I Timothy 5:17-21 “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, 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 may 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 favouritism.”
It is the subject of the eldership again! Paul has already dealt with the character of church leaders in chapter 3, and in chapter 4 he instructs Timothy in how to be a good minister of Christ Jesus. And again he returns to the theme, and maybe we find this repetition a little wearying because it is limited to a small group of men, but it is the last time he speaks about it.
Why this virtual obsession with this subject? The answer is obvious, that the leadership of the church will influence the whole direction and tone of the congregation. The preached word of God always has a most important place in the New Testament. Think of the day of Pentecost and the Spirit of God filling Peter and the other disciples. The word is declared, and the New Testament church is born. Or again, how Paul went to Ephesus and began to preach the gospel and the Ephesian church sprang to life. The word comes before the church. The word always has prior place. The church is conceived by the word, continues by the word and will be perfected by the word of God, even as the Saviour prays, “Sanctify them by the truth, thy word is truth” (John 17:17).
Churches begin when a preacher declares the gospel of Jesus Christ to a people who have been made willing and eager to receive it. Will you receive as familiar a statement as this, that churches are established by preaching? Will you receive that without thinking for one moment that “he is just telling us how important he is”? Before God I don’t believe I am boasting in myself. My success has been so small. Let me change the focus and say that the past twenty-five years in Nairobi, Kenya are proof of this. Whoever would have heard of Trinity Baptist Church in that city, where I was speaking last Sunday, apart from Keith Underhill and his preaching? There were once a small group of people who began meeting together on Sundays in Keith’s front room. They started there with a preacher. Sometimes a group’s emphasis is upon a building, and then the group ends up with a building and not much else. Sometimes they meet and sing, and their singing is what they brag about. Those Africans began with preaching, and eventually they had to build a building to hold the crowd, and now there are 200 hearing the word each Sunday morning. Where today do missionaries go and preach the word of God week by week? It is very rare. So many are into “admin” or lecturing. Will you receive this as if you had never heard it before, that it pleases God to use preaching to extend the kingdom of God (Rom. 10:14-15)? We must never lose confidence in Spirit-blessed sermons and the power of the preached Word of God. And we must never devalue the office of the preacher. That is the reason the apostle Paul can’t stop returning to this subject. Notice the points he makes about them:-
1. Elders who Rule Well are Worthy of Double Honour.
What do elders do? Paul tells us that they “direct the affairs of the church” (v.17). In other words it is not the church meeting that does that. There the affairs of the church are discussed, questions are asked and answered, suggestions are made, insights are shared, but the congregation’s affairs are directed by the elders. In other words, elders are not merely figures of affection and respect. They are not like our Queen who has great symbolic authority and tradition but no legislative power. The elders have to take to themselves this responsible calling of directing the affairs of the church, and they answer to God and to the congregation for this.
This passage is the traditional basis for the distinction between ruling elders and teaching elders. Not everyone is persuaded that that is here. Some people think that just one class of elders are being referred to. They translate that word ‘especially’ by the phrase ‘that is.’ So we would read verse 17, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well … that is, those whose work is preaching and teaching…” But in our own congregation the two other elders have never thought that their labours in life were to be preaching and teaching, whereas I do have that conviction, and I don’t believe that I am deluded. The other elders have both had other responsible vocations. But I had a special call from God to labour in the Scriptures. So we do understand that there are two offices here and both ruling elder and teaching elder are called to do it well. Not all elders succeed, but Paul is emphasising that those who toil away in the work year after year – they are worthy of double honour.
The emphasis is upon labouring at being profitable servants of the Master. Preachers are studying the Scriptures constantly. If they do possess a TV set they will be in the word of God ten times longer than they watch television. They are reading books about the Bible. They are ever seeking to get their affections rekindled on things above, and one way is by reading of the mighty works of God in earlier days when he was reviving his work. The preachers’ delight is in the law of the Lord. They are finding texts, passages and books of the Bible to preach to their congregations. They always have too many good things to speak about. They have long given up the notion that they would be able to preach the whole of the Bible to their congregations. There is simply too much, and there is not enough time. They labour at bringing the Scriptures freshly to the minds, hearts and consciences of their congregations, and they are always ready to share their faith with others. I have a friend, Ken Harris who pastors a church in Bristol, and his intention, every day, is to speak to someone about the living God. Recently he sat next to an Iranian on a bus and spoke to him, and then wondered had he known enough about Iran and how best to speak to that man. So he called a Christian who knew the middle east and said, “Was I right to say this and that?” In other words, his speaking to others is not a formula approach of witnessing; it is always demanding and different. True witnessing is always like the first time one did it. So preachers who do their work well are those whole work is in the word.
