We are in part two of our lesson called Be Honorable. The first half of 1 Timothy 5 teaches us about how to act honorably toward each other and toward widows. God cares about how we treat each other and he really cares about how we treat the vulnerable and those in need of help. The rest of chapter 5 continues to call for Christians to act honorably. There are three relationships that Paul is going to teach about in regards to how we are to act honorably. Paul is going to talk about how we act with our elders (5:17-22), how we act toward false disciples (5:23-25), and how we act with our employers (6:1-2). So let us consider 1 Timothy 5:17-6:2 and learn about how to act honorable as God desires in these various life areas.
Honoring Elders (5:17-23)
This is an important section regarding the treatment of elders. There is not much information in the scriptures regarding the interaction between the leaders of the church and the flock. We have scriptures about how the shepherds are to lead (1 Peter 5:1-4). We have scriptures on how the flock is to listen to their leaders.
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17 ESV)
But this is the longest text we have about the interaction with the church and its leaders. The first picture of honor to the elders is that those who are leading well should be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who preach and teach (5:17). We learn from this that the elders are worthy of being financially paid for the work that they do in leading and caring for the flock. Elders should receive our honor and respect as well as be paid for their work. In my life I have never seen elders financially compensated for their work. I think this says a lot for the heart of the men that I have seen function as elders in their various churches. They truly do the work for the love of the people. But we should not allow what we have typically seen to think this is the rule of the scriptures. This text shows that elders should receive financial compensation for their work. The proof is in verse 18. The one who labors deserves wages for that work. Even the animal who works is to eat while doing the work. We should never have the attitude that those who labor for us should not be paid. I have seen this attitude. We should desire to be generous toward those who do the work.
Paul further adds that this is especially true for the elders who also labor in preaching and teaching. I think this gives us a very important window into the life of the church in the first century. This text shows that not all the elders of a church are also laboring in preaching and teaching. Paul’s statement reveals that some elders may be also preaching and teaching. But the elders do not have to be the place where the preaching and teaching comes from. Therefore, you can also have someone who is not an elder who is labor in preaching and teaching in the church. This verse is critical because it shows that we can have elders who are also laboring in preaching and teaching. Some have argued against this because they see “too much power” in one person. If we have a concern that someone who preaches and is also an elder has “too much power,” then that person should not be an elder and not be a preacher either. Not only do we see that an elder can also be the one preaching and teaching, but we can have elders who are not primarily preaching and teaching. Further, we can have one who is preaching and teaching who is not an elder. This is a really important verse that shows what is possible in the church’s leadership structure.
Second, do not listen to charges against an elder unless there are at least two or three witnesses (5:19). One person’s complaint is not to be listened to or given weight. This is important because the leaders need to be protected from sour grapes and illegitimate complaints. If there is not another person who can validate the sinful complaint that is being charged, then that charge is to be discarded.
But this does not mean that elders are above being approached or charged with sin (5:20). Those who are persisting in sin are to be confronted by multiple witnesses, not one person. This passage shows that elders are not given a right to sin without confrontation. Just as with all Christians, if an elder persists in sin, then this must be brought to the whole church. Persistent sin always goes before the church for the saving of souls. Persistent sin cannot be ignored.
Finally, in regards to the elders, Paul gives a couple of reminders. In verse 21 we are reminded that we are to do this without prejudging or partiality. This is not about favoritism. We do not charge people with sin because we do not like them. We do not avoid charging with sin because we do like them. Do all things without bias, partiality, favoritism, or prejudging. Further, this is true when it comes appointing elders (5:22). Do not be hasty in selecting them. We see here a warning to Timothy about making sure that the men who are selected to be elders are qualified for the work. Do not show favoritism or partiality. Do not quickly choose a man to be an elder. We want to know the people we are entrusting into the leadership so that the flock is properly cared for and not hurt under their care.
Honorable Living (5:22-25)
Second, Paul addresses the need to be honorable in our daily choices and actions. Paul says that we need to live pure and not take part in the sins of others. This requires our careful consideration. Notice in verse 24 that Paul states that there are the sins of some that are clear and obvious. But there are the sins of others that only appear later. They cover up the sins they are committing. But they eventually come to be seen by others. Good works are also eventually seen (5:25).
