Caring for Elders

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)

Last week we talked about the truth that elders who rule well and who labor at teaching and preaching are to be honored, even with double honor. Church leaders are intended to be gifts to the church and they are appointed not to rule for their own gain or comfort, but are to, as we saw from Paul last time, serve even when afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and when struck down. We see that from Paul in 2 Corinthians 4. The point is that the elder’s life is not designed to be a cushioned life of ease, I can’t find in the Bible where it is described that way. He is a servant of God’s and his service is weighty, he is a laborer and in his labor he is to be honored. That is what the Bible says.

Now today we move to a more sober idea. We will talk about the discipline of an elder. Unfortunately elders, like all other church people, some will need discipline. Elders are not above the Scriptures and must be held accountable if in continuous or habitual sin and unwilling to repent. Discipline for any Christian is a good thing. When anyone is caught up in sin, it is good for that person and for the body of Christ for that person to come to grips with his or her sin and to repent of it and to learn how to think and act differently in Christ’s name.

What does the discipline of a child accomplish, or what do we hope it accomplishes? We hope that the discipline aids in changing how that child thinks and even how he behaves. That change is good.

Now there is a way to confront sin. The most referred to passage regarding confronting of sin in the church is probably Matthew 18:15-17…

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)

These verses give us a framework for talking with each other regarding sin. These aren’t the only verses. There are others that speak of attitudes that we need to take with us as we lovingly confront others. Even verses that call for self-examination before we examine others. We see that from Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7…

3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

We are a strange people that can see tiny specks in others’ eyes while being oblivious to a log in our own eye. It is good that Jesus cares not only for the sins of people around you but He is also concerned about the sin that is in you.

An attitude that we should take with us when confronting the sin of another is one of gentleness. Galatians 6:1 says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” Part of our ability to confront in gentleness goes back to what Jesus said about the log that is in our eye. When we see our own sin for what it is and come face to face with our own struggles, then with great empathy and gentleness we are able to go to another and point out what is harming them and the name of Christ.

So there is this important theme in the Bible of Christians being in the lives of other Christians and being close enough to each other that we see each other’s lives well enough to recognize harm that comes through sin. And we should detest harm that comes to our brothers and sisters so much so that we go to them with the biblical help they need. The goal is to glorify God through restoration.

Now, what I have said so far applies to all of us but our passage is particularly geared toward church leaders.

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. (1 Timothy 5:19-21)

In this discussion on caring for elders Paul begins with an important point regarding what sort of charge ought to be considered against an elder. He says, “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” There are at least a couple of reasons why this requirement of needing two or three witnesses is here.

The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. (Proverbs 18:17)

One person can be very convincing but may be being either deceitful or may just be interpreting the facts incorrectly. Have you ever talked with someone and felt like you walked away with a clear understanding of the facts of a particular situation, and then you talk with another who was there and your understanding completely changes? Or sometimes we just walk in on a conversation, right in the middle of it and start assuming all kinds of things and jump in rather uninformed to find out later we really misinterpreted what was going on. Often times we need more information. And so this call for multiple witnesses is for the protection of the accused, it is a safeguard to be sure of what has gone on.

Another thing is we need to see that the elders are not just getting special treatment here. Listening to an account from more than one person is always a good idea. In fact Deuteronomy 19:15 says, “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.” And as we read from Matthew 18:16, “But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” And so it is an established principle of the importance of more than one witness, it is just repeated here regarding elders.

Why is it repeated here? I need to let you in on something in case you didn’t know already. There is a tendency for many to be angry with pastors and elders. And when we are sinfully angry our tendency may be to lash out at those we think are making us miserable. Think about the work of a pastor/elder. What are we called to do? We are called on to often tell people exactly what they don’t want to hear. This is why there are many so-called church leaders who are those described in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, which says, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

The preacher has a choice. He can tell the church people what they want to hear, an easy message of, “All is okay, you are okay, go after the lustful desires, God understands.” He can do that and be popular, not rock the boat. Everyone will love him, life will be good and easy. Or he can refuse that and preach the Bible which brings with it conviction of sin, a need for repentance and change, and will anger and frustrate some to the point of being offended not by the Word but being offended by the messenger. Preaching and teaching and counseling the Bible is often telling people what they don’t want to hear, what they don’t want to deal with. And unfortunately in one’s anger all kinds of things can be said, gossip can fly and false accusations may arise.

