Theme: Some Very Practical Advice
In this week’s lessons, we see how Christians are to regard and treat one another in the church.
Scripture: 1 Timothy 5:1-3
Now beginning in verse 17, Paul has a section where he talks about elders. He says that the elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching, for the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” In these verses he talks about two things, honor and monetary support. With regard to honor, Paul says that it should be given to those who have spiritual responsibility and oversight in the churches. We tend to have a suspicion of leadership today, and that carries over into the church as well. We are disinclined to obey the Lord at this point of honor. There is a breakdown of authority in our country, where children do not honor parents, and adults do not honor civil authorities. We’re seeing the fruits of that all the time.
Here is an area where Christians, by their relationships within the family of God, should set a pattern. We’re to honor in a special way those whom God has set over us. I know we find ourselves at times critical of those who are in positions of leadership within the church, and undoubtedly rightly so in many cases. Elders do not always think and act as they should. Yet we forget, I suppose, how extraordinary much of our spiritual leadership is in evangelical churches. When a minister or other church leader does something illegal, it seems frequently to make the news. But within the church there are those leaders who really carry on a spiritual, sound, persuasive, and persevering ministry year after year after year, of whom the world never hears. But their congregations know the good work they are doing, and Paul directs that honor is to be shown to them, and double honor for those who labor in the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.
As for the matter of support, perhaps this doesn’t require so much comment. I think those of us who are in a position of being paid in the ministry because it’s our job should certainly learn from this and be cautious in the area of money. I think any minister should approach their work with the attitude of service and not for the money he is making from it. He is thankful this is his work, and that he can make a living doing it. But he needs to keep it clear in his own mind that money is not the primary reason or motivation why he is engaged in the work he is. There are some things of a spiritual nature he should do free of charge, such as working with a Christian organization. He should give of his resources, and devote himself to various opportunities of ministry.
But this emphasis on service needs to be balanced with the observation that it is not unspiritual for those who are working in the church in a full-time capacity to be paid, because the Bible teaches this. You are not to “muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain.” In other words, do not hold back from full-time church leaders the full measure of their reward.
In these last verses of the chapter, starting with verse 21, he gives some very practical advice. Paul writes,
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 men 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 cannot be hidden.
I think Paul gives four practical points to Timothy in those verses: 1) Take care not to be partial; 2) Take care in choosing leaders; 3) Take care of yourself; and 4) Take no care for the outcome. We’re always in danger of being partial; that is certainly true of Christian leaders. As anybody else, we’re partial to the people we like. It’s hard not to be. Yet one of the difficulties that ministers are often warned about in seminary is the way in which they form friendships within the congregation. We have to be wary of the two extremes to this advice. I do know of ministers who say that they have no friends at all in the congregation because they regard themselves as being apart and impartial and they can’t have friends. That’s really a sad thing when that happens because ministers need that kind of support as much as anybody else.
But the other problem to guard against is having friendships to the extent that they can divide a congregation into little separate congregations, where some people align themselves with one pastor, and other people attach themselves to the ministry of another. It happened in Paul’s day, of course, and he writes about it in 1 Corinthians 1. And certainly it happens in our day as well. This kind of thing is destructive, and Timothy (and every other pastor) needs to be careful not to be partial.
What two areas does Paul address in how churches are to treat its leaders, especially those whose priority is preaching and teaching? Why do churches, even other church leaders, not always treat them as Paul says?
List the four practical points Paul gives to Timothy.
Reflection: Do you honor your church leaders as you should? Do you show double honor to those who minister to you full time in their preaching and teaching?