At the risk of inciting comment and controversy by what I offer as a mere analogy in the contemporary framework, there is much daily comment in the press about what qualifies or disqualifies a person for the presidency of the USA. Beyond viewpoints and political philosophies, there are questions being raised in multiple directions about personality traits and moral disciplines that disqualify a person to be the leader of the free world. The issue of physical health and well-being has become extraordinarily public.
Our passage today, in a lesser sense, deals with some of the same kinds of issues of character and maturity qualifications for positions of leadership in the church. But honestly, the issues are greater, because we are talking about something immensely more important than being president! (Did Randy just say being a pastor or elder is more important than POTUS? Yes, he did say that. Which one has eternal implications? Hmm?)
But here and now we are short of the eternal kingdom, yet functioning together as imperfect people led by imperfect people in an imperfect world. At the same time, it is reasonable to have standards by which leaders are empowered and entrusted with authority, though also protections for them that they be reasonably supported and sheltered from baseless accusations of jealous or unscrupulous people. So here are some advisory words from Paul to Timothy…
1 Timothy 5:17 – The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 18 For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”
A certain respect and support, even monetarily, should be granted those in leadership. As any church of any size has found over the years, at some point, the work of the faith community is more than can be maintained well by people who are working full-time in regular life occupations. Some person or persons need to primarily give their life energies to the function of the church family. They will need to be compensated for such commitments of time, especially those who give extensively toward the very hard work of preaching and teaching.
The principle that Paul draw from is found in Deuteronomy, where the ox that was doing the hard work of walking in a circle and pushing the stone for the grinding of the grain should not be muzzled and prohibited from the nourishment that its labors produced. The beast would need to eat some of it in order to continue to have the wherewithal to remain strong and productive for the greater good.
19 Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. 20 But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning.
The pastoral ministry / elder leadership ministry is a bit fragile. You don’t have to actually be guilty of something heinous, you merely need to be accused to have the same harmful effects. It is a little bit like the old conundrum question “Have you stopped beating your wife yet? Yes or no?” Timothy should not even receive accusations unless two or more witnesses could come with the accusation as factually substantial.
But in an event where it was substantiated and thereby disqualifying, it was not to be a matter of secrecy; but rather, the sad public knowledge would have a sobering effect upon all. The idea was not so much to shame the person at fault, but to serve all as a warning about human frailty and vulnerability. The Devil knows that there is great gain in taking down a spiritual leader. Hence such people are in more vulnerable positions on the battlefield and in need of prayer of the whole community.
21 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.
22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.
These verses are an exhortation to Timothy to be truly objective in a “step back and see the facts” sort of way.
My view of Timothy is that he was a really nice, genuine, gentle, likeable fellow – the sort of guy you want to see your daughter bring home. At the same time, that gentleness and timidity may have made him reticent toward following through with hard decisions, particularly if it would involve confrontation or relational discord with someone he liked and worked with.
His more delicate side may have extended as well to his health situation …
23 Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.
Even today when travelling to the Third World, you just don’t go drinking water from public accommodations. You only consume what is bottled. The wine would serve as a health enablement in his situation. Notice it says “a little wine” … I’ll not get started on this issue in this forum (insert smiley face with a halo). Let’s finish …
24 The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. 25 In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever.
The true quality of every person’s life is not always immediately obvious. Some folks live in such a maleficent way that their poor character is hidden to no one. Yet others hide bad character, at least for a while. And the inverse is also true about good deeds that are obvious, yet others that are not widely known. But time tends to reveal true character, good and bad.
The application of our passage today, I believe, is to be a good and humble and godly leader when that opportunity and position comes your way. Likewise, the rest of the time, be a good and humble and godly follower. Support one another, regardless of your current role and position. What can go wrong if we all do that?