Honoring Good Elders, Rebuking Bad Ones
Topic: The Church Passage: 1 Timothy 5:17–5:25,
The NT church was driven by the life and power of the Spirit. Paul said, “in the power of signs and wonders, and in the power of the Spirit..I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.”. We are made into new people by the life and power of the Spirit. Paul wrote a lot about this new life in the Spirit. We are born of the Spirit. We walk in the Spirit. Paul wrote about the gifts of the Spirit and God’s presence in the church meeting! And we need that! But Paul ALSO revealed the mind of the Spirit on practical issues in the church like what kind of men should be appointed to lead the church, what should go on, what should NOT go on, in the church and in the church meeting. This is important!
Paul wrote this letter to Timothy “so that you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God”. Here, Paul tells us to honor good elders, and to rebuke elders who sin.
Verse 17 “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.
In general, honor for one another, is to be preeminent in the church family. Church is a place where we give honor to each other. Romans 12:10 urges us to “outdo one another in showing honor”. This honor is given to all believers, especially to those that might be considered less important. In 1 Cor. 12:23 Paul said, those parts of the body that we think less honorable, (on these) “we bestow greater honor”. We do not dismiss anybody as unimportant in the church; but we honor all members of the body of Christ.
People who might be ignored or rejected by the world should find a place of honor in the church. Every young person, every man and woman here, should sense appreciation and respect and a kind of dignity in the church. We do not have cool and uncool people, important and unimportant people. The Bible tells us to associate with the lowly and to honor all the members of the body.
1 Tim. 5:3 teaches us to honor widows, now later in chapter 5 Paul teaches us to honor elders. The honor we are to show widows includes financial support, in some cases. And honoring elders also includes financial support.
They are worthy of double honor. The term double honor simply is an expression meaning with much generosity. Some men in the ministry of course are raking in millions of dollars. Their net worth staggers the imagination. This is a stain on the church. And many Christians naively give to these ministries, not knowing that greed for money is one of the main marks of a false teacher.
But on the other hand, it is God’s wisdom and plan that elders should receive support from the church. And Paul said they should be given “double honor” if they are good managers or good shepherds of the church. They should be not only be taken care of, they should be well taken care of. Steven Cole said their salary should show honor for the man, and for the office.
Spurgeon once heard how little a church was offering to pay their pastor and said “The only individual I know, who could exist on such a (salary), is the angel Gabriel. He would need neither cash nor clothes; and he could come down from heaven every Sunday morning, and go back at night, so I advise you to invite him” (to be your pastor)
Paul said give double honor “especially for those who work hard at preaching and teaching”. Paul considers preaching and teaching the most important work of elders. Elders are not valued for their personal charisma, or eloquence, or ability to entertain a crowd, but for the hard work of preaching and teaching the Word of God. This is what the church needs in an elder! And that is what they should be honored for!
Paul supports this command to pay elders from an Old Testament scripture and a quote from Jesus. Verse 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” This is a direct quote from Deuteronomy 25:4. If the ox was not muzzled as it was threshing the grain, then it could eat as it was working. Paul said this same principal applied to elders. They should have their needs met as they work at preaching and teaching. Secondly he justifies paying elders by quoting Jesus. Jesus said, “the laborer deserves his wages”. (Matt. 10:10, Luke 10:7)
1 Corinthians 9:11 teaches this same thing. Paul said, “If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?” Some think it’s somehow less spiritual to pay anyone for any work done in the church, but God’s word clearly says, the opposite. (We have one elder who we support as a church, and it is good that we have him and good that we support him.)
*Then Paul moves on to deal with elders who fall into sin. Despite the precautions given about what kind of men qualify to be elders, some elders do become ensnared in some kind of sin. As distasteful as it might be, elders who fall into sin must be rebuked, and sometimes removed from leadership. We want the church to be all positive, and happy and easy, but sin must be dealt with if we are to be faithful to Christ.
Paul Washer was asked, “What is the greatest threat to the church in this generation?” Without a moments hesitation he said, “Pastors”. He shocked everyone by saying that. But….the greatest danger to the church IS pastors who do not fear the Lord, pastors who live immoral and worldly lives, pastors who water down the word of God to make it acceptable to the present culture. This is a crisis in the church today. Pastors who sin in how they live OR in what they teach, must be rebuked or removed.
*But before Paul goes on, he provides a protection against false and frivolous accusations. Verse 19 “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” (Do not receive, or be quick to believe) Leaders are often accused of things that simply are not true. Some people are addicted to finding fault, and making accusations of others. This makes them feel better about themselves, and gives them a false sense of spirituality.
People accused Jesus of being a glutton and drunkard. (Luke 7:34) Paul was called a liar and a deceiver. He said, I have served Christ through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true.”
John said, “Diotrephes...unjustly accuses us with malicious words” 3 John 9
So Paul knows the danger of receiving an accusation from just one person. An accusation can ruin a man, his wife and children and the church. So Paul urges caution here. There must be 2 or 3 witnesses. NOT 2 or 3 people who have heard the gossip, but 2 or 3 witnesses! 2 or 3 who can actually substantiate the elder’s sin.