Of course, what the minister must do we are all to do too, labouring to know the Bible better. During the Third Reich, many young people in Germany were enrolled by force in Hitler’s ‘Arbeitsdienst’ or ‘Labour Force.’ Those who were members of Wilhelm Busch’s church were given by him a Bible, and he told them, “When you have joined your unit, on the very first evening lay your Bible on the table, open it and read it in the sight of everybody. This will be like a bombshell. But the next day, it will be over. If you don’t take your stand right at the start, you’ll never do it.”
Many of them did what Pastor Busch suggested. They put their Bibles on the table the very first day. “What are you reading there?” “The Bible.” If a hand-grenade had exploded in the room, the reaction would not have been more provocative. Men may read a ‘Playboy’ type magazine, but not the Bible!
There was one artless Christian teenager called Paul who never returned from the war. The morning after he had been reading his Bible he discovered that it had been removed from his locker. He looked around the room and the boys burst out laughing. “Did you pinch my Bible?” he asked them. They pretended not to know anything about it, and then someone said, “The sergeant-major’s got it.” Paul was naive in his love for the Lord Jesus, and then he began to realise that it was going to be tough. Wilhelm Busch tells what happens next:-
“When Paul had finished his chores that night he looked for a spot where he could be alone, and he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus! I am alone. I’m only seventeen years old. Please, don’t let me down. Help me to take a stand for you.’ When he had finished praying, he went to the sergeant-major’s office and knocked on the door. ‘Come in!’ The sergeant-major was sitting at his desk, and there on his desk was Paul’s Bible. ‘What do you want?’ ‘Please. Sir,’ replied Paul, ‘give me back my Bible. That’s mine.’ ‘H’m…,’ was the only reply. He picked up the Bible and began leafing through it, ‘So, it’s to you this Bible belongs?’ he remarked. ‘Don’t you know the Bible is a dangerous book?’ ‘Yes sir. I know it is. It’s a dangerous book even when shut away in my locker. It stirs up trouble even there!’ The officer straightened himself up in his chair and said, Sit down a minute.’ Then he blurted out quietly, ‘At one time … when I was younger … I planned to study theology.’ Paul looked at him, ‘Sir, have you denied your faith?’ The sergeant-major was not offended by that question and a deep conversation took place which would never had happened if that Bible had not been read that first night. The sergeant-major, a man about forty, admitted to the simple seventeen-year-old, ‘Actually I am a very unhappy man. But I can’t go back – the price is far too high.’ Paul said quietly, ‘Jesus is well worth all the sacrifices.’ The officer dismissed the youngster with these words, ‘You are a fortunate lad, my boy.’ You are right, Sir,’ said Paul, as he left the office with his Bible tucked underneath his arm. After that incident no one ever again mentioned his reading the Bible” (Wilhelm Busch, “Jesus Our Destiny”, IPS, 1996, p.189). Let no Christian here be ashamed of being known as someone who searches the Scriptures.
Paul tells Timothy that those especially whose entire lives are spent working in preaching and teaching “are worthy of double honour” (v.17). How is a congregation to honour such pastors?
1. Honour him as a gift to you from the Lord Jesus Christ. We have some important verses in Ephesians 4 on this. Paul writes: when Christ “ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men…. And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some pastors and teachers” (v.8 and 11). Men who work hard in preaching and teaching have been appointed by the risen and ascended Lord and given to his church. Think of it. At this moment the Lord in heaven is aware of the needs of his people all over the world. His heart is touched by their feelings of infirmity and so he responds by giving to them ministers of the gospel. The preacher is an expression of the Saviour’s love toward you. He has been given to you by your exalted Lord to strengthen, encourage and educate you. That man, under Christ, is going to bring you ‘unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’! Isn’t that an immense gift! Think of how you value some things in your home because they were given to you by your parents or by your spouse. They have a special place in your affection because of the one who gave them to you. Think of an O.B.E. medal given to you by the Queen personally, how you would honour that. So too Christians must honour preachers who labour in the Bible.
