Sunday, 28 January 2018
Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. 1 Timothy 5:17
The words of this verse are highly debated, and so they must be taken in context as to whom he is speaking of. The word “elders” can be referring to the aged in the congregation, but that is not the only intent of the word. In Israel, it was used “to denote the body of men that presided in the synagogue” (Albert Barnes). Others agree with this, and it is the logical extension of everything Paul has been saying. The church is a body led by men, regardless of their age. Instead, “elders” here is a positional word. It is those who rule and have authority. It is these who are to “be counted worthy of double honor.”
Those who rule within the church have a very tough job. They are not simply dealing with paper, numbers, valves, electric wiring, laying bricks, or a host of other jobs which are routine and stable. Instead, the church is a dynamic organism which changes constantly in its makeup, and which is comprised of individuals. Each individual has personal needs, each person has complicated emotions, and so on. For an elder to deal with all that comes his way, especially in matters of religion, there is a high level of stress at times. Because of this, Paul would ask that these leaders be given “double honor.” The term, based on the next verse, certainly indicates monetary compensation, but it is not limited to that. And the word “double” is not strictly intended in its literal sense. Instead, it indicates “more honor.”
With this understanding, he completes the verse with, “especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.” Studying, preaching, and teaching the word is the highest responsibility any person could have. In taking the word of God, and explaining it to those within the church, there is the truth that this person has become, in a very real way, responsible for the souls of those under him. If he teaches incorrectly, their lives may be completely erratic and chaotic. Or, they may never come to a saving knowledge of Christ. People in a congregation, especially before the modern printing press, were wholly dependent on what they were told. There may have been one copy of Scripture in an entire town.
Even today, people who have ten copies of the Bible in their home may have never read it even once. People commit their trust in what is stated by teachers, and they follow closely to what they have been taught, even if it is completely wrong. This is a real problem, but it is one which exists and cannot be ignored. Therefore, sound teachers are an especially important commodity, and they are to be given the proper honor for their efforts. This is stated by Paul elsewhere, such as in 1 Thessalonians –
“And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves.”1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13
Life application: When dealing with people, especially over spiritual matters, great divisions, great anger, and great bitterness can arise. People want to know if dogs are going to heaven, if the rapture will happen on a certain day, if one can lose their salvation, and etc. In such questions, most people have already decided on the answer, and it is usually based on emotions. When they ask an elder for an answer, they are not usually looking for an answer, but an affirmation of what they want to believe. When they hear something contrary to what they want to believe, they get upset and often nasty. This is a common thing, and it is debilitating to always be second-guessed by those who actually have no idea except one formed in their own minds. Understanding this, it is good to give elders the honor of their position. They have probably already received their daily dose of grief by the time you get to them.
Lord God, how often do we decide in our own minds about spiritual matters, and then go either to Your word, or to a pastor, and look for affirmation about the thing we have decided. Instead of letting You be God, and instead of accepting an explanation in the proper context from Your word, it is easier to go off and find a teacher who will tell us what we want to hear. No wonder churches today are so filled with perversion and other horrifying doctrine. Grant us the wisdom to not read into Your word what we want to hear, but instead to have drawn out from it what You have said. Amen.