it likely results in respect plus financial provision.
When a congregation esteems the Word and knows its need of the Word, respect and appreciation of those who labor to give it to them will be natural. It is indeed a joy to serve a congregation like this.
A question may arise from this passage though. Why does the church not pay Nathan and myself? We make no distinction in the office held by Lee and that held by Nate and myself. Why then pay one and not the others? Are we being unbiblical? No. This passage teaches that Nate and I are entitled to support from the church, but we are also free to relinquish that right- even as Paul did. Since we have other means of income we do not draw a salary form the church. This does mean then that the church should be careful to watch over the financial needs of all its elders though.
D. Notice how Paul supports this argument for financial provision for elders. He appeals to “scripture” and then cites an OT text and a saying of Jesus.
The OT text is Deut 25:4 and it had been commonly used in other Jewish writing to argue that if God was concerned for the care of animals He was all the more concerned for the care of people (lesser to greater). Thus, Paul used a commonly known text to make his point. If even an ox is to be allowed to derive sustenance from his labor, so also the pastor of a church.
The saying of Jesus is practically a verbatim quote from Lk 10:7. While it can be debated, Paul does here seem to be appealing to the saying of Jesus as on the same level of authority as the Old Testament.
Though this may be obvious, but it bears noting that we have a general example here of rooting our practice in Scripture.
E. No charge against an elder is to be received unless there are at least two witnesses. This is an echo of Deut 19:15.
Thus, honor also includes guarding the reputation of the elders. Those who lead are always open to more criticism and gossip. If a church honors her elders, its members will not allow gossip concerning them. Slander against your elders is an attack against your church. Much harm can be done if such gossip is allowed; and it is allowed any time it is not rebuked.
Furthermore, if you honor someone you are unwilling to believe accusations unless they can be substantiated. The church should have a basic stance of believing the innocence of her faithful leaders unless a charge can be substantiated. Our response should be, “No, I know him and I’ll not believe that unless you can prove it.”
F. This does not mean, however, that the elders are above the Law. We are still accountable to Scripture. Charges just must be handled in the right way. And, if there is persistent sin, it must be rebuked publicly. There is no place for covering up or simply allowing someone to slink away privately. Far too often when there has been open sin (typically immorality) in the life of a church leader, they are allowed simply to disappear without any public addressing of their sin. This is wrong.
Exx- Pastor in FL who lied on resume
Note the intended purpose of the public rebuke- fear on the part of the rest of the congregation (Deut 19:20). Witnessing judgment is supposed to cause us to fear God, sin and judgment; and, Prov is clear that the fear of God will keep you from sin. Perhaps the clear lack of the fear of God in churches today is linked to our unwillingness to publicly deal with the sin of church leaders.
G. The task of handling accusations against elders is a very serious one that must be done impartially. Note the solemnity of 5:21.
H. Given the importance of the role of the elders, and the serious implications of failure in that role, ordination is serious business and not to be done hastily. Paul says that if we through negligence ordain a man who is unfit, we will share in his sin, in the destruction and harm he will eventually cause in the church. We need to think more carefully about this. Most churches today do not approach ordination with any sense of awe or respect. This was not always the case. We have plans for ordaining Chad Davis in Dec, so this is a good point to discuss in the light of this passage how we go about ordination.
- ordination is to the office of elder, not just to speak the gospel
- so we will not ordain anyone unless he is about to assume the role of elder. We should, anytime we hear of someone being ordained, ask “Where is he going to pastor?” There are some exceptions to this (eg. missionary) but in our day the exception has become the rule.
- Because this is a serious issue we must know the person well
- The church ordains. Thus we all will share in the blessing or the sin
- This is the basis for the practice of inviting other ordained men to participate in an ordination council. Churches call other pastors to help them discern whether or not this man is fit. This requires substantive theological and ethical questioning- contrary to much practice today.
- The elders will guide you in this by bringing a recommendation
- If we take this seriously then we should keep up with all those we ordain. If a man we ordain begins to show himself unfit we must see this as an affront to the Kingdom and to this church. We should then revoke his ordination. He goes forth with our stamp of approval and as long as we allow him to retain that we share in his sin.
I. Having exhorted Timothy to purity Paul takes a brief aside to clarify what he means by purity (v.23). He does not mean asceticism like the opponents practice (4:1-5). Purity for Paul does not include abstinence from alcohol. It would include remaining sober, avoiding drunkenness, of course.
J. 5:24-25 bring up the difficulty of discerning well. In the context of being careful about whom we ordain, these verses deal with the reality of how difficult it is to know a person’s heart. There is debate on exactly what is meant here hinging primarily on whether the “judgment” mentioned is human judgment or the final judgment by God. If it is God’s eschatological judgment, then the point is comfort that despite our best efforts some will deceive us. However, we are not guilty if we have been diligent. And, God will judge him in the end. If it is human judgment then this serves as a further basis for taking time in reaching a conclusion.
The last category is masters. The situation in view concerns Christian slaves and what Gospel shaped living looks like for them. Paul makes it clear that they must honor their masters so as not to bring dishonor on the gospel. The point is to make sure Christianity does not get presented as a rabble-rousing religion.
Then Paul takes up the specific instance of believing slaves with believing masters. Apparently some thought that since they were brothers there was no need for them to obey these Christian masters. Paul however corrects them. They should give even better service since they are serving a brother.
Paul reverses the benefactor language- slaves in this way can be benefactors to their masters
Applying this may be more difficult, since thankfully none of us are slaves. But we can see the broader principles. The fact that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ does not abolish other role distinctions and hierarchies. If your employer our professor is a believer do not forget your place.
- Gospel living means living under authority. If you are anti-authority you are anti-Christ.
- Honor, protect and provide for faithful elders
- We, your elders, pledge to be open with accountability
This is a very practical passage dealing with specific behaviors. Let’s not miss that these are not isolated commands. They flow out of the gospel. Thus, they mean nothing apart from the gospel. If you have not repented of your sins and placed your faith in Christ then this can mean very little for you. You must begin with repentance and faith.
Then, for those who have been converted, true belief will result in this sort of living.