Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

First of all, look at the first directive in verses 17-18. This is a direction that Paul gives about the support of the ministry of the church. He says to Timothy that pastor/elders are to be cared for generously. He’s talking about the honor and the material support of hardworking pastors/elders in the church, and he says the elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor.

Now, in this passage he’s talking about the church making adequate provision for those who minister in the congregation. Perhaps you have friends that are part of Christian fellowships that do not have full-time ministers, and they don’t have them by conviction. They may not believe that there ought to be such a thing as clergy, or as paid clergy. They rely only on lay ministers in their church. And you may wonder why we do it the way we do here at First Presbyterian Church. Why do we have nine ministers that labor full-time in our midst and are supported materially by the congregation? Because of I Timothy 5:17-18, that’s why. Paul is saying there is to be a ministry in the church devoted solely to the work of ruling, preaching and teaching, and that when that is the blessed case in the local congregation, the congregation is to support them.

You will remember, Paul in his own ministry sometimes would receive that support, and sometimes he would refuse it. When he thought that there were congregations that were holding that over his head as if his only motivation was gaining money, he would just be a tent-maker and supply his own support. But there were other congregations that he happily received support from; and he’s telling Timothy, “Here’s the principle: the church ought to support the labor of her ministers.”

And so this passage indicates a number of things about life together in the local congregation. First of all, notice that it indicates that there is not going to just be one elder in a local church. There’s going to be a multiplicity, or a plurality of elders in a local church. Notice, “the elders” who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor. Everywhere in the New Testament, whether you’re looking at Acts 20, or James 5, or I Peter 5, or in the book of Hebrews, or in I Timothy, you will find that the New Testament expects there to be a plurality of elders in the local congregation. Not just one, but a number of elders in the local congregation. Why do we have multiple elders here at First Presbyterian Church? Because that’s the way the New Testament says it is to be done. 

Notice also that this passage indicates that there is going to be some sort of evaluation of the labor of pastor/elders. “The elders who rule well,” Paul says, “are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who are working hard at preaching and teaching.” Notice the language. These are elders who rule well, and they work hard. This is one of Paul’s favorite metaphors for ministry: hard work. It’s the language of a day laborer; it’s the language of a construction worker that’s doing backbreaking labor…who is faithfully ministering in the Lord’s church. And he’s indicating here that there is some evaluation of that. And that’s a word to all of us elders, fellow ministers in this congregation as well as elders. We’re called to hard work, to inconvenient work, and we need to be holding one another accountable in our evaluation of those labors.

But notice also something interesting about the way Paul justifies this particular practice of providing remuneration, or material support, for those who are ministers and elders in the local church. He bases it on Old Testament case law. He goes to a law of Moses that, very frankly, was about the fair treatment, the kind treatment of domestic animals. He says, “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.’” Now, ministers, don’t be offended! This is how Paul defends your support by the church: “Don’t muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” The point is this: if God would take the time to tell people in His book that they ought to treat their domestic animals kindly–the image is from an ox being used to go across a threshing floor crushing the grain, separating the grain from the chaff, being allowed to munch a little bit along the way. Now, if God is so concerned to allow oxen fair treatment, Paul is saying how much more ought we to fairly treat those who live and minister in the church, to and for us? 

So he goes to the Old Testament civil law, and a case law, and notice what he does. He applies it to the Church. Over and over, in fact we’re going to see it in the very next verse, Paul will apply Old Testament civil law, not to the state, but to the Church. Why? Because in the Old Testament the institutional form of God’s kingdom was Israel. And Israel was a nation-state. For Paul, the laws of that nation-state have spiritual principles that are to be worked out in the Church. And so, consistently here and in I Corinthians 5, he will apply those laws and draw from them spiritual principles in the life of the church. 

But notice what he also says: “For Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and, ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.” Now, what Old Testament passage does that quote come from? It doesn’t come from an Old Testament passage. It’s found in Luke 10. It’s a saying of the Lord Jesus Christ. And so, here in one verse Paul is saying “Scripture says…” and he quotes from the Law of Moses and he quotes from Luke, and he treats both of these statements as settling the matter. The Scripture has spoken. This is how we’re going to do it. It says something about the status of this statement, which is part of New Testament Scripture.

And so Paul begins with the first direction to Timothy. “Timothy, here’s how it’s to be in the local church. Those preaching and teaching elders who are part of the settled ministry of the local congregation are to be supported by that local congregation.”

Ligon Duncan



Read 1 Timothy 5:17-25.  What does it mean to be considered “worthy of double honor”?  What ramifications does verse 17 have on a church congregation?  On an individual church member?

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