Monday, November 21, 2016

1 Timothy 5:17-25: “Relationships in the Church: Your Relationship with your Elders”

A good relationship with God and people is  inherent  to the teaching of the Bible. It is  at the heart of the 10 commandments  and  it is reaffirmed by Jesus in Mark 12:30,31 : “Love God … love your neighbour…”.  

The 5th Chapter  of   Paul’s letter to Timothy  deals  with relationships  at  different levels.  

(i)                 In  5:1-2  Paul  tells  Timothy how to relate, as a pastor  to older men, younger men, older women and younger women in the church.

(ii)               In  5:3-16  Paul helps Timothy  in terms of relating  to widows and vulnerable people in the church. We  will consider this  text, God willing  in February 2017  when we plan to have a “Diaconate Awareness Sunday”  explaining, and  showcasing our diaconal ministry.

(iii)             In 5: 17-25  Paul  explains  how  we ought to relate to  the  elders of the church, and how to understand their   calling and character.  
To this matter  we now turn our attention. 
The matter of  the elder and diaconal leadership  of the church was   already raised by Paul in Chapter 3: 1-13.  In the matter of eldership  Paul had  stated that “ If anyone aspires to the  office of an overseer, he desires  a noble task” (3:1)  after which he also gives a list of  necessary qualifications  (3:2-7).

Now as we come to our text in 5:17-25,   Paul deals  with  5  further  aspects   relating to  the office of the elder: 

(i)  5:17,18: The remuneration of  the  full-time elders- particularly those who are set apart  to labour  in preaching and teaching. 
(ii) 5:19-20: The  church discipline for elders who sin.
(iii) 5:21: The importance  of being impartial.
(iv)  5:22-23:  The importance of not  being hasty in the laying on of hands (w.r.t elder ordination)
(v)    5:24-25:  The importance of discernment.

1.      5:17,18 : The remuneration of  the  elders that rule well – particularly  those who are set apart  to labour  in preaching and teaching:

The emphasis here is on  the elders  who  “ruling well“. It  appears  as if the elders  of the  early churches were remunerated, because  they put in a lot of work and effort into the work of shepherding the flock, and Paul has particularly those in mind  who were set apart  for the  preaching and teaching  of the Word.  Such elders  who  ruled well in the church, and  especially those  that laboured  in the Word [Gr. kopos lit.  “toil  resulting in weariness” (Vines) ]  ought to be considered  worthy of double honour.  Since the  Word of God  is central to the church’s life  because the Word accurately preached  maintains the proper  Christ centered focus  of the church, it is important that  the church recognizes this appropriately. Such elders who rule well,  and who diligently labour in the Word, says  Paul are  worthy of double honour.  What is meant by double honour?  It means  generous provision, but this would  depend on  their efficiency,  as the adverb ‘well’  indicates.     

V.18  (a quote from Deut.  25:4)  is linked to this thought, and the argument  goes that if  God is concerned that working animals are adequately fed, how much more concern must He not have for those that labour  on behalf of the church. Paul’s second quotation  follows, “The labourer deserves his wages”. These words were in fact spoken by Jesus in Luke  10:7. [1] Comparing  pastoral work to   the work that  oxen or  labourers  do may not sound very flattering, but it does  in essence describe the work of the pastor.  Biblical pastors do a lot of plodding work, a lot of menial work. They are, after all,  only servants. However,  Paul  says, that such work  ought to  be tangibly appreciated  in the church.

2.      5: 19-20 : Church discipline for elders who sin : Those who do not rule well

Paul now turns from  good pastor –elders who deserve recognition and appreciation  to bad pastor elders who deserve  to be rebuked. He  address the  manner  in which  sinning elders need to be addressed.  Paul gives two directives in this regard:
(i)                  What to do when an elder is accused  (v.19)
(ii)                What to do when an elder is found guilty  (v.20)

In the first instance  Paul says  that  the church  is not  to receive  an accusation against an elder except  on the evidence of    two or three witnesses (v.19) i.e. the charge must be substantiated by several people. This is an OT principle (Deut. 19:15)  which is maintained in the NT ( 2 Cor. 13:1 cf. Matt. 18:16). This  regulation  is important  for the protection of  pastor –elders , who easily become the subjects of gossip and slander. A smear campaign can ruin a pastor’s ministry. Therefore it is important  that such charges  are actually proven. Hear-say   is not good enough. Facts  and witnesses are needed.

In the second instance, when an elder is  proven guilty  (and remains guilty or unrepentant  –  note the present tense), such  should be rebuked in the presence of all.  The general rule is that private sin ought to be  confronted privately,  and public sin ought to be  dealt with publicly. When elders sin against the church, they must be dealt with before the church, so that  the rest may stand in fear. Church discipline is necessary  because  the heart and life of the church is at stake. If problems are routinely ignored and glossed over, this produces  an atmosphere  where others will be tempted and encouraged to sin.  Church discipline  causes people  to take note .
Such an action, in terms of public rebuke  must always be the  last resort  however, and it is never a cause  for  gloating. It  is a very sad  thing  for  church elders to sin. Many   of God’s flock are devastated when that happens.

