1 Timothy 5:17-25 – Payment and discipline of elders
It is difficult to talk and write about this subject because as a teaching elder to talk about the importance of honouring and supporting our teaching elders may appear conceited. I find that many ministers feel embarrassed and compromised when talking about the honour given to the role and the financial support offered to enable them to carry it out.
In Philippians 2:4 we are told that we should ‘look not to our own interests but to the interests of others’, but I do believe that it is in the interests of the Church to have a well-trained, well-supported and respected group of teaching elders. It is important because the Scripture teaches this in a number of places:
‘And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the labourer deserves his wages.’ Luke 10:7a
‘In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.’ 1 Corinthians 9:14
‘One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches.’ Galatians 6:6
It is also important because our support for local preachers and ministers indicates the value we place upon the teaching of God’s Word. I believe church history has shown that set apart, trained and dedicated teaching elders have strengthened the church (safe guarding it from error and furthering the cause of the gospel).
Note that those who ‘rule well’ are worthy of double honour. It is not simply a matter of wearing the symbols of such an office, but it is rather a matter of carrying out the duties of a teaching elder with diligence (particularly when it comes to the preaching of God’s Word). Elders are not above the discipline of the church, but complaints against elders must be substantiated by the evidence seen by at least two witnesses.
If an elder sins morally against the teaching of the church then they are to be disciplined publicly so that people see and respond by coming under the authority of God’s teaching. If the sin is a criminal matter then ‘let every person be subject to the governing authorities’ (Romans 13:1). If it is a matter of a civil disagreement between believers then you should try to reconcile it within the community of faith (1 Corinthians 6). In cases where an accusation is made it is vital that believers do not prejudge the situation but wait to hear the evidence, but when the evidence is heard show no favouritism to well-loved leaders.
I believe it is helpful to hear the warning in verse 22 we should not be hasty in the laying on of hands. I thank God for our elders who are dedicated to the service of the church but we must be careful not to set people apart simply because they offer to do the task (eldership is about more than willingness). It is about humility (character), commitment to the teaching of the church (integrity), and diligence in service and prayer (reputation).
All of Paul’s teaching in this section on the choosing, supporting and disciplining teaching elders is subject to the truth that some sins are obvious and judged in the present, and some sins are hidden but will be revealed and judged in the end. Just as some good deeds are obvious but all will be made known by Christ Jesus who knows all and sees all.