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15. How to Minister to Our Pastors (1 Timothy 5:17-25)

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Elders who provide effective leadership must be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard in speaking and teaching. For the scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and, “The worker deserves his pay.” Do not accept an accusation against an elder unless it can be confirmed by two or three witnesses. Those guilty of sin must be rebuked before all, as a warning to the rest. Before God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, I solemnly charge you to carry out these commands without prejudice or favoritism of any kind. Do not lay hands on anyone hastily and so identify with the sins of others. Keep yourself pure. (Stop drinking just water, but use a little wine for your digestion and your frequent illnesses.) The sins of some people are obvious, going before them into judgment, but for others, they show up later. Similarly good works are also obvious, and the ones that are not cannot remain hidden.

1 Timothy 5:17-25 (NET)

How should churches minister to their pastors?

Often, we think of pastors/elders as those responsible for ministering to a congregation, which is true. However, congregations are also responsible for ministering to pastors. Pastors are not perfect; they fail, get discouraged, and often want to quit. Statistically, in the U.S., 1700 pastors leave the ministry every month because of burn out, moral failure, or some other reason. Fifty percent of ministers quit within five years.1 Pastors need ministry, and healthy churches aim to provide that for them.

Here in 1 Timothy 5:17-25, Paul gives instructions about elders—the pastors of a church. In Ephesus, they had a leadership problem. Some of the elders were sinning and even teaching false doctrine (cf. Acts 20:28-30). Therefore, Paul gives Timothy instructions about the eldership and also personal instruction.

In this passage, we will consider how to minister to our pastors.

Big Question: What instructions does Paul give Timothy about pastors/elders? How can we apply these instructions in order to better minister to our pastors?

Churches Minister to Their Pastors by Honoring Them

Elders who provide effective leadership must be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard in speaking and teaching. For the scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and, “The worker deserves his pay.”

1 Timothy 5:17-18

Interpretation Question: Who are the elders and what is their role?

First, we must establish who and what are elders. Elders, pastors (shepherds), and bishops (overseers) are terms used synonymously in the New Testament. As an example, we see this in Acts 20:17, 28, when Paul meets with the Ephesian elders. It says,

From Miletus he sent a message to Ephesus, telling the elders of the church to come to him… Watch out for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.

The different terms simply represent various aspects of the leadership position. “Elder” represents the spiritual maturity of these leaders. “Overseer” represents their administrative function, and “pastor” or “shepherd” represents their caring role.

One thing that stands out in this text is that Paul says, “The elders” (v. 17)—plural. This is important because some churches have a Moses model, where one man oversees the whole church. However, the New Testament presents a shared leadership model. There is no one-man rule. Shared leadership is important because it provides accountability and encouragement. The one leader model is fraught with more difficulties. There are more temptations towards spiritual pride, more spiritual attacks, and more susceptibility to loneliness and depression. A shared leadership model is not only good for a church, but it is good for the leaders.

The primary role of the elders is “providing effective leadership” for the church. This includes vision setting, overseeing finances and ministries, and caring for the sheep, among other things. But it also includes “teaching and preaching” (v. 17).

Observation Question: How does Paul say the church should minister to elders in verse 17 and what does he mean by his instruction?

In order to faithfully minister to elders, Paul says they should be given “double honor.” What does he mean by this? Previously, Paul said that widows in the church deserved “honor” in verse 3. The same word is used in verse 17. It refers both to respect and financial provisions. In 1 Corinthians 6:20, the word is translated “price.”2 Double honor means that elders should be generously respected and compensated.

Sadly, many churches believe that ministers should survive off the bear minimum. To them a pastor should never own homes, have new cars, and their children shouldn’t attend private school. I had one friend say that if a pastor was driving a nice car and not a van (to pick up a lot of people), then he wouldn’t be attending his church. Now, it is true that ministers should not serve in ministry for money. A qualification of elders is that they should not be greedy (1 Tim 3:3). The ministry is not a place to pursue wealth and luxury (cf. 1 Tim 6:7-11). Pastors should be very sacrificial; however, congregations should be very generous. God does not just care about his sheep; he also cares about his shepherds (cf. 1 Thess 5:12-13, Gal 6:6).

