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The beauty of God’s order for Christian life and community shines in faithful care for church leadership. In 1 Timothy, the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy on how the church should see its ordained elders: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17). Simply holding the office of elder is not a reason to be regarded with honor, but elders who serve faithfully, and particularly those who minister the Word, are “worthy of double honor” in the church.

Giving “double honor” means honoring faithful elders in their service and honoring them through financial provision, as becomes evident in the next verse: “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages’ ” (1 Tim. 5:18). John Calvin reflects that if it is cruel for an owner to fail to provide for a working animal, how much more intolerable is failing to pay pastors adequately? The Apostle reaffirms this in his other epistles: “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches” (Gal. 6:6). When we think of all the blessing we receive through faithful ministry, how can it not be our joy to provide generously for those caring for us?

Another aspect of care for elders is care when criticisms and allegations are made against them: “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses” (1 Tim. 5:19). Faithful gospel ministry will at times result in hostility. Faithful elders are to be protected against slander, but there may also be accurate charges against an elder. The biblical pattern of requiring “two or three witnesses” (which can include people and other evidence) stands in unity with both Old Testament teaching (see Deut. 17:6) and Christ’s teaching in the Gospels (see Matt. 18:16).

Sadly, evil men sometimes take advantage of what is intended to protect the innocent to try to minimize or avoid consequences. Wrongs can be compounded through failures of justice. The church, in holding its elders accountable, is to do so with loving and determined faithfulness.

The fact that elders are accountable in life and doctrine is made plain by Paul: “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all” (1 Tim. 5:20). Faithful care of elders not only warns sinners, but it lovingly protects church and community. Paul reminds Timothy that an aspect of faithful discipline is “so that the rest may stand in fear” (v. 20). Trembling at the consequences of sin is healthy. Our high calling to honor elders through care, protection, and accountability is made plain by Paul’s concluding charge to Timothy in verse 21: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality” (1 Tim. 5:21). Following Christ’s call by the Apostle honors God as it honors faithful ministry, and it brings beauty and blessing to the whole body of His church.

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From the July 2022 Issue
Jul 2022 Issue