Throughout our study of 1 Timothy we have seen that leadership is one of the main themes of the book. Back in chapter 1 we talked about false teachers & so we saw how there were some leaders in the church who were a nuisance.
And of course, the whole epistle is laying out instructions for Timothy on how to be a good leader. So this this idea of leadership is key for this epistle.
In our passage this morning we return to the whole idea of leadership. In this section he talks about how we should treat those who serve as elders.
But as we read the passage, you probably noticed that it isn’t all ponies and rainbows when it comes to those who serve as elders. There are good leaders and there are bad leaders, and we are not to treat them the same.
Perhaps you even saw the structure of our passage. It begins by talking about those who are good elders and how we are to honor them. Then verses 20-21 talk about how we are to treat those who are poor leaders. Then the passage wraps up by talking about those who we might consider to be candidates for elder, and it tells us that even these guys need to be screened and given a time of probation so that we don’t disgrace the office or ruin the order of the church.
But all that is said here is for that purpose: it is for preserving the right order of the church. And so, let’s take a few minutes this morning and reflect on that.
The passage begins by telling us that we must give honor to those who are doing a good job as elders. As a matter of fact, verses 17-19 tell us that there are two ways we can give proper homage to good elders. The first way we honor our elders is by paying them the wages that they are do.
I. We must honor our elders [17-19]
A. By paying them the wages they are due
Look at verse 17. Paul says that the elders who rule well should be considered worthy of double honor.
Now, as I mentioned last week, the idea of honor here is the idea of monetary compensation. Widows were to be honored in that they were to be supported financially by the church. And the same word for honor is used here. Moreover, the whole idea of an income is reinforced by verse 18 which talks about not muzzling the ox and the laborer deserving his wages. Both of these are quotes from the OT that support the idea of just wages for work provided.
And this principle is applied to the elders; the men who labor in and for the church.
Now, there is a belief that has been held by some in the church that all work done in and for the church should be based in volunteerism. There is a segment of Christians who believe that there should be no paid ministerial staff. Rather, everyone should contribute freely to the church and gain their income through work done outside the church. Yet this stands in stark contrast to what the Spirit lays out here. To be sure, I appreciate the sentiment that they have. Everyone should use their gifts and be willing to contribute to the furtherance of Christ’s church. But, as the Scripture says here, those who are laboring—those who are putting in excessive amounts of time and doing work that would prevent them from having another occupation—they should be esteemed seen as worthy of being compensated.
And, I might add, that this applies to all the elders. We see that Paul singles out those who labor in preaching and teaching. But he says that all elders should be compensated (I will let you exegete what double honor is!).
I always like to point out that even ruling elders should be given some reimbursement for their investment into the church. I am a strong advocate for this. I have heard that John MacArthur’s church does this. All the elders essentially have a part time job working as elders. And if you think about all the work that goes into being a ruling elder, you can understand why.
What all is a ruling elder called to do? What all is involved in his work? They are responsible for doing visitations and they help with the leading of worship. They meet together to plan and conduct business regularly. They do evangelism, they disciple people, they do counseling, and are involved in one on one mentoring. Let’s not forget that elders are pastors too.
They may not be the one’s who are standing up front week to week doing the preaching; they may be working more behind the scenes. But there’s still a significant amount of work that they are doing. One of the things that we hear from ruling elders is that they don’t have enough time to do this or that.
I think there would be a lot more ministry being done if we began practicing this whole idea of honor that is spoken of here. And I think it is worthy of something for this church to consider as we develop and grow as a church.
But, as you know, money isn’t everything. Honor for elders may come in terms of payment, but we can’t forget that it also comes in the form of protection.
B. By protecting them with due process
Look at verse 19. Part of the honor that is due to an elder is that we “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” What is this talking about? It is talking about due process.
As the church’s leadership elders are going to be targets of gossip and slander. People are going to say things about them that are not true. Or maybe, there are some who just want to gripe about what the leadership has done, and they only have half the story. You know, there are some things that an elder just can’t talk about because it is sensitive or is required to remain private. Some of the situation may be known, but not all of it.
For instance, someone may be put under discipline by the elders. And that part is public. But the reasons for it may need to be withheld. That can cause people in the church to get angry. And they may say things about the elders.
What happens then? We need to put the squash on this kind of thing. Unless real evidence can be brought forward and witnesses can state a solid case in a true judicial process, we are not to tolerate these kinds of things.
What Paul is saying here is that we need to protect good elders. We need to protect them by not allowing their good names to be ruined by false accusations. And the way that is done is by having the church act as a court.
These are the two main ways we honor our elders, we pay them and we protect them. Any church that is worth its salt will seek to abide by these principles. We want to make sure good elders are being treated with the highest possible regard. They are acting as Christ’s servants, after all. Christ put them here to rule and to teach. These elders are upholding the prophetic and kingly offices of Christ. And if we want to honor Christ, we must honor those who he raises up to lead.
But what if an elder is not doing what he is supposed to do? What if an elder is in sin or is beginning to be a shame to Christ and to his office? Or, what if we bring an elder to trial with 2-3 witnesses and it is proven that the charges are true? What do we do then? Well, our passage tells us what we are to do if such circumstances arise.
Verses 20-21 talk about unruly elders. And these verses tell us that we must rebuke them. And this rebuke needs to be both public and impartial.
