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1 Tim 5:17–25 — What about the elders?

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Welcome/Notices

Praise: Come O fount

Prayer

Hope church kirmuirhill
Ian Watson — clerk. Kim & family struggles.
Sean Ankers & Gin. Here next week.
Building. Sactuary. Cafe & manse in progress.
Five new members, one by profession.
Thailand, four boys out. Grieve loss of one diver earlier in the week. Pray safety for rest.
Floods & landslides in Japan. Scores dead. 1.5m must leave home, further 3m advised. Airlifts.

Jesus shall reign where’er the sun

Reading

1 Timothy 5:17–25 NIV
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning. I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism. Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure. Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever.

King of Kings, Majesty

Introduction

We’re still under the broad heading this evening of church as family. Remember the first few verses of the chapter set out that paradigm, the broad strokes of how members of the church should treat one another. Paul then dives into three specific groups; so far we’ve looked at widows in the church, today he’s considering elders, and then there are a few verses in the beginning of chapter six about slaves.
So today, elders. Those charged with leadership in the family. As verse 17 puts it, those who direct the affairs of the church.
Paul gives three instructions when it comes to this group. Firstly, they are worthy of double honour, verse 17. Second he considers the situation where there are accusations against an elder, whether true or false. Finally verses 22 to 25 are concerned with the ordination of elders — specifically, when should it happen and why?

