Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.
Be Generous to Elders
The first things Paul says to Timothy, the first among equals as an elder, is to himself be generous financially to the other elders and to instruct the church to do the same. Presumably when we have a charge like this of what people should do we should then assume the naturally tendency of most people is to do the opposite of that. It is a very common thing for people to view paying elders almost the same as paying taxes. They often view it simply as a necessary evil. They would rather send their money to “real” ministry than to make sure that their elders are financially compensated.
Can’t Pay All
Paul in extending his exhortation to be financially generous to the elders also makes it clear that it is just simply not possible to pay all of the elders. If this were true then the church would always need to limit the number of elders serving due to scarce economic resources. This is not a way to operate. We desire to have more godly elders serving the church. So, Paul then gives us an understanding that there is a division of labor that out or necessity exists among the elders as well. There are those who give more of their time in the labor of preaching and teaching than others. These people rule well and they labor hard. Paul says that these ones should “especially” be compensated. When deciding which ones to compensate Paul says first start with these ones and make sure that they are compensated.
In order to drive home his point Paul quotes two Old Testament laws. The first one is quite peculiar and the second one is plain and straightforward in it's meaning. First, Paul applied an old testament seed law to the office of the elder, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” God cares for all of his creation and established a law to protect against abuse of greedy stingy farmers. To save more grain (which was more money) these farmers would put a muzzle on the ox while the ox was working to tread out the grain. The ox was doing the work and could not benefit from the gain of the wheat. This was unjust. The law says you can not put a muzzle on them. Paul says the same must be true of an elder who labors in preaching and teaching. Don’t muzzle them. If they are committed to preaching the gospel then allow them to live by the gospel (1 Cor. 9:14). In reality our generosity we show to committed elders reveals our commitment to the gospel. Do we view making sure that they are compensated as a priority or do we just assume that they will be okay? Furthermore the other law simply says, “The laborer deserves his wages.” The labor of an elder is so different than the labor of others that often people don’t view it as labor. Paul here says that laboring in the preaching and teaching is laboring and the one who does it is deserving of receiving wages from it.
Do It Unto Jesus
Several years ago I recall going on a missions trip with my pastor at that time. We went into a really depressed area of Ukraine to help equip elders to serve their local assemblies faithfully. This was sponsored by a fairly successful book publishing company. They were paying for the event as well as providing several resources for these elders and other leaders. They brought in two keynote speakers for this event. The first speaker was a world renowned traveling evangelist and a best selling author. The second was my pastor, who was the pastor of a smaller church serving God in the trenches. They both did a fantastic job leading the people. After the conference was over the organizers came up to my pastor and said, “We paid so and so $2,000 but for you we just assumed you were doing it unto the Lord so we will not pay you.” Wow! Talk about a sucker punch. Paul is telling Timothy make sure that your fellow elders who are extensively laboring in the preaching and teaching are not treated this way. They are worthy of their wage. They should receive double honor.
Don’t Fund Sin
While the relationship of the church to elders should be generosity the relationship of the elders to the church must be laboring in preaching and teaching. How do you view the primary role of elders? Do you view the most important thing in your life as being equipped through the preaching and teaching of the Word? That is to be an elders primary role is laboring in these things. We should be generous towards those that serve in these roles but at the same time discerning. Be wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove.
There should not be a something for nothing relationship so other elders and the congregation should pay diligent attention to make sure that the elders are not being lazy in their roles. Are they a self-disciplined person? Do they work as many hours or more than other people? Do they spend extended time in prayer and in study? This is their main labor. We should not fund someone who is not laboring in this, or at least their compensation should match their labor. The ministry of the Word is so important that it does a disservice to the church when a lazy elder fills the role.
Contributor / Eric Stewart
Eric Stewart is the Lead Pastor of ONElife Church in Flint, MI.