And How to Discipline & Appoint Elders
In these verses Paul returns to the subject of elders/overseers/pastors. Paul has already laid out the qualities needed for church leadership in chapter three. The instructions in these verses build on this teaching & help us understand more fully the nature of local church leadership. The instructions fall into three categories: Money, discipline & appointment.
The elders mentioned here are the same men called overseers in chapter three. This is certain because when Paul said farewell to the leaders of the Ephesian church in Acts 20 he used three terms to describe the same men: “elder” (V17), “overseer” (V28) & “shepherd” (V28). These verses in First Timothy also give some clues about what such men actually do: they “rule” or as the NIV puts it “direct the affairs of the church”. In other words these spiritual leaders oversee & guide the local church family: By preaching & teaching Scripture & by charting the way ahead for the church. So they are to be men of the Word who help deepen the faith of God’s people, & they are to be men of vision who lead God’s people forward keeping the bigger picture in view as they pursue the will of God. To one degree or another, all the elders are to share this responsibility. However in these verses a distinction seems to be made between two kinds of elders, what some have defined as “teaching elders” & “ruling elders”. These terms are helpful only if we carefully understand what is meant & not meant by them. It does not mean ruling elders never teach, because obviously the ability to teach is one of the primary requirements of all elders. Nor does it mean the teaching elder does not share the ruling. It simply means that one of the elders makes preaching & teaching his primary work, his full-time job, while the others rule with him in directing the affairs of the church & teaching when they are needed.
This means the church is never ruled by one man on his own & it means there is at least one who makes the ministry of the church his full time work. Today it is common to refer to full-time leaders as pastors & the others as elders. Another reason to believe there seems to be a distinction is the role of Timothy himself. Timothy was told clearly what his priority was in chapter 4 & was obviously accountable to the apostle Paul as he was in Ephesus with a very clear & authoritative role. This included implementing the apostle’s instructions in this letter. This highlights that part of the pastor’s role in preaching & teaching is implementing the apostolic teaching in the life of the church today. The pastors concern should not only be that his people hear the Word, but that they also increasingly become doers of the Word!
Paul says; “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching.” Note that church leaders are not entitled to such honour just because they hold a position, but because they fulfil their role well. The idea of “double honour” includes two aspects... Firstly it means honour in the sense of respect... Secondly it means they should be rewarded financially for their work, as the next verse makes clear. Paul quotes both the OT & NT to make this point. This highlights that even at this point the apostle’s viewed the gospels as equal with OT Scripture. Paul says; “For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads the grain”, and, “The labourer deserves his wages.” Paul says this is especially true for “those who labour in preaching and teaching.” Meaning those who are full time pastors! However it’s also implied that the other elders should be honoured according to the work they do & the sacrifices they make... The word translated “labour” means “to work to the point of exhaustion”; the Greek also stresses the effort behind the work more than the amount of work. So this implies doing a lot more than reading the notes at the bottom of your favourite study bible... The labour is in the study & prayer... & in the application & implementation of Divine truth... This is a full time job!
Often when the subject of pastors being paid is raised someone pipes up about Paul being a tentmaker & some conclude this implies preachers of the gospel should not accept wages. However this goes against Paul's own clear teaching. When Paul refused to take money of the Corinthians the whole context is a gospel ministers right to be paid. Paul emphasized that he was sacrificing his God given right for the good of the gospel (something all pastors & missionaries etc ought to be willing to do if that’s what it takes). However the whole context of Paul’s words emphasize that full-time gospel ministers deserve to be paid for their work as much as anyone does, as long as they have a clearly defined role & fulfil that role sufficiently. Let’s read through those verses in 1 Corinthians 9:1-18 together...