3.      5:21 : The importance  of being impartial

Now Paul   solemnly charges  Timothy with a very important matter, “ I charge you to keep these rules without  prejudging (Gr. prokrima – jumping to conclusions), doing nothing from partiality (favouritism).”  In the matter of dealing with elders  and people  it is very important that  a sense of  fairness must prevail. The history of the church has often shown the opposite, where sinning priests, pastors  and elders have  sometimes been  protected by the system and excused  from their sin, whilst  many a church member has continued  to  live  with the  bitterness of injustice.

Pastor-elders  must strive to  be impartial , and  where  two people  or parties  are at odds  with one another  it is important  that  sides are not taken ; that truth is established and that people are helped forward . At all times elders will strive to keep people together, since God is a God of peace   and the Holy Spirit is a Spirit of Unity and the Lord Jesus Christ has died to make us one.

4.      5:22-23 :  Be careful in  hasty laying on of hand (  with reference to elder ordination)

In context, the laying on of hands  here probably refers to pastor – elder  ordination. In the pastoral epistles  we have two  other occasions when mention is made of the laying on of hands  [1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6].
It is a very common human tendency to make premature and hasty decisions  which should have  been made with  adequate testing and prayer. There may of course be an opposite mistake,  when  we fail to make a decision at  all. The general rule is that it is  better to take time with the appointment of   church leaders.
There is an added thought linked to this statement, “nor take part in the sins of others”.  If through excessive haste a mistake is made or  if the person chosen as a leader in the church    happens to be spiritually unqualified or acting unwisely or sinfully (and contrary to the  character expressed in 1 Tim 3:1-7), Timothy may  find that he shares  in the sins of others or find himself implicated  in other people’s  misdeeds[2]. There is no thing such as sinning in isolation. An eldership can go through a very difficult time as a result of one man's sin, and much energy  needed elsewhere can be wasted and drained    when  the eldership  faces internal  sin issues. When this happens it almost feels that the gospel is  put on hold, while much  precious time is  spent on  resolving sin issues. 
Paul  wants to spare  Timothy  from these things . He wants  Timothy to  keep himself pure  by making wise, godly  leadership  appointments .

5.      5:24-25 :  The importance of discernment

These verses develop Paul’s emphasis on the need for caution and  add  a further reason to avoid haste. The fact of the matter is that  people are frequently different  from what they appear at first. Frequently we underestimate or overestimate people. The point is that  true character only surfaces over a period of time, and therefore time is needed to establish proven character. The passage in 1 Timothy  3:1-7 makes it clear that an elder’s character must be established  before  he can serve  as such.
Now, says Paul, ”the sins of  some men are conspicuous, going before them to judgement…”. The  case is clear  here, but other cases  “the sins  of others appear later”, The same criterion can be applied  to  good works. Some are  immediately apparent, “ and  in the same way  also good works are conspicuous”,  and other good works take a little time before they surface  “…and even those that are not  cannot remain hidden…”
The point is that we cannot judge by mere appearances. We need discernment. We learn this from an iceberg. 9/10 of the iceberg is hidden below the surface. In the same  way  9/10 of a person’s character is  hidden from view, and  is  this this  9/10  which is  the substance of the iceberg. It is this major fraction  that   does  the damage, as the captain of the Titanic discovered too late. We therefore need time to make an assessment  of a person’s character. Attractive  personalities and people  often have hidden weaknesses, whilst ordinary, unassuming people  may have hidden strength. Don’t judge a book by its cover, the English  Proverb says. You need to read it to make an assessment, and reading takes time.   Elders must never be chosen on the  superficial basis of having  high  business or political profiles.  Christian character is everything. It is the essential  test that an elder  must pass.  We need to learn to discern between the seen and the unseen, the surface and the depth, the appearance and the reality.

So then we have   learned 5  things  in understanding  and dealing with our  pastors or  elders: 

1.      Appreciate them when  they rule well
2.     Deal with them  fairly   when they do not do well.Make sure that any charge against an elder is substantiated by two  or more  witnesses. 
3.      Elders should be impartial , avoiding all favouritism
4.      Elders should be carefully chosen 
5.      A proper  discernment  needs to be made with respect to choosing elders.  Look beyond  outward appearance. 

Whenever the church takes these principles seriously, mistakes will be avoided and the church will be  preserved  in peace and love,  and God’s Name will be protected and  honoured. 

[1] Context: Jesus charge to the 70
[2] see also Galatians  6:1

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