Building Honour: 1 Timothy 5.17-6.2
Think about the loss of respect for authority in our day.
Where do you see it?
Perhaps you pick up on as it’s reflected on TV. Sometimes everything can be so PC (politically correct) that it feels oppressive. A host like Will Anderson on Gruen can be refreshing because he seems to have no filter on his mouth. He’s quite happy to offend anyone and everyone. Whether it’s slamming the government departments for the botched census attempt or mocking a celebrity whose done something foolish. We tend to find it amusing. It appeals to our fondness for cutting down those superior to us—our tall poppy syndrome.
Perhaps you see it in your office or conversation with work colleagues talking about superiors. Perhaps in the pub as you get together with mates discussing politics.
Perhaps in you face it directly in the school classroom as you interact with kids. Perhaps you experience it as a parent battling to establish authority with your own kids.
How about you personally? Where do you see your lack of respect for those in authority over you?
I think we’re all prone to it. I’ve seen it in myself. I can be suspicious and cynical of leaders interpreting things through a lens of past hurt or disappointment.
I don’t tend to like people being superior to me. I’ve imbibed that cultural value.
But the fact is we can’t get away from authority—whether we see it as good, bad or a mix. Wherever we go there is someone in charge. It’s the way God has designed the world.
Is there a better way to respond to authority in God’s world? More specifically, what difference does Jesus make to the way we relate to those in authority over us?
We’re going to consider the answer to that question today with a particular focus on our attitude to church leaders.
The Gospel’s Pattern of Honour
Our passage flows on what Danny covered last week. 1 Timothy 5:3 reads ‘Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need.’ Or literally honour those widows who are really in need.
Danny explained that this section of the letter teases out what our relationships look like within the church. The fact that Jesus has lived, died and risen as the Saviour of the world changes everything. We have a new identity and a new outlook. Now we relate to each other with pattern of honour shaped by Jesus. We’re commanded to relate to one another with an attitude of respect.
Why is this such a huge thing?
Let’s zoom out for a moment an consider the story of our lives as told by the Bible. Our story starts with God, our Maker, who gave us life. Our ancestors knew harmony with him, harmony with each other, and harmony with the created world. The pattern was honouring God and honouring each other.
But in Genesis 3 that all goes pear-shaped. The quest to throw off God’s good rule over our lives left us broken, severed our relationship with God and has left us with patterns of relating with each other that are distorted and twisted. Honour is no longer the norm. It’s across the board: between husbands and wives, parents and children, leaders and their people. At many points our relationships no longer match God’s good design.
One of the points this comes into sharp focus in our attitude to God’s appointed leaders.
We’re going to be looking at Exodus together soon. God brings about this dramatic rescue of His people stuck in slavery under awful conditions.
But how do God’s people treat His chosen leader Moses? In a pretty awful way.
They complain and grumble against Moses. In one scene in Exodus 17:1-4 they argue with Moses demanding water to drink. They grumble against him: “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”
Now of course, God knew their physical needs. He was more than able to provide. But instead of approaching God for help after this great rescue they complain to their leader. They’re so fed up with Moses they’re close to stoning him to death.
It’s pretty confronting picture of just how distorted our thinking can be. Sin has this blinding impact so we’re unable to see things clearly. They could have trusted God’s care for them. They could have honoured Moses by calmly bringing him their dilemma and asking for help. Instead they’re like spoilt brats who throw things back in his face in unbelief.
But God’s greater rescue of us in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection works to reshape our hearts at this level. Where patterns of relating have been distorted God’s Spirit is working to restore our relating inline with God’s good design.
And this pattern of honour one another is now at to be at the heart of our daily living. Romans 12 calls us to counter-cultural patterns of life as our minds are renewed by God’s thoughts (12:2). As Paul teases out what this looks like in v10 he says, ‘Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.’
Elsewhere Peter says, ‘Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.’
Honouring others fits our new identity now and also where we’re headed. We’re a kingdom and priests, who praise and honour God now. And we’ll be praising and honouring God in His renewed world to come. We’re preparing now for then. One day we’ll be relating with our family, this diverse array of God’s people, whose greatest joy is honouring God and Jesus, our Lamb who was slain.
The gospel creates patterns of honour.
This is where our passage fits. Paul has addressed patterns of honour towards widows in need. Now he continues his focus on patterns of honour within the church zeroing in on our attitude to Christian leaders. Then he moves outward to the attitude of Christian slaves toward their masters.