When Paul says that elders “who provide effective leadership” and “work hard” in speaking and teaching deserve double honor, the implication is that many times elders who excel in these ministries often cannot hold another job. “Work hard” can be translated “to work to the point of fatigue or exhaustion.”3 Because of their labor in preparing sermons and caring for the flock, they should be compensated.

This is in keeping with the Old Testament directive given to Israel concerning Levites and priests. They were to be provided for by the people’s tithes and offerings. Second Chronicles 31:4 (NIV) says, “He ordered the people living in Jerusalem to give the portion due the priests and Levites so they could devote themselves to the Law of the LORD.” Similarly, we support our pastors financially so they can devote themselves to the Lord’s ministry.

When Paul says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his pay” (v. 18), he is quoting Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7. He uses these verses as a support for why pastors should be paid. When God commanded for oxen not to be muzzled while treading grain in the law, he essentially called for the oxen to be able to eat freely as compensation for their labor. Likewise, when Paul quotes Jesus as saying, “the worker deserves his pay,” it is the same idea: Oxen and workers are rewarded for their labor and, therefore, so should pastors.

People often ask me, if they can give their tithes and offerings to other ministries outside the church such as the poor and struggling. I always tell them they should do both—support others but don’t neglect giving to their church. Our tithes and offerings provide for the ministries of the church, and they pay the church staff. If members don’t give to the church, then the ministers God has called can’t do their work, as their families must be provided for. In Nehemiah 13:10, the Israelites stopped giving their tithes and offerings and the Levites had to go back to caring for their farms. Sadly, that often happens in churches because people don’t faithfully give.

A Comment on Canonicity

Not only is this text important for teaching the need for pastors to be paid, it also gives important insight on canonization. How were the books of the Bible, and specifically the New Testament, chosen as an official list? Here in this text, Paul says that Luke’s writing is part of Scripture just as the Old Testament was. This means that the books of the Bible were considered Scripture right after being written.

This was an important consideration when the early church put together the “Canon”—the official list of books in the Bible. One of the main questions asked was, “Does the book have apostolic affirmation?” Meaning—did an apostle write or affirm it? With Luke’s writings, Paul claimed that it was Divine and part of Scripture. Similarly, Peter declared that Paul’s writings were part of Scripture. In 2 Peter 3:15-16, he said:

And regard the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as also our dear brother Paul wrote to you, according to the wisdom given to him, speaking of these things in all his letters. Some things in these letters are hard to understand, things the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they also do to the rest of the scriptures.

In addition, when the early church put together the official list of books, they also asked other questions, such as: “Does it agree with the rest of Scripture?” “Does it claim to be authoritative (i.e. Thus saith the Lord)?” “Did it have the approval of the early church in being widely circulated and thus bearing the witness of the Holy Spirit in believers (cf. John 10:27)?” The early church did not choose the books of the Canon; they simply affirmed the books the Holy Spirit inspired.

As we consider Paul’s teaching on honoring our elders, we must ask ourselves: “Are we giving our elders double honor?” Paul thought this was very important, as he also mentioned it to the Galatians. Galatians 6:6 says, “Now the one who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with the one who teaches it.”

We must share all good things with our elders: love, respect, encouragement, remuneration, and most importantly prayer. We must continually pray for and encourage our pastors, as their labor is both vital and difficult.

Are you ministering to your elders by giving them double-honor?

Application Question: In what ways is God challenging you personally to honor your elders?

Churches Minister to Their Pastors by Protecting Them from False Accusations

Do not accept an accusation against an elder unless it can be confirmed by two or three witnesses.

