Morning Sermon: 1 Timothy 5:17-25, Elders: Compensation, Discipline, And Ordination

Old Testament Reading: Exodus 23:1–9

“You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit. If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him. You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit. Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked. And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:1–9, ESV)

Sermon Text: 1 Timothy 5:17-25

“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’ Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 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. Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.” (1 Timothy 5:17–25, ESV)


Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.


Here in 5:17-25 Paul continues to give instructions to Timothy concerning the proper care of the various groups within Christ’s church. First, he addressed the proper treatment of men and women, young and old. Next, he addressed the care of widows. And here in this passage, Paul addresses the treatment of elders, saying, among other things, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor…” Clearly, when Paul mentions “elders” here he does not mean those who are older, but rather those who hold the office of elder within Christ’s church. 


Elders Who Labor In The Word Are To Receive Double Honor

The first thing he says is that some elders are to receive double honor. Verse 17: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17, ESV). 

As you know, elders are leaders in the church appointed to this office to provide general oversight of the church and pastoral care for the members. Elders are to be able to teach, and they are to devote themselves to prayers. Elders may be called pastors, overseers, shepherds, or bishops. I said more about the office of overseer (or elder) in that sermon on 1 Timothy 3:1-7 where the qualifications for overseers are laid out. I will not repeat that general teaching here but will draw your attention to the specifics of this text.

One, notice the word “rule” in verse 17. The word translated as “rule” means to “guide, direct, or lead”. Here at Emmaus, we have a congregational form of government. This means that the congregation is to be involved in the appointment and removal of officers, and in the reception and removal of members. This, in our opinion, is the biblical requirement. We do also ask the members to vote to approve the budget each year. This, in our opinion, is not required by scripture but is a matter of prudence. But here is the point I wish to make. This congregational form of church government does not deny what the scriptures so clearly teach, that pastors and elders are called to lead. This is one of the things they are appointed to do.  And so you see, the members of a biblically operating church have responsibilities and certain powers, and so do the elders. Both the members and the elders are to do their part. 

Two, you will notice that a distinction is made here between elders who “rule” and elders who “labor in preaching and teaching”. In our study of 1 Timothy 3 we learned that one of the qualifications to hold the office of overseer (or elder) is that the man is “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2, ESV). All elders are to be able to teach. But here we learn that some elders may devote themselves more to ruling, while others may be more thoroughly devoted to preaching and teaching. I take the terms “preaching” and “teaching” to be nearly synonymous. If there is a distinction, “preaching” may refer to the ministry of the word delivered in a more formal context to the entire congregation, whereas “teaching” may refer to the ministry of the word delivered in a more casual setting. But the point is this, among a plurality of elders some may devote themselves more exclusively to ruling, whereas others may also devote themselves to the ministry of the word.    

In some traditions, a hard and fast distinction is made between ruling elders and teaching elders so that a man is ordained as either one kind of elder or the other. Our constitution does not make such a hard and fast distinction — we do not have “ruling elders” and “teaching elders” — but it does acknowledge the gradation that Paul here refers to, saying in Art VII, Sect 4, “While every elder bears spiritual rule and must be “apt to teach”, some will be more exclusively engaged in the details of ruling, rather than teaching (I Timothy 5:17).” I believe this is the right approach. We do not have “ruling elders” and “teaching elders”. We have “elders” with the understanding that some elders will be more active in teaching than others, while all will engage in ruling.       

Three — and here is Paul’s main point — elders who rule well, and in particular those who labor in preaching and teaching, are to be considered worthy of “double honor”. The question is, what does the phrase “double honor” mean? There are many opinions. Some teach that “double honor” requires that elders who labor in teaching receive both honor in the form of respect and honor of financial compensation. Others highlight the relationship between this passage and the previous one. In the previous one, Paul commanded that honor be shown to true widows. And in this one, Paul commands that elders who labor in the word be doubly honored. So, when compared with the financial support given to widows, elders who labor in the word were to receive twice as much. And still others consider the phrase “double honor” in a more generic sense and take it to mean that those who labor in the word are to be generously provided for. These hard-working elders devoted to the ministry of the word are to be generously supported. 