Let’s start by looking briefly at the section addressed to slaves. I think they bring together some key themes in the letter. Then we’ll spend most of our time looking at three points on how churches honour their elders.
Case in Point: Slaves and Masters (6.1-2)
In 6:1-2 we see Christian slaves honour their masters for God’s reputation.
Listen to that bigger picture in v1:
All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered.
Did you catch it? The way slaves relate to their masters with respect ‘so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered.’
Worthy of full respect is literally ‘worthy of honour’.
Any why this is this the case?
It’s not on the basis of them being good masters, or even fellow Christians. It’s any master.
It’s because how we relate to everyone reflects on how others perceive God and the message of Jesus. Our relating reflects on God’s reputation.
The bigger vision in 1 Timothy is that Jesus has come into the world to save sinners (1:15). God wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (2:3). Jesus is the One who has come to restore us to God. He gave himself as a ransom for all people (2:5-6). He’s the Saviour for all people (4:10).
This bigger vision shapes us all. We want this truth to shine forth.
We want to be like freshly cleaned windows where God’s goodness shines through to others. We don’t want to be like super grubby, grimy windows that block the light and keep people from seeing what God is like.
For Christian slaves this has meant treating their masters with an attitude of respect and working hard, especially if their masters were fellow Christians.
How could anyone see the God’s rescue in Jesus as a good thing if a Christian slave was known for slacking off for a Christian master he claims as a brother? Really, is that how you treat your family?
What does this vision mean for how we treat those who lead us in church?
Churches Honouring Elders (5.17-25)
1. Appreciation (5.17-18)
Paul’s first point is: Churches honour their elders by appreciation in attitude and financial support.
Listen for this attitude in 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.
The elders are those who have oversight over God’s people. Those who lead well are worthy of double honour.
We’re to respect those who lead us well. Elders who lead us well are a gift of God to be appreciated.
We see Paul express something like this to Christians elsewhere. In 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 he says:
‘Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.’
This attitude has a practical expression in 1 Timothy 5:19:
18 For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”
Paul quotes Deuteronomy 25:4 where God shows His desire for working animals to be well looked after. Since God has this concern for animals, how much more His servants who work hard for the good of His people.
Paul puts this together with the words of Jesus spoken to his followers sent out on mission. Where people are receptive to their message they are to stay and enjoy their hosts hospitality, ‘for the worker deserves his wages.’ (Lk. 10:7)
This expression of honouring those who lead us builds on the Bible’s concern that all people are paid for their work and not taken advantage of.
But particularly, in the case of Christian leaders, financial support is to enable their work and allow a single-minded focus on the gospel. It’s not about satisfying a elder’s desire for more. We’ve already seen that a character trait of those who serve in this way is that they are not lovers of money (3:3).
I think this concern is what’s behind Danny moving towards a full-time pastoral role here at Petersham. He’s been part-time with church. He’s supplementing his income with his paid pastoral care role at the hospital. In the past that’s been 3 days a week. This year he’s dropped down to 2 days a week. Full-time income here is something he’s chosen to forgo as his right.
But the shared leadership across here and Ashfield recognises Danny’s hard work. There’s the likelihood of increased resources next year. Paying Danny full-time shows our appreciation for what he does, helps in creating more space, a single-minded focus and new possibilities.
How else can we show our appreciation for Danny or Pierre as elders here at Petersham?
We can thank them for the specific ways they serve us. Our appreciation can guard against discouragement.
But more important than words of thanks is the underlying attitude we have towards them. We relate to them with a broader concern of what is good for them.
Our leaders need encouragement. And biblical encouragement is more than a pat on the back. It shifts the focus from what we do to who God is to us. So we take in interest in Danny and Pierre as they take an interest in us. When we pick up on tones of discouragement we seek to point them to the Lord and His promises to do them good.
A wise leader shared with me that while specific feedback on his preaching can be helpful he wants more than a pat on the back. He’s tempted to put too much weight of what others think about him. So he asked people to tweak feedback in such a way that he’d be drawn to God’s work in them, not something he had done.
What’s the difference?
“Pierre, that talk was a cracker! I really appreciated your insight. I see how forgiveness wants what’s best for someone else. It’s willing to confront sin.’
“Pierre, thanks for your hard work on this. God’s been opening my eyes to this approach to forgiveness. He’s want me to love someone enough to confront their sin.”
The first pats someone on the back. The second shifts the focus to God and His work through the preacher.
We’ve seen point 1 is: Churches honour their elders by appreciation in attitude and financial support.