1 Timothy 5:19

Next, Paul teaches Timothy that elders must be protected from false accusations. Satan is a liar, and he works through accusation. In fact, his other name “devil” actually means accuser. Therefore, Satan continually aims to hinder the ministry of spiritual leaders through false accusation. Calvin said this, “‘None are more exposed to slanders and insults than godly teachers…they never avoid a thousand criticisms.’”4 No doubt, many of these are unjust.

A brief look at biblical history will attest to this: Joseph, while working in Potiphar’s house, was falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and thrown into prison (Gen 39). The Samaritans surrounding Jerusalem heaped up lies against Nehemiah—declaring that he wanted to be king. They even sent an “open letter” that was read in every town before it got to Nehemiah (Neh 6:5-7). When Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin prior to his crucifixion, false witnesses were heaped up against him as well (Mk 14:56). The enemy knows that if he can tarnish a spiritual leaders’ reputation, he can tarnish his message and the church. Thus, he works overtime at doing this.

Paul, therefore, gives an Old Testament directive from Deuteronomy 19:15: an accusation should not be entertained unless there are two or three witnesses. This means we shouldn’t even listen to gossip if it only comes from one person. When approached by people with gossip about someone in leadership (or anyone else), we should ask probing questions like:

  1. Where did you get this information?
  2. Have you approached those involved to confirm (cf. Matt 18:15)?
  3. Can I quote you if I check this out?5

When leadership is involved (and anybody else), we must make sure that accusations are factual; otherwise, we shouldn’t even entertain them. One of the ways we minister to our pastors is by protecting them from degrading and false accusations.

Application Question: Why is it important to protect our spiritual leaders (and others) from false accusations? How have you seen false accusations hurt those in leadership?

Churches Minister to Their Pastors by Holding Them Accountable

Those guilty of sin must be rebuked before all, as a warning to the rest. Before God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, I solemnly charge you to carry out these commands without prejudice or favoritism of any kind.

1 Timothy 5:20-21

As part of the church’s ministry to elders, they need to be lovingly held accountable. Pastors are not perfect and therefore need to be challenged when in sin.

Paul says that elders who are sinning should be reproved before everyone. He then charges Timothy before God, Christ, and angels to faithfully keep these instructions. The ministry of reproving elders is important both to God and the church. When elders continue in sin, it dishonors God and becomes a tremendous stumbling block to believers and unbelievers alike; therefore, discipline must be handled appropriately.

Interpretation Question: How should the church hold elders accountable?

When Paul says the elders “must be rebuked before all,” this seems to be the last step in the accountability process. Christ gives instructions on how to handle church members in sin in Matthew 18:15-18. It says,

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you, so that at the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector. “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven.

As with the general ministry of correction addressed above, sinning elders should be approached one on one. If they don’t respond, then bring two or three others to confirm the facts. Then if they don’t respond, it should be handled publicly before the church. And, if they still don’t respond, they should be removed from the congregation (cf. Matt 18:18, 1 Cor 5:2).

If the sin is a public sin, then at times, public rebuke may be the first step. When Peter was sinning by being hypocritical in how he treated Gentile believers, Paul publicly rebuked him because everybody knew about the sin (Gal 2:11). In normal circumstances, if public rebuke happens before private rebuke, it will unnecessarily drive a person away from God and the church.

Though this may be difficult, especially when dealing with an elder, it must be done. If the church doesn’t handle an elder’s sin biblically, if they instead hide or cover it up, then it opens the door for Satan to cause havoc in the church through gossip, rumors, and disobedience. This commonly happens in churches where the pastor’s sin is covered up, sometimes for years. The dissonance between the pastor’s preaching and actions eventually turns many away from Christ, and sometimes the church implodes, to Satan’s delight.

In situations where the pastor’s sin is especially heinous, he may need to step down until he can restore a faithful testimony, as is a qualification of all elders (cf. 1 Tim 3:1-7). Some sins may permanently disqualify a person from serving as an elder (cf. 1 Cor 9:27)

Observation Question: How was Timothy called to exercise this discipline?