I have often wondered what this phrase means. As of late, I have leaned more in the direction of understanding “double honor” to refer to the two types of honor to be shown to elders who rule well, particularly those who labor in preaching and teaching. They are, one, to be honored — that is to say, shown respect — given the position they hold. And two, they are to be honored through financial support. This view best fits the context, in my opinion. 

The first kind of honor to be shown to elders is respect. That respect should be shown to those who hold the office of elder is clear. Hebrews 13:17 speaks to this, saying, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17, ESV). Other texts could be cited, but I do not think you need to be convinced of this.

The second kind of honor to be shown to elders who labor in the word is financial support. This is made clear in verse 18 where we read, “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages’” (1 Timothy 5:18, ESV). 

So Paul explains what he means by double honor. He clearly means that elders who devote themselves to the ministry of the word are to be compensated. He quotes two scripture texts to support this claim. The first is Deuteronomy 25:4 which says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.” Here Paul quotes from the law of Moses. And you will notice that this law was originally speaking to the humane treatment of a beast of burden. But Paul applies it to the proper treatment of an elder who labors in the preaching and teaching of scripture. This is a fascinating little verse, for it gives us insight into how Paul viewed the law of Moses. Though this law concerning oxen was unique to the Old Covenant nation of Israel, Paul recognized that there was a universal moral principle at the core of it. And what is that principle? Those who work should be compensated for their work. If they sow their time, talents, and energies, then they have a right to reap a livelihood. If this is true of oxen (which it is — it would be inhumane (and foolish) to work an ox but to not feed an ox) then it is certainly true of men. A man should be compensated for his labors. Paul here applies this principle to ministers of the gospel. Those who “labor in preaching and teaching” — I take that to mean, those who work hard having been set aside by the church to devote lots of time to the ministry of the word — are to be compensated.   

The second scripture quoted is also rooted in the Old Testament law of Moses (Lev. 19:13; Deut. 24:15), but it is drawn directly from Luke 10:7 where we find the words of Jesus. In that passage, Jesus is sending his disciples out for ministry. He instructs them in that instance to carry no money bag, but to receive support from those willing to give it. His disciples were to “remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house”, he said. The words “the laborer deserves his wages” are from Jesus. 

As you probably know, it was often Paul’s custom to not accept financial support from the people he served, but to work with his hands as he traveled about and planted churches. But in 1 Corinthians 9:3ff he makes it clear that he had a right to be supported as he labored amongst the churches, saying, “This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain’. Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:3–14, ESV).

I do believe that when Paul says that elders who labor in preaching and teaching should receive “double honor”, this is what means: first, they are to receive honor in the form of respect given their position, and secondly, they are to receive honor in the form of adequate financial compensation. 

In fact, this is this teaching of our confession. In chapter 26 paragraph 10 we read, “The work of pastors being constantly to attend the service of Christ, in his churches, in the ministry of the word and prayer, with watching for their souls, as they that must give an account to Him; it is incumbent on the churches to whom they minister, not only to give them all due respect, but also to communicate to them of all their good things according to their ability, so as they may have a comfortable supply, without being themselves entangled in secular affairs; and may also be capable of exercising hospitality towards others; and this is required by the law of nature, and by the express order of our Lord Jesus, who hath ordained that they that preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel.” You will notice that our confession mentions these two kinds of honor and also lists 1 Timothy 5:17 as a proof text. 

Application: So how might we apply this teaching that elders who rule well, particularly those who labor in preaching and teaching, are to receive double honor from the congregation?

Well, this church hardly needs to be told to provide financial support for those who devote themselves to full-time ministry. This you have been faithful to do from the very beginning. And neither do you need to be exhorted to show honor in the form of respect to your elders. In general, you have also excelled at this. However, I suppose it is good to be reminded of these things.

Here is where I wish to go with the application and exhortation. Brothers and sisters, as we prepare to move into the second decade of our existence — yes, our ten year anniversary will be celebrated on June the 6th — we must be careful to not grow complacent but to resolve to grow and to even reproduce as a congregation if the Lord would be so kind to enable us to do so. 

