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First Timothy


1 Timothy 5:17 - 6:2

Lesson Audio

Paul occasionally writes in the rabbinical “string of pearls” style.  This is to deal with a topic in one or two sentences, then move on to the next.  The student was expected to understand that this was so, and fill in the missing thoughts himself.  In this section, Paul deals with a number of admonitions this way.  His primary thought, however, remains how the church should be led in such way as to keep her reputation high in the world – so that some might be saved, and none deflected from the way of truth.

Treatment of Elders

The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, "YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING," and "The laborer is worthy of his wages." Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning. I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality.

(1Ti 5:17-21 NASB)

Those who do well

The phrasing here conceals some important points.  In particular, “worthy of double honor” can also be interpreted as “worthy of double payment.”  Given the context, this would not be correct translation into English, but to the Greek ear the two would sound in the one sentence.  In doing this, Paul reaffirms that those who labor full time for the work of the church are entitled to a reasonable wage.  It is still true:  God’s supply for God’s work. 

These are said to “rule.”  We must remember that in the kingdom of God leadership authority comes only with its matching responsibility.  Despite robe and ceremony, authority or rule simply means you have a job to do, and have been given the authority to match.  In the kingdom, this means servant leadership.  This is both a substance and a style; substance, in that the task is real and needs certain authority to do it, and style – which should never be pompous or stuffy, but rather workmanlike.

The labor in question is given here as “preaching and teaching.”  The first of these is the mystic word logos, which brings up the opening of John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word”.  The second is the Greek word for practical instruction – classroom, teacher, students and dunce cap.  So we see that such authority must reside in one who is in communion with Christ – but also can handle a classroom.


It might seem, at first, that the requirement for two or more witnesses is in some way allowing the elder to get away with things an ordinary Christian could not.  But this matter is a practical one:

  • It saves the church from the atmosphere of perpetual witch hunt.  These people are, after all, sinners.  If you allow it, this would bring constant disruption to the work of the church.
  • It is also simple justice.  You don’t allow one witness and twenty gossips to bring charges against a man.
  • It conforms to the Old Testament Law, and therefore shows itself well to the Jews in the area.

The intent here is that justice will be served – but fishing expeditions will not.


What happens if there is justice in the charge?  Then you are to go to the man and rebuke him privately, first.  That’s why Paul says, “continue in sin.”  If he repents (and I would add reconciles) then the matter is finished.  Even if the matter is a criminal one (child abuse, anyone?) the act of acknowledging what you have done to the magistrate, especially when it is considered that with one witness a conviction would be very difficult, leaves the judge with the impression that the man has repented, and therefore mercy is in order.

But suppose the man doesn’t repent.  Then you need at least two witnesses.  If you have them, you are to rebuke the man in public.  If necessary, throw him out of the church.  We need to show the world that we have the truth in our hands, and we will not cover up the sins exposed.  The church should have a well deserved reputation for honest conduct.

No bias

The church should also have a well deserved reputation for fairness – with no bias seen.  How often have we seen a church that is run by a clique of just a few families – who have the church of their own making, and will not part with it for Christ’s sake?  Sometimes bias just creeps in; we need to make it a point that we work hard at being fair.


Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin. No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments. The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after. Likewise also, deeds that are good are quite evident, and those which are otherwise cannot be concealed.

(1Ti 5:22-25 NASB)

Don’t be hasty

It is my opinion that true civilization did not exist before the invention of the microwave oven.  This gave the techno-geek the ability to cook, after a fashion.  At about the same time, the crock pot came out – something into which the hurried housewife would toss ingredients in the hope that cooking things slow and long would produce the desired flavor.  Sometimes the microwave is superior, but I’m told that there are certain dishes which need a certain amount of time to simmer.  Sometimes a man’s reputation needs the same.

You see the point.  Suppose you appoint Joe to be an elder, with full ceremony and laying on of hands.  Two years later you discover that he’s wanted for bigamy in nine states.  The rest of the church is now saying, “Who recommended that guy for elder?”  The fact that you didn’t know is no excuse; your failure is that you didn’t wait patiently.