Remuneration

First up then, the elders are worthy of double honour. The language here is reminiscent of that used to begin the section on widows. Just as they were to be given recognition, to be honoured, so are the elders.
Now, the Free Church tends to refer to ‘ministers’ on the one hand, and ‘elders’ on the other. We often talk about these as two separate groups of people, and indeed in some churches, very sadly, we we find elders who seem to think it is their job to keep the minister in check, and ministers who seem to think they do not need the elders, that they themselves always know best.
That is not a healthy attitude, of course. And part of where it comes from is a skewed idea of this distinction between elders and ministers. The New Testament simply does not talk about two clearly distinguished classes. So when verse 17 here refers to elders, it clearly means both those who we tend to call ‘elders’ and those we call ‘ministers’.
You may remember, for instance, from chapter three, that all overseers, that is all elders, are to be able to teach. There is not a fast distinction between the elders who direct the affairs of the congregation, and ministers who teach. No, elders must be apt to teach.
That is because ‘directing the affairs of the church well’, verse 17 here, necessarily implies teaching. The church is directed by what it believes. You cannot lead without teaching, without telling people what God says. There are lots of different ways of doing that, teaching doesn’t always mean standing in front of the whole congregation and talking for half an hour, it can be the quiet word in a time of difficulty which helps you to find a new perspective. Teaching happens in lots of different ways.
But the elders of the congregation are collectively given responsibility. The elders will give an account before God, , for those God has entrusted to their care. It is right and proper that the elders be honoured. They are worthy of your respect.
So all elders are to be able to teach. All elders are worthy of your respect.
And yet, this verse does also speak of a distinction of some kind. There is a reference here to ‘especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.’ There is a recognition here that there are different tasks, and particularly greater and lesser amounts of time given to those tasks. It is certainly the case now, and it seems here it was the case then too, that different elders were giving more or less of their time to the work of teaching.
The word for ‘work’ here is often used of physical, manual labour. Paul consistently uses this word to refer to the work of ministry, because he wants people to recognise the effort involved. He wants those God has called to this work to recognise what is expected of them. This verse, along with many others, shows us that there is no place for laziness in the life of those who labour to direct the affairs of the church, those who work in preaching and teaching. Paul would heartily rebuke a minister who filled the charicature of ‘working one day a week’! Paul wants ministers to recognise the labour to which they are called.
And here, Paul also wants the church to recognise the labour of its elders. And the particular application at this point is that they therefore deserve to be paid. If the church wants ministers who will labour to preach and teach well, if we wish to have men devote themselves to long hours of extensive preparation, if we wish them to teach often, then their expenses will need to be met. If their labours are to be to the extent that they do not have time to earn a living in other ways, they must be paid by the church.
Paul supports this principle with a verse from Deuteronomy which says an ox is entitled to eat when it labours on the farm, and a saying of Jesus which we’ll come to later on in Luke.
Here is where we end up with a functional distinction between those we call ministers and those we call elders. Leading well will necessarily involve teaching. But that does not mean that that burden will be equally shouldered. If we are to have any men in our churches who have spent a few years studying God’s word full time, learning Greek and Hebrew, taking the time out to think things through deeply, it will be natural for them to take on the bulk of the teaching. The church can be well served by well-educated men.
We tend to call such men ministers, in the Free Church. But the distinction between ministers and elders is one of function, not one of identity. The reason why we pay ministers and not other elders is to give them the free time to be able to prepare to teach regularly, not because they are more inherently deserving.
Now, money was a problem in Ephesus. When Paul gives his requirements for overseers and for deacons back in chapter three, both are exhorted not to love money. But the false teachers have been preaching for financial gain. Paul will say in chapter 6 that
1 Timothy 6:10 NIV
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
but that does not stop him here indicating that teaching elders should be paid for their efforts. For the person who does not love money, and is not greedy for gain, it will not be a problem to be paid for their labours.
So what difference does this make for us here today? Because the Free Church of Scotland pays its ministers from central funds, and all ministers receive an equal stipend, I can’t be standing here asking you to give me more money. It doesn’t really work that way. So why bother talking about it at all? Well, because the money that pays my stipend does ultimately come from you.
The Free Church system, we give money from our congregational accounts into the central accounts each month. We pay what’s called the ministry levy, then there’s the admin levy, and then contributions to the mission board funds. The ministry levy is designed to cover the cost of me being here, from salary through National Insurance, pension and whatever. The admin levy pays for us to have staff in the office, and in the seminary too. A massive, massive proportion of the budget of the Free Church nationally goes on personnel. Which is a good thing.
But what that means is, it’s a good thing that we pay money into central funds. I’ve not yet been in a congregational meeting here at Covenant church, but I’ve sat in plenty of others over the years, and it’s all too common to hear complaints about the amount of money being sent to central funds. Well, my suggestion is that these few verses mean we should do that gladly. You should be pleased to be paying for the cost of me being here. And we should be happy to be paying for others who labour on our behalf as well. We may not see quite so obviously the benefit of having people in the finance office, and a full-time mission director and so on, but if we are able to recognise that they are labouring on our behalf, that they are doing work we are pleased to see done, then we should gladly pay for it to happen.
So when we do come to our annual accounts meeting, let us not grumble about the amount of money which goes off to Edinburgh each month. And secondly, perhaps we might consider what other opportunities we could embrace with more funds. If we could afford to free up another person, whether an existing member of the congregation or not, to labour on our behalf, what opportunities might be available?
I don’t have a particular plan for that right now, but I offer it to you as the seed of an idea. What more could we be doing with more people able to devote the bulk of their time to the work of the gospel here in Newmilns and beyond?

