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Elders and Eldership – 1 Timothy 5:17-25


Elders and Eldership

Text: 1 Timothy 5:17-25.

The church leadership cannot be above Paul’s practical advice and instruction. So here is a section specifically about the relationship between the church and its elders:-

1. Respect for Elders!

Double honour and twofold respect. To give them this ‘twofold’ respect that is to honour them and to properly recompense them for their work. So:-

  1. Honour them. v17. Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. The elder, the pastor earns respect by his WORK not by his title. By his labour in the Word and in Teaching. Ministry and teaching ministry especially, is HARD WORK.
  2. Reward them. v18. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward. Paul doesn’t actually seem to apply this to himself, 1 Cor 9:16 so it seems that he is laying it down as a general principle for the church, and to make Timothy aware of the importance of it he draws in two great sources of authority:-
    1. Moses. 1 Corinthians 9:9 cf Deuteronomy 25:4
    2. Jesus. Paul argues from the lessor to the greater!   Luke 10:7 Isn’t it interesting that Paul was quoting from Luke’s Gospel, given that the ‘higher critics’ suggest that Paul would not have had any Gospel writings available to him!
  3. Speak TRUTHFULLY about them. v19. It only takes one misunderstanding, or just one person to start a rumour, and it can spread like wildfire. So when a charge is levied, – one witness is insufficient. There must be independent corroboration of the story, before anyone believes it as fact.   2 Corinthians 13:1

So, elders must be respected, appropriately recompensed and not subjected to malicious gossip.

2. Regulating Eldership!

But elders are not to be given a bye-ball when it comes to their own life and testimony.   Elders must be subject to:-

  1. Accountability. v20. Pastors, elders are sinners too, just like everyone else, – no matter what some of them might think. They are subject to the very same temptation as everyone else. What if they yield, and what if they fall into sin? Paul wants Timothy to subject them to rebuke, and it is a PUBLIC rebuke. Is that a bit harsh? Certainly not. If we are to stand and rebuke others publicly from the pulpit, we too must be prepared to accept such rebuke.
  2. Impartiality. v21. That same treatment must be applied fairly across the whole of the eldership. I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality.
    1. There must be no exceptions.   Whatever applies to one elder applies to all.
    2. There must be an awareness of the awesomeness of such a procedure. When we call a pastor or elder to account, our own judgements and adjudications are in turn being judged and adjudicated in heaven.
  3. Authenticity. v22. Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other mens sins: keep thyself pure. Paul’s already told him that elders should not be recent converts. 1Timothy 3:6 So before you invite someone to consider an office in the church, make sure you’ve done some background research!

So, while elders must be respected, and honoured, they must be held accountable, fairly so, before the congregation whom they serve. Which is all the more reason why they should be well examined BEFORE they are appointed.

3. Realism for Elders!

It’s obvious then, that there is great responsibility in eldership, and great expectations are placed upon an elder, by God himself and by the congregation. It’s important for the elder to be realistic.

  1. Watch your health. v23 Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomachs sake and thine often infirmities. Paul has warned that elders are not to be lovers of wine, but perhaps Timothy was going in the opposite direction? Thinking you can earn God’s favour by your works or your abstinence is a false doctrine. Timothy, because water is contaminated at Ephesus, and wine is sterile, don’t be afraid to drink A LITTLE wine for your health. The principle that remains with us is that we can’t earn God’s merit by our works. Timothy was abstaining for the wrong reason.
  2. Remember that only the Lord Himself knows the truth about other people. v24 Some mens sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after. 25 Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot be hid. It is easy for an elder to get upset about what he thinks he sees in his congregation. He never really sees the full story. Only the Lord sees that. So leave it with the Lord – we can trust his judgement.

So, Paul’s teaching on Elders, given to Timothy, is that elders must be respected and rewarded, must be carefully chosen and held to account in an impartial manner, and when in office they must watch both their bodily health and their spiritual and mental wellbeing as well.

Sunday Lunch Menu

Over lunch, read this passage again with your family, and ask what does it mean to honour those who labour for the Lord in church leadership? Why is this not a material matter, or just a matter of titles, etc.?   Discuss the tension that exists between piety and legalism. Use Pauls instruction to Timothy, not to damage his health by abstinence. Remember the story of Arthur Guinness and the filthy water of Dublin. Was he doing the people a service by brewing stout for them, or was he sinning? Should Christians today take a little wine?

© Bob McEvoy

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