1 Timothy
by Francis Foulkes ©


'Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching; for the scripture says 'You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain,' and, 'The labourer deserves his wages.' Never admit any charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without favour, doing nothing from partiality' (5:17-21).

In verse 1 of this chapter we have read how Paul told Timothy to be wise and respectful in his attitude to older men in the congregation. Now he wants to speak about the 'elders', those office-bearers in the congregation who were responsible for the oversight of its life and worship and witness. Acts l 4:23 tells us that Paul and Barnabas at the end of their first missionary journey went back to all the places where they had left little groups of Christians, and 'appointed elders... in every church'. In fact the New Testament often speaks of the 'elders' of a church (see note below). Paul now says three things about these elders.

a. The support of the elders

In those early days the church did not think of the 'full-time ministry' as we do today. The apostles were certainly set apart for the ministry of God's Word and prayer, as Acts 6:4 shows us; but in the local congregation the elders appointed were usually men who had their own daily work to do in order to earn their living. If such men gave themselves not only to the oversight of the congregation but also to 'labour in preaching and teaching', they naturally could give less time to other work. It was right that Christian people should consider them 'worthy of double honour', worthy of respect, and also of support. The apostle laid down this principle in several of his letters. Those who served their fellow Christians in spiritual things had a right to support in material things. The law gives the general principle, even when speaking of animals, Verse 8 quotes from Deuteronomy 25:4 which said that when the ox trampled out the grain, he was not to have a muzzle around his jaws - he was to be able to eat while he worked. In all human life this principle is true, too, as our Lord stated: 'The labourer deserves his wages' (Luke 10:7). It is true on the farm, in industry, in the office or anywhere else. It is true for Christian ministers - if they give themselves, their time and strength, in ministering to the spiritual needs of men, then those who benefit should support them. Often Paul did not claim this right for himself; often he warned ministers against the love of money (3:3,8; 6:6-11). Nevertheless he made it clear to Christian people that they had a duty to support their ministers.

b. Accusations against elders

Paul knew well that there were times when men brought accusations of misconduct against their elders. The accusations might be true: but they might be false charges made when people were offended at an elder's frank statement of the truth. Timothy needed this warning, and so do all of us who listen to accusations made by one person against another: 'make sure that such an accusation is just and true; and do not take it seriously unless there are more witnesses than one.' 'Two or three witnesses' was the Old Testament rule (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15). The New Testament makes it a rule too (Matthew 18:16; John 8:17; 2 Corinthians 13:1). It is a wise rule today for us.

c. The correction of elders

Accusations are often unjust, but sometimes they are right and fair. It is a serious thing when elders in a congregation fail and 'persist in sin'. They not only fail in their own Christian lives, but in their duty of leading others also. The example that they give is in the wrong direction. Such sin cannot just be covered up. It must be corrected 'in the sight of all' (compare 2 Timothy 4:2 and Titus 1:13; 2:15). For when the church deals seriously and openly with sin, then all will fear and will realize more fully the peril of sin and its tragic results (see Deuteronomy 13:11), Timothy had a great and difficult task. He had to be absolutely fair and impartial, showing no special favour to the rich, the important or the powerful. He had to remember that all he did at any time was in the sight of God and His angels. We also need to remember that we live and act 'in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels'. Living in that presence we should not want any injustice or insincerity, any failure of love or of truth in our dealings with others (compare 6:13).


Lord, we pray Thee to give special grace to those who have responsibility in the life of Thy church. Guard them in temptation; give them wisdom, love and courage. Help us to be faithful to support those who are over us in spiritual things by our prayers, by our giving, and by our loyalty, for Jesus Christ's sake. AMEN.

Note. On 'elders' see also the notes on 3:1-7, and the following references: Acts 14:23; 15:2-4; 16:4; 21:18; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5: 1-3.

Further Study. 1. Study other New Testament passages, such as Matthew 10:9,10; Luke 10:7; 1 Corinthians 9:3-14; Galatians 6: 6 and 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9, which speak of the duty of Christian people to support their ministers.

2. What importance do the New Testament epistles give to the fact that we live in the presence of God, with Him as Witness of all that we do, and as Judge to whom one day we will have to give account? See 6:13, 14; 2 Timothy 4:1; 2 Corinthians 4:1,2 and 5:10.