Instruction 11: Let the Elders who Rule Well be Considered Worthy of Double Honour

By Adam Brown –

It is not natural in our culture to honour anyone. It is especially distasteful to honour a person who is in a position of authority. Our system of government, replete with “Her Majesty’s Official Opposition,” balks at honour. And, whereas, a certain decorum once reigned in our constitutional democracy, political discourse has been increasingly polarized and, shall we say, lacking in honour.

This problem is all the more conspicuous south of the border. Even though movies continue to glorify to the position of the President of the United States to an almost godlike status, the reality on the ground is far from deification. Presidents from both major parties are demonized, spurned, and made to play the role of court jester in late night television monologues.

Is it any wonder, therefore, that members of a local church find it difficult to accord their leaders any honour, let alone to extend them a double honour?

And yet, the eleventh instruction for the church in 1 Timothy is that elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of a double honour:

17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching (1 Timothy 5:17). 

All elders are to be considered worthy of a double honour, provided (as should be required of them) that they rule well. This is especially true of vocational elders, otherwise known in our cultural context as pastors, because they labour in preaching and teaching.

What is a double honour?

Paul makes the point that a single honour has something to do with material compensation:

18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages” (1 Timothy 5:18).

To honour, then, is to be of material benefit to the one being honoured. In the case of vocational elders who labour in preaching and teaching, the Bible here indicates that such labour is deserving of monetary provision by the church. In other words, pay your pastor. This is why Paul exhorts the double honour to be “especially” extended to those who labour in preaching and teaching. Unlike lay elders who have other employment, such men have no other means of support. Even lay elders ought to be given a monetary honorarium from time to time, as is fitting to the situation and the occasion.

If a single honour has to do with monetary compensation, then a double honour also includes the extension of appropriate respect. In an age when respect for others is in short supply, this is challenging, even in the church.

Respect begins with a heartfelt inclination toward the teaching and authority of the elders rather than an oppositional tendency. This is demonstrated in a willingness to extend the “benefit of the doubt” to elders, unless substantial evidence to the contrary exists:

19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses (1 Timothy 5:19).

Having said this, no elder is “above the law” or beyond the reach of church discipline. To the contrary, any elder who persists in sin is to be publicly rebuked:

20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality (1 Timothy 5:20-21).

Since it is sometimes tempting to sweep the sins of leaders under the carpet, or to be slow to expose those closest to us, Paul adds, with considerable force, that there is no room for partiality in the discipline of unrepentant elders.

In light of this double honour, the church must be very careful in the selection of elders. This is why Paul recommends a slow appointment process:

22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure (1 Timothy 5:22).

In other words, be slow in appointing new elders because elders share in the sins of one another. If one elder sins, all the elders suffer public disgrace together, though the offending elder is the one who is rebuked and disciplined. This is especially true if sins are overlooked in the vetting process. Thus, in order for an elder to remain pure himself, he must also be careful in whom he embraces as a fellow elder. Elders rise and fall together.

Paul, here, anticipates two questions.

What do you mean that I should keep myself pure?

Timothy seemed to be the kind of man who was hypersensitive to many things, including his own personal holiness and purity. Thus, Paul reassures him that the purity in mind is not ascetic purism:

23 No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments (1 Timothy 5:23).

Rather, Timothy keeps himself pure by being cautious about who he appoints as fellow elders. As already discussed, the sin of one elder pollutes the whole council of elders.

This leaves one final question.

What if we miss something in the vetting process?

Paul is realistic. He knows that not all sins will be uncovered before a man is judged to be qualified to serve as an elder. On the other hand, in order to be above reproach, it is necessary to seek out a man’s good works, so that by this fruit a man may prove himself worthy of the office:

24 The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. 25 So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden (1 Timothy 5:24-25).

Elders will sin before and after they are appointed as overseers. Some men hide their sins better than others. What must not be in doubt are the good works of a man. These good works will help elders to know who should be added to their number.

In sum, elders are to be honoured twice over, both by monetary provision and by appropriate respect. In an age when honour is in short supply, this instruction to the church is sure to be a challenge. Nevertheless, this too is the Word of God.

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