Here is the point: the good works you do will not be hidden forever if you are doing them. Eventually people know what you are doing. In the same way, your sins will not be hidden forever either. Eventually people know what you are doing. Sometimes those sins are obvious and observed immediately. Sometimes those sins take time to be seen but the fruit is inevitable. The choices we make in life will be seen eventually. Who you are can only be concealed for so long. Your sins will come to light immediately or later. Your good works will come to light immediately or later. So live honorably and in purity so that it is good works that you reveal and not wickedness.
Before we leave this section, does verse 23 initially seem out of place? Why is Paul saying this to Timothy at this point in the text? I believe the reason that Paul would speak about the need to take some wine for his ailments at this point in the context of purity and sin is that Timothy is showing a concern for living honorably. Timothy wants to live a pure life and seems to have been avoiding alcohol. But Paul tells him that he needs to take a little wine for his stomach and for his frequent ailments. His holiness is not bound by complete abstinence from alcohol. Those who are sinning will be clearly seen at some point. Those who are living in purity will be seen at some point. His desire to avoid the sin of drunkenness did not need to go to this extreme of never touching alcohol. Remember that Paul taught in chapter 4 that God made everything and it is to be received with thanksgiving. The problem is not what it is but how we use it. Timothy would not be misusing alcohol as he needs it for his ailments.
Honorable Work (6:1-2)
Slaves were to regard those own masters as worthy of honor. Notice that Paul does not ask if those who have authority over you are worthy of honor. As Christians, we are to regard those who have authority over us with honor. Why is this important? Paul says so that the name of God and the teaching is not slandered (6:1). What we do in life must always show that we are a Christian. Christians are not about overthrowing systems but humbling submitting to authorities so that God and his teachings are not slandered. Christians dishonor God when they do not simply strive to live a quiet and peaceful life. This is a consistent teaching in the scriptures: honor those who have authority over you, whatever that authority is. We are told to honor our governing authorities (1 Peter 2:17). We are told to honor those who are masters over us in 6:1.
So we must consider our perspective on the work that we do to earn a living. How do we look at the one who is in charge over us? Do we act like a Christian? Do we show honor and respect? Do we do what we are told? We live in a culture that is all about saying that no one can tell us what to do and rebelling against people and systems. We need to watch that we do not accept this kind of thinking. God tells us that we submit and honor all people, even those over us, and even those in a system that we do not like or disagree with. It should be weighty to us that Paul tells the slaves of the first century, who are in a system that is unfair and not godly, to still show honor. This is what Christians do.
Finally, do not take advantage of other Christians (6:2). If you are working for another Christian, then your service should be even greater because you know that they also are trying to do good works for the Lord. How sad it can be that Christians will try to take advantage of other Christians because they know that they will be humble and godly. We should never take advantage of the good will and kindness that is offered to us as Christians. Do what is right and do what is honorable toward each other to an even greater degree because we are fellow believers in the Lord.
So what is the big take away that we need to hear from this teaching by the apostle Paul? Paul message is obviously that as Christians we need to be honorable is what we say and do. But it is not enough for us to leave the point here. What we see Paul doing is not simply telling us to be honorable in how we talk to each other, be honorable to widows, be honorable to the elders, and be honorable to your masters. Rather, Paul tells us to think about how we will specifically do this. Paul goes to great lengths to help us consider that being honorable requires paying attention to the details.
Being honorable does not happen by accident. We cannot live as a Christian by accident. We need to be mentally ready to live an honorable life and take specific steps so that it happens. Take yourself through your day and consider in what ways you can show Christian honor to the people in your life circle. What will you do to show honor to each other after we say amen this morning? What will you do to show honor to people while you drive home? What will you do to show honor to your family while in the car? What will you do to show honor to your family when you are home? What will you do to show honor to your co-workers tomorrow? What will you do to show honor to your employer? What will you do to show honor to those who work for you? Paul is teaching us to be far more aware of our need to live honorable lives which requires living honorable with intention. If we are not actively thinking about living honorable, then it will not happen. Further, as Paul warns, we must act in a way so that the name of God and the teaching are not slandered and discredited (6:1). Good works are obvious, and those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden (5:25). Let people see our good works as we live to be honorable in all that we do.