How else do churches honour their elders?
2. Fair discipline (5.19-21)
This brings us to point 2: Churches honour their elders by practicing fair discipline.
Listen for the fairness Timothy is to have in v19:
19 Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.
The only accusations against elders that Timothy is to consider are ones that are well-founded. He is to only consider the claims made by two or three witnesses.
This fairness is an expression of honour. There isn’t a suspicion of elders that is looking for fault and quick to assume the worst. Instead we give pastoral leaders some protection because they can be easy targets for slander.
Like the broader pattern of discipline for God’s people any accusation must be based on a specific sin being witnessed. Jesus spelled out the process for us in Matthew 18:15-20. Applied to an elder we can’t bring something against them that they’ve said or done that we simply don’t like. It’s not filling in the gaps between what they’ve said assuming we know their hearts. But it is confronting particular instances of sin we’ve seen—like an angry outburst or a harsh word.
Discipline is part of life in God’s family. We care about a brother or sister who is stuck in sin. We know that sin blinds us from seeing clearly. We need each other to help us see ourselves as we actually are. Left on our own our hearts can grow cold and hard towards God. We only bring such a concern because we want to see a family member restored to God and to the wider family.
So it is with an elder. We live in this ‘now but not yet’ period where we’ve been rescued from sin’s power. But we’re still waiting for God to take sin away completely when he restores all things. An elder hasn’t arrived. They are still in the process of unlearning patterns of living opposed to God and His ways.
If an elder’s heart is straying we can’t stand back and say nothing. We take one or two witnesses along who have seen what happened and we bring the matter to the wider leadership.
Then what happens? Take a look at v20:
20 But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning.
When an accusation against an elder is well-founded the matter is investigated. If it’s true there’s an opportunity for that elder to own their sin and turn back to God. This is implied. But if that repentance doesn’t take place—if such elders persist in their sin—they are to be corrected publicly. This is for the benefit of the wider church.
Until recently I’d struggled to get why God’s judgement can seem so severe in the Old Testament and in the New. Why is it that God takes immediate action to wipe out people who’ve defied Him? Wouldn’t it be better if He was delayed judgement?
What about Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5? They’re the husband and wife who try to deceive Peter into thinking they had given all their money to the church? They fall down dead after Peter confronts them of lying to God.
Such judgements are expressions of God’s mercy. They serve as a warning for others giving them opportunity to change. You can bet the early church thought twice about being deceitful. What if God just let Ananias and Sapphira’s sin to go unnoticed? It may have opened up the door for others to follow thinking they too could get away with lying before God.
So it is here. When an elder who resists correction is disciplined publicly the rest of us are called away from following his example. We’re reminded that sin really is a weighty matter before God. We all must continue to turn from it as we see it in our lives and run to God for forgiveness and mercy.
All of this is to be done in the sight of God without playing to favourites. This is brought out in v21:
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.
How do we live this process of fair discipline out in Petersham?
The wider tendency in our culture is to cut leaders down with our ‘tall poppy syndrome’. We don’t like other being above us.
On one level the Bible agrees. Church leaders are not superior to us. They too struggle with sin. They too need Jesus for forgiveness. They too have not arrived. But they do have particular authority over us for our good.
I wonder if our desire to level the playing field means we can be too quick to ‘put others in their place’. We may tend towards seeing fault in an elder too quickly. Especially if we’ve had a bad experience with other church leaders. We can read that onto others filling in the gaps of what we don’t know. We can speak out before we have full information.
If that’s the case this passage calls us to be cautious. It calls to be very careful when if we’re considering making an accusation against another. We’re not to bring accusations of perceived sin but actual sin.
I’ve had a lesson in this during the week. I’d been pulled up for something I’d done. It wasn’t a matter of sin but an issue of wisdom where I hadn’t been as discreet I could have. But because the communication was limited there gaps. What did this person think of my intentions? Could they see that I was really genuinely trying to help? Are they on a different page altogether? Did they feel I was interfering with their ministry.
Previous misunderstanding and hurt led me to fill in the gaps. But after bringing it before the Lord and sitting on it for a week I decided I needed to call this person up. What I’d filled in wasn’t accurate. We had a direct, honest conversation and were able to clear things up.
Alongside caution we need courage when we have witnessed real sin. This pattern of honouring elders particularly in fair discipline is counter-cultural. Confronting sin doesn’t come naturally to us. It’s much safer not to say anything, not to rock the boat particularly for those of us who avoid conflict. But the good of our leader is at stake and so is the purity of the church.
