Paul from chapter 5 is stating how we should act towards various people in the church. In today’s passage it talks about how we should act towards “the elders”. (17) “The elders” (1) was a title in the first church that expressed the same duties as an overseer or pastor. We looked in chapter 3 at how they were selected. They were respectable both in character and morally and served society in the church through Christ like living. Their duties were to teach and preach. Also they managed the work of charity and relief, visited the sick, and managed the affairs of the church as an overseer. Also by the Word of God encouraged, comforted, corrected and advised the believers to continue to stand firmly on the Gospel. Thus, they did the same work as the pastors of today. They were normally men of experience and maturity. The first church like the Jewish faith made respectable elderly elders. Here it says “the elders” (17) but they are the church leaders including the overseers, pastors. It is teaching us how we should be towards such people.
Double honor (Vs. 17 & 18)
First please look at verses 17 and 18. Verse 17 says, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.”
“The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor.” (17) Especially those elders “whose work is preaching and teaching” (17) were “worthy of double honor.” (17) That is because by the teaching of the Word of God our Christian life is determined. The most important thing in the church is the teaching of the Word of God. The elders “whose work is preaching and teaching” (17) and “who direct the affairs of the church well” (17) are valuable and “are worthy of double honor.” (17)
Some people say that Christians are a “priesthood of all believers”. They say that the pastor is not special. They are like Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and the 250 Israelite men who opposed Moses saying, “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the LORD’s assembly?” (Numbers 16:3) However, in the “priesthood of all believers” which God has ordained everyone is not in the same position. Some are called to teach, others to follow. That doesn’t mean that someone is high-ranking. It is the order that God has given for the building up of the church. For that purpose God has given each person gifts “in accordance with the measure of faith (the gift) God has given” (Romans 12:3) him. Since “God has given,” (Romans 12:3) the gift comes from God, God is the source. Therefore there can be no basis for a superior attitude or self-righteousness. Often the church falls into confusion because it doesn’t realize this. Such people oppose God’s blessings of order. It makes them miss God’s blessings for them. According to God’s order, it is saying that those “whose work is preaching and teaching” (17) are worthy of respect.
Here is says, “are worthy of double honor.” (17) It means that they are worthy of honorable respect and financial honorable support. That his honor should include financial support can be seen by the two illustrations that follow.
Verse 18 says, “For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle the ox while is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages.’”
“Do not muzzle the ox while is treading out the grain” (18) is a quotation from the Old Testament from Deut. 25:4. Sometimes oxen were muzzled so they could not eat the grain while they were treading it into flour. The Mosaic Law, however, is teaching that the oxen labor for their owners so they should be given food to eat. That is a principle that is to be applied to pastors and elders too. The pastor is the same as an ox. He treads out the spiritual grain for the church. “Do not muzzle the” (18) pastor. The church should give the pastor wages so he can eat. In other words, more than for the ox the pastor must be honored and his needs provided. This Mosaic Law has greater weight when applied to Pastors rather than to oxen.
Then it says, “The worker deserves his wages.” (18) These words are quoted from Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:10 and Luke 10:7. It is only natural that those who work for the Lord should receive his wages.
That was the same in ancient Israel too. God picked the Levites from the 12 tribes of Israel to serve God full time. The way their lives were supported was they received the tithes from the other 11 tribes. This means that the Levites received more than the other tribes. They did not receive an inheritance in the promise land so in this way they received a reward for their services. By this they were able to serve God full time. It is said that the same principle applies to the new Israel with the Lord Jesus at its center, the church.
Many times Paul too mentions that. Here he does too, but for example in I Cor. 9:14 it says, “In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.” Paul is saying that it is definitely not wrong for “those who preach to the gospel” (I Cor. 9:14) to receive support from their ministry. In fact they “should receive their living from the gospel.” (I Cor. 9:14) However, Paul didn’t do that. He made tents while spreading the Gospel. He was what is called a self-supported evangelist. He had the right and it would good to do so, but he didn’t venture to do so. That was because he didn’t want to be a burden on the church.