II. We must rebuke unruly elders [20-21]
A. Publicly: not letting the church suffer
Look at verse 20. It says, “As for those [elders] who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.”
Again, you’ll notice that this rebuke is not hidden behind closed doors or tucked away in a back room. This is a public rebuke, in the sight of all. And it is because he is persisting in sin.
Last week we saw that we are to exhort those who are older as fathers. There’s to be a gentleness and a discreetness to it. And that’s because the sin isn’t all that serious and it is one that they are willing to repent of. But here’s a guy who is persisting in sin. He’s not demonstrating a repentant attitude. This guy is not to be exhorted, but publicly admonished.
I know that this does not sit well with a lot of people. Public rebuke is thought to be one of the high, heretical crimes of our day. If you speak out against someone’s public behavior, then you are probably going to hurt their feelings. And that is the one of the worst possible sins that you can commit in our overly sensitive, “everyone-gets-a-trophy” culture. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say that we should not say anything against anyone at any given time.
But that is not biblical. When someone is committing public sin, then their rebuke should be public. If an elder is in sin and other people know about it, then a formal, public rebuke needs to be issued.
And the reason is so that the rest of the congregation may “stand in fear.” That is to say, it is so that they do not follow his example.
A while back there was a fellow who had been involved in some infidelity. It was proven to be such, and he had to be removed from his position. And the elders were required to make a public statement to the congregation, in which they offered a formal rebuke and declaration to the congregation of his error. Now, it wasn’t anything indiscrete. But it was enough to make sure that everyone in the congregation knew that they shouldn’t follow his example.
Or you might think of the instance that occurred between the apostles Peter and Paul, which is recorded in the book of Galatians. Peter was a leader of the church and he was doing a good job for a while. But Paul says that some Jews came to town and Peter began to withdraw from the Gentiles. He ceased ministering to them and holding fellowship with them solely for the fact that they were Gentiles. And Paul had to rebuke him. And it says that Paul did it publicly and to his face. And he did it this way because there were several in the church who were following Peter’s example. Paul’s rebuke was to help them all stand in fear.
And that’s the point of the public rebuke. It is to safeguard the purity of the church. People in positions of leadership can have a large influence on the congregation. And if their sin is not dealt with properly, then it can have wider repercussions.
And that’s why they need to be dealt with impartially too.
B. Impartially: not letting your favorites skirt by
You’ll notice that is exactly what Paul mentions in verse 21. He says, with the utmost solemnity, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.”
You understand why Paul says this. You might be tempted to show favoritism to certain people, especially leaders or a person of prominence. We see this all the time with famous people. People who have a big name are often given lighter sentences for their crimes. It is all just because they are popular and are thought to be worth a lesser punishment.
But what if we show that kind of partiality to elders in the church? What will happen if we do not follow through on the guidelines that Paul outlines here? What happens when we skirt the system and give special protection through a private admonition? We know full well what will happen. Their sins will begin to be reproduced by others in the congregation. It will spread like a bad virus.
And this leads us to the last point that our passage makes. We need to honor good elders and rebuke bad elders. But, in order to keep things kosher in the church, we also need to screen potential elders
III. We must screen candidates for elder [22-25]
Verses 22-25 tell us how important it is to take our time in selecting our leaders. It begins by saying, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands.” In other words, don’t rush when it comes to ordaining a man as an elder. Relax, take your time, and allow the Lord to work.
And you will notice that Paul gives two reasons why we should have this probation period for those who may be candidates for the ministry. The first reason is that time is the best revealer of character.
In verses 24-25 Paul says, “The sins of some people are obvious, but the sins of others appear later.” A lot of people complain that nothing can get done quickly in the church. But what most people don’t realize is that that is a good thing! Time is your friend when it comes to examining who will be the best candidates for leadership. Because time will expose whether or not their character is fit for the office.
People can be good at hiding their true identity. I heard a story about one church where this was the case. This church had a man who seemed to be a great candidate for leadership. Everyone thought he had all the qualities, and they moved kind of swiftly to put him on the leadership team. After he was installed, they started having all kinds of problems. Here they came to see that the guy had an agenda. There were all kinds of things he wanted to change in the church and now that he had power he thought he could push his will on the church. What everyone came to find out is that he had been masquerading as this meek and mild guy. He first appeared to be so gentle and kind, but that was just a façade that he was using for his power grab.
So that’s one reason we have to be careful not to rush things. If we take our time, we can become a witness to sin. Another reason we should take our time is because we can become infected by their sin. What you need to know is that sin, especially when it is committed by the leadership, can be contagious.
Look at the later half of verse 22. It says, “do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.” And then it adds this verse, which seems to hardly fit in Paul’s line of thinking, “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach).
Paul was warning Timothy that if he ordained these leaders he may be induced to take part in their sins. He would be led astray and begin participating in the same sins.
And I believe that is what the whole thing about drinking wine is about. Back in chapter 4 Paul said that these false teachers were teaching people that certain foods & such were taboo and that they should abstain from certain drinks. Here, we find that Timothy had become a Teatotaller. It is likely that he had been caught up in this whole teaching that was going on. He had been infected by their teachings and Paul was trying to set him straight.
So he gives here a good reason why we should be careful to examine candidates thoroughly through a time of observation. If we put someone in a position of leadership we may come to find that they have some serious defects and they can end up leading people astray.
The best way to preserve order in the church is to simply take our time and make sure that those who are appointed to these positions are vetted with time.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.