2. Honour him as God’s servant. Consider how Paul’s second letter to Timothy begins with this acknowledgement that he is a servant. After the opening greetings Paul says, “I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience” (II Tim. 1:3). We pastors are like the apostle, we are ‘ministers,’ that is, servants, and first of all we serve God, and he who serves God best will serve his people the best. He obtains his instructions from his Master. Remember when Saul of Tarsus met the risen Christ Jesus on the road to Damascus how his first words were, “Who are you, Lord?” and his next words were “What shall I do, Lord?” His eye was immediately upon this divine Master who had broken into his life. Henceforth he would obey him. Give respect to such a man! Joseph was honoured by the people of Egypt because he was the chief servant of Pharaoh. In other words they reverenced him for his master’s sake. The apostle describes preachers as “ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us” (2 Cor. 5:20). There was a diplomatic incident in Zimbabwe last week when the diplomatic bags of the British ambassador were forcibly opened. To show disrespect towards an ambassador is to dishonour the kingdom he represents. The preacher stands in God’s place when he brings a message from the Word of God.
3. Honour him as a pastor of your souls. Paul tells the Ephesians elders, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). Paul Cook says, that these words give some idea of the work of the ministry. “There is a notion abroad today that a minister should act as a sort of wet-nurse to the community, as though his chief work is to go around with the milk of human kindness to cheer people up. Is this what John the Baptist did? Did he cheer people up? Nor is the minister to be regarded as the church’s ‘teddy bear’ to be treated as a sort of cuddly comfort by everyone. The Christian ministry has been demeaned by these attitudes, and become the object of scorn in the world. The preacher is here to be a pastor of your souls. His greatest pastoral work will be done in the pulpit, because that is where he takes the Word of God and applies it to your condition.” If he is a poor preacher then he cannot be a good pastor, because real preaching is the wise and sensitive application of the Word of God to all the members of the congregation.
4. Honour him by supporting him financially. “For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages’ (v.19). Preachers are to be properly paid. When threshing was done in the East, the sheaves of corn were laid on the threshing floor. The oxen walked around and around crushing the grain, sometime tethered to a post in the middle and they were goaded with sharp sticks into trampling on the corn, separating the ears from the stalks. They were never muzzled. That was too cruel, to smell the odour of broken corn and not to be allowed to eat as they worked.
Then notice how Paul also quotes the words of the Lord Jesus from Luke 10:7, “The labourer is worthy of his hire.” In the first instance Paul quotes from the book of Deuteronomy the words of Jehovah and now he quotes Christ’s words, but he uses this great phrase for both quotations, “For the Scripture says.” Whether it is Old Testament or whether they are the words of the Lord Jesus they are equally inspired and authoritative and written for us New Covenant Christians to obey.
The ministry is a full-time job, and the preacher is to be supported by other believers. Just ten working Christians who tithe and one full-time worker is able to be supported. At this present time in Britain Caesar is taking in taxes 40% of what we earn. Surely he cannot take much more or every incentive to business will go? If we don’t pay those taxes he will take away our liberty. God only asks for one tenth, and that is to support the spread of his kingdom. Whenever possible preachers should give themselves wholly to their callings. The nature of true preaching requires it. The stress of doing one job competently in today’s pressurised workplaces demands that that is enough.
Let me tell you one of Paul Cook’s stories of a mythical friend of his named John Brown. “John Brown went to stay with a friend for a week’s holiday. During the holiday he developed a severe toothache. His friend made arrangements for him to see a dentist. What John Brown could not understand was why his appointment was at eight in the evening, and why he was driven out of the town into the country to keep the appointment. However, he arrived at a large house and was shown into a homely sort of living-room; and then he was ushered into a smaller room which appeared to be a surgery. He sat in a slightly dilapidated dental chair and while the bronzed-faced dentist in the white coat was busy arranging his instruments, John Brown ventured to ask him a question, ‘Excuse my asking, but I cannot quite understand why my appointment is so late in the evening.’ ‘Oh, I don’t do this full time, you know,’ the man in the white coat replied. John Brown’s jaw fell open with an involuntary response. ‘But surely, you have had proper training?’ enquired John Brown nervously. ‘Oh, no!’ replied the white-coated man, ‘I think college training ruins a man. My regular job is a farmer, and I just do a bit of dentistry in my spare time. I believe in giving it straight from the shoulder, if you know what I mean.’ The last I heard of John Brown was that he was seen running across ploughed fields calling for help.
“We readily sympathise with poor John Brown. But how is it that when some Christians think of preaching they do not consider that this supremely important task requires a man’s best hours and energies? Surely, preaching ought never to be a sideline in a man’s life? He needs to be wholly given to it. There are times when the circumstances of a situation may involve the preacher in a little ‘tent-making’, but that is never ideal” (Paul Cook, “Preaching – a Divine Calling,” Banner of Truth magazine, Issue 299-300, August-September 1988, p.41).