He was a church planter so he knew well what would happen if he requested this from a church that had just begun. It would be a burden on the church and would put a burden on evangelism. So that wouldn’t happen he worked for his living.
Another reason was so that it would not cause misunderstanding in the church. At the time of Paul false teachers were rampant and they deceived the church taking money from church. So that Paul wouldn’t be seen as the same of these false teachers he didn’t venture to receive any money from the Corinthian church. That’s because in the Corinthian church there were people that were suspicious about Paul’s apostleship. They made accusations that Paul was not an apostle. If he receive a pastor’s salary from such a church then it would cause other misunderstanding. Therefore, he didn’t receive any offerings from the church at all, but while working earnestly served the Lord. However, that was not ordinary. It was an exception. It was right and proper for “those who preach the gospel” (I Cor. 9:14) to “receive their living from the gospel.” (I Cor. 9:14)
In Japan there are a lot of people that think that for teachers to speak about money is completely unacceptable. More unacceptable is to talk about your own salary or pay. It’s o.k. for a pastor to be poor. There are still people left who strongly think that if the pastor has food and clothing that that is enough. However, what the Bible fundamentally says is not this. It teaches that “The worker deserves his wages.” (18)
Of course, in churches that don’t have enough money there are cases where a pastor, like Paul, while evangelizing is a tentmaker. That is a great joy, but that is not ordinary. There are cases where at the beginning the church is small and can’t support the pastor fully, but it shouldn’t be content in doing so forever. If so, the church won’t grow healthy and won’t desire to develop. That is a sad situation for the church. By having people in the church who “whose work is preaching and teaching,” (17) the church is fed spiritually and by that the church as a church can grow healthy.
- Accusations against an elder (vs. 19-21)
Next please look at verses 19 to 21. Here it teaches about accusations against an elder. “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 favoritism.”
That’s because bad gossip about leaders in the church causes huge damage to the church. Even if it is known that it is a mistake, there is no way of keeping the authority that is given to the elders from being cut. Therefore, discretion must be used in bringing accusations against a pastor or an elder.
The nature of a pastor is that he stands before people a lot so he receives criticism from people a lot. All leaders are the same. Whether it is political leaders or other kinds of leaders, those who stand in front of people are the center of criticism. Even Jesus was criticized. Luke 7:34 says, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’” They said that Jesus was “a glutton and a drunkard”. (Luke 7:34) Moreover, they said, “He is possessed by Beelzebub!” (Mark 3:22) “Beelzebub” was “the prince of demons.” (Mark 3:22) They went to the extent to say that Jesus was possessed by demons.
The reason bad things are said about the church leaders is that Satan is plotting it. Satan knows how he can crush the church. That is by knocking down the church leaders. If the church leaders are knocked down, then immediately the church will be knocked down. That is an extremely joyous thing for Satan. Therefore, Satan is desperately trying to crush the church. To do that all that is needed is to say bad things about the leader. Therefore, accusations, bad rumors are said.
“Malicious talkers” appeared in 3:11. The Greek word that is used for “malicious talkers” (3:11) is a word that also refers to Satan. Therefore, to gossip is a Satanic sin. These words were spoken about the wives of deacons or deaconesses because especially women have this tendency. It’s strange but the Bible doesn’t say much about men and gossiping. Men are advised not to speak with a double tongue. They are advised to have a more honest attitude. The Bible doesn’t say much to men about gossiping. If anything it is a weakness and tendency of women.
Proverbs 26:20 teaches us the following, “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.” If there is no one gossiping or speaking ill of others then fighting will stop. It is like wood. If there is no wood (gossiping) then the fire will go out. However, if there is wood (gossiping) then it will flame up. Therefore, the problem is people who gossip. The person who listens to the gossip is also the problem. The attitude of the person who listens determines whether it becomes wood and builds the fire up or it doesn’t become wood and the “fire goes out.” (Proverbs 26:20) If he doesn’t listen then the fire will become small and go out. That’s because “without wood a fire goes out.” (Proverbs 26:20) Therefore, we must be careful not to join in gossiping or speaking ill of others and helping the plot of Satan.
