Thursday, February 09, 2023

2023.02.09 Hopewell @Home ▫ 1 Timothy 5:17–25

Read 1 Timothy 5:17–25

Questions from the Scripture text: To whose treatment does 1 Timothy 5:17 now turn? How must they rule, in order to be treated this way? Of what are they worthy? Especially which ones? To what does he appeal to prove this (1 Timothy 5:18)? What does he quote from Deuteronomy 25:4? What does he quote from Luke 10:7? What must not be received against an elder, except under what circumstances (1 Timothy 5:19)? When an accusation proves true, what is to be done with the elder (1 Timothy 5:20)? For what effect upon the rest of the elders and the rest of the church? How does the apostle show the seriousness and needfulness of the instruction in 1 Timothy 5:21? What mustn’t Timothy allow to enter into the process of receiving charges against elders or censuring elders? What is one precaution to take, in order not to end up in this situation (1 Timothy 5:22)? But what must he also not do, if an elder is sinning? What must he do with himself? What is an important part of Timothy’s therapy to have a strong stomach in the context of dealing with sinful elders (1 Timothy 5:23)? What will be true of some elders’ sins (1 Timothy 5:24a)? But what might investigation be required to expose (verse 24b)? What will eventually be the case with all good works (1 Timothy 5:25)? And what other works? 

How are we to acknowledge the value of godly elders’ ministry in the church? 1 Timothy 5:17–25 looks forward to the second reading in morning public worship on the coming Lord’s Day. In these nine verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that we are both to honor godly elders doubly and hold them accountable as examples unto the flock. 

Some elders in the church rule well. These are to be counted worthy of double honor. It’s plain from 1 Timothy 5:18 that this is referring to remuneration, like the “honor” given to the roll of praying widows in 1 Timothy 5:3-16. The implication may well be that all elders who rule well should be given a salary by the church in addition to what they earn in their “day job.” Some elders, however, have “the Word and doctrine” as their life’s labor, and these especially are to be counted worthy of this double honor. If the are men of the quality of 1 Timothy 3:3, this ought not be an issue, for they will be generous with whatever they received.

It is worth noting that 1 Timothy 5:18 is quoting Luke 10:7 as Scripture. Though the concept is taught in other places, that is the only Scripture that is worded this way. The books of the New Testament were not constituted holy Scripture by human councils over hundreds of years. They were received as holy Scripture, even during the time that the New Testament was being written.

So Scripture teaches that elders are worthy of their wages for their labor. But not all elders rule well. Some sin (1 Timothy 5:20). God’s standards of justice must be followed in receiving accusations against them (1 Timothy 5:19, cf. Deuteronomy 19:15, Matthew 18:16), but when it is determined that they are in sin, they are to be rebuked publicly for the good of the rest of the elders, and indeed the rest of the church (1 Timothy 5:20). Otherwise, we might not fear to sin in the churches. Sadly, in the author’s day, there is such an antinomian spirit that in many churches (even those that call themselves Reformed) the flock of Christ is taught not to fear sinning, because sinning is normal, and grace somehow makes sinning into not that big of a deal. But here the Spirit plainly teaches us to fear sinning.

The reality of having to deal with the sins of elders presents many dangers to Timothy. The greatest is his own sin, whether prejudice and partiality against those who are sinning (1 Timothy 5:21), or the temptation to be lax and thereby share in others’ sins (1 Timothy 5:22b). One preventative for this is to ensure that 1 Timothy 3:1–7 is being fully followed. In a situation like in Ephesus at the time, and in a great many congregations ever since, it is tempting to think that the need for Reformation calls for quick identifying and ordaining of elders and deacons. But it is precisely into such a situation that the Spirit-inspired apostle warns Timothy not to lay hands on anyone hastily (1 Timothy 5:22a). 

Ultimately, Timothy is to follow the procedure outlined in 1 Timothy 5:19-20 and remember that while some cases will be quite easy to adjudicate (1 Timothy 5:24a), there are other sins that follow a man that must be brought out by persisting in careful investigation (verse 24b). And it may be that the investigation will bring out good works rather than sin (1 Timothy 5:25). This is all difficult work, and Timothy has shown frequent infirmities (1 Timothy 5:23b). So the apostle interjects into this discussion of judging elders his counsel that Timothy take up the drinking of wine for his stomach. This may be to address physical weakness that makes him weak in handling the elders; having a “stomach” for something or having “guts” was also used with this word in a similar way to how we use it in English today, so it may even mean the moderate (cf. 1 Timothy 3:3) use of wine to help temper the anxiety and man-fear that is a particular weakness of Timothy’s. Ruling well as an elder is a calling for those stout of heart, and those whom the Lord sustains to do it well are worthy of their wages!

How do we show the value of elders who rule well? How are elders held to a higher standard of personal, family, and congregational godliness? What is the proper way of addressing it if they don’t?

Sample prayer:  Lord, we praise You for giving shepherd-teachers to us as gifts, from Your throne on high. Elders who rule well are good gifts from you and to be honored. So forgive us, when we fail to do so, especially with those who labor in the Word and doctrine. And help them, O God, for they are sinners too. Grant that they would be repentant, so that as they are exposed, it would be good works that are exposed. Forgive us for being hasty to ordain on the one hand, and hasty to accuse or judge on the other hand. Grant that Your Spirit would give our elders the integrity and the courage that they and we need them to have, in Jesus Christ, AMEN!

ARP128 “How Blessed Are All Who Fear the Lord” or TPH128B “Blest the Man That Fears Jehovah”

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