ELDERS WHO LEAD WELL

Think of the Book of I Timothy as a Guide Book for Young Preachers.  Paul had left Timothy in Ephesus to encourage the church and deal with problems they were facing.  He was there to “Set in order the things that were lacking.”  Obviously one of the big problems they were dealing with was problems in the leadership, in particular the elders of the church.  They needed some new men so Paul wrote them the qualities to look for in new Elders who would serve with the men who were already serving.  We aren’t sure what the specific problems were. The tenor of the letter seems to me to indicate some had lost the proper motivation and were attempting to pull people away from God instead of to him.  Paul had warned when he was in Ephesus that among the elders some would arise to draw disciples away after them, before he was put into prison in Rome.  Perhaps some of this was already taking place.  How was a young preacher to heal the problems in the church and deal with older men who were serving as the leaders in the group?

Notice the way Paul sought to prepare him for the work.  He gave him the qualities to look for in setting apart more men to be elders or shepherds in the community.  He needed to get some other men into the work before attacking the problem directly.  Good men who were faithful and real servants of God would make the whole concern work better.  I don’t know if the men who were heading in the wrong direction were in the majority in the eldership or not.  It may well have been the case there were more men who were faithful to God than not but the ones who were unfaithful were more vocal and were leading people who trusted in them.

In chapter four of his letter he made a strong challenge for Timothy to be the right kind of person himself.  Notice in verses 11-16, “Prescribe and teach these things. Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.  Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and treaching.  Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery.  Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all.  Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.”

Notice he dealt strongly with the life of the man.  If you want to lead and confront sin among leaders in the body of Christ you must make certain your own life is above reproach.  There is nothing easier for one who is leading people astray to do to stop the force of a younger person trying to correct the problems than to point out their failures in morals or character.  So Paul warned that Timothy needed to live as one who was calling on the name of the Lord.  He then challenged him to give close attention to the word of God and publicly reading that word and exhorting and encouraging the people to live by that word.  It was also vital that he not neglect the spiritual gift that he had been given by the Lord in connection with the laying on of the hands of the elders where he was.  Every preacher has a different set of spiritual gifts.  But it is vital that we recognize our own set of gifts and build on those gifts to greater servanthood than we can possibly do on our own powers.  Paul challenged him to take pains in the learning and using of the gift or gifts.  Paul told him to be absorbed in them so that his progress would be evident to the whole church.  He needed to pay close attention to the teaching he was doing and not give up on it so that he could ensure the salvation of himself and the ones he was preaching to.

It is after this Paul turned to his activity in dealing with widows, especially widows who didn’t have anyone to assist them. Paul gave him direction on the priorities he was to have with regard to the work of the church.  Widows who have family are to be cared for by family.  But widows who don’t have anyone but the church are to be taken care of by the church.

He then turns to the instruction for Timothy on dealing with elders who were not doing right.  “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.  For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.’  Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.  Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning.”

Look at the elements of this direction.  First honor those who are doing an effective job of shepherding the church.  He was to show double honor to those elders who were also laboring in preaching the word of God and in prayer.  It is obvious that many of the men who were serving as elders were also preachers of the word of God.  Those who served in both preaching and teaching were to be paid for their work.  The double honor had to do with one being paid the wages for the job they did.  Most of the elders we know of by name in the New Testament were also preachers in the church.  Peter was an elder and preacher or apostle as was John who often spoke of himself as “The elder”.  Not every preacher was an elder, many were not either capable of  and ready to serve and were being encouraged to grow and work with the men who were serving as shepherds.  Paul never spoke of himself as an elder and mentions the fact he wasn’t married so this may be the reason.

Now watch, there were elders in the church in Ephesus who were both preachers, teachers and older men than him.  If one is serving as an elder and is going in the wrong direction Paul told Timothy to not receive an accusation against an elder without two are three witnesses.  People may want to say all kinds of things against an elder but not everyone will have a witness or two to join them in making an accusations against a person.  So if there aren’t any witnesses it was to be ignored until there were more witnesses.  But if there were witnesses of wrong actions or teachings of elders going on.  Paul said, rebuke them in front of all so that they can learn not to continue in the sin.  The goal was to bring these elders back to the right way.  It was also to save the church from those false teachers who were serving as elders with wrong motivations.

Notice, Timothy the young evangelist who wasn’t an elder in the church was to rebuke the elder who had gone off base.  He was to do so publicly.  It was before all, whoever the “all” really was.  It could be before all the elders or all the people generally.  I tend to believe that it was all the elders of the church.  It is vital to see that the young evangelist had the authority by means of the office or work that he did.  Often in our efforts to stress the authority of elders in the church we have overlooked the reality that God gave the evangelist authority over the elders when there was a shepherd going astray.  Paul pleaded with Timothy not to show any favoritism in the  efforts to correct the elders.  That would be a huge challenge.  But it was vital that he follow the instruction.  Paul promised that if he did this he would be God’s man and was to speak without any partiality.  He went on to say that some men’s sins are open ahead of time but some they follow after.  You may be able to see the elders who have gone off and why they left the right way but you may not.  Some men’s sins are open but others are hidden.

It is a powerful section that explains the work of the preacher when there are elders and the place he is to have.  Too often in our efforts to not allow the preacher to become just like every denominational preacher we have run right past the Bible on the other side and rejected the teaching of the Bible on the authority of the evangelist in the church.  It is time we get back and follow the full teaching of Scripture.

About leoninlittlerock

Preaching minister for Central church of Christ in Little Rock. Author of over 20 books including: When a Loved one Dies, Spiritual Development, Skid Marks on the Family Drive, Challenges in the church, To Know Christ and A Drink of Living Water.
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