Then, if you have an accusation against the church pastor or elder, what must you do? Here it says, “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.” (19) Matt. 18:15 to 17, says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along,
so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
There is an order.
① First go to the pastor “and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” (Matt. 18:15)
② “But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’” (Matt. 18:16)
③ “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.” (Matt. 18:17) In other words, his fault must be brought before all the members of the church.
④ “If he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Matt. 18:17) It is to excommunicate him from the church.
The reason why his fault is “to be rebuked publicly” (20) is “so that the others may take warning.” (20) It is so that other people will know what the church is. It is to show other people that the church as “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (3:15) shows the utmost love and patience towards weaknesses, but towards sin there are cases where the punishment is strict and severe. That is not to judge the person, but to save him and to purify the church.
In verse 21 it says “I charge you”. Paul is charging Timothy. That was because in the Ephesian church where Paul was pastoring, there were such people. There were people who by teaching false doctrines and devoting “themselves to myths” (1:4) confused and deceived people. Just because the person was a church elder they must not overlook it or pretend like they didn’t see it. The person who is accusing the elder must “show him his fault, just between the two of” (Matt. 18:15) them. “But if he will not listen” (Matt. 18:16), the accuser should “take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.” (Matt. 16,17) His fault must be brought before all the members of the church. By doing this there is no favoritism. That is a very grave and serious thing. However, by doing such a thing the church can keep holiness and fulfill its role as the salt of the earth.
- Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands (Vs. 22-25)
Thirdly is concerning the laying on of hands on elders. Please look at verses 22 to 25. “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 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.
Verse 22 says, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands.” “The laying on of hands” (22) is to recognize that a pastor or an elder is suitable for the work of the church and to lay hands on him giving the person authority and blessing him. Paul is speaking about the ordination of elders. They must “not be hasty in the laying on of hands.” (22) That was so they will “not share in the sins of others.” (22) If a person who was ordained before he had time to prove himself and the person sins then the person who ordained him shares in the sin. “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.” Here Paul is advising to be alert to hidden sins as well as to good deeds in the lives of candidates for ordination. If a candidate has sins trailing behind him and he is ordained then the person who ordained him shares in the sin. Therefore, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands.” (22)
Ordination should not be done until candidates have had time to prove themselves. If a person unworthy of the office of elder is ordained then dissension will occur in the church and in addition it will bring divisions. Jesus too before he chose his 12 disciples spent the whole night praying. After praying for a long time he chose his disciples. Jesus chose perfectly. Through those disciples God’s work of salvation was completed. Therefore, we too when we choose our leaders, we must pray well and carefully choose them.
Finally let’s look at verse 23. Here it says, “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” Here Paul suddenly brings up the subject of alcohol. Paul who was worried about Timothy’s stomach said, “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” (23)
Timothy was inclined to infirmities. Paul says “stomach” so he must have had stomach problems. Also Paul says “frequent illnesses” so he must have been sick a lot. Therefore, for his health Paul advises to “stop drinking only water, and use a little wine.” Paul may also have said this because at that time safe drinking water was hard to find so in order to eliminate stomach problems from water to drink a little wine.
Many scholars for the text it is in can’t understand why Paul says this. If you read this through I feel like you can understand the meaning. That is at times our eyes may fall on church leaders who are inadequate and weak. However, God’s family, the church, must treat each other with warm respect and a heart of love. There are no perfect leaders. Also there are no grand laymen from the beginning. In the midst of this what God desires is that we have warm respect and a heart of love. That is not only towards the elders. We as the family of God should always be like that. Pastor and laymen too have weaknesses. However, if like it is here, always respect and love each other then the church will become like heaven. Let’s make that the goal of our church. To do that let’s not move away from the principles of the Bible that are written here. It is necessary to think once again about how we should be towards the leaders in the church.