Wisdom for the Church

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)

The Bible is a book of many dimensions. It is a fascinating book with a message of rescue and salvation made possible because of a benevolent God who by His choice and His will has determined to make Himself known to the world. He makes Himself known as He displays His grace and kindness to those who in no way deserve it. This is redemption. The Bible is a book about redemption, rescue, salvation. It is not so much about us as it is about the God who redeems, rescues, and saves.

We look at the Bible, we search it out for what we want, but it is primarily about a God, our God who meets our needs and cares for us and is committed to our good. The Bible is about God. And so when we read the Bible we want to keep in mind the big picture, the important themes of God. Part of what God gives to us in His Word will be details that all point to His care and His character. He gives us direction that will serve to keep us in His will. We see His desires, what He loves, what He values. And when we learn these things and understand them we can begin to, because we love Him, conform ourselves to His will.

It is like this: you get a letter from the one person that you love the most and that you most want to please. You get a letter from this person you love and in it you see descriptions of what this loved one loves, what he or she desires, you learn about this person and what do you do? Because you love this person, you find ways to conform your thoughts and desires to his or to hers. You love this person and you want to relate to this person. You begin to love what he loves or what she loves. This is us and God. I am speaking to believers. We read His Word and instead of bucking against it, finding ways to get around it, instead of being mad about what it says or does not say, we make movement to conform to it, because we love Him.

Our passage this morning may be one that many could read and say, “So what? What does this mean, what does this have to do with me?” We could say it is not relevant to our lives personally. I want to caution all of us against this. It is relevant to each of us who are believers in Christ because it is given to us by the one who loves us. Even this passage teaches us about the one who sent it to us. How is it relevant? That is how it is relevant. It is relevant because God has given it to you for some good reason. We can read it and learn more about our God.

I think He, God, is showing us His love, His love for all of us, through the words we will look at today. Let me read the particular verses we will talk about and then let’s begin to see His lovingkindness in His words.

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 5:22-25)

Paul has been instructing Timothy regarding how elders are to be treated in the church. Elders are given by God to the church, but not without specific instructions. Think about that. God does not approve of any kind of leadership over His people, He is very specific, He gives clear qualification for elders who are to lead in the church. This is really important. We, nor anyone else, has a right to just say an elder should be this or be that. God tells us these things in His Word.

What kind of God would our Father be if He just let anyone rule over His people? He cares for His church. And so in addition to the qualifications of elders that we have read about and studied already in 1 Timothy 3, we also see that great patience must be exercised when considering the ordination of elders in the church. The instruction here is to be slow to ordain men to lead as elders in the church. Move slowly when considering an elder. Why? So that he can be properly observed, so he can be watched, so over time his character can be evaluated. Why is this? It is for the protection of the church.

I want to show you from 1 Thessalonians 2 what kind of person God wants to lead His people. I want to read this and as I do, I want you to see God’s heart in it. I want you to see what God wants for you in those He appoints to lead His people.

1 For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 2 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. 3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. 6 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:1-12)

If you are ever tempted to say, “God does not care for me,” then open up the Bible and read places like this and find that yes, He does. He really does. His care is often expressed through His instructions to us, in this case to the church. “Don’t do this thing too hastily, don’t just go around appointing leaders without following my instructions. Do not be hasty in laying on of hands.”

Acting hastily without much thought can often lead to problems, and worse than that can often lead to displeasing God and missing out on what He has said is good and right. Peter was a man who early in his relationship with Jesus was known for acting hastily, and sometimes it got him into trouble. One of the times he did this is found in Matthew 16 and it is one of the most interesting accounts for me.

Jesus had been telling Peter and the others that He would suffer many things and that life was going to be very hard for Him, but for good reason. Jesus was walking a road that would, by God’s design, lead to great pain and suffering, but would also lead to accomplishing the greatest work ever, that is glorifying God through the death and resurrection of His Son. Hard things coming, but great things for God’s glory and for our good.

Peter’s response to the coming suffering of Christ was what one might expect from a friend. Peter loved Jesus and wanted to protect Him. Here is what Peter did and said:

21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” (Matthew 16:21-22)

Remember that? What friend wouldn’t want to prevent suffering of another friend if they could? But there was a problem in this. Peter was looking at earthly things and Jesus had in mind something much greater. Here is Jesus’ response:

But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:23)

Peter had an opportunity to do what he thought best, that is protect his friend from coming pain, or he could believe Christ and be more concerned about Jesus’ revealed will. He could think and act earthly or think and act by setting his mind on the things of God. One way is acting hastily according to his feelings, the other is acting in accordance with God’s Word.

We too have that choice to make daily. Will we act and react according to God’s Word or will we act and react according to what we think is best or how our feelings are leading us? God, through Paul, is instructing Timothy and the churches to be careful in appointing leaders – don’t act hastily but follow the instructions given, take seriously the qualifications and take time to make sure he fits God’s revealed plan. Again, all of this is for the protection of God’s people and is showing us His love and care.

If these instructions are not followed, then it is as if those appointing him are sharing in his sin, whatever his sins may be. Paul goes on to say, “Keep yourself pure.” In other words, in this context, be pure in this process. By not lifting up unqualified leaders and avoiding participation in their sins, he would remain pure. Paul is concerned about Timothy’s purity.

Verse 23 is a parenthetical statement, a personal statement to Timothy that relates to this purity mentioned. It is an interesting insertion here and it may be a little difficult to understand its place here. One thing we can get is that Paul is not only concerned with Timothy’s spiritual condition, but also with his physical well being. Since these words are inspired, we can also surmise the same thing about God. Timothy apparently had some stomach issues, and the cure or a help for him would be to drink a little wine. My understanding is that the water where Timothy was would not have been the purest of water, many would drink some wine as a way of avoiding polluted water and disease that may come with that. “(No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.)”

After this side note, Paul gets right back to choosing of elders by mentioning four principles that would be helpful.

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 5:24-25)

When an elder is being examined, these are principles to remember and consider.

1) The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment

Some men can easily and readily not be considered as an elder because their sins are so obvious and just out there going before them. Their church will easily recognize this, and while they should love this person, walk with this person and disciple him, he is not ready to be considered as an elder.

2) The sins of others appear later

In other words, regarding elders or elder candidates, there are some whose sins are not evident to all but they come to light during the assessment process. This is one reason time must be taken for careful evaluation.

Here at GBFC I don’t think anyone has gone through the elder assessment process in under two years. During this time, the candidate is not only watched but is given many opportunities to work with the existing elders, to begin ministering in the church, to lead in a variety of ways. During all of this process he is observed not just by elders but by the entire church.

Now this may all sound very negative, like everyone is just looking for ways to disqualify a man, but it is not all just that.

3) Good works are also conspicuous

Good works are also observed, God is glorified by the good works and the candidate should have ample opportunity to serve and minister and disciple and teach and counsel. Good works can be very evident.

4) Even those that are not cannot remain hidden

Even minor works cannot remain hidden. God calls men to serve as leaders and it is a joy to watch men serve in this way.

God cares for His church and that caring is shown in the ways He qualifies and appoints leaders in the church. It is our duty as church people to carefully carry out His instructions and not cut corners or ignore warning signs or think we have better ideas. We have His plan and His plan should be our plan.

It is a good process and I for one look forward to seeing some of you go through the biblical process of becoming an elder here in this church. I pray that God is raising up some of you, preparing some of you to lead in this way in our church. We have four elders but Lord willing we will someday have more. Let’s pray for those He will raise up among us!