This was all the more important when an Apostle did it:  then it involved miraculous gifts from the Holy Spirit.  How much more embarrassing to find out later!

Don’t be pretentious

The verse concerning wine has been used and abused a great deal.  It is one of the prime examples of the misunderstanding of the Scripture, using the cut and paste method.  Remember that Paul gives this admonition in a letter which is primarily concerned with the church’s reputation in the world.  Considered as such, the conclusions we may draw are quite different:

  • Paul is encouraging Timothy not to be “drier than thou.”  You can imagine that wine caused its problems then as now.  It’s likely Timothy avoided wine for the sake of the reputation of the church.  Paul tells him to cease this practice, and use it sensibly (“a little wine”.)
  • Paul could, of course, have miraculously cured Timothy of this ailment.  But he didn’t.  He didn’t mention any plans to.  From this we may reason that this stomach ailment was given to Timothy much like Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” – so that he would remain humble.
  • So it is that Timothy, by acknowledging this infirmity, shows us that (like all leaders) he is merely human – and thus gives us all hope to achieve as he did.
By their fruits

It is a sad fact:  some of the men who are nominated for the eldership are simply a bad choice.  But not all such men are an obvious bad choice.  Some people’s reputation precedes them.  These are the easy ones to weed out of leadership positions.  Weeded they should be; let’s not be stupid about it.

But there are others whose sins take a while to catch up with them – for they are crafty in concealing them.  But for a while they can fool us, not forever.  Wait.

We need to take a realistic view:  each man is a sinner; each will be found out, eventually.  We cannot appoint perfect people – but we can take reasonable precautions against an out of control life.

Slaves & Masters

All who are under the yoke as slaves are to regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine will not be spoken against. Those who have believers as their masters must not be disrespectful to them because they are brethren, but must serve them all the more, because those who partake of the benefit are believers and beloved. Teach and preach these principles.

(1Ti 6:1-2 NASB)

Masters in general

It seems odd to Americans, whose experience with slavery is such a deep root in America, that honoring your slave master could possibly be expected of anyone.  We forget that slavery at this time was an economic condition, or possibly the result of losing in battle.  So the people of this time would have a different attitude.  For example, they would see the slave master as the one who provides food and clothing for the slave – which a slave from economic reasons would see as a blessing.

Again, Paul’s concern is the reputation of the church in the eyes of the world.  Put yourself in the position of a master who is not a Christian.  He is looking at the Christian slave to, by his actions, demonstrate what Christ does for a man.  If the faith produces insubordination, how likely is he to consider hearing the Gospel?

We forget that, like an employee today, a slave then was delivering on-the-job testimony.  We are the witness of Christ every where we go.

Christian masters

Ah, but suppose both master and slave are Christians, what then?  Is it not obvious that both of them are now witnesses for Christ?  If you would render respect and good service to a slave master who is not a Christian, how much greater is your obligation to him if he is?

This comes not only in service – getting the job done – but also in conversation.  You can be a hard worker, quick to the job – and poison things by your speech.  Honor and respect must come in both words and deed.

Finally, if your master is a Christian, how should this affect your life of prayer?  Can you ask God to strike down Simon Legree if he becomes a brother in the faith?

The Christian’s Master

If this is the case for earthly masters, how much more should it be so with regard to Christ, our Lord?  Consider well:

  • On this earth a slave master would part with one of his slaves, even by death, for the sake of saving his child’s life.  But our God gave up His Son for the sake of His slaves.  Does this not make Him worthy of greater honor than anyone on earth?
  • More than that, the Son pronounced that we are more than servants; we are his friends[1].  This came by the Atonement; what honor, then, do we owe the Son for that?
  • Finally, God sent His Son so that we might become the children of God.  From slaves to friends, from friends to children, brothers and sisters with Christ.  No earthly master could do that; only our Heavenly Father.  What honor, then, should we bring in return?

[1] John 15:13-14

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