Paul has the understanding that character matters not only for all believers, but for the leadership within the church in particular. Paul writes to Timothy in Ephesus that he is to raise up men strong in Christian character for the roles and positions of elder and deacon. To make things clear, he outlines specifically what this character looks like. Paul returns to elders in 1 Timothy 5:17-25:
“The elders who direct the affairs of the church are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages.’ Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others take warning. I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism. Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure. Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine for your stomach and your frequent illness. The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not cannot be hidden.”
This is a fairly straight forward text. Paul is stating that elders within the church are valuable and worthy of honor. This is not due to their position, but their character. Jesus talked about the difference between worldly and godly leaders in Matthew 20:25-28. Let’s bear in mind what Christians believe about scripture; scripture comes from God and is inspired. These are not just Paul’s words, but God’s- which is a bold statement. If, then, these are God’s instructions to the church, then the church needs to follow them in raising up proper leaders. Leaders who have been properly vetted, meeting the stringent qualifications laid out in 1 Timothy 3, are the ones worthy of double honor. Suppose someone has an accusation against elders. How are these to be handled?
A multitude of witnesses is called for, at least two or three. Jesus’ instructions of conflict resolution in Matthew 18:15-20 are to be lived out. First 1-on-1, then with 2-3 witnesses, and ONLY then, before the church. If the charges are proven true, and the elders are guilty, then they should be publicly rebuked. If proven untrue, the party bringing the charge must be rebuked openly so that people to warn others from bringing false charges.
A major point of this blog series is for Christians to consider that scripture is not only TRUE; it is also SUFFICIENT. After Paul lays out these standards for the calling of elders, and then how to deal with accusations against elders, he says the following, which we should read very, very carefully:
“I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.”
The church must follow these instructions faithfully. They must only place men into leadership that meet the qualifications. And, they must only entertain accusations when they meet a certain standard. The church that is hasty in laying on of hands will have an unbiblical leadership. The church that allows anyone to accuse an elder without having them follow biblical guidelines for conflict (as laid out by Jesus and followed by Paul) will be run by tyrants. In either case, the truth will be revealed. This morning, I came upon the following quote on Twitter:
“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence”- John Adams.
Paul closes out chapter 5 in this way, the sin of some men is obvious, the fruit is blatantly bad and goes ahead of them. With other men, their sins “trail behind them.” Only after a long season of lies, deceit and manipulation will the fruit finally come forth.
And, the good fruit of others is oftentimes obvious and hard to cover up. Why? Because the good character that the Holy Spirit is producing cannot be hidden forever.
If we view scripture as enough, it will have value in not only naming elders, but in the way of dealing with charges against them. This is necessary as it protects the church from enemies…both outside and inside.