1 Timothy 5:17-25
Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine.…
I. HONOR DUE TO ELDERS. "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and in teaching." As associated with Paul, Timothy was to be classed as an extraordinary office-bearer in the Church. He had the organizing of the Ephesian Church, but it was intended that the rule should permanently reside in a class of ordinary office-bearers who are here called ciders. The fact is plainly stated that elders were ordained by the apostles in every Church (Acts 14:23). It appears that the organization of a Church was regarded as defective without the appointment of elders (Titus 1:5). In the Church of Ephesus, as in all other Churches that we read of, there was a plurality of elders. All the elders are regarded as ruling or presiding, i.e. over the brethren who composed the Church. To elders it belongs to administer the laws which Christ has laid down for the government of his Church, and to take the general superintendence of the affairs of the congregation over which they are placed. It is a rule in which good qualities may be evinced, such as fidelity, diligence, impartiality, affectionateness, a habit of dependence upon Divine grace. Elders as such are to be counted worthy of honor, but those that rule well are to be counted worthy of double honor, i.e. the honor of excellence in the discharge of their duties added to the honor belonging to their office. There are two classes of elders - those who merely rule, and those who, besides ruling, are charged with the Word and with teaching. It is an honor by itself to have to do with the Word, and especially with the teaching of it, i.e. to be teaching elders; but those who have not only the office, but do well in it - suggested by the word "labor" - are to becounted worthy of double honor.
II. THEIR MAINTENANCE. "For the Scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn. And, The laborer is worthy of his hire." Under the honor to be done especially to the laborious teaching elder, is brought maintenance. This is enforced by a reference to Deuteronomy 25:4. The Jewish law showed consideration for an animal that had to labor. The ox was not to be muzzled when, in Eastern fashion, treading out the corn. It was not to be prevented from enjoying the fruit of its labors. The application is given at some length in 1 Corinthians 9., but it is simply brought out here by a proverb, which is also made use of by our Lord. The Christian teacher labors as really as the ox that treads out the corn. Not less than the ox he is to have the condition of labor, viz. maintenance. He is to have it not as a necessity, but on the principle that he is entitled to it as the reward of his labor.
III. THEIR JUST TREATMENT UNDER ACCUSATION. "Against an elder receive not an accusation, except at the month of two or three witnesses." There is reference to a well-known regulation of the Jewish law. It was especially to be observed in the case of honored or doubly honored elders. No weight was to be attached to unproved private complaints. "It might easily happen in a Church, so large and mixed as the Ephesian, that one or another, from wounded feelings of honor, from mere partisanship, or some selfish motive, would seek to injure a presbyter, and drag him down from his influential position; and against this the precept of the apostle was the best safeguard."
IV. DISCIPLINE IF SHOWN TO BE SINNING. "Them that sin reprove in the sight of all, that the rest also may be in fear." The apostle has been treating of elders; he is still treating of elders in ver. 22. If, then, ordinary weight is to be attached to the context in interpretation, the conclusion seems certain that public reproof was only enjoined in the case of sinning elders. We are to understand that the accusation against them has been substantiated by two or three witnesses, and that by continuing in sin they exhibit no signs of repentance. Let such be publicly reproved, that, if the publicity does not do them good, it may at least cause a wholesome fear to fall upon others of their class.
V. SOLEMN ADJURATION. "I charge thee in the sight of God, and Christ Jesus, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing by partiality." The form of the adjuration is remarkable for the proximity in which Christ Jesus stands to God. If we are led to think of God as being omniscient, we are as naturally led to think of Christ Jesus as being omniscient, i.e. Divine. The form of the adjuration is also remarkable for the bringing in of the elect angels, i.e. honored to be the chosen objects of God's love. Their omniscience does not belong to them singly, but to their class, which is frequently represented as very numerous. As witnesses of what is now done on earth they will be present with their Lord on the day of judgment. The matter of the adjuration is the upholding of the presbyterate. Let none of the order be prejudged unfavorably; let none, through favor, be spared, if their sin is patent. We may learn from the solemnity of the adjuration, how highly the apostle valued the honor of the order.
VI. CARE IN APPOINTING TO THE ORDER. "Lay hands hastily on no man, neither be partaker of other men's sins: keep thyself pure." The laying on of hands in ordination, which is clearly referred to here, is symbolic of the communication of spiritual gifts. We also learn from the language here, that it is equivalent to recognition on the part of those ordaining. They are accountable thus far, that if, through hastiness, they have admitted unworthy persons into the order, then they are partakers of their sins. As having to pronounce upon others, Timothy was to keep himself pure; his own conduct was to be above suspicion.
VII. TIMOTHY CAUTIONED. "Be no longer a drinker of water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities." Paley makes a point of the want of connection. "The direction stands between two sentences, as wide from the subject as possible." He, however, puts more upon this than it will bear. There is a certain Epistolary negligence, but there is connection. It occurs to the apostle that the command to keep himself pure might be too strictly interpreted by Timothy. He was not to be regarded as enjoining the utmost abstinence on him. On the contrary, his opinion was that Timothy was abstinent beyond what his health demanded. He was a drinker of water, i.e. accustomed to the exclusive use of water as a drink. Whatever his reasons for adopting this course, it was too rigorous for him. He needed a little wine for his stomach's sake and his often infirmities. This is not certainly to be construed into a license for the unlimited use of wine. He is only recommended the use of a little wine. And the very reason which is given for its use is against its use where the same reason does not exist. It is only too obvious that alcohol is destructive to the stomach, and the fruitful cause of infirmities. It is destructive to the brain as well as to the stomach. "There is quite a marked type of mental degeneration which may result from continuous drinking during ten years without one instance of drunkenness. We have, as a statistical fact, that from fifteen to twenty per cent of the actual insanity of the country is produced by alcohol." In the name of health, then, its use is to be feared; but, where health demands the use of wine, it is a sin not to use it. For the servant of the Lord must have his strength of body at a maximum for him.
VIII. A POINT TO BE CONSIDERED IN THE JUDGING OF MEN FOR OFFICE. "Some men's sins are evident, going before unto judgment; and some men also they follow after. In like manner also there are good works that are evident; and such as are otherwise cannot be hid." Present judging has a look forward to future judging. To future judgment all actions, bad and good, are regarded as going forward. But there is a difference, both in the ease of bad actions and of good actions. Some men's sins are notorious; and, as heralds, go before them to judgment, proclaiming their condemnation. With regard to such, judging for office is an easy matter; but it is not so with others. "Their sins are first known after and by the judgment, not known beforehand like the first named. In regard to those whose character is not yet clear, circumspection in our judgment cannot be too strongly urged." The same difference applies to good works. Some are as clear as noonday; and therefore there can be no hesitation in regard to the doers of them. There are, however, other good works which are not thus clear; these cannot be hid longer than the judgment. In view of the discovery of good deeds at present unknown, we cannot be too circumspect in our judgment of men, lest by our hastiness we do injury to any. - R.F.
Parallel VersesKJV: Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.