So the preacher is worthy of being freed from other work to give himself to this labour, and you honour him by supporting him in this, however you do it. Pastor Claude was the first Protestant missionary to Alaska. He was an Indian lumberjack in the last century and he would speak the word and sing the praises of Jesus Christ to his fellow Indians, so that even the medicine men would weep, cowed by the felt presence of God’s Holy Spirit. His companions said to him, “Claude, it is too bad for you to spend so much time chopping wood. You ought to tell the people these things all the time.” “How could I survive?” Claude said. “We will chop harder and get enough for you to live on.” So they did and Claude visited all the Indian communities. Soon he had sixty scholars and a congregation of between four and five hundred. He lived on salmon. Salmon for his breakfast, salmon for his dinner, and supper for his supper every day of the year – a healthy if monotonous diet. Many were turned from their idols to serve the living God.
When Spurgeon was 16 years of age he was an assistant teacher in a school near Cambridge, and a country church at Waterbeach called him to become pastor. He soon gave up teaching and was supported by the church by the sum of 45 Pounds a year. But his rent for two rooms was 22 Pounds. The people knew this and loved him and they had produce. There wasn’t a pig killed of which he was not give a joint. Others would bake for him, and share their garden produce with him. God had his ravens who brought him food. This resulted in Spurgeon himself becoming the most generous of pastors.
You cannot pay a good minister of Jesus Christ too much because he will give it back to the church. He will donate to the church more than anyone else. Freely he has received and freely he will give. And as you grow in grace you too will give to the spread of the kingdom of God. That will be a very telling barometer of your spiritual maturity, how much your bank account is affected by your love for the gospel. There was a widow who put in the offering her two mites. It was all she had, and she gave it to the work of the Lord, and Jesus Christ noticed it and commended her to the whole church as an example.
There was a well known minister in the 19th century called Samuel Wilberforce who resisted the rise of evolutionism. He was in fact killed falling from his horse. This man was once speaking to a large group of working men and he began by saying to them, “I may claim to be a working man myself for I work as hard as any present.” Someone shouted from the congregation, “But what about the pay?” There was a burst of laughter and Wilberforce joined in, and then he said, when things grew quiet, “My friend asks about the pay. I will tell you at once. You see, I am paid the same whether I work or not.” Then there was a pause, and that intelligent audience applauded him. They could see the point. He laboured because he loved the work he was doing. He did not work for the amount of salary he was getting, or for bonuses, or from greed, but for the work’s sake. Honour such men! They are worthy of double honour.
2. Elders must not be ruined by Unsubstantiated Charges.
“Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses” (v.19). An accusation must be substantiated by several people. In Old Testament times two or three witnesses were required to sustain a charge and secure a conviction, especially in regard to a capital charge, and it is the same in the New Testament. Paul tells the Corinthians, “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (2 Cors. 13:1). Before you even entertain an accusation there must be more than one complaint. If there are half a dozen against one man that is very different. But something between one man and one woman totally contradicting one another’s accounts, with no witnesses, then the case is often not proved.
It is sometimes very difficult to be restrained in these things. For example, there is a marriage breakdown with one of the church leaders in a congregation. The wife says some things about her husband but he denies them and in turn says other things quite contrary. Will you pick sides? Dare you do that? Were you in that home? Were you a witness to those things? No. It might be terribly frustrating for you to be neutral but there are no witnesses. You want the elders to get stuck in and say something, and then you can pick on the counselling elder and divide around him. Pity that poor elder who has been delegated to help! Are there two or three witnesses to that bad marriage? If not don’t entertain those accusations. Don’t encourage the woman to make those fearful statements about her husband, or the husband about his wife. Don’t give them a ready ear. Don’t agitate for separation. There are no witnesses. The power in the human heart to deceive is “above all things.” It may be all lies, and you are not helping by entertaining falsehood.