  1. The process of discipline must be handled “without prejudice,” which can also be translated “without partiality.” Maybe, Timothy might be inclined to be especially harsh towards those who had previously hurt him in the church. However, this process of discipline must be handled without any prejudice.
  2. The process of discipline must be handled without “favoritism.” Maybe, one might be inclined to not expose the sin of a close friend, somebody who is extremely popular and influential, or wealthy. However, there must not be any partiality in the process of discipline. God, Christ, and the angels are watching.

Application Question: Why is discipline so important when it comes to an elder who is continuing in sin? How has the church often opened the door for Satan by instead showing prejudice or favoritism in these circumstances?

Churches Minister to Their Pastors by Cautiously Selecting Them

Do not lay hands on anyone hastily and so identify with the sins of others. Keep yourself pure… The sins of some people are obvious, going before them into judgment, but for others, they show up later. Similarly good works are also obvious, and the ones that are not cannot remain hidden.

1 Timothy 5:22, 24-25

Interpretation Question: What does the laying on of hands represent?

Next, Paul tells Timothy to not lay hands on people hastily and “so identify with the sins of others”, or it can be translated “take part in the sins of others” (ESV). What does laying on of hands refer to? It seems to refer to the official ordination process of the church. In Acts 13:1-3, when Paul and Barnabas were called to missions through a prophetic word, the elders fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them. This was a recognition of God’s call on their lives and a setting apart for that work.

A man should not be ordained as an elder until he is spiritually ready because, if he lacks spiritual maturity, it opens the door for vicious attacks from Satan and ultimately God’s discipline if he falls into sin. First Timothy 3:6-7 says:

He must not be a recent convert or he may become arrogant and fall into the punishment that the devil will exact. And he must be well thought of by those outside the faith, so that he may not fall into disgrace and be caught by the devil’s trap.

Furthermore, James 3:1 says teachers shall be judged more strictly. To select an elder before he is ready, brings harm to him and the church.

Being cautious in the selection process also gives selected elders confidence that God in fact called them to the position. This is important as Satan often comes to criticize and discourage pastors. The external call is very important in being able to stand in this battle (cf. 1 Tim 1:18).

Since Timothy would need to correct and probably remove some elders (cf. Acts 20:28-30), he might be tempted to quickly select somebody for leadership. However, Paul warns against that. By putting somebody unqualified into leadership, Timothy would be partially to blame for their sins. This is a sovereign challenge from God to be thorough in the selection process of adding an elder/pastor. The standards for elders are very high in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. It includes managing their family well (v. 4). This means that their children must believe and not be known for rebellion. It means that they cultivate the spiritual life of their wife and children. It also includes being a good steward of finances. In addition, elders are called to be able to teach (v. 3). This implies that not only can they teach but that they have sound doctrine. Selection committees must thoroughly consider a candidate’s doctrine and life when selecting elders/pastors.

Observation Question: What further instructions does Paul give about selecting elders in verses 24-25 and what do they mean?

Paul gives further instructions about this process. He says,

The sins of some people are obvious, going before them into judgment, but for others, they show up later. Similarly good works are also obvious, and the ones that are not cannot remain hidden.

(v. 24-25)

This means one should not be judged on the first acquaintance, but committees should allow for time so that one’s true character can reveal itself.

  1. For some, their sins are quite obvious going before them to judgment. This means that some will be rejected very quickly—they don’t have the necessary virtues of an elder. They are prone to division; they have unhealthy doctrine; they don’t keep wise boundaries with the opposite sex, etc.
  2. For others, their sins show up later. Their bad fruit cannot be hidden for long. Eventually, it comes to the light during the assessment process.
  3. In the same way, for others, their good works are quite obvious. They excel in hospitality; they run their household well. Their children are models to all. There isn’t a need for much deliberation in the selection process because all approve.
  4. Finally, there are others whose good deeds cannot remain hidden. This means that though they are not as evident as others, they eventually become clear.