And if the Lord would be so kind to raise up more gifted brothers to minister the word here, future elders and pastors, and even church planters, these men will need to be supported to one degree or another. They will need to be trained — that costs money. And it is only right that those who labor in the ministry be compensated for their labors. Now, determining what exactly that looks like requires wisdom and discernment. But the point is this, as a congregation, we must be faithful to give as an act of worship to God and in support of the furtherance of Christ’s kingdom.

Kingdom work costs money, brothers, and sisters. There is no way around it. Those who devote themselves to leading the church and to the ministry of the word must eat. They must feed and clothe their families. The time and energy they devote to the ministry is time and energy that is no longer available for earning a living. Now granted, some of this work can be volunteered. And some are in a position where they may engage in substantial ministry and not take support from the church. Perhaps the man is retired. Perhaps he is wealthy. Perhaps he has a job that enables him to engage in ministry on the side. All of this is possible. But it is not the norm. If a church is to thrive she will probably need a man, or men, to labor in leadership, preaching, and teaching — to devote themselves fully to it — to the point of setting aside secular employment. And they will need to be honored through compensation.    

This cannot happen if the members of the church do not give. We must give, brothers and sisters. We must give as an act of worship to God. We must give knowing that our giving does support kingdom work. And we must see to it that the funds of the church are used for the furtherance of the kingdom, and are not squandered on fruitless endeavors. The elders and deacons must lead in this, but the members must also be watchful. Brothers and sisters, let us be faithful to give.

Also, let us be faithful to pray for our elders and to encourage them in their work. The work of the ministry is hard work, friends. I think that is sometimes hard for those who have not experienced ministry, or who have not had a closeup view of it, to imagine. It is hard work. Believe it or not, reading and writing is taxing. Preaching and teaching does take it out of you. Counseling does too. And above all, dealing with controversy and turmoil can be very draining. This is not a complaint. You all work hard in your places of employment and at home, and it is only right that ministers work hard too — this is why Paul refers to their work as “labor”. Here I am simply reminding you to pray for your elders. Pray for me please as I am devoted to the ministry full time, and pray also for those who serve while engaging in secular employment. Honor them and encourage them, brothers and sisters.     


Elders Are Not Above Church Discipline 

So double honor is to be shown to elders who rule well, particularly those who work hard and are devoted to the ministry of the word. But you will notice, secondly, that elders are not above the discipline of the church. No, even pastors and elders are subject to church discipline, and that is what Paul addresses next. 

Verse 19: “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 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.” (1 Timothy 5:19–21, ESV)

So you see, elders are not above church discipline. If an elder is found to be living in sin and continues in sin he is to be rebuked “in the presence of all”. I take “all” here to mean all the members of the church. And I take the phrase “so that the rest may stand in fear”, as a reference to the whole congregation consisting of elders, deacons, and members.  Why do I think this? Well, it seems to me that church discipline is what is being described here. And this is what the scriptures teach regarding discipline — after being confronted once by a brother or sister, and then again by multiple witnesses, if there is no repentance, the matter is to be brought to the church. That is what Matthew 18 teaches. Now, so much more would need to be said if I were here teaching on the subject of church discipline. I am not, and so my remarks about that subject are very brief and incomplete. But for now, simply recognize that elders are not above it. Even they are to be rebuked in the presence of all if they persist in sin so that the rest may stand in fear. This, by the way, is one of the effects of church discipline. When it is done carefully and right it moves the members of the congregation to a healthy, reverential fear. All who witness it think, I had better keep a close watch on my walk, and but by the grace of God go I. Elders are not above church discipline, friends.  

