17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” 19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 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. 22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. 23 (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) 24 The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. 25 So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden. (1 Timothy 5:17-25)
Today we will see another way in which God takes care of people, His church. In the last verses we looked at we saw how God wants us to honor widows, those who have special needs. It was a picture of the care that God takes for His people. The Lord is always looking out for us, always taking care of us. He is concerned for our needs and is on top of meeting them in the best possible way. No matter what our circumstances look like, we can know that God is faithful to continue His work of making us more like Jesus Christ, and that is the ultimate good that He wants to work out in us. He is a compassionate God.
Another way that the Lord takes care of His church is through leaders that He appoints. God places leaders in the church, and one of the ordained leadership positions in the church is that of an elder.
Our passage today is one about elders. I’ve got to tell you that this passage is not an easy one for me to preach from. It is difficult because some of it may sound like I am asking for something, like honor or more compensation. Other parts are convicting and sobering. But I want you to know that my aim here is not personal gain or really anything personal here, my aim is to rightly teach what God has put in His Word. So I want to be clear and accurate and I want this message to carefully emerge from the Scriptures and convey what God intends it to convey to us, just as He gave these words to the Apostle Paul. So that is my aim, that is where we are going this morning together.
So, speaking of elders, Paul begins with this: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” “Elder” here is a reference to the ordained position of elder and is the same office that is sometimes referred to as overseer or pastor. We see how elder and pastor and overseer are all used of the same office in Acts 20:17 and 28: “Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him…Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” So an elder as mentioned in verse 17 is the same person who is an overseer and a pastor. It is this ordained position that Paul speaks of when he says they should be considered worthy of honor. Or more specifically, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor.”
The idea of honoring leaders in the church is not a new idea in this passage.
12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)
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)
The idea here is to give honor to those who serve you as leaders in the church. Honor is simply respect or regard.
If this were not in the Bible, and clearly so, that is that we are to give honor and respect to church leaders, elders, if this were not in the Bible I would not speak of it. But it is in the Bible and so I am obligated to speak of this.
We are all to honor those whom God has put over us. And yet, our tendency may be more of complaint over why those leaders don’t do more. In this passage there are two types of actions mentioned that are worthy of honor. The first is that of ruling and the second is of laboring in preaching and teaching.
First, those elders who rule well should be honored. One aspect of pastoral ministry is that of ruling or keeping order in the church. Elders have a great responsibility of oversight in the church.
2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:2-3)
One important and vital role of an elder is to exercise oversight in the church. Not domineering or in a heavy handed way, but in love and by example. We have discussion in our elder meetings here over and over again regarding in what manner we should oversee the flock of God. And over and over again we go back to the Bible to see what this should look like. What has God commanded, what principles are we to apply?
Are we to rule in every case, under any circumstance? The answer is no. We are only to do so as God has commanded. This is a safeguard to the church and to our faith. We are not appointed to rule over every area of your personal life. We are not to set standards for you that are outside of the Scriptures. We do not have authority over areas of preference or simple likes and dislikes. The only rule we have, the only oversight we are to carry out will be what is given in the Bible. And so ruling well will sometimes look like staying out of something rather than forcing ourselves into your lives where God has not given us authority. In areas of clear biblical command we should rule. In areas of personal preference we should recognize and accept differences.
I think it is good for Christians to go on vacations. I think it is good for me to go on vacations. Tammy and Colton and I went to Colorado last week on vacation. It was refreshing, it was a time of getting away from some pressures of life for awhile. It was for me a clearing of my mind, a time of prayer, of meditation, of being reminded of the creativity of God in the things He has created. It was a time of exercise and of connecting more with family. These are important things for me. And I think I can argue pretty well that going away for awhile is rooted in biblical principle. Even Jesus went away, sometimes alone, sometimes with His disciples whom He referred to as His family. When the crowds pressed upon Him He would sometimes go away to be with God in a special moment. He needed rest and He got it that way sometimes. He returned to His work, He did not permanently escape nor shirk His responsibilities, but He did get away.
Now, does the Bible command that we take vacations? No. And so it would be wrong for me as an elder to say, “During the next year all of you must take a one week vacation.” I can’t command that, God does not say that, that would not be ruling well because it would not be ruling as God has called elders to rule, that would be going outside of what God has said. So for elders, our rule, our oversight is limited to following the careful instruction in the Word and not going beyond that by trying to force personal preferences on others.
