Sunday, May 18, 2014

Worthy of double honor - 1st Timothy 5:17-18

"The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing," and "The laborer is worthy of his wages." (1 Timothy 5:17-18)
One of Timothy's primary goals, and part of the reason he was left behind in Ephesus, was the appointing of elders over the church that was there. Paul reminds Timothy, and through him the church, that those who "rule well" as elders are worthy of "double honor." The word Paul uses for "rule" does not necessarily imply a governmental position but can also mean to preside over or to lead. It simply means to "stand in front." Often times we reinterpret what the Holy Spirit mean into our own culture and experiential history. For some, used to a business environment, "rule well" might be interpreted as "manage well". For those who are used to authoritarian leaders, "rule well" might me takes as "govern and control well." However, for those from a more tribal and familial background, they would understand this to mean to "preside over with wisdom" and to "lead others by example". I believe this is more of what the Holy Spirit meant than to govern or to manage.

Also, the "well" in "rule well" has more to do with the quality than quantity. It is not how much a person has done that makes them worthy of honor, but rather by what character and morality they do what they have done. One 'rules well", not when he has done lots of stuff, but when he does it out of a soul that has been conformed to Christ; he does well when he does it from a godly and moral character that has been produced by the grace of God from within him. Better to do less yet do it from a pure heart than to do great things from a heart that is still full of conceit and selfish ambition.

Paul also highlights those who "work hard" at preaching and teaching. The Greek text speaks of those who "labor over the word" with the implication of continuous effort, even fighting fatigue in the pursuit of their task. Then, as now, there is a great need for teaches in the church; for those who not only teach from their experiences and ideas, but for those who will teach the Word of God; explaining and expounding on the message of Christ; what it means and what it means to us. Those who tirelessly labor to understand and teach God's Word to us are worthy of our honor and love. There are many things we can do without, but Jesus said of His word, "the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life." (John 6:63) Worthy are those who labor to bring forth the "spirit and life" that is from Christ.

The "double honor" Paul refers to may include financial reward for their service, but can also refer to honor in other forms. However, while financial gain is not precluded, I have never found any direct evidence from the scriptures of early writings of the church that elders were ever paid, or in "full time ministry," as is often the custom today. Paul referred to this scripture of the Ox in his first letter to the Corinthian church saying that God made this command for our sake, "because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops." (1 Corinthians 9:10) However, here the crop is not wheat or some other grain, put people. Those who serve as elders do so in hopes of sharing in the crop, a crop of people who love the Lord and love each other. They serve in hope of sharing in that brotherly love, kindness, and care that extends between those who first love the Lord. At times, this care may include helping those in financial need and, in such cases, those who have served us well are worthy of "double honor," double love and care, from us. Just as we would be mindful of the needs of those around us, so should we be doubly mindful of the needs of those who labor to serve us in the Lord.

David Robison

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