Pay Much Closer Attention

Care of Biblical Leadership – 1 Timothy 5:17-25

The past couple of weeks we have examined the proper treatment of widows in the church. This week we will be looking at 1 Timothy 5:17-25 and considering Paul’s instruction to Timothy concerning those who lead the church – the NKJV calls those leaders the elders – we call them pastors.

17  Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.

18  For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”
19  Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.
20  Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.
21  I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality.
22  Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure.
23  No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities.
24  Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later.
25  Likewise, the good works of some are clearly evident, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden.

Verse 17 again,

17  Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.

First note that it is the elders who direct the affairs of the church. They have a God given responsibility for the leadership and guidance of the church. Paul states that those who do so well and especially those who labor in the word and doctrine are worthy of double honor. What is he referring to when he says, “double honor”? Ray Stedman’s comments on this verse are helpful.

“An elder is an apt teacher; that is how a pastor or an elder leads a congregation. The Scriptures set the direction of life, and unless an elder is preaching or teaching from the Scriptures, he is not doing any leading. That is what constitutes the work of an elder, so all elders are to preach and to teach.

But some labor in this. Some devote long hours to extensive preparation, and they teach often; they hardly have time left to earn a living in other ways. The apostle says that, “those who labor at preaching and teaching,” who have the skills, the gifts and the abilities to do this, are to be given “double honor.” Honor (respect) is to be given to all elders and pastors — that is the first honor.

Remuneration is the second. They are to be paid. Their needs, their expenses, their salaries are to be paid in order to free them to do the work of preaching and teaching. People often ask where we get this business of paying preachers and teachers. Some people think because the Apostle Paul made tents as he traveled around, that preachers should never be paid. But here is the basis for pastors’ salaries: if they are occupied fully in this work of preaching and teaching the Scriptures, so that people understand them, then they are to be given this double honor. ” 1

Now look at verse 18. Paul using Scripture to back up his claim that the elders are worthy of double honor. Paul quotes Deuteronomy 25:4.

18  For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”

The Israelites were instructed by the Lord not to muzzle their oxen while they were treading the grain. In other words, they were to allow the ox to eat of the grain they where treading. Paul has a great commentary on this principle in 1 Corinthians 9:7-14.

7  Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock?
8  Do I say these things as a mere man? Or does not the law say the same also?
9  For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” Is it oxen God is concerned about?
10  Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope.
11  If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things?
12  If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ.
13  Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar?
14  Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.

What Paul is saying is that a pastor who is devoting his full time to ministry – to preaching and teaching the gospel – is worthy of deriving his support from doing so.

Personally I have been in full-time ministry before coming here as your pastor where I received my living from the church and I have also served as a pastor while working full-time to care for my family and it is a great asset to be able to give myself fully to the ministry without the distraction of having to maintain a separate income.

Now, after Paul instructs Timothy concerning the double honor due an elder who does the job well, he moves into the area of handling accusations that are brought against an elder.

19  Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.

One doesn’t have to be in ministry for long before realizing that when you commits yourself to serving the Lord, opposition will arise. Paul makes it clear that an accusation against an elder shouldn’t be taken seriously unless it was brought by two or three witnesses. This stipulation helps weed out false accusations from those that should be examined. Here’s a true incident Ray Stedman relates that shows what happens when this Scriptural admonition is not followed.

“Not long ago I received a call from a young pastor who had been summarily dismissed by his board of elders. Charges had been leveled against him by a member of the congregation, who, it turned out later, was actually his personal secretary. She was angry at him about something, and she typed a letter that had shattering implications of very serious charges against the pastor and presented this letter to the elders as though it were something the pastor had received. Later, she confessed that she had written this herself. The letter resulted in the elders calling the young man in, and, without any further confirmation, relieving him of his responsibilities. This was a crushing blow to him, but God used it in his life and enabled him to survive it. That is the kind of thing this verse is designed to eliminate. Do not entertain a charge against an elder unless it is supported by two or three witnesses. ” 2

In verse 20 Paul instructs Timothy what to do when an accusation has been brought.