But neither are they below it. And here is what I mean by that. They are to be afforded the same courtesy as others in the congregation as it pertains to accusations. Remember the pattern established in Matthew 18. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence 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, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15–17, ESV). So a charge is to be established by two or three witnesses before it is to be received by the church. This is true for members, and this is also true for all ministers. This is why Paul says, “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” It is not hard to see why he says this. I suppose some may reason in this way, saying,  elders are to be held to a higher standard, therefore every charge brought against them should be received. Paul says, no. The same protections are to be applied to them. Matthew 18 speaks to the requirement of witnesses, but the principle is first found in the Law of Moses which says, “On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness” (Deuteronomy 17:6, ESV). In other words, a man is not to be punished unless a matter is proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  

I appreciate John Calvin’s remarks concerning Paul’s command, “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” He says, After having commanded that salaries should be paid to pastors, he likewise instructs Timothy not to allow them to be assailed by calumnies [slanderous charges], or loaded with any accusation but what is supported by sufficient proof. But it may be thought strange, that he represents, as peculiar to elders, a law which is common to all. God lays down, authoritatively, this law as applicable to all cases, that they shall be decided ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses.’ (Deut. 17:6; Matt. 18:16.) Why then does the Apostle protect elders alone by this privilege, as if it were peculiar to them, that their innocence shall be defended against false accusations? I reply, this is a necessary remedy against the malice of men; for none are more liable to slanders and calumnies than godly teachers. Not only does it arise from the difficulty of their office, that sometimes they either sink under it, or stagger, or halt, or blunder, in consequence of which wicked men seize many occasions for finding fault with them; but there is this additional vexation, that, although they perform their duty correctly, so as not to commit any error whatever, they never escape a thousand censures. And this is the craftiness of Satan, to draw away the hearts of men from ministers, that instruction may gradually fall into contempt. Thus not only is wrong done to innocent persons, in having their reputation unjustly wounded, (which is exceedingly base in regard to those who hold so honorable a rank,) but the authority of the sacred doctrine of God is diminished.” (Calvin, Commentary on 1 Timothy 5:19).

Brethren, elders are not above church discipline, but neither are they below it. They too — and perhaps I should say, they especially — must be afforded the protection of having charges established by two or three witnesses before those charges are received as true. 

In verse 21 this little section regarding the discipline of elders is concluded with a very stern warning. There Pauls says, “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.” 

Notice how serious Paul is concerning this charge. He calls God, Jesus Christ, and the elect angels as witnesses to the charge or command. And yes, you heard it right. The angels who did not rebel did not rebel because they are God’s “elect angels”. So God has elected some men to be saved from their sins, and he did elect some angels to never fall. An interesting observation. But the main point is this, Paul calls God, Christ, and the elect angels as witnesses to the charge he is about to give to Timothy. That means we should probably listen up. This is important! And what does insist upon? Two things: One, Timothy, and along with him the whole church in Ephesus, was to “keep these rules” regarding the discipline of elders “without prejudging”. And two, they were to do “nothing from partiality.”

What does it mean to prejudge? To prejudge is to take a side on a matter ahead of time before knowing the facts. If you are a parent you probably know what it is like to prejudge. Have you ever sniped at your kid thinking you knew what happened only to find out later that there was more to the story? I’ve done that. You end up with mud on your face, and you have to ask your child to forgive you for jumping to conclusions. Our society seems to have prejudging as a hobby. But we must avoid this. As Proverbs 18:13 says, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” Do not prejudge. Understand that there will often be two sides to the same story. Be aware of the fact the men do lie. Some slander with malicious intent. Do not prejudge.  

And what does it mean to be partial? To be partial is to show preferential treatment to someone for some reason. It could be just about anything. Perhaps the person is related to you, is rich, has a likable personality, has power in society, has influence within the church — on and on we could go. The point is this: Paul charged Timothy to never ever show partially but to always judge and act according to truth and with courage. This is the standard for every minister, and also for every member. 

The warning is so solemn because the matter is so very serious. It is not difficult to imagine the mess that would be made of a church if these rules for the discipline of elders (and others) were not followed without prejudging and partiality.

Application: So how might we apply this little section on the discipline of elders?

