Online Bible Commentary
Honoring Preachers and Teachers of the Gospel
1 Timothy 5:17 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, "Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain," and "The worker deserves his wages." 19 Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. 20 Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning. 21 I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism. 22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure. 23 Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. 24 The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. 25 In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not cannot be hidden. (NIV)
In his letter to Timothy Paul is giving special instructions to the “church”, the body of believers. These special instructions were prompted by the spread of false teaching in the house churches at Ephesus, where Timothy was helping. The source of the false teaching was twofold. The younger widows, those under the age of sixty, were one of the sources. These women were teaching and spreading false teaching. Paul addressed the problem with widows earlier in this letter. He set down requirements for overseers (pastors and church leaders) and deacons (servants). He confined these roles to men only. He also defined how Christian widows should act. Now, he addresses the second source of false teaching, some of the elders.
The word translated “elders” is the Greek word “presbuteroi” which means an older man or a senior. It was the Greek word used for those Jewish religious leaders serving in the Sanhedrin. The word for an older woman is “presbutia”. Therefore the term “elder” is specific to men only, as pointed out previously in this letter. The elders “direct the affairs of the church” (v.17a) and carry on the “work” of “preaching and teaching” the Gospel (v. 17c). Some may direct the affairs of the church, while others preach, and still others teach. Some may be in charge of all three functions. Some may just preach and teach. So this term “elder” also includes the overseers mentioned previously in this letter.
Paul begins by praising those elders who were doing a good job. Those elders who do their work “well” are worthy of “double honor” (v.17b). This “double honor” is to be rewarded financially and to be respected. Paul then quotes two Scriptures, Deut. 25:4 (which is also cited in 1 Cor. 9:9) and 1 Cor. 9:13-14 to support financial compensation to “elders” for their “work” in spreading the Gospel (v. 18). His command to those who receive the benefits is to financially support those who do the work of ministering God’s word, “especially those whose work is preaching and teaching” (v. 17c). For example, Art Toombs Ministries is a work of Christian teaching, and, as such, it is commanded that those who benefit from this teaching also support it financially.
After first praising and calling for reward of those elders who are doing good work, Paul then addresses those who do not do good work, the false teachers. First, he cautions to be careful in assessing the false teachers. They are not to be rebuked unless the complaint is brought by at least “two or three witnesses” (v. 19). This would eliminate the complaint of someone who might be jealous, or holding a grudge. But when the complaints are substantiated, the false teachers are to be rebuked publicly (v. 20), so as to bring disgrace upon them. The hope is that this punishment would be a deterrent to others who might spread false teaching. False teaching is “sin” (v.20), and no sin should be supported by Christians.
This command or, “charge”, to rebuke false teachers comes in the names of “God”, “Christ Jesus”, and the “elect angels” (v.21). The term “elect angels” is to distinguish between them and the fallen angels, Satan and his comrades. The command is to rebuke false teachers without showing “partiality” or “favoritism” (v. 21).
Next, Paul turns to the task of recognizing those who should be “elders”. He cautions not to be “hasty” in recognizing spiritual gifts (v.22a). The idea is to not make a mistake and therefore be a partner in spreading “sin”, false teaching (v.22b). Christianity is to be kept “pure” in its teaching (v. 22c). As an example of keeping “pure”, Paul contradicts the existing Gnostic false teaching that “purity” means abstaining from all physical pleasure. He supports the drinking of wine, in moderation (v. 23a). Not only is it allowed, as are all the pleasures denied by Gnosticism, but it also has medicinal properties (v. 23b).
We are not to be “hasty” to recognize “elders” because of the nature of both sin and good works. Both may be obvious for all to see. But both may also not show up until much later (vv. 24-25). Therefore, new converts or those new in the ministry should not be in positions of preaching or teaching. It is a position that should only be conferred upon those who have proven over the years that they possess the necessary spiritual gifts. This recognition today is conferred through the act of Ordination.