Disciplining Leaders

By Mike Mazzalongo Verse: I Timothy 5:17-25 Posted: Wed. Dec 12th 2018
In this section, Paul instructs Timothy concerning the way he should deal with church leaders who cause trouble.

We are in a section of Paul's letter to Timothy were the Apostle is talking about various issues of concern to the church. In our last lesson we discussed the instructions Paul gave for the care of widows in the church. The church was not sure which ones should be helped and Paul outlined some basic guidelines for the care of those Christian women who were truly in need.

In the next section, Paul will instruct Timothy concerning the way one should deal with leaders who cause trouble. There was trouble in the church where Timothy preached and apparently some of it was caused by those who were, or wanted to be, in leadership.

The potential for damage to the church is great when the division or the trouble is caused by those in leadership roles. Paul cautions Timothy about how to deal with this situation.

Concerning Elders

Verses 17 to 25 deal with three subjects:

1. Honoring Elders

17The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. 18For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing," and "The laborer is worthy of his wages."
- I Timothy 5:17-18

Paul describes three areas of Biblical elders' work: ruling (leadership), preaching (proclaiming the Word) and teaching (instruction and application of the Word in Christian life). Leaders in the church are to be busy and absorbed in these duties. This is fairly straightforward, the problem lies in understanding the next verse.

Paul says that those who do these things well, and make a great effort at these things, are worthy of "double honor." There are a lot of opinions as to what "double honor" refers to:

  • Double pay
  • Honor plus pay
  • Twice the amount 60 year old widows received
  • Two kinds of honor: one for age and one for the role of elder.

There is nothing wrong with an elder who devotes his entire effort to the church in teaching and ministry receiving a salary from the church. I do not believer, however, that "double honor" means that he should receive double the salary of ministers or others. Paul says "double honor" in relationship to the service they give and then provides two examples to illustrate his point.

  • The ox receives something back from the grain it is threshing, and that is some food from the grain as it works.
  • The worker receives something back from his work: the pay agreed upon for his effort.

The elder receives something back from those he leads and teaches: honor for his role as elder in the church, extra honor (double) for his extra effort and ability in preaching and teaching. This extra honor is seen in the next section where Paul will show Timothy the care taken in dealing with elders accused or guilty of sin.

2. Correcting Elders

19Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. 20Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning. 21I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality.
- I Timothy 5:19-21

Accusations against elders need to be brought up by a minimum of two witnesses, and three would make a strong case. The idea is that no charge can be brought forward unless there are two or three witnesses that do so. This protects church leaders from baseless accusation, gossip, jealousy.

If there are not al least two or three witnesses at hand to prove the accusation, it cannot even be made. We see ruined reputations of people simply accused of something. This protects church leaders from this. On the other hand, if the witnesses have a case, then this protection cannot be given to the leader.

  • Those elders guilty of continuing sin need to be rebuked by the evangelist before the other elders so that they will be warned not to behave badly.
  • Elders guilty of serious sin (fornication, heresy, etc.) need to be removed

These are difficult instructions and Timothy needs to make sure that he acts fairly in every situation.

  • It is easy to confront a person that you may have issues with or struggle with over control or power.
  • Timothy must be committed to following these instructions with everyone and not show favoritism.

In the church, it is easy to let things slide for your friends and those you like but when it comes to discipline, Timothy must judge and act with impartiality.

3. Selecting Elders

Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.
- I Timothy 5:22

The "laying on" of hands was a gesture used at that time, and also today, to signify various things:

A sign of blessing

Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them.
- Matthew 19:13

A sign of healing

Then again He laid His hands on his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly.
Mark 8:25

A sign of empowerment

Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money,
Acts 8:18

A sign of commendation

And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.
Acts 6:6

We still use this as a sign of blessing and commendation but not one of healing and empowerment. God still heals (and hears our prayers for healing) but no longer grants humans the miraculous powers given to the Apostles and transferred to others by the laying on of their hands.

What Paul is talking about here is the laying on of hands to commend or "ordain" someone into the office of elder. He warns Timothy not to "ordain" or put men into leadership too quickly, meaning without making sure they qualify and are tested first. If he does, and because of this they stumble because of inexperience or immaturity, Timothy will share a responsibility and portion of guilt for their sins or failure.

