A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy 5:17-25. 2) Presbyters.
The apostle now turns from the care of widows to the treatment of presbyters. Having declared pastoral leadership to be ‘a noble task’ (3:1), and having supplied a list of necessary qualifications (3:2ff.), he moves on to questions of their remuneration, discipline and ordination. This paragraph contains practical instruction for bishops and other leaders who are responsible for the church’s pastors.
‘From this passage’ Calvin wrote, alluding in particular to verse 17, ‘it may be inferred that there are two kinds of presbyter.’ He meant on the one hand those with general pastoral and administrative functions (those *who direct the affairs of the church*) and on the other those who have received the particular call to teach (*those whose work is preaching and teaching*). Verse 17 is thus the origin of the familiar distinction in the Reformed churches between ‘ruling elders’ and ‘teaching elders’.
Not all commentators are persuaded, however, that Paul is specifying two different kinds of elder. It is ‘certainly not expressly said, and has often been disputed’. For, according to chapter 3, all presbyters had to be able to teach (3:2) and to take care of God’s church (3:5). It may be, therefore, that the purpose of the adverb *especially (malista)* is not to distinguish preachers from rulers, but to identify them or give them a further description. The verse should then be translated: ‘the elders who direct the church, that is, those who preach…’
Throughout this paragraph (17-25) Paul instructs Timothy how to treat presbyters in the three areas of payment, discipline and appointment. It may be helpful to identify the five principles which were to guide him, and which should guide us in our dealings with those for whom we are responsible.
a). Appreciation (5:17-18).
We sometimes say or think that Christian workers need the appreciation only of the Chief Shepherd, and not human leaders. But Paul was of a different opinion. For human beings are prone to discouragement and need to be affirmed. So elders who do *well* in their work *are worthy of double honour* (17). What kind of honour does Paul have in mind? That it includes adequate remuneration seems clear from the quotations of the following verse (18), and BAGD gives an example where *time* (‘honour’) was used of ‘a physician’s honorarium’. Yet it seems unlikely that Paul is referring only to pay, let alone requiring the payment of ‘a double stipend’ (REB). In any case, did he mean double that of a registered widow or of another kind of presbyter, or double what he had been receiving before? It is more likely that ‘double’ alludes to the double meaning of *time*. Conscientious elders should receive both respect and remuneration, both honour and honorarium.
Paul took it for granted that the pastorate was a stipendiary ministry. As in Old Testament days the priests were supported ‘so that they could devote themselves to the Law of the Lord’ (2 Ch.31:4), so in New Testament days pastors should be supported so that they can devote themselves to the work of the gospel. True, Paul insisted on earning his own living by tent-making, but he also explained that his was a special case for special reasons (E.g. 1 Cor.9:4ff.). Elsewhere he strongly defended the right of teachers to receive financial support (E.g. Gal.6:6).
Here as in 1 Corinthians 9:9 and 14, the apostle provides biblical authority for what he is saying, by bringing together two quotations. The first is from Deuteronomy 25:4: *For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain’* (18a). The argument is *a fortiori*: if God is concerned that working animals are adequately fed, how much more concern must we have for church workers? Paul’s second quotation follows: *and ‘The worker deserves his wages’* (18b). Although he does not attribute these words to Jesus, they do in fact occur in Luke 10:7, where they form part of Jesus’ mission charge to the Seventy. Commentators who find it difficult to believe that Paul could have quoted a saying of Jesus as ‘Scripture’, suggest that the formula *the Scripture says* applies only to the first of the two quotations. It is more natural, however, to read the formula as bracketing both. And it is not impossible that Luke’s gospel, or at least an early draft of it, was published before 1 Timothy and regarded by Paul as Scripture.
Neither quotation is particularly flattering to presbyters, since in the first they are likened to threshing oxen, and in the second to farm labourers. But Paul’s purpose in employing these models is not to depreciate the pastoral ministry, but rather to emphasize that it is hard work, and that hard work performed conscientiously deserves to be rewarded. True, a presbyter is not to be ‘a lover of money’ (3:3) and verses 17 and 18 are not intended to stimulate covetousness. But they do say that good work is to be appreciated, and that appreciation may quite properly take a tangible, pecuniary form.
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 5:19-20. b). Fairness.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.