Like Christ said, you can tell a tree by its fruit (Mat 7:16). Therefore, selection committees should not be in a hurry. One’s character will eventually become clear to all.

Nonetheless, the need to be cautious in the selection of elders, reminds us of how it is ideal to select from within the congregation. When considering the detailed qualification of elders in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9, it can be very difficult to discern these things in an outside candidate. Do they really run their household well? Are they wise in their relations with the opposite sex? Are they good with money? Are they peace-makers or people prone to conflict? These things are hard enough to discern when one attends the same church. And sadly, outside recommendations typically only address the best in a person and fail to address the worst.

Ideally, current elders should be continually investing in young men in the congregation with the hope of them eventually becoming elders. Paul said in 2 Timothy 2:2, “And entrust what you heard me say in the presence of many others as witnesses to faithful people who will be competent to teach others as well.” Sadly, most elders are too busy to invest in the next generation, and therefore, most churches suffer from a leadership gap.

Certainly, God can bring elders/pastors from outside the church. He certainly did that with Timothy, as Paul commanded him to stay and shepherd the congregation in Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3). However, bringing ministers from outside can be more difficult to appropriately assess. Again, it can be very challenging, if not impossible at times, to discern if the candidate meets all the qualifications of an elder.

In addition, attending seminary is not a proof of godly character, sound doctrine, or ability to lead a church. Sadly, many churches think that seminary is God’s gold stamp on a candidate. However, God prepares his ministers in the wilderness, through his Spirit, and the discipleship of others (cf. Gen 39, Ex 3, Matt 4, 2 Tim 2:2). “Formal training” is beneficial, but it may or may not be part of the process (cf. Acts 4:13).

In raising up future elders and pastors, churches should consider sending members to seminary with the intention of them returning to serve or them serving while in seminary (which has been made more possible with the online options available). Or, current elders should develop extensive training programs that include reading and writing on systematic theologies, commentaries, preaching books, and pastoral helps. This way they can raise up leaders that can eventually teach others, as Scripture commands (2 Tim 2:2).

One of the ways we minister to elders is by cautiously selecting them. This gives current elders confidence that God in fact selected them, and it also protects them from serving with and eventually potentially removing an unqualified elder.

Application Question: Why is it so important to be cautious in the selection of elders? What is your view on the responsibility of the church to raise up home-grown, qualified elders?

Churches Minister to Their Pastors by Encouraging Them to Be Healthy

… Keep yourself pure. (Stop drinking just water, but use a little wine for your digestion and your frequent illnesses.)

1 Timothy 5:22b-23

Interpretation Question: What does Paul’s challenge to Timothy about adding a little wine to his diet for his frequent infirmities suggest about Timothy?

Finally, in the midst of Paul’s instructions on elders, he digresses by telling Timothy to stop drinking only water but to also use wine because of his frequent illnesses. There are several thoughts about this: Timothy was probably practicing abstinence because of the excessive cultural abuses of alcohol. Since water was commonly contaminated in those days, most mixed it with a little wine to purify it. Timothy’s abstinence was causing him to get sick, and Paul commanded him to add wine to aid with his stomach.

In addition, some wonder if Timothy’s stress from dealing with false teaching and other congregational problems was contributing to his frequent ailments.6 Stress causes many illnesses in the body. Timothy certainly wouldn’t be the first or last pastor to develop physical ailments while ministering at a difficult church. Personally, I’ve known several pastors who developed high blood pressure while working through difficult seasons at their churches.

Because of the various sicknesses, Paul urges Timothy to take care of his body. Our bodies are the Lord’s temple (1 Cor 6:19), and he uses them to minister to others. If we harm our bodies by neglect, over-work, or abusing harmful substances, we will miss God’s best.