Also when we read through the two letters to the Corinthians it becomes obvious that the Corinthian church had giving issues. They had a hang up about Christian leaders taking money, which was probably due to false teachers exploiting them. In 2 Cor. 8 they have to be challenged to give generously. In 2 Cor. 9 Paul says; “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” Then most interestingly of all Paul says in 2 Cor. 11:8 NKJV; “I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you.” So clearly Paul did accept financial support as a minister of the gospel & only refused it in this case because the Corinthian’s were suspicious & begrudging. He didn’t want to give them any reason to criticize or compare him with the money grabbing false teachers. Hence he writes in 2 Cor. 2:17; “For we are not, like so many peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” Also guess where Paul was in Acts 18, in the only verse in the NT that refers to him being a tentmaker? Corinth! This is another reason why it is important not to pull a verse out of it's context & why it’s vital for us to seriously think through what all of Scripture says on a subject before we arrive at conclusions. After all think about it: Why would a hardworking plumber, lawyer, teacher, doctor, factory worker or care worker etc deserve to be paid anymore than a hardworking pastor? Paul continues:
V19-21 “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest many stand in fear. In the presence of God and of Jesus Christ and of the angels I charge you to keep these rules with prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.”
The elders who deserve double honour are the ones who do their work well, which implies there will be those who do not fulfil their role well. Such elders were a problem in Ephesus; this is one of the issues Timothy had to confront. But although he had to confront such elders, he must be careful not to “admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses”. This is the general biblical principle for bringing a charge against anyone. Deut 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.” Jesus applied the same rule to everyone in the church in Matt. 18:16. So clearly elders are to get no to special treatment in this regard.
This principle also protects elders from false accusations. John Stott notes that “Adherence to this biblical principle would have silenced many a malicious talebearer and saved many [elders] from unjust criticism and unnecessary suffering.” People take issue with church leaders for many reasons & can stir up trouble for them from many different directions... A leader cannot please everyone all the time: Eric Geiger tweets; "If you want to make everyone happy, don't be a leader. Go sell ice cream.” The enemy desires to discredit church leaders so he can discredit the church & bring division & he will use people with leadership issues. If he cannot entice a leader into sin he will use slander, gossip & evil suspicions. This is why we need to be careful to follow these principles; they help protect leaders (& all of us) from unfounded or unfair criticism. I once heard someone say: “There are always three stories! Person ones story, person twos story & the truth.” This is important to remember in the context of what we’re thinking about. We can all be guilty of exaggerating, twisting things or being one-sided when we or a friend or family member feel aggrieved about something. But we need to remain as objective as possible until we hear both sides & know the fuller story. This was especially true for Timothy who would have to confront certain persons (including elders) in the church in Ephesus. However if the elders, or anyone for that matter, was guilty of sin they needed to be confronted.
Today we don’t hear very much about church discipline, in fact it’s an extremely rare subject in the contemporary church. However such discipline is needed in all areas of life – in the family, in sport, in employment etc. People who step out of line or fail to do their job are disciplined in some way. The church is no different (although it should be much more gracious). This is perhaps one of the hardest areas of Christian leadership. Christian leaders too rarely have the courage to correct people & things. Too often things are swept under the carpet or even covered up because it seems more convenient. However just as it is wrong to hastily condemn a person without a fair hearing, it is equally wrong to avoid dealing with obvious sin in the church! This is especially true when the sin is that of a leader. In Ireland we know all too well the serious effects of failing to deal with or covering up gross sins committed by church leaders. Paul says; “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 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.” It may have been tempting for Timothy to lock himself in his study and hope that his problems would disappear or somehow work themselves out. For this reason Paul reminds Timothy of the presence of God the Father and of Christ Jesus as well as the angels. They are all on his side whenever he has to confront such things, this was something young Timothy needed to hear & know deeply.
Most of us are probably very familiar with the words of Jesus in Matthew 18:20; “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.” However what is often missed is the context to these often quoted words. The context is not a prayer meeting, home group, Sunday worship or a few Christian friends getting together for prayer; the context is church discipline. Let’s read the context together (Matt 18:15-20). Whenever this principle is carefully & properly exercised is has the stamp of the presence & authority of God. Note it’s also in this context Jesus says; “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” We don’t just go around binding & loosing things, again these words had a particular context!