One, in general, we are reminded by this passage that we cannot simply allow issues to go unaddressed within the congregation, even in the eldership. Issues of all kinds, and sin, in particular, must be addressed. I have noticed that many churches and many families have the habit of allowing matters to go unaddressed. Something bad will happen and they will sweep it under the rug. Perhaps you have noticed that the issue or sin does not go away. It grows. It festers. It stinks more with the passing of time. Brothers and sisters, if it is your habit to be non-confrontational in the home and in the marriage, I would urge you to change that. Things will not get better but worse with the passing of time. And as a church, we must also be faithful to address problems and sins. The elders of the church have an important role to play in this process, but it starts with you, friends. You must have enough love and respect for one another to be willing to say, brother or sister, you offended me, or you sinned against me. Ignoring issues might be more pleasant in the immediate — I don’t know of many people who enjoy confrontation — but in the long run, the results will be disastrous. Ignoring problems is like ignoring a cancerous tumor. It’s not going to disappear. It will only grow. Brothers and sisters, we must have the courage to deal with problems as they arise. We must trust the Lord that he will strengthen us and bless us as we follow his word.  

Two, this passage also reminds us that we are to address issues and sin within the congregation with great care. Here we are warned to never jump to conclusions. Time will need to be taken to look into things. Energy will need to be expended. This is a part of the ministry. This is a part of church life. It cannot be avoided. And here we are warned to never show preferential treatment. Great care is to be taken in these matters. 

Why? Why must sin be addressed and with great care? Answer: because of what the church is. She is the bride of Christ, the household of God, the church of the living God. She is the temple of the Holy Spirit. This is the assembly of God’s redeemed, those washed in the blood of the lamb. And what is God doing with us? Among other things, he is sanctifying us. He is refining and sharpening us. And we know that one of the ways that God refines us is through our interaction with one another.

The church is to be kept holy, brothers and sisters, and this is why sin cannot be ignored — not within the membership of the church, and especially not within the eldership. But great care needs to be taken when addressing the sin of others. It is so easy to error in this, brothers and sisters. Why? One reason: we are not omniscient. Why will God judge with absolute perfection at the end of time? Well, among other things, he is omniscient. He is not limited as we are when it comes to knowledge. He sees all things — yes, even the hearts of men — with perfect clarity. We do not. Sometimes things are very cloudy to us. Sometimes our own emotions and presuppositions get in the way. So does this mean we are never to confront or judge? No! The scriptures say that we must. But we must do so with care. We are to take our time, demand multiple witnesses, talk and listen carefully, rely upon the counsel of others, pray for wisdom, discernment, and clarity, all the while keeping our own hearts pure, being sure to remove the log, splinters, and specks from our own eye before we attempt to remove the speck from the eye of another. Brothers and sisters, we need humility, love, and wisdom. Lord help us. Please pray for your leaders in this regard. And no, there is no trouble amongst the elders currently. Perhaps I should have said this earlier. I am preaching this sermon today because we have come to this text in our study of 1 Timothy. But do pray for your elders that we would walk worthy, and also lead well within this congregation.  


Elders Are To Be Ordained With Care And Caution

And that leads us now to the last point which is found in verses 22-25. There Paul warns that elders are to be ordained with care and caution. “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.”

This is wonderful advice. In fact, it is not advice, but a command. And there is much wisdom in it. It is not difficult to see why Paul says this here. The best way to avoid being put in the uncomfortable position of having to “rebuke [an elder] in the presence of all” is to appoint godly elders. And one way to make a real mess of things within the church is to appoint ungodly elders. And so Paul urges us to move slowly with care and caution.  

The phrase, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands” means, do not appoint men to the office of elder too quickly. The phrase, “nor take part in the sins of others” indicates that when elders lay hands on immature, untested, and sinful men to appoint them to the office of elder, they do take part in their sins, to some degree. Paul warns Timothy (and all pastors) to “keep [themselves] pure” in this regard.