20  Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.

Charles Spurgeon had this to say about a leader who falls into sin,

“I hold very stern opinions with regard to Christian men who have fallen into gross sin. I rejoice that they may be truly converted, and may be, mingled with hope and caution, received into the church; but I question, gravely question, whether a man who has grossly sinned should be very readily restored to the pulpit. As John Angell James remarks, “When a preacher of righteousness has stood in the way of sinners, he should never again open his lips in the great congregation until his repentance is as notorious as his sin.” My belief is that we should be very slow to help back to the pulpit men, who having once been tried, have proved themselves to have too little grace to stand the crucial test of ministerial life.” 3

What Paul has said is that open rebuke can serve as a warning to others. He is saying that if a leader sins, he should be dealt with in front of the other leaders of the church. We should not take sin lightly. We should not try to sweep it under the rug, but deal with it openly and honestly. When others see the consequences of sin, it serves as a warning to them. Having more than one child, I have noticed that there are times when one child is disciplined and a sibling observes it, it serves as a warning to them. They see that their brother or sister did not get away with wrong behavior and it is a reminder that they will not get away with it either. As parents it’s important that we take appropriate action and discipline our children when they disobey. We can see examples around us in our society of undisciplined children. It isn’t a pretty sight. What is true in the home is true in the church as well. Sin amongst the leaders or even in the congregation needs to be dealt with appropriately. Church discipline is not a popular topic, but as a church if we fail to administer Biblical discipline when needed, we do so at our own peril.

Paul notes in verse 21,

21  I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality.

Warren Wiersbe comments on this verse by saying,

“Paul’s third caution is that Timothy obey the Word no matter what his personal feelings might be. He should act without prejudice against or partiality for the accused officer. There are no seniority rights in a local church; each member has the same standing before God and His Word. To show either prejudice or partiality is to make the situation even worse.” 4

Timothy was to deal with sin and not let his personal feelings get in the way of how it was handled. Look at verse 22, where Paul continues to instruct Timothy. He gives an admonition that is one way to help avoid there being a situation of having to deal with a leader who has sinned.

22  Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure.

When Paul refers to laying on hands he is talking about selecting leaders. Care must be taken to place men in leadership that God has selected. Several weeks ago we looked at chapter 3 of 1 Timothy where the guidelines for leaders were given. It takes time to observe these qualities and choosing leaders should not be done hastily. Paul also seems to be implying by saying nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure that Timothy could taint his own character by appointing someone too quickly who wasn’t truly worthy of being in leadership. Timothy needed to keep himself pure in this regard. For example, let’s say I know of a man in the church who is known for his dishonest business dealings, but I overlook it and say “well we really need another deacon,” then I have shared in his sin. By promoting him to leadership when I know of open, on going sin in his life, makes me guilty by association. We need to be careful about those we place in leadership in the church – we shouldn’t be hasty.

Now look at verse 23.

23  No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities.

In the middle of Paul’s instructions to Timothy concerning elders, we find this personal admonition. At first glance it seems out of place.

John MacArthur’s treatment of this passage is very helpful. He says,

Verse 23  is a personal note, a parenthetical aside to Timothy in which Paul clarifies his exhortation to purity in verse 22. By calling for Timothy to remain pure, Paul was not advocating a rigid asceticism. He did not want Timothy to injure his health, and so encouraged him to no longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments. Timothy had obviously committed himself to total abstinence from wine. He desired to be a model of spiritual virtue and never establish a pattern that could make someone assume a liberty that would destroy them (cf.  Rom. 14:13–23; 1 Cor. 8:12–13 ). Paul instructed him not to let that commitment injure his health. Water in the ancient world was impure and the carrier of diseases such as dysentery. Paul’s advice to use a little wine would help safeguard Timothy’s health from the sickness-producing effects of polluted water. It was also in keeping with the medicinal use of wine in the ancient world…By advocating the temporary, curative use of wine, Paul does not ask Timothy to alter his commitment to the highest standard of behavior for leaders (cf.  Num. 6:1–4;  Prov. 31:4). 5

Paul returns to his main emphasis in verse 24, that of choosing elders.