Two other things are important to note before we move on to the last point. Firstly a sinning elder is to be rebuked in the presence of all, “so that the rest may stand in fear”. When such an elder (or pastor) is rebuked, then “the rest” – meaning the rest of the elders – will be warned not to fall into such sin. No doubt the rest of the church will take the hint as well. This is meant to be a sobering experience for everyone present, bringing home the serious consequences of sin, especially leadership sins. Such sins discredit the church & the gospel, dishonour God’s name, shake people’s faith & strip the leader himself of all credibility – they steal, they kill & they destroy! Such sins are not worth the consequences & such a sobering realisation helps keep the others faithful & pure. It can hard to stay faithful in this world, there’s a cost; but sin will cost us more in the end! The warnings of Scripture are as much a means of grace as promises.
Secondly no partiality or prejudges should influence such discipline. Family, friendship or cultural ties should not be allowed to affect our judgement in such matters. One of the most important aspects of church leadership is the ability to be objective. Pastors & elders need to be in relationship with their people, but at the same time they cannot allow any relationships to affect their judgement in such matters... Everyone should be treated equally! Everyone should get an equal hearing.If we are in any leadership position in church life we must make sure to give no preference or concession to our own family members or friends, or to those who share the same cultural identity as us. This is vital to church health & growth! Paul continues:
V22-25 “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) The sins of some are conspicuous, going before them to judgement, but the sins of others appear later. So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot be hidden.”
The whole emphasis in these instructions regarding choosing elders, according to the qualifications of 3:1-7, is to be patient, fair, impartial and pure. Such an approach will produce the right choice of leadership. After writing the qualifications for elders & deacons etc you can imagine it would have provoked anticipation for new leaders to be appointed soon. However Paul clearly tells Timothy to take things very slow in this area. This is what is meant by the term; “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands”. In the NT the laying on of hands usually refers to ordination, this is definitely the meaning in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6). This is not something a church is to rush into or take lightly. There would be less scandal & leadership turnover if churches took these words more seriously; this is the wisdom of God. People need to be tried & tested. They need TIME to prove faithful & consistent in small things & TIME to prove themselves people of exemplary character. The best way to avoid leadership issues is to be very careful who you appoint in the first place. Paul went as far as telling Timothy to not even take part in the ceremony of an unqualified leader when he said not to “take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.” To even be involved in ordaining the wrong type of leader is to compromise your own integrity, it is to commit sin!
Paul finishes this section by describing four kinds of people. The first group are obvious sinners who simply should not be considered for leadership at all. The second group are those who at first appear okay, but when TIME is allowed it becomes clear they are not fit for leadership. Philip Ryken adds; "The more pushy someone becomes about leading a ministry, the more reason there is to be cautious." Thirdly some are clearly suited for leadership; they have already proved themselves & are ready to be appointed. Fourthly there are other potential leaders in the church that haven’t even been considered yet, but their qualities and character will find great reward in the end, “they cannot remain hidden”. Even if they get overlooked in this life, they will not be overlooked on the day when all is revealed. C. S. Lewis paints a beautiful picture of this reality in his book The Great Divorce.
In the story a man travels to the outskirts of heaven, where he sees a most magnificent woman. All around her are dancing lights, with Spirit’s scattering flowers, and boys & girls singing beautiful songs. The visitor imagines her to be some famous person from earth:
“Is it?... is it?” I whispered to my guide.
“Not at all” said he.
“It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.”
She seems to be... well, a person of particular importance.”
“Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.”
Many things will look very different in the light of eternity. Often the wrong people get recognition in this fallen world... However if we choose to be faithful to God our faithfulness will shine as bright as the sun bright in the end, we will get the best kind of recognition, HIS recognition – the only recognition really counts & lasts forever.