17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” 19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 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. 22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. 23 (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) 24 The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. 25 So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden. – 1 Timothy 5:17-25 ESV
Paul has already addressed the qualifications for elders earlier in his letter, but now he deals with the more practical realities of how Timothy is to interact with these essential church leaders. It’s interesting that he chooses to address elders immediately after giving Timothy advice on how to care for widows in the church. It would seem that, to Paul, both groups are important to the life of the church, and neither is to be overlooked or taken for granted.
It would be easy to forget about widows in the church because they tend to be out of sight and out of mind, even in society. Paul didn’t want that to happen in the church as well. And the same thing can be said of elders. Once a man is chosen to serve as an elder, it would be easy to overlook him and just assume that all is well and that his spiritual life is just fine. Paul didn’t want Timothy to take these men for granted and end up neglecting their needs or failing to show gratitude for the significant role they play in the health and well-being of the local church.
So, Paul tells Timothy to care for those men who voluntarily commit their time, talent, and energies to the oversight of the local church.
Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. – 1 Timothy 5:17 NLT
It would appear that these men were financially compensated for their work. As teachers and preachers, they could expect to receive a “double honor.” This may refer to the respect that came with their position as leaders and some form of financial remuneration to compensate them for their hard work on behalf of the church.
They were to be honored, respected, and cared for, especially those who carried the extra responsibility of preaching and teaching. It would make sense that, in the early days of the church, these men would have received financial compensation for the time they spent ministering to the spiritual needs of the body of Christ. It would appear that they may have been bi-vocational, holding down secular jobs and sacrificing part of their work hours to serve the needs of the church.
Serving as an elder, which would have included teaching, preaching, leading, and praying for the local congregation, would have been a time-consuming job. So, Paul encourages Timothy to ensure that these men are taken care of adequately. Quoting Deuteronomy 25:4, Paul compares the efforts of an elder to those of an ox used to tread grain. “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.”
An ox, as it pulled a stone wheel over the stalks of wheat to separate out the grain, was allowed to eat as it worked, providing it with an incentive to continue to do its job. In a similar manner, elders who worked hard on behalf of the body of Christ should be compensated and cared for, in order to reward and encourage them for their efforts. But the apostle Peter warned elders against doing their job for profit.
Give a shepherd’s care to God’s flock among you, exercising oversight not merely as a duty but willingly under God’s direction, not for shameful profit but eagerly. And do not lord it over those entrusted to you, but be examples to the flock. Then when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that never fades away. – 1 Peter 5:2-4 NLT
Elders were never to do their job for what they could get out of it. Ultimately, they were servants of God, and any compensation they received was up to the local congregation. They were not to demand payment for services rendered. To do so would have altered the nature of their role as selfless shepherds of the flock of Jesus Christ.
Paul also knew that, because elders served in a leadership capacity, they were going to be open to criticism and accusations. There would be those who disagreed with their teaching and disliked their leadership at times. That’s why Paul told Timothy to “not listen to an accusation against an elder unless it is confirmed by two or three witnesses” (1 Timothy 5:19 NLT).
He was to give these men the benefit of the doubt, refusing to take at face value the word of one individual who might bring an accusation against an elder. If Timothy ever discovered that an elder had sinned, he was to confront them in private, and if that man proved unrepentant, he was to be reprimanded before the entire congregation, serving as a strong warning to the other elders and reinforcing the seriousness of their role as the spiritual leaders of the church. In all of this, Timothy was to act as an objective party, not showing favoritism or taking sides. While treating elders with respect and honor, he was not to side with them unfairly side or show them any form of favoritism.
Paul also warned Timothy not to be too hasty when appointing elders. To lay hands on a man, ordaining him for this highly important spiritual role, was a serious matter and was to be done soberly and carefully. To appoint a man to this high office, only to find out that he was unqualified, would be to share in his sin and shame. The one who placed an unqualified man in this important leadership position would be culpable for having put the congregation at risk.
So, Timothy was to be extremely careful when selecting men for the role of elder. But Paul knew that not all sins are obvious at first glance. There would inevitably be those cases where a man was appointed to the position of elder, only to find out later that he had some hidden sin in his life that disqualified him. It was going to happen and, when it did, Timothy would have to deal with it.
But there would also be cases in which a man’s good character might lie hidden and unseen. There would be those men in the church who were less obvious and whose good deeds were done behind the scenes, out of sight, and unrecognized by those in the congregation. That’s why it was so important for Timothy to choose carefully. The “obvious” candidates are not always the right candidate. He must look into the hidden character of each man being considered for the role of elder. As God told the prophet, Samuel, when he was looking for the next king of Israel, “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 NLT).
Finally, Paul gives Timothy some personal health advice. He was well aware that all of this could prove to be stressful and he knew that Timothy already suffered from some kind of chronic health issue. So, Paul recommended that Timothy “drink a little wine for the sake of your stomach because you are sick so often” (1 Timothy 5:23 NLT). Leading a church can be difficult and stressful. It is a huge responsibility and must be taken seriously. That’s why Paul pleaded with Timothy to take care of himself. He must be in good health if he is going to care for the body of Christ well.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.