This is a safeguard from the law of Moses. Deut. 19:15 “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established”. This is a safeguard against the fallibility of human perception. People get things wrong all the time. Calvin said, “Satan makes most people “overly credulous” (to believe an accusation when they hear it).
*But where there is sin, in the life of an elder, then that sin must be dealt with publicly. It must NOT be ignored! Verse 20 “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.”
Paul said this is for “those who persist in sin”. An elder might stumble in something and once it is pointed out to them they stop. And the church might cover that with grace and go on. However, I do believe that some sins disqualify elders from future official church ministry, such as open sexual sin, or embezzling money. Pastors who commit adultery can repent and be forgiven and still have a ministry to others. But...in my opinion, they have forfeited the office of elder because their lives do not meet the qualification of being above reproach, of being faithful to one woman, and having a good reputation with those outside the church. Forgiving someone, does not always mean putting that person back in the same position as a shepherd of the flock.
Paul gives three commands for dealing with elders living in sin. First: Rebuke them – Rebuke means to clearly point out a sin and say “That is wrong!” Proverbs 27:5,6 says, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds from a friend, but profuse are the kisses of an enemy”. A true friend will seek to stop you from sinning. Someone who doesn’t care about you will let you keep sinning.
However, if you rebuke anyone in the church today for any sin, you will likely be accused of being hateful, legalistic, abusive, of having no grace for people and on and on. But the Bible teaches that sin is so dangerous to the church. And those who love the Lord and their elders will confront sin.
*Second: Do this in the presence of all. Elders live in front of the church. They are to be examples to the flock. When elders fall into sin, people need to see that their sin is confronted and not covered up. This is not to be mean or harsh. It is being loving and responsible to the elder and the whole church.
*Part of the purpose, is to instill a fear of sinning in everyone else. NASB “So that the rest also will be fearful of sinning”. Paul wanted the church to have a fear of sinning! The thought that we should be fearful of sinning is foreign to our contemporary church culture. But having a fear of sin is a good thing. John Wesley said, “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on Earth.”
If our preaching and teaching here at RLC has NOT helped you to fear sinning, then we have not done our job as elders. The essence of the gospel is immediate, and total forgiveness of our sins, but the work of the gospel in our hearts is then to cause us to hate AND to fear sin. God’s grace lavishes us with forgiveness but that grace also teaches us to say “no” to sin!
*Next Paul said the elders should be treated fairly, but not given special treatment. Verse 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.”
There should be no bias or partiality in how elders are dealt with.
An elder should NOT be shielded from the consequences of his sin because he is well liked, or has made the church grow, or even has lead a lot of people to Christ. Some churches cover up their pastor’s sin because they think, “If we deal with his sin, it will hurt our growth, or our image.”
One of the big problems in Christian organizations that are not churches, is that because they are not a church, they do not have the safeguards of a church. Often the leader has so much power, that in reality, he or she is not accountable to anyone. There are no elders to confront him when he falls into sexual sin or sins of greed and misuse of money.
*Then Paul says something quite amazing that I want draw your attention to verse 21 Paul said, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels, I charge you to keep these rules”. Should that make us tremble?! We can so easily be intimidated by people that we stop living our lives in the presence of God and start living our lives in the presence of people. People can sway us to condemn an innocent person (like Jesus), or people can intimidate us to remain silent when a rebuke is desperately needed. These commands have been given in the presence of God and Christ and angels, so we let the Word of God rule our actions, not the pressure of people.
Then verse 22 “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.” IE Be patient in appointing someone as an elder, so you don’t have to deal with their sin AFTER they become an elder! Once you commission someone to leadership, if they sin, that associates you with their sin. Keep yourself pure.
Then Paul interjects a personal word for Timothy. Verse 23 “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” 3 things:
First: Paul was concerned for Timothy’s health – body, soul and spirit. When you love somebody you’re concerned about their health. Second: If you have frequent ailments you are not alone. Timothy had them! Third: If you have frequent ailments do something about them if you possibly can. Change diet, get medical attention, get prayer, etc. Paul wanted these frequent ailments to be alleviated.
In Vs 24,25 Paul comes back to WHY we should be patient in appointing leaders. “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.”
You can see some people’s sins right away. Other people’s sins don’t show up till later. BUT THEY WILL SHOW UP! The good things a person does will be seen! People will tell you who they are, just wait! Their character will become evident. That is the time to lay your hands on them.
One application of this truth for all of us, is to not try to hide our sin or just cover it up without repenting and forsaking it. Chuck Girard, in his biography, told of sinking into alcoholism and trying to cover the smell of alcohol with breath mints before going out to lead worship. Of course that didn’t turn out well. Eventually what we are, and what we are doing, becomes known. Sins become evident.
Don’t hide sin! Confess it and forsake sin! “Jesus is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted to sin!” In the same way, the good that we do will become known too. God will bring forth our righteousness like the noonday sun. Do good and wait for the Lord.
But the main takeaway this morning is that the church desperately needs good, faithful elders/pastors who work hard at teaching the word of God AND who live godly lives. Honor those who do this. Treat them well! But rebuke those living in sin.
Church is a place of joy and singing a smiles and hugs and even laughter, but it is also a place church of serious business. The church is to be holy. We are to live holy lives in the church. And especially the elders/pastors must live holy lives as examples to the flock.