Honouring others

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

1 Timothy 5:17- 6:2

1. Honouring leaders

Just this last week the Labour Party decided that it would honour three of its former leaders by presenting them with a life-long membership of the Labor party. Out of the three past Labor Prime Ministers only Kevin Rudd turned up to be honoured by the party who had ditch him in 2010 for his deputy, Julia Gillard. Julia Gillard who also had her turn of being ditched by her party colleagues in 2013 in favour of going back to Kevin Rudd didn’t turn up and nor did Paul Keating. Old enemies applauded one another and spoke grand words to honour one another. Kevin Rudd talked of “honouring past Labor Prime Ministers” like Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and even Julia Gillard. But while there was a lot of talk about “honouring” their past leaders one does wonder whether our politicians in Australia have really learnt what it means to honour those who lead them. There is more to honouring those who lead than just presenting them with life-long memberships and offering up lots of words of appreciation about them once you’ve got rid of them. Honouring someone is more than just words.

2. Honouring one another

Today we are looking at a passage in Paul’s first letter to Timothy where the believers are told to firstly “honour” those elders who direct the affairs of the church and then slaves are told to consider their masters worthy of “all honour” (this is a more literal translations of ‘full respect’). This comes after the instructions that Paul gave Timothy in verses 3 to 16 about how the church was to “honour” the needy widows among them who had no family to support them. From the beginning of chapter 5 Paul has been giving Timothy instructions about how Timothy and the members of the church were to relate to one another. In verses 1 to 2 we saw was that the members of the church were to treat one another like family. In verses 3 to 16 Paul called on Timothy and the church to honour the widows among them by supporting and caring for them. Today in verses 17 to 25 Paul moves on to talk about the sort of honour that we are to show to the elders who lead or direct the affairs of the church and how believers who were slaves were to honour their masters. 

The word “honour” keeps on reappearing throughout this section and it is important for us to notice this for here is the second principle about relating to others in the church. If the first principle was to treat others in the church like family which we saw a few weeks ago, the second principle for relating to others in the church would be to honour one another (see also Romans 12:10 where the same two ideas are found together. Paul talks about being devoted to one another in brotherly love and honouring one another above yourselves). In these instructions that Paul has given to Timothy we see what honouring different people in the church looks like. A few weeks ago, we looked at what it looked like to honour widows, today we will be looking at what it means for the church to honour it elders and then just touching briefly on what it means for slaves to honour their masters. In both cases we will see it means more than just having a few good words to say about them once they’ve gone.

3. Honouring elders

Paul wrote to Timothy and the church that the elders who direct the affairs of the church are worthy of double honour especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 

  • Elders who teach and preach

Now, unlike some, I don’t think Paul thinks that there are two types of elders some who preach and teach and others who don’t teach but who just get to direct the affairs of the church. The word that our NIV has translated “especially” could be translated “namely” and it has been suggested that it is there to qualify what Paul understands church eldership is all about. Elders in the church are people who lead the church through giving them themselves to preaching and teaching the flock. Paul tells the church that such people are worthy of double honour.

  • Double honour?

But what is this double honour that they are to be given? Is it like when I go to get an icecream or a gelato and while everybody else might be getting a single serve cone I ask for two scoops of gelato on top rather than one? Do elders get twice as much honour as everyone else in the church gets? Does it mean that they should be treated better than anyone else in the church? I don’t think Paul is suggesting that they are to be treated better than everyone else in the church but that what they do needs to be considered when it comes to honouring them because it has some practical implications for the church. Paul outlines three things that the church is to ensure as part of honouring their elders.

3.1 Adequately supported

Firstly, Paul makes it clear that they are to be adequately supported by the church. This is because they spend their time working at preaching and teaching rather than working in a regular job to earn for themselves and their families. This work is something the congregation have appointed them to do so the congregation who are beneficiaries of this are to honour their elders by adequately supporting and providing for them.

1 Timothy 5:18

18 For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” [1]

Paul argues that Scripture itself teaching this principle. He firstly quoted from Deuteronomy chapter 25 and verse 4 pointing out the Word of God prohibited muzzling the ox while it was treading out the grain. This was a common sense provision for if you take an ox out of the field where it could eat and graze all day and put it in a mill to do the work of treading out the grain, where it can’t eat and graze then you are going to have provide for it while it did this work because it can’t be out there eating in the field. Paul goes on to quote the words of Jesus saying that in the same way, “The worker deserves his wages” (see Luke 10:7). 

Honouring elders who spend their time teaching and preaching means making sure they are adequately supported. We are to honour them so that their day to day needs are taken care of as they devote themselves fully to work of teaching and preaching without having to worry about how they are going to support themselves and their families. Like with the widows honouring the elders who taught and preached meant taking practical steps to ensure that they were adequately taken care of and supported.

3.2 Fairly treated

Secondly, honouring these leaders who serve through preaching and teaching means making sure that they are fairly treated. Often those in leadership are exposed to all sorts of false accusations and criticisms for as John Stott writes, “the enemies of the gospel often take vengeance on the ministers of the gospel”[2]. It is easy for the reputation of a pastor/elder[3]of a church to be tarnished by gossip and false accusations. The problem with gossip that goes unchecked is that with little effort it can snowball and gather momentum and grow until what was a small thing ends up a big thing that causes great damage and heartache.

What sometimes goes on in churches isn’t that dissimilar to what sometimes goes on in our political parties. Often what makes a political leader’s position untenable is all the unsubstantiated talk and innuendo that percolates within their own party rather than anything that’s been thrown at them from the outside.  Last week Kevin Rudd at the Labor Party conference had a lot to say about Rupert Murdock and Newscorp but what I think what really ended his leadership back in 2010 wasn’t really the Media (although it had a hand in it) but it had more to do with those who were listening to him give that speech last week. It was the members of his own party and the way that they dealt with things that made his leadership untenable so that he was forced to resign. If anyone had treated him unfairly it was the members of his own party.

Honouring our leaders as churches means ensuring that they are treated fairly. Paul gives the church in Ephesus a couple of principles in verses 19 to 21. 

1 Timothy 5:19-21

19 Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. 20 Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.

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 favouritism.

The fair treatment of an elder means following a fair process of dealing with any accusations. The Old Testament required the testimony of two or three witnesses to establish a charge (see Deut. 19:15). Paul is arguing that the same sort of standard also needs to be applied to the elder. He isn’t arguing that the standard should be any more lenient but rather that they should be treated fairly in the same manner as others are treated when dealing with any accusation. They should be treated fairly. Here Paul argues that the same sort of protection against false accusation should