It is interesting that Paul interjects with some personal advice for Timothy at this point. In verse 23 he says, “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” Evidently, Timothy was struggling with some health issues. The context seems to indicate that these health issues were induced by the stress of dealing with the sins of leaders within the church, with accusations brought against leaders (whether true or false), and perhaps with the pressure to appoint men to the office of elder hastily. If this were not the reason for Timothy’s ailments, then it is hard to understand why Paul would make this remark here in this place. I can tell you from experience that this is the most taxing aspect of pastoral ministry — dealing with sin within the congregation. Timothy’s practice was to drink only water (perhaps to not offend the weaker brothers, or perhaps because he wished to live a moderate life), but Paul exhorted him to take a little wine for his stomach and frequent ailments. He says a “little wine”, not because he was concerned about Timothy being given to drunkenness, but so that he would not be misunderstood by others who would read this letter. Drinking to the point of drunkenness is never permissible, brothers and sisters. And we know that some do drink to the point of drunkenness to run from their anxieties. Clearly, Paul is not encouraging that. But he does encourage Timothy to take a “little wine” for medicinal purposes.  

After this Paul returns to his main point and brings it to a conclusion in verse 24, saying, “The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden” (1 Timothy 5:24–25, ESV). I don’t think I fully appreciated these verses until I was in full-time pastoral ministry for a few years. They are so filled with truth. What does Paul mean?

 Conspicuous means “very obvious” or “easy to see”. The sins of some people are very easy to see, he says. They are right out in the open leading to judgment. But the sins of others are not so obvious. They “appear later”.   And so it is with good works. Sometimes they are obvious and easy to see. But sometimes they remain hidden — Paul is here referring to those who live holy lives and do good works discreetly. But these good works done in secret will not remain hidden either. They are bound to appear. 

This is so true. But what is Paul’s point? His point is very simple: take time to get to know people. Do not be quick to ordain a man to the office of elder. Wait to see the fruit of his life, whether he produces good fruit or bad.

Application: How might we apply this final point? I have three very brief remarks. 

One, when it comes time to appoint new elders (and deacons) we cannot be hasty. We must examine the man to be sure that he holds to sound doctrine, is morally qualified, gifted, and called to the ministry. The whole church is to be a part of this process, but the current elders have a special role to play. They will be the ones to lay their hands on the man to bless him and to appoint him to the ministry. Elders must be sure to not rush this.  

Two, we must not error on the other side, moving too slowly, being hindered by fear of the unknown. I wonder if this is not a problem in some churches that have an appropriately high view of the ministry. Their respect for the eldership and their fear of getting it wrong is so great that they move forward very slowly and with extreme caution. It’s hard to say. Maybe they have their reasons. But I wonder if the work of the ministry and the furtherance of Christ’s kingdom is not sometimes hindered by this. We must not move too slowly.

Thirdly — and this point is more generic — we as a congregation do need to spend time with one another to develop close and meaningful relationships so that we actually know one another. I think you would agree, it is easier to not do this. It is easier to show up on Sunday, to say hello to a few people, worship, and go home. It is easier, but it is not better. In the church, we are to enjoy fellowship with one another. This means that we are to establish and maintain deep and meaningful relationships with one another because we have Christ in common. Remember, we are brothers and sisters in him. And we are to love one another. Our culture is very fragmented, individualistic, and lonely. This cannot be the case within the church. COVID-19 and the government shutdowns have only amplified this problem within our culture. How long will it last? No one knows. But I suspect that the effects of this will be very long-lasting. People are forgetting how to love their neighbor, and I wonder if Christians are not forgetting how to love another. Don’t let it happen here, friends. Now, as your Pastor, I will continue to respect your opinions regarding COVID. If you are concerned about contracting the illness and have decided to keep your distance from others for a time, I respect that. But in general, I appeal to the members of this church to not neglect the fellowship and do not fail to show hospitality. The world will never understand this. If they are not in Christ — if they do not have hope beyond the grave — then what do they have except their life here on earth; their health. And though we certainly value life on earth, and though we are deeply concerned to preserve our health and the health of others, we do have other concerns as well — the worship of God, the building up of the body of Christ, the furtherance of Christ’s kingdom, the salvation and nurturing of souls. Brothers and sisters, my point is this, we cannot afford to neglect fellowship as a congregation. Unless you have good reasons to quarantine — and many of you do! — do not neglect the fellowship and exercise hospitality. The church will not flourish with it. 

Comments are closed.

"Him we proclaim,
warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

© 2011-2022 Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church