"Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning. I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality. Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin."(1 Timothy 5:19-22)Those who "stand in front" are often open to criticism, jealously, and envy. Some from selfish admission, others from supposed slights and unrequited "needs", may slander and falsely accuse the elders for things they are innocent of. Having been an elder many times, I can tell you first hand that there is no shortage of people willing and ready to take you to task for something they believe you have done or are responsible for. However, Paul reminds Timothy that those who are our elders and who have shown with their lives the wisdom that comes with age and the piety and morality that comes from a life spent in pursuit of God, these have earned our honor and the right to be granted the benefit of the doubt. Just because someone is "up in arms" over something they say an elder has done or said, it is no reason to get too worked up over it. An elder should not stand accused unless the accusation is corroborated by more than one witness.
However, that being said, when those who "stand in front" sin, they should be similarly "rebuked in front." Those who has such public lives should be rebuked publicly so that all can see the dangers of sin and the risk they bring upon themselves when they allow sin into their lives. There is a curious command of God regarding the cleansing of the Aaron and his sons. "Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the doorway of the tent of meeting and wash them with water." (Exodus 40:12) Aaron and his sons were to be washed in the presence of all. When elders sin, their washing and cleansing must too be public, not only for their benefit but for the benefit of all.
Our standards and convictions must be uniform, not excusing some while condemning others. Paul knew this and warned Timothy about showing partiality. Sin was sin and had to be dealt with as such, even if it was an elder who sinned. The words Paul uses here can imply both prejudice and preference. In our relationships with others we must not yield to prejudice or preference but rather see each one as individually equal before God. People may have differing levels of authority and different functions within the church, but they are all God's children and aught rightly to be treated fairly as such.
Finally, Paul gives Timothy, what I believe are, three separate commands, the word "thereby" not appearing in the Greek. First, he cautions Timothy from laying hands on people before he has a chance to gauge their heart. I was a member of a church pant where we did this very thing to our own harm. Gifted people were quickly identified and placed into positions of ministry. However, later on, it was these very same people who turned on the lead pastor and split the church. Giftedness is fine, but character is better. Better to get to know someone before you promote them to ministry and place them "in front." Secondly, Paul warns Timothy not to share in other's sin. Sometimes there is a tension among leaders, wanting to remain pure and wanting to be accepted. However, Paul reminds us, "Bad company corrupts good morals." (1 Corinthians 15:33) The company we keep is important, not only for us but also for the people we lead. Finally, Paul simply says to "keep yourself pure." Elders can becomes so focused on task that they can forget to take time to attend to their own souls. The quality of our souls are more important than the quantity of our work. King Solomon reminds us, "Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life." (Proverbs 4:23) How can we help others if we fail to care for and guard our own hearts?