Timothy is ultimately responsible for not getting involved in other's sins by ordaining them too fast.

Concerning Timothy - 5:23-25

In the last section, Paul continues to talk about elders but does so in an indirect way.

No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.
- I Timothy 5:23

It seems that Timothy only drank water (which was contrary to the custom of the day). Perhaps he did this to make sure no one would dare accuse him of any abuse. But Timothy's habit made him vulnerable to illness (because the water in that day was not clean). If he falls ill, he will not be able to carry out his work so Paul encourages him to drink wine in moderation in order to maintain good health. If he, as a leader, is sick from dysentery and other ailments, he will not be able to be effective.

This is not a general command for all Christians to drink wine (since our water is treated and safe). But, on the other hand, it is a passage that makes it difficult to defend the idea that drinking wine is a sin. Keep in mind, however, that the wine of that day contained no more than 3 or 4% alcohol (today it has 12 to 13%) and the custom was to add water to the wine to further dilute the alcohol content (biblestudytools.com).

Timothy has an important role to play in appointing and training leaders in the church and he cannot do this if he is constantly ill.

This section is a summary statement regarding the entire issue of choosing or rejecting different men for the position of leadership in the church beginning in verse 22 where Timothy has to be careful not to be too hasty in appointing men as elders.

The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after.
- I Timothy 5:24

So Paul is saying, in the matter of choosing the right man for the eldership, do not worry about choosing the wrong person. When deciding about a man's worthiness, you will be able to see fairly easily his faults and weaknesses (sins of some men are quite evident; for example, someone's arrogance or foolishness).

For others, their sins follow, meaning that their sins are "not evident," they are in back of them. However in the same manner, these sins also become evident when Timothy examines these men in the light of the qualifications Paul has outlined previously.

Likewise also, deeds that are good are quite evident, and those which are otherwise cannot be concealed.
- I Timothy 5:25

Paul states the same idea again but uses "deeds" instead of "character" this time. Good deeds are evident. A man's good life will be easily discerned because his good works will be known. And conversely, an evil man will not be able to hide his evil deeds, they will eventually be found out. So Paul warns Timothy about not appointing men to leadership too quickly lest he share the responsibility for their sins and errors.

But then he comforts him by telling him that it will be evident who the good and bad men are by the fruit of their characters and lives.


1. Elders are Human

We all know this to be true but many times expect them to be above humanity.

  • No mistakes
  • No character weaknesses
  • No limits on their willingness to serve or put up with laziness or other bad behavior by members.

Most of the time they also have jobs and families to care for and have volunteered to care for the church family as well.

Of course, we owe them honor, obedience and respect as the Bible says (Hebrews 13:7) but in addition to these I say that we also owe them the benefit of the doubt. Let us not assume, for example, that an honest mistake is really a purposeful slight, or that a lack of attention concerning your need or issue is a planned insult or a proof that the elder just does not care - maybe his wife is sick or he has had to work overtime.

Not jumping to negative conclusions, not having a hair trigger in getting our feelings hurt will not only help the elder do his work, but it will also spare us a lot of unnecessary turmoil when it comes to the elders.

2. Elders Need Both Encouragement and Correction

The worst case scenario for an elder is when he will listen and accept encouragement but will refuse correction. Elders need both encouragement and correction because they are human.

  1. They Need Encouragement in order to validate their work. Encouragement answers their main question, "Is what I am doing making a difference?" A positive word, a note of appreciation, a hug, all of these say to the elder that his efforts are recognized, needed and appreciated. It is this type of feedback that neutralizes unfair criticism and fuels the elder's desire to continue serving.
  2. They also Need Correction in order to protect their leadership and the souls for which they are responsible. Paul gives careful instructions on how to go about doing this so that a simple course correction about an elder's attitude, behavior or teaching does not turn into a witch hunt or public hanging.

Correcting leaders can yield a tremendous amount of good for the elder (who through humility will grow spiritually) and the congregation (who will benefit from the renewed spirit of the corrected elder). Elders have a heavy load of responsibility given to them by God, but if they are encouraged often and receive correction in humility, both the man and the church will benefit.

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