Since pastors are prone to overwork and stress, the church must continually urge and enable them to be physically healthy, which includes resting. Recently, I read that at Bethlehem Baptist Church, the church John Piper previously served, the pastors are required to take one full day off to fulfill a Sabbath principle. And they are required to take at least two partial rest days throughout the week to fulfill another day of rest. Each week they are required to document this, and if they couldn’t rest that week, they must share their plans to make it up. They also must rate their eating and exercise on a scale of 1-9.7

Sadly, most churches not only neglect to encourage a healthy lifestyle for pastors, they essentially require them to be bad stewards of their health and family. Burn out is normative for pastors, and therefore, they must be protected.

Paul encourages Timothy to take care of his health, and healthy congregations do the same with their pastors. They encourage this not only through their words but also by their actions.

A Comment on Healing

As a final comment, as we consider Timothy’s sickness and Paul’s recommendation, we must notice that Paul doesn’t tell Timothy to just have faith and that God would heal him or command him to keep speaking healing until the sickness left. Furthermore, although Paul had the gift of healing, he apparently wasn’t able to heal Timothy. This is important to consider since many in the church profess that it is never God’s will for a person to be sick and that he will heal every sickness if we have faith. Sometimes, God brings sickness as a form of discipline. He certainly did that with the Corinthians who were abusing the Lord’s Supper. First Corinthians 11:30-32 says that many were weak, sick, and had died because of the Lord’s judgment.

This teaching is common among those influenced by the prosperity gospel, which is saturating the church. It is essentially a confused soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) and a confused eschatology (the doctrine of end times). Though Christ’s atonement ultimately provides freedom from sin and sickness (cf. Is 53:5, 1 Pet 2:24), the question is, “When does this happen?” Though our sin nature was crucified on the cross (Rom 6:1-11), our flesh and Spirit still wrestle with each other so that we often don’t do as we would like (Gal 5:17). We won’t be fully rid of our sin nature until the death of our bodies or the second coming of Christ, whichever happens first. And it’s the same with healing. Yes, one day there will be no more sickness and no more death but that awaits the rapture of our bodies and ultimately the new heavens and new earth. Revelation 21:4 says, “‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more—or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist.’”

This is important to consider as there is so much confusion on the doctrine of healing. Timothy had frequent infirmities that Paul apparently couldn’t heal. Scripture certainly teaches that God is a healer, and we should seek him for healing, but it is not always his will to heal. In fact, death is God’s plan for everyone except believers who are alive at Christ’s return (cf. Heb 9:27, 1 Thess 4:15-18). Furthermore, as with all trials, sometimes, it is God’s will for us to persevere through them in order to develop perseverance, character, and hope (Rom 5:3-4, James 1:3-4).

As we consider Paul’s encouragement of Timothy to maintain his physical health, we must be challenged to care for the health of our elders. How can we encourage their physical, emotional, and spiritual health?

Application Question: In what ways have you seen pastors living an unhealthy lifestyle through their own lack of proper stewardship and/or that of the church? How can churches better encourage their pastors to have a healthy lifestyle? In what ways have you seen or experienced a confusion over the doctrine of healing? What is a balanced understanding of God’s will to heal sickness?

Conclusion

How should churches minister to their pastors?

  1. Churches Minister to Their Pastors by Honoring Them
  2. Churches Minister to Their Pastors by Protecting Them from False Accusations
  3. Churches Minister to Their Pastors by Holding Them Accountable
  4. Churches Minister to Their Pastors by Cautiously Selecting Them
  5. Churches Minister to Their Pastors by Encouraging Them to Be Healthy

1 Accessed 6/12/16 from http://www.expastors.com/why-do-so-many-pastors-leave-the-ministry-the-facts-will-shock-you/

2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 217). Chicago: Moody Press.

3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 219). Chicago: Moody Press.

4 Stott, J. R. W. (1996). Guard the truth: the message of 1 Timothy & Titus (p. 138). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

5 Questions taken from Steve Cole’s sermon on 1 Timothy 5:19-25: accessed on 6/4/16, from https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-18-church-leadership-keeping-it-godly-1-timothy-519-25

6 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believers Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2097–2098). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

7 Accessed 6/4/2016, from http://www.hopeingod.org/document/pastors-accountability-form

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