A couple of weeks ago Danny mentioned what’s happened at Willow Creek, a mega church in the US. Bill Hybels had been accused of a range of sexually inappropriate comments and actions. It remains to be seen whether or not Hybels is guilty. But a lesson for all of us to learn from the Willow Creek leadership. Don’t dismiss accusations outright on the basis of thinking you know someone, that they are by definition beyond certain sin. Be careful you’re not blind to something that could be happening because your enamoured with someone’s personality.
Perhaps we need to re-think this process of discipline.
Is it a difficult thing? Absolutely.
Does it come naturally to any one of us? No.
Can it be done badly? Yes, it can. Many of us may be aware of examples where it has been done in a heavy-handed way. Maybe so much that you react against the idea altogether.
But it is God’s means of restoring those stuck in sin. It has a positive goal. It is to be done in a way that moves towards others, that seeks to understand and clarify what is going on, seeking that person’s good before God.
We’ve seen point 2 is: Churches honour their elders by practicing fair discipline.
How else does this pattern of honouring elders shape the church?
Discerning appointment (5.22-25)
Our third point is: Churches honour their elders by discerning appointment.
Paul introduces this idea of discernment in v22:
22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.
The laying on of hands refers to appointing others in the work of church leadership. It should never be done in haste.
This is a weighty matter, it’s not just about filling gaps as soon as possible. We live in a culture that can be impatient and pragmatic. If it works, do it. If Steve will get the job done, stop wasting time and get him started!
But God says, ‘Don’t rush! Take your time.’
There is danger in appointing someone unsuitable. By appointing someone too quickly Timothy could ‘share in the sins of others’—the sins of leaders who don’t have character to match the role. He could be implicated in their sin if rushed them into leadership without time to observe their true colours.
For some sin is easily seen upfront but for others it takes time to surface. That’s the point of v24:
24 The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them.
Careful discernment is needed for the appointment of church leaders. There’s simply no other way than observing life lived in response to a whole range of situations. It’s in the testing of life that the heart is revealed. It’s here that character or lack of character surfaces.
It’s like the testing of metals. Before metal components are put to use—beams, springs, wires—they are strength tested to make sure they can withstand an applied force without failure. You don’t construct something with a metal component that you’ve seen deform under pressure. But you use one that’s proven it can stand up under pressure.
In this way we observe how others handle the pressures of life. None of us get it right all the time. But is there a consistent desire to navigate life by trusting in God, by loving Him and loving others? Is there evidence of good responses to life brought about by God’s Spirit?
Where Hayley grew up in PNG she saw the destructive impact of locals appointed to leadership before their character was observed. Culturally, those who became leaders outside the church were chosen on the basis of their character and life experience. Others who wanted such status saw the church as a way to bypass cultural practices. If they said and did the right things they could be elevated to the status of pastor without really being tested. In lots of cases you could end up with a pastor who wasn’t a Christian.
But the same thing can happen in our own culture, it might just be a bit more subtle. Young Christians can see Christian leadership as a way to get ahead or to prove themselves. But what will happen to them when the pressure of testing comes? Will it show cracks that get wider and wider?
As we consider those suitable for leading the church we’re after character, not charisma. It’s all too easy to fall for a person whose very likeable, who may even be very competent—impressive in their preaching and teaching. But if we’re not looking at character we can do damage to them and also to the church.
We’ve seen point 3 is: Churches honour their elders by discerning appointment.
We started by considering our lack of respect for authority. And asked the question: what difference does Jesus make to the way we relate to those in authority over us?
We’ve seen that the gospel creates patterns of churches honouring their elders and slaves honouring their masters.
Specifically we’ve seen churches honour elders by:
- Appreciation in attitude and financial support
- Practicing fair discipline
- Discerning appointment.
God’s given us a lens for understanding our attitude towards elders and how we care for them at different levels.
Let’s respond to God in prayer asking for the help of His Spirit in living this out.
We thank You that Jesus has come into the world to save sinners like us. Your desire is for all to come to You for rescue.
Thanks that You haven’t left us where we were—with distorted patterns of relating to one another. Instead You’ve shown us Your good design that we live by this pattern of honour with appreciation for those who You’ve placed over us.
It is counter-cultural. It is a high call. But we’re drawn the goodness of what we’ve seen.
May You enable us to live it out truly honouring our elders but also honouring others more broadly realising all of our relationships impact on how people see You.
In Jesus’ name.