Please turn to 1 Timothy 5:17-25. Paul has been establishing the priorities of a healthy church throughout this letter. He is telling us how church life ought to be where the Lord’s people are gathered. In 1 Timothy chapter 3, Paul provided instruction about the qualifications for the office of elder. Now, however, he gives a series of directives regarding elders. Specifically, Paul addresses how we are to honor elders and what we are to do in the case of discipline of those elders. He again exhorts us not to ordain elders too quickly and not to ordain men too quickly to the eldership who are not sufficiently spiritually mature. Paul also addresses the call to personal holiness amongst the pastors and elders of the church, and he provides encouragement in the midst of the struggles of discipline in the local church. Although Paul provides instruction here regarding elders, there are principles that impact every Christian in the local church. 

I. Honor the elders of the church.

In verse 17, Paul addresses the honor and the material support of hardworking elders in the church, and he says the elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor. Notice that Paul says “elders.” Throughout the New Testament, we find the expectation that there will be a plurality of elders in the local congregation. Paul also indicates that there is going to be some sort of evaluation of the labor of pastors and elders. In other words, these are elders who are to “rule well” and “work hard.” Furthermore, Paul justifies the practice of providing material support for those who are elders in the local church by quoting from both the Old Testament and the New Testament in verse 18. Thus, Paul is saying, “Timothy, here is how it is to be in the local church. Those preaching and teaching elders who are part of the settled ministry of the local congregation are to be supported by that local congregation.”  

II. Uncorroborated charges against an elder should not be entertained.

In verse 19, Paul gives instructions for due process which he takes from Old Testament civil law. One of the protections of justice in Israel was that you could not simply make an anonymous charge, or a charge that could only be corroborated by the person bringing the charge, and have it entertained before a judge in Israel. You had to have witnesses. And Paul is appealing to that same principle. He is saying, “We should not allow unsubstantiated charges against elders.” Ministers and elders are sometimes put into circumstances where it would be rather easy to make an unsubstantiated charge against them, and here Paul says only corroborated accusations are to be considered in the process of discipline.

III. Elders who sin seriously publicly are to be chastened publicly. 

In verse 20, Paul provides a directive for the discipline of serious sins by ministers and elders. Paul is saying if you do get a charge and it turns out to be true, and the sin is of a nature that it has been known in public, then you need to rebuke it in public. He is determined that elders who sin in such a way to call into question the holiness of the church and the consecration and integrity of their office are to be disciplined openly “so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning.” The point is to provide elders a disincentive to sin. In other words, elders are to be thankful for blessed pressure that comes from knowing that they are accountable to others and that fellow elders will discipline them for being unfaithful. And that kind of accountability and godly peer-pressure is a blessed thing in the local church.   

IV. Elders are to be disciplined without bias. 

In verse 21, Paul says that elders are to be disciplined without bias. He is telling Timothy that he needs to be aware that when he goes into the hard work and the heart-breaking work of church discipline, that it is not just the congregation that is watching him but that he is in the presence of God, and of Christ Jesus, and of the elect angels. Paul is saying, “Timothy, when you administer discipline to the elders of the church, you remember they are watching now.” That is an awesome thought. It stokes the awe and fear of God in Timothy, and it ought to stoke our fear and awe of God. Paul wants Timothy to be scrupulously fair in his administration of discipline in the church. 

V. Elders are not to be ordained too quickly. 

In verse 22, Paul tells Timothy not to ordain a man too quickly. Paul is saying that we should see a consistency in the pattern of a man’s life that we recognize that he is a spiritually mature believer before he is appointed to the office of elder. There is also a concept of corporate accountability here that Timothy is responsible for the men that he is involved in ordaining to office. We are brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, and we are responsible to one another, and not one of us can sin without there being a consequence for the whole congregation. And so that mutual accountability in the local church which is so clear for elders is also clear for Christians in the pew.   

VI. Elders are to be holy and undefiled. 

In verse 22, Paul also gives a directive for ministerial godliness. Paul is calling Timothy and all elders to holiness and to pursuit of purity of life. Robert Murray M’Cheyne said, “My people’s greatest need is my own holiness.” And that is true for every elder in the church. The people of God need our own commitment to purity and to godliness in the Christian life. Elders will only be able to take the people of God in the congregation so far as the Lord has taken them in the walk of godliness.   

VII. Elders are to take heart in the hard cases of discipline. 

In verses 24-25, Paul gives Timothy a word of encouragement in the hard work of administering church discipline. First, Paul says that the sins of some are so obvious that it is clear that a man needs to be disciplined. Secondly, he says that the sins of others will be found out eventually through their own confession or through investigation. Thirdly, Paul says if there is someone whose character has been called into question, and he is a man of upstanding integrity, eventually it will come out that he is a faithful elder. Finally, he says that bad character and bad behavior cannot be concealed. Eventually it will show itself. Discipline always involves difficulties in ascertaining facts and assuring fair judgment. Thus, Paul is saying, “Timothy, the truth will show itself if you will be faithful.” This passage is about all of us. We are a community of mutual accountability, and how we live matters. May God make us to be a family of believers accountable to one another and help us to grow in love for His church.