Sin

OK. Second point. In verse 19 Paul moves on to considering an elder who is sinning. Or, rather, an elder accused of wrongdoing. There are a few important points packed in to these three verses, 19–21.
The first continues on directly from the principle of double honour, verse 17. That has been applied to financial support in verse 18, and now verse 19 returns to the principle of the respect that the elders are due.
This picks up and applies it specifically to elders. Deut tells us:
Deuteronomy 19:15 NIV
One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.
This is not an easy topic. Because there are those who abuse power and authority. We only have to look in any newspaper to see that over and over again in the past year. But there are also those who make false accusations. There are people who out of vindictiveness, from spite, from a desire to see others suffer; there are those who with wicked motivations will accuse others of terrible things. This is particularly common for those in the public eye to whatever extent, and that extends to ministers and other elders.
And so Paul advises Timothy not to entertain a single accusation. Is this a perfect system, of course not. But ON THIS EARTH, we operate with the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’. Not least because we are able to trust that justice will ultimately be done. We worship a God who is supremely just, who sees and knows all things and who therefore will never lack the facts to make a true judgement, and who will not acquit the guilty.
Does that mean if an elder does something wrong you might as well not bother telling anyone? Absolutely not. How will there ever be multiple witnesses if each keeps quiet out of fear of irrelevance?
ON THIS EARTH, we operate with the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’. Not least because we are able to trust that justice will ultimately be done. We worship a God who is supremely just, who sees and knows all things and who therefore will never lack the facts to make a true judgement, and who will not aquit the guilty.
And it must also be said that this caution is not the only thing Paul has to say about the sin of elders. Have another look at verse 20.
1 Timothy 5:20 NIV
But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning.
1 Timothy 5:20–21 NIV
But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning. I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.
There is a place for private conversations in the church. In the case of the first accusation, there would be nothing inappropriate in Timothy going and having a quiet word with the elder in question. But where an accusation has been substantiated by two or three witnesses, the response must be public.
The matter in view here is in some sense ongoing, the phrasing ‘who are sinnning’ rightly brings though the ongoing nature, this is an elder living a life of sin; this is not an instruction to publicly chastise an elder for every sin they ever commit. But there is definitely a place for public rebuke.
Why?
Well, so that the others may take warning. This seems to particularly refer to the other elders who ought to take note, but one would imagine the impact on the congregation at large would be similar. If this behaviour, whatever it might be, is unacceptable for an elder, if it is worthy of condemnation, then I too, the man in the pew, ought to watch out.
This is not a new idea, back in we read:
Deuteronomy 19:18–20 NIV
The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite, then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party. You must purge the evil from among you. The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you.
Dt 19:18-
Deuteronomy 19:20 NIV
The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you.
The intention there is that the other Israelites will hear of the punishment and will turn away from evil. So here, the danger of public condemnation is intended to be one thing amongst many which will guard others against sin. Jude verse 7 says the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah similarly serves as an example.
Jude 7 NIV
In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.
Whilst public rebuke is surely unpleasant, we see here that it hopes for a positive result. It may be too late for the sinning elder, I think this presupposes several prior attempts to seek repentance, though even still that option is open to him, but more broadly it seeks the positive in guarding others against sin.
Sadly, “the history of the church, both ancient and modern, has been plagued by a refusal to follow the admonitions of scripture [in church discipline].” WBC 322

Without partiality

Paul’s third comment on discipline of elders comes in verse 21, where he instructs Timothy in the strongest of terms to avoid partiality and favouritism.
Paul knows that these things can have a corrosive effect. We must guard against even the appearance of nepotism, of favouring one’s friends. There is great value, for instance, of having clearly established policies in advance so that there cannot be an accusation of "of course you made that decision, he’s your friend”; or for that matter, “of course you made that decision, you never liked him."
Whilst character is essential to our decision-making, our elders are to be those who exhibit Godly character, not just those with the right CV, that focus on the individual doesn’t mean we get to only support our friends. No, there is to be no partiality.
So we make decisions in the advance, in the abstract. It’s also helpful to be part of a wider denomination, so that we inherit some policies and decisions, and so that we have somewhere to turn should we need to find someone who will find it easier to be dispassionate and impartial.
It is to me striking that in the context of serious problems in the church in Ephesus, in the context of elders involved in false teaching, Paul is not advocating autocracy. Paul is not telling Timothy to come in guns blazing. There is a place for proper process in the most difficult of circumstances, not for autocracy. The church’s method’s must be based on what is right and proper, not mere expediency, not just what will make life easy right now.

Conclusion

So three elements of disciplining elders, there is to be caution in entertaining accusations, there is to be public rebuke where necessary, and there is to be impartiality in judgement.
As one commentator notes,
Sadly, “the history of the church, both ancient and modern, has been plagued by a refusal to follow the admonitions of scripture [in church discipline].” WBC 322