24  Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later.

Ron Hutchcraft states that…

“The fact is when it comes to people catching us, we often do get away with sin. Your parents may never find out . . . your mate may never know . . . your boss may never catch you . . . your friends may never find out . . . or your pastor . . . or your congregation. It sets you up with the myth that you are getting away with it. Nobody ever gets away with a sin. The bill may be delayed, but the bill always comes. Adam and Eve’s death sentence came later, but it came. Postponed judgment never means judgment has been canceled. Now,I Timothy 5:24, “The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them. The sins of others trail behind them.” Now, one way or the other you get caught – sometimes earlier – sometimes later. Sooner is better. The longer it takes for the bill to come, the more the interest accumulates.” 6

I think the reason for this in the context, is that sooner or later your sins will find you out. If we quickly put a leader in place without some time to observe him, we may not be aware of hidden sin in his life. But by taking time to observe, we’ll have more time for sins to be exposed.

This idea is supported in verse 25,

25  Likewise, the good works of some are clearly evident, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden.

Just as some sins are obvious, and some are not known until later, good deeds are obvious and even ones that aren’t obvious can’t be hidden. Just as time exposes sin, so time allows us to observe the good and Godly characteristics in a man’s life. I think Ray Stedman sums up the last two verses very well.

“That is a wise word. God was at work in that congregation in Ephesus, Paul is saying, and he was bringing to light things that were hidden. That is what Jesus does. He said, “A time is coming when that which is done in secret shall be shouted from the housetops; that which is spoken in the closet shall be heralded in the streets.” Everybody is going to know about it. God takes hidden sins and brings them to light. Many a man thinks he is hiding his sins but he is not. God is steadily working to bring those sins to public exposure. There are some men whose sins are conspicuous, and it is obvious they are heading for God’s judgment. You would not elect them or appoint them to any office.

But they are not the only kind, the apostle says. Some men are skillful at hiding sin. They appear to be very dedicated, committed people, but there is rotten evil in their hearts all the time. If you get into the habit of electing people to office or appointing them into some responsible position without giving time to observe them you will get into trouble. “Time will tell,” the world’s proverb says. Let some time go by. God will bring it out. Get close to them. The closer you get the more obvious their evil will become.

But it works the other way too. Some men appear retiring and quiet, yet they may be very good men. Such men may make the very best elders. So do not rush men into leadership. If they have something good going on quietly in their lives, even when these are not conspicuous, Paul says, they cannot remain hidden. God will bring it all out if you get close to them. 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.”  7

The instruction we’ve dealt with today has pertained to the area of elders and is wise instruction for choosing deacons as well. Maybe some of you feel like this passage hasn’t really applied to you. However, it is directly related to the proper functioning of the church. What if all of us in the U.S. as citizens were unaware of our constitution or how government should function? It could lead to the improper functioning of our government, couldn’t it? The same is true in the church. It’s easy to fall into certain traditions and allow them to dictate the way we function as a church. But it is crucial that we have a clear understanding of God’s Word. What is his design for the church? How should we function according to the Word of God? Let’s all commit to being students of God’s Word and be committed to following God’s design for the operation of the church and God’s design for our lives. Then He will be glorified in our lives and in His church.


1 HELP FOR ELDERS by Ray C. Stedman [http://www.pbc.org/dp/stedman/timothy/3778.html]

2 Ibid

3 Charles Spurgeon, quoted in Point Man, Steve Farrar, pp. 77-8

4 Warren Wiersbe, Bible Exposition Commentary, pg. 233

5 John MacArthur’s commentary in 1 Timothy, electronic version

6 Always Caught, 1997 Ron Hutchcraft Ministries, Inc. [http://www.gospelcom.net/rhm/awwy/awwy1996/jul1996/awwy2494.htm]

7 HELP FOR ELDERS by Ray C. Stedman [http://www.pbc.org/dp/stedman/timothy/3778.html]