Paul to Timothy to Us
“The elders of the church who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.”
1 Tim. 5:17
Sometimes, the days of the Scriptures seem ‘long ago and far away.’ At other times, they are more current than today’s news. Several passages have been studied this week by many in our church—for that I’m most grateful—and some of you have asked me to comment on those verses. If you’ve not reviewed, stop everything and read these two passages below for yourself. These inspired Pauline instructions to his understudy apply far beyond Timothy’s century.
I wish to encourage you by highlighting below a few themes from two passages that were mentioned in last week’s congregational mailout about honoring our other pastors. I recommend that you review that mailout, which contains your Session’s considered advice and recommendation.
First from 1 Tim. 4:11-14, three things bear highlighting: Negative commands, Positive commands, and Authority.
Negative Commands. Paul instructs young Timothy, to avoid two things. In v. 12, he says not to permit a person to “look down upon” (or think negatively about) a young minister. If one is ordained (see “Authority” below), his character and giftedness should be received with thanks and attentiveness to the Word. The other negative command is in v. 14: “Do not neglect your gift.” In Scripture, God calls, gifts, and ordains some younger than us to be his ambassadors for Christ in the church.
Positive Commands. Still, there is much more positive than negative that is enjoined in this passage. Timothy and others are to “command and teach” what has been revealed (v. 11). Also, instead of shrinking back because of criticisms of youth, Timothy and other young pastors are to “set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.” (12b) What a gift to the church when God raises up servants who exemplify such virtues and serve so well. Moreover, pastors are to devote themselves to the public “reading of Scripture, to preaching and teaching.” Such gifts and works the Lord gives to his church. And we are blessed!
Authority. The pastoral office, however, should not be assumed lightly nor is it for every believer. Timothy is given these commands because he has been examined and ordained by a presbytery—“when the body of elders laid their hands on you.” True, some churches allow self-called and self-appointed leaders. But God builds in safeguards for churches that hope to last. That is why each of your pastors have been trained for years, examined by others outside of our own church, required to pass written and oral exams, etc.—all before one is ordained by the presbytery with the laying on of hands. To such, God gives calling and authority to serve him.
And these teachings are why one chapter later, 1 Tim. 5:17 instructs that “especially those whose work is preaching and teaching” should also be directing the affairs of the church and not be denied due authority or honor to use their gifts—once approved by ordination and well-known to the church—to serve to their fullest, as a full minister of Christ and under his headship. The “especially” phrase (as earlier also in 1 Tim. 4:10, 5:8) defines particularly which elders are in view.
Lest anyone think the above is isolated, later Paul also writes: “Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you . . . Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.” (1 Thess. 5:12-13)
How is a congregation to honor such teaching elders? Honor and pray for him as an overseer of souls, the caretaker of hearts, worthy of support (unless proven wicked), an expression of the Savior’s love toward us.
These things, written ‘long ago and far away’ are clearly revealed in Scripture and for more than Timothy—they are for us. God gives us these good patterns for his church and for his church to be built even more strongly.
Thank you sincerely for allowing me and other pastors to serve you in this calling.