Ordination

Finally, Paul turns to the ordination of elders. He’s specified the necessary character back in chapter three, and there advised that elders not be recent converts lest they fall into conceit. Here he gives another reason to be cautious in laying on hands, that is to say, in ordaining men as elders. Here caution is advisable lest Timothy share in the sins of others. To understand what he means by that in verse 22, it’s helpful to look down to verse 24.
What Paul points out there is that you can’t always judge someone’s character quickly. Some people are very adept at hiding their sinfulness. Most of us are very good at the public facade, at putting on a good show. In the context of the judgement of God on the last day, Paul recognises that even the hidden sins will one day be found out. Though they may trail behind, they will arrive eventually. Nothing is hidden from God.
But the point he makes here is that things can be readily hidden from one another, at least for a time.
Abraham Lincoln’s famous dictum, “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time,” is a wise word in choosing elders.” http://kevinpierpont.com/care-of-biblical-leadership-1-timothy-517-25/
Given that, it is wise to delay a while in order that sin might become more readily apparent and the church be guarded against an unworthy elder having been appointed. Paul frames this in terms of Timothy becoming guilty by association, verse 22. If he has ordained a man who turns out to be unsuitable, he shares in the disgrace of his sin.
Given that, it is wise to delay a while in order that sin might become more readily apparent and the church be guarded against an unworthy elder having been appointed. Paul frames this in terms of Timothy becoming guilty by association, verse 22. If he has ordained a man who turns out to be unsuitable, he shares in the disgrace of his sin.
It is important for Timothy to guard against that, he must not become guilty by association, he should keep himself pure.
However, that purity does not require abstention from all alcohol. Whilst verse 23 might at first seem a bizarre non-sequitur, it in fact does fit in if we recognise that the most likely reason Timothy is not currently willing to drink wine for the sake of his stomach is that he wishes to distance himself from the false teachers. They seem to have been practicing a strange mixture of excess on one hand and abstention on the other, and in response Timothy is abstaining from alcoholic drinks.
Now, it’s no bad thing to avoid giving offence. It’s wise to wish to avoid being viewed as impure, whether or not the behaviour in question would make you actually impure. Paul does not rebuke Timothy for having made this decision, indeed it’s not far off things which he does advise doing in other contexts. But, not to the extent of making yourself ill! If abstaining in order to appear pure is making you unwell, that’s too high a price to pay.
Timothy needs to be pure, to avoid being tainted with the sins of others. And he’s also to avoid haste for another reason. Verse 25 gives the opposite of 24. If there’s a danger of not having seen the sin of some, there’s the opposite risk of not having seen the good deeds of others. In other words, Timothy could fail to appoint men who would be great elders simply because he’d not waited long enough to notice them.
Now, to be honest, I was slightly worried when I stopped to consider these verses. As you know, we’re working to appoint deacons at the end of August. Paul’s talking specifically about ordaining elders here, but as we’ve seen previously, the character requirements for deacons are similar, to have a deacon’s sins become apparent later on is not much better. And so I had a moment of wondering, do I really know these people. I’ve been here a little over a year now, do I really have enough confidence to be able to commend them to the church to be appointed.
Now, it’s right to be cautious, to take these verses seriously, to recognise that they do apply to us today. But here’s my key reassurance. I’m not the one making this decision. Yes, I will commend them to you. But I will do so shoulder to shoulder with the other elders. We as a session will advise, and then ultimately you the congregation will make a decision. So whilst I may have known them for only a year or so, the rest of the elders, and all of you, have known them for much longer. You are equipped to see whether their good deeds are apparent, or whether instead their sins trail behind them.
I’m not quite ready to give you the names yet, but you might usefully be praying now that God will give you the wisdom to recognise godly character. And when we come to that vote, this is part of how you should make that decision.
Folks, this passage reminds us again of the importance of good and godly leadership in the church. It is important that we have good elders, and so they should be held in high esteem. The church depends on being taught well according to God’s word, and so it is proper that we make financial provision for those who labour to that end. Elders are to be held to a high standard, but we recognise that there are those who love to see good men fall, so we are cautious of malicious accusations. But we stand or fall on the godliness of our elders, and so sin must be publically rebuked, for the good of all. We need holy men who will direct the affairs of the church well, and so we take great care in who we appoint.
We need holy men who will direct the affairs of the church well, and so we take great care in who we appoint.
Friends, let us pray earnestly for those God has appointed to lead and direct the affairs of his church, firstly here in Newmilns and further afield as well.
Amen

God is our strength and refuge ()

Benediction

1 Timothy 1:17 NIV
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
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