The whole book of 2 Corinthians is about Paul trying to set the record straight regarding his ministry and life. He spent all that space addressing false accusation. And so this is really a common sense approach, an inspired common sense approach: “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.”

Can I just say something here? If you are upset with any elder in this church, it is your responsibility to go to that man and talk through whatever issue is out there. Will you commit to doing that?

It is the same for me. If I am upset with any of my fellow elders I need to go to them as well. One of our elders came to me a few weeks ago, he had some concerns about me and about our relationship. I so appreciated his desire and willingness to bring it up so that we could talk through some things. He handled it exactly right. What is not good is when I hear like third or fourth hand that someone is upset with me or another elder. When that happens, not only has the problem not been dealt with, but now there is a line of gossip that has occurred as well. We are to go to the one who has offended us, not to three other people to inform them. You may be sitting right now and realize that you need to go to someone, if so, please do, for the unity of the body of Christ and the glory of God, take care of those things quickly.

Now Paul goes on after this safeguard of needing more than one witness, to be sure the accusation is not a false one, we see the next step given regarding sin.

As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. (1 Timothy 5:20)

If sin is identified and it is found that the sinner is persistent in his sin then he is to be rebuked. Paul is talking here about one who is persistent in sin, one who is bent on continuing in sin. This would be habitual unrepentant sin in the elder’s life. This is very consistent with Matthew 18, the elder is not immune from discipline.

A really important point here is that elders, church leaders are not somehow over and above the congregation with some kind of power that enables them to be immune from obedience. Unfortunately we sometimes see politicians or business leaders, powerful people, famous people escape consequences of bad or illegal behavior strictly because of their positions.

There are some churches where one man has gained so much power that he rules over all and his own power has corrupted him to a place of rejecting admonition from others. Or religions that have hierarchies where those at the top make the rules for others yet are not required to follow them themselves. That is not how the church is to be. Church leaders are to be servants, slaves of Christ. Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He was subject to obey His Father. That is the place of a leader in the church.

So discipline is appropriate and mandatory for church leaders, not just those who are not leaders. In fact in verse 20 it says to publicly rebuke them, and part of the reason for this is so that others will stand in fear of it! Paul says, “rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.”

To see someone fall into sin and to be publicly rebuked ought to be cause for fear and self-examination in all of our lives. Rather than an attitude of, “Well, I can’t believe he did that!” We ought to be saying, “If he can do that, then I could fall into that, Lord help me not to follow that path, Lord lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil, help me!” That ought to be our response to other people’s sin.

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. (1 Timothy 5:21)

Paul says, “Here are is the way to go…God and Christ and the angels are all watching, be sure that you follow these rules carefully and accurately, don’t prejudge and don’t show favor but follow them carefully and always.”

The prejudging part is “don’t jump to a conclusion.” When we do that we are often wrong. These are serious matters; be careful, be accurate, don’t act hastily, there is too much at stake.

And not showing partiality. Partiality is treating one person different than others or treating one group of people different than others. God hates this.

For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. (Colossians 3:25)

But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (James 2:9)

The Lord is a righteous judge and we too are to be righteous in our judgments and in that there is to be no partiality.

In summary, three things:
1. Elders are also part of the flock and are not exempt from God’s plan for rebuking and obedience.
2. People, including elders, ought to be given the benefit of the doubt until there is clear evidence of ongoing sin that requires confronting. We need two or three witnesses.
3. Partiality is evil, we are not to judge one harshly in his sin and go easy on others whom we favor. Whether an elder or anyone else, we are not to be partial.

God gives us clear instruction regarding how to interact with each other in the church. This includes dealing with a sinning brother. For his good, for the good of the name of Christ, ongoing sin is to be dealt with. The Lord longs for His children to repent, and to turn to Him in faith, to trust in Him above all other things.

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. (1 Timothy 5:19-21)