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Journey Thorough 1st Timothy: 5:17-25: Concerning Elders

1 Timothy 5:17-25 New American Standard Bible

17 The elders who lead well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while it is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” 19 Do not accept an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. 20 Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning. 21 I solemnly exhort you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality. 22 Do not lay hands upon anyone too quickly and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin. 23 Do not go on drinking only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments. 24 The sins of some people are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after. 25 Likewise also, deeds that are good are quite evident, and those which are otherwise cannot be concealed.

Paul begins to speak about the treatment of elders. Elders play an essential role in the body of Christ. No one is called to lead alone. Elders come alongside the lead pastor to not only give counsel and pray about decisions moving forward, but to also manage and lead what is taking place in the body of Christ. An elder is someone who is not only mature in the faith, is able to lead well, but who is also able to teach the word of God. We should never be in a hurry to lay hands on anyone quickly but wait for the Lord to reveal those He has called into leadership. God appoints and equips people to lead and the wrong person put in leadership will have devastating effects on the work of God and His kingdom in a local church.

Those who not only lead and rule well but who preach and teach well are worthy of double honor. They should not only be honored as elders, but they should be financially compensated. What that amount is, is dependent upon the church and what financial resources are possible. By financially compensating someone we enable them to have the time to invest in the study of God’s word. The extra financially compensation may free them up to have time to spend greater time in the scriptures.

Paul in verse eighteen gives a reference from Deuteronomy 25:4 and a quotation by Jesus during His earthly ministry. Paul shows here that the words of Jesus are scripture by quoting both from the Old Testament and the words of Jesus. What Paul is showing the is principle of an elder being compensated for his labor in the body of Christ. Our purpose in preaching, teaching, and leading in the body of Christ should never be material wealth or riches. But an elder should be compensated based on the work that is being accomplished for God’s kingdom.

The verse from Deuteronomy 25:4 shows that when the ox is threshing the grain, they would walk over wheat stalks to crush and separate them. It is very simple when we understand why God would include this in the law and His instructions to Israel. But allowing an ox to eat while it is threshing the grain would make them more productive. If they were muzzled it would hinder their work because their hunger and need for food would slow down the amount of energy and strength that needed to be exerted. We can see how this would translate to elders who were leading well and preaching and teaching the word of God. If we desire them to be able to give forth their very best, it would require proper financial compensation.

In Matthew 18:15-20 Jesus lays out a process for church discipline. It begins by confronting the person one on one if there is sin. If someone has sinned against another they are to first go to the person, but if the person refuses to acknowledge the wrong that has been committed and refuses to come to a place of restoration and healing, they are to then bring two to three witnesses. This is where Paul picks up here. If someone is going to bring an accusation against an elder, they must do so with two to three witnesses. It is very easy to simply accuse someone of anything in leadership, especially if people are not pleased with the direction of the church. Satan is known as the accuser of the brethren and those often who don’t like the direction of a church may personally attack the leader and one of the ways this happens is through false accusation. Therefore, if accusation is to be made against an elder in the church it must be on the basis of two to three witnesses. The sin and wrong must be evident and not merely hear say.

If indeed wrongdoing and sin is taking place, Paul’s instruction is to rebuke the elder publicly in the church. It is to be a sign and warning to those in the church to the destructive nature of sin. An elder is one who not only is in a position of leadership, which means they have influence over those under their care, but they are also entrusted to teach and preach the word of God. Public rebuke is needed so that those who are in the congregation who may be impacted by the sin in the elder’s life would understand the seriousness of it and not chase after and engage in the same types of things. Sin is destructive and if it is not dealt with, it acts like a cancer destroying the purposes and plans that God has. The devil is defeated, but if we engage in secret sin and fail to heed the conviction of the Holy Spirit, in the end it will cause incredible destruction because we have given access to the devil.

Paul has instructed Timothy how to deal with a situation when an elder is accused. This should be taken seriously but the lead pastor should never jump to conclusions. People must do all things with integrity and follow the process that Paul has laid out. Nothing should be done out of prejudging or partiality. When accusations are brought and two to three witnesses are brought forward, the facts and information must be examined and then steps taken as the Holy Spirit leads. When an elder is involved in sin it cannot be hidden or swept under the rug because if we are not proactive when problems arrive and simply become reactive when action is needed, something that began as a small fire can turn into a ragging inferno. But when dealing with correcting elders we must always be aware that those who don’t like decisions that are made, or desire control themselves may bring forth false accusations to destroy the credibility of the elder who is in leadership.

Paul admonishes Timothy or any pastor for that matter not to lay hands on too quickly. A person who is to move into the position of elder must be thoroughly vetted. The character of an individual is the number one factor in choosing someone for the purposes of God’s kingdom. Those whose hearts are yielded to the Lord and are not seeking position and title, will have a heart and mind that reflect the character of Christ. If Timothy lays hand on too quickly and elevates someone to a position of leadership, he will be responsible for the damage done by their sins. The lead pastor is fully responsible for all those underneath him who are placed in a position of leadership. Therefore we should never be in a hurry to elevate anyone to leadership but instead diligently seek the Lord. When someone over time has demonstrated their ability to lead and their commitment to Christ, we should then begin to examine them for a position of leadership.

Paul instructs Timothy to keep himself pure or free from sin. A leader in the body of Christ is a target of the enemy. We must be continually vigilant when it comes to our pursuit of Christ and being led by The Holy Spirit in all things. If indeed we are abiding in Christ on a daily basis we will be protected from the strategies and schemes of the enemy. Satan desires to destroy those in leadership because if he can, he hopes to scatter the flock. But a good shepherd of God’s people will understand the responsibility before them and guard their heart from the advances of the enemy.

To some today it might seem strange that Paul would encourage Timothy to use a little wine to help his stomach and frequent illnesses. But we must remember at this time clean drinking water could have been sparse and hard to find. Some may believe drinking a little wine may lead to drunkenness. But the mark of a person who is led by The Holy Spirit is self-control. The Ephesians would often give themselves over to drunkenness. But Timothy was struggling as a young pastor and was struggling with fear. The fear and turmoil he was facing as a leader may have led to the health problems he was experiencing. Also, non-alcoholic wine was most likely not available at this time in history. The wine was most likely diluted and not strong, but from Paul’s comments, drinking a little bit of wine would help with any stomach or sickness issues. Some may ask why Paul didn’t just heal Timothy. But it wasn’t Paul inherently who healed anyone. It was the work of The Holy Spirit through him. Sometime God allows us to go through things to mold, shape, and keep us totally dependent on God for everything.

The sins Paul is speaking of are the sins of those who are elders. He has said previously that is an accusation is brought concerning an elder that it would require two to three witnesses. The elder would need to be corrected publicly to send a message to the rest of the congregation. But here Paul has spoken to Timothy about not laying hands on anyone too quickly. When anyone is going to be placed in leadership they must be thoroughly vetted, and we should never be in a hurry to build anything. But we should wait for the Lord to reveal who those are that He has anointed for leadership and when He does reveal them, we should place them in leadership.

Just as sins may be blatant or hidden, there are those who do good works that are seen by all. But there are also those who do good works, but they are not seen by all, almost as if they are hidden. Again, when people are being examined if they should step into leadership or not it is very important that we get to know them, observe the conduct of their life and understand that if they step into leadership, they represent the body. A question every pastor should ask themselves before placing anyone in leadership whether it is the position of an elder or another leadership position is “do I trust this person”. If we cannot answer that question with a strong yes, then we need to reconsider placing that person in leadership.

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