Another thing for which elders are to be honored is for their labor in preaching and teaching. The primary emphasis in the Bible regarding the responsibility of elders is in preaching and teaching the Word of God. This is the primary way in which the church is led, and the church grows spiritually. For each of us, attending church and sitting under the preaching and teaching of the Word, this should lead us to spiritual growth and maturity.
Preaching is the public proclamation of the truth which requires a response from the heart. It is truth delivered that pricks the heart and the mind and which requires a response. Teaching is also delivering truth, it is a giving of information that helps one to distinguish what is right and what is error. Now remember that Paul’s great concern in writing this letter is that there is heresy entering the church, and so it is no wonder that Paul would mention here the importance of honoring those who are consistently laboring in getting it right through preaching and teaching. Preaching and teaching of truth was the first line of defense against error in the church, and it still is.
So what are the two things that Paul emphasizes here for elders? Rule well, be consistent with the Word in how you rule, and labor at preaching and teaching the Word. These are things that God values in the church, they are important to Him. Ruling biblically and preaching and teaching accurately. I wonder if these are the things we value in our leaders as well?
I tell you, church today has gotten to be so much more than these simple things. I wonder sometimes if we value about a hundred other things in our churches more than these. People want to find churches that have the latest technology, or the best childcare programs, or where people are meeting my needs, or where there are flexible worship schedules, or where there are drums, or no drums, or where…you name it. People looking at the church as consumers where the activities fit their preferences. What is church to be? How should we look at the church? Is the Word being preached? Is the Word being taught, are the leaders ruling as the Bible prescribes? Each of these goes back to the important root of, “What does the Bible say and is my church following the Bible?”
Now, our passage says that for the elder doing these things they are worthy of double honor, and, “For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” Verse 18 indicates that the honor or double honor may be financial in nature. That is he should be paid, even double honor, for his labor. The example is given of an ox that is used to separate the wheat from the chaff and that the ox ought to be able to eat some of that grain. Even so, the laborer deserves his wages. So the meaning is, the elder who rules well deserves his wages or has earned his wages and even double honor.
This does not mean he has to be paid. Paul did not accept money at times and other times he did. It only means that he deserves to be paid, he has earned his wages whether he takes those wages or not. Part of the honoring is a willingness to pay the man what he has earned in his labor.
Here at GBFC we have four elders and of the four I am the only one who receives pay. This is my full-time job, so to speak. The others have full-time work outside of ministry and receive their wages there, but they are most certainly deserving of wages. They have labored among you, they have ruled here and they have preached and taught here. They have labored, but for now, like Paul, they have not taken wages.
I don’t know if we all understand the significance of that, of their labor here in this church for Christ and for us. They work full-time in their jobs, have families, need rest like all of us, and still put in significant time in ministry here. They are hard workers in ministry here. They sacrifice to serve and to serve well. They are, each of them are, worthy of honor. They are examples for us.
Now having said all of this, let me be quick to say that we mess up! As elders, we are not all-knowing nor all-wise. We are men who are trying, in many instances, to figure out how to lead well. Most weeks we labor over this. We labor over, “What does the Bible say and how exactly does it apply in this situation?”
Many of you are aware of this. You come to us with a question, maybe a question about your personal life or maybe a question about how the church functions or even about our culture and society. Many times you may hear us say, “Well, I’ll bring that up with the elders, we will discuss it and get back with you.” This is common practice. Knowing that God has called us to lead, to oversee, we take that seriously and don’t want to speak too quickly or even without seeking counsel from others. We know that we will give an account for our actions as leaders, not just an account to all of you but an account to our Lord.
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. (Hebrews 13:17)
And in the matter of laboring to preach and to teach we also must stand before God.
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (James 3:1)
And so if elders will give an account regarding their leadership, and if they will be judged with a greater strictness as teachers, then it is no wonder that Paul said what he did in 1 Thessalonians 5:25 – “Brothers, pray for us.” As elders, we need your prayers. We ask that you pray for us that we can, in the strength of God’s might, manage the things that He has given us to do for His glory and for the good of our entire church. We are often weak and we need strength. We are sometimes confused and we need clarity. We are at times tired and we need energy to think well. Many times we are busy and we need time. Sometimes we feel pressed for many reasons and feel the need for relief. My point is we are men dependent on the Lord to do what He has called us to do in any good way at all.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)
We are mere people, just like you, striving to do the work of Christ. And there is so much at stake, that is the name of our Savior.
And so as we close this morning, I want us to pray together. Let’s pray for strength from our Lord, wisdom from our God. Let’s pray that Christ be magnified and glorified in our lives, as we live for Him.