Those who lead the church are vulnerable to false accusations. John Calvin said, ‘None are more exposed to slander and insults than godly teachers.’ That is how the enemies of the gospel often take vengeance on its servants. A smear campaign can completely ruin a leader’s ministry. Let me tell you of the most famous attempt to do this in the life of John Bunyan. There was a certain woman called Agnes Beaumont who lived with her father John at Edworth on the Bedfordshire Hertfordshire border. Both father and daughter had been helped by the preaching of John Bunyan but as the years went by a neighbour had turned the father against Bunyan. That made it difficult for Agnes who had joined one of the branches of the Bedford Church. One Friday in February 1674 she wanted to go a meeting there and her father reluctantly allowed her to go with a man called John Wilson, but he failed to turn up. She was very disappointed and as she was about to go home Bunyan himself turned up on his horse. Her sister’s brother asked Bunyan if he would give her a ride behind him on his horse taking her to the meeting. But Bunyan knew how her father disliked him and thought it was unwise and he refused. But Agnes pleaded with him, and wept, and told him she had had permission to attend, and said she would walk with twelve miles if she did not have a lift. So Bunyan agreed and the two horses carrying the four people went to the services. John Beaumont the father saw this and was very angry. Bunyan brought her home when the meetings were over.
John Beaumont would not let her in, shouting at her from the window that she could only live in the house if she made a complete break with the dissenters. She spent the night in the barn and the next day cast herself on his mercy and she went to live with her sister for a few days until her father relented. She was able to live at home again, but the following week he grew ill had a seizure and died. Then the tongues began to wag. A scandalous account of her relationship with Bunyan was spread by someone who saw Bunyan going to church with her riding behind him. Then people said that it was when her father found this out that the shock killed him. The funeral was put off and an inquiry demanded. The inquiry completely exonerated her and Bunyan. Agnes Beaumont wrote a famous narrative about the whole incident saying, “I did not know how far God might suffer this man and the Devil to go. It also troubled me to think that in case I suffered, another as innocent as myself must suffer too. But the Lord knew our innocency in this affair, both in thought, and word, and deed.”
John Bunyan himself added a paragraph to the sixth edition of his autobiography “Grace Abounding” fourteen years later writing these words, “I bind these lies and slanders to me as an ornament; it belongs to my Christian profession to be vilified, slandered, reproached, and reviled; and since all this is nothing else, as my God and my conscience do bear me witness. I rejoice in reproaches for Christ’s sake.” So Bunyan bore the cross bravely and followed his Saviour who said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11:12).
Many men have been slandered and have stood before a court of the church, the evidence has been heard, and they have been shown to be the victims of lies. They have gone on to continue an ordinary useful ministry. So do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.
3. Elders who Continue in Sin should be Rebuked before All.
“Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning” (v.20). We were in Kenya last week and one of the reasons for going was to take part in a meeting with a church near Lake Victoria. The pastor had been sent 12,000 Pounds by a church in Suffolk, and he had stolen the lot and bought land, livestock and a grinding mill with the money. We called a church meeting but he, his wife and mother did not turn up. The facts, which had been presented to the police and District Officer, were presented to the church. His refusal to repent or return the money to the church were outlined and in his absence he was rebuked publicly. He was put out of the fellowship of the church and the congregation were told that he was not to be treated as a brother until he had repented and made restoration for what he had done. The Scripture requiring that they act like that is I Corinthians 5:11, “I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is … a swindler. With such a person do not even eat ” There was complete unity in the meeting and fervent prayer was made for this man.
Now that is what Paul is speaking about in our text. He is not talking of a secret sin but of those who sin publicly, who are then to be convicted before all. It is in the public domain, and everyone is buzzing with what has happened. It is not to be brushed under the carpet. You are not to explain his absence from the pulpit by saying, “Ah, the pastor has had a breakdown.” That is compounding the wickedness. Christians everywhere have heard the rumours, and yet this church itself is actively making a smokescreen to hide its shame from the world. Christians want to know what is true and what is a lie? Has this man been unjustly treated or not? Paul tells us clearly that “those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning” (v.20).
This is not for a private sin, but for a public sin. Of course there are degrees of seriousness to public sin. In Kenya one young man took fifty Pounds set apart for the roofing of the church toilet, and other students docked their expenses adding small amounts to the cost of their bus tickets. Those are lesser sins than stealing 12,000 Pounds, though the same commandment has been broken. “Thou shalt not steal.” Not every sin has to be rebuked publicly.
Also it has to be decided whether the sin were the result of a momentary moral lapse or whether it were part of a habitual, cunning and deceptive sin that reflects a seriously flawed character. The rebuke will also vary. You remember how the Lord Christ rebuked the apostle Peter for denying him three times, once with cursing. He did it very simply, gently and wisely by asking him three times, “Do you love me?” In other words, he challenged his sincerity in that most elementary part of Christian living – whether Peter had any love at all for Jesus Christ? Very humbling. Imagine a Christian man being asked publicly, “Do you actually love your wife?” So you can see there’s a breadth and a compassion in this rebuking that Paul mentions.
Think again of the church at Corinth where there was sexual immorality, “of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife” (I Cor.5:1). What were they to do? “When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord” (I Cor.5:4&5). In this case the unrepentant man is considered no longer under the care and discipline of the church. Instead, he is ‘handed over’ to Satan, outside the protection and structures and benefits of Christ’s church. The suggestion is that Satan may now deal with him in ways he could not have when he was still protected by membership in the body of Christ. He would suffer affliction, and be brought low and this could be the last chance he had of turning in repentance to a welcoming Saviour.
These may not be themes you want to hear about in church on a Sunday. They may not be themes I want to preach about but I believe that we are all committed to play our part in recovering the lost purity of the church. I believe that the Lord is saying to thousands of congregations in Europe, “I advise you to buy from me gold refined by the fire, that you may become rich, and white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and eyelash to anoint your eyes, that you may see” (Rev. 3:18). Too many congregations are, in the sight of the Sovereign Christ, much like the church in ancient Laodicea, “Wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked …” (Rev. 3:17). Our future spiritual reviving may well be related to how we answer this question of pastoral purity and integrity. So Paul tells Timothy that church leaders who continue sinning publicly should be rebuked publicly, in part, as a warning to others.
You understand the presuppositions of all this? That church leaders should be holy men; men of God; men taught by God; men consecrated to God, daily surrendering their time and talents to God’s service; single-minded men; men of a deep tone of experiential and devotional character; men of self-denial; men prominently marked by love for the Saviour and the souls of sinners; men of blameless consistency of conduct.
4. Elders should be Impartial in the Dealings with People.
“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 favouritism” (v.21). Now that is the end of any grumbling of why we should pay attention to these obscure verses in one of the Pastoral Epistles. The apostle of the Son of God, filled with the Holy Spirit, charges us, as in the sight of God, to take them desperately seriously, and not be bought off by the frowns of any prominent church members (whose own family members may have fallen into public sin) from speaking of these things. “Do nothing out of favouritism,” he says. “We want to hear about Jesus!” Yes, I want to hear about the Lord Christ too, but this is the Lord Christ’s church and he charges us in these very words to heed these instructions, and if we truly love him we will keep his commandments.
What does the apostle say? “Keep these instructions without partiality … Do nothing out of favouritism.” Think of Joseph, and how the consequences of his being the favourite of his father resulted in bad feelings and lifelong rivalries in that family. Jacob indulged Joseph: he let him get away with things he never excused in his other sons. He laughed at his tantrums and pretended not to hear if he used bad language. Joseph discovered that he could get away with things that his brothers couldn’t get away with. Although the Bible does not explicitly say that, there must have been intense anger and frustration in them for them to almost murder him and then sell him into slavery. They hated him!
Think of the effect on children in school who have been isolated from others to become ‘teacher’s pets.’ It is no fault of theirs. A teacher has unwisely lavished special attention on them, and it is noticed by other children. There is a sense of injustice in the class. It happens in a congregation, if a pastor spends an inordinate amount of time with a few members, or if he confides in them, or is too familiar with them. It is especially galling to other Christians if these people are the wealthiest members. James warns us, “if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law” (James 2:9).
So the apostle is speaking about church leaders who behave in a sub-Christian way. We may not say, “But they have served the church for so many years that we will ignore this wickedness.” That is showing partiality. Of course you take into consideration those years of service, and maybe it is just one single fall, and there is great repentance. All such factors must be dealt with wisely.
There are ministers who have been known to have been more harsh on their own circle of family and friends in order not to considered having any favourites. I have heard of a minister who made his daughter get up in a church meeting and confess to the members that she was pregnant out of marriage. There is no need of that. A simple statement, read out by the pastor, is all that is needed. An acknowledgement that she and her boyfriend have done wrong and an expression of sorrow. You don’t make it tougher for your own family because you are sharing in their sense of shame. Then you are guilty of this very offence of being partial.
There was once an occasion when James and John and their mother came to the Lord Jesus and asked him for a special favour. “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom” (Matt. 20:20ff). “Show a little favouritism. Pass over Peter and all the others and give my two sons the top jobs in the kingdom of God.” She did not know what she was asking. Who will enter the kingdom of God? Those who do the will of the Father in heaven.
We have been considering four great statements about church leaders, and the congregation is the expression of the kingdom of heaven on earth. Those who most carefully do what the word of God demands of us here on earth are those who shall receive most honour in heaven. Jesus is well worth all the sacrifices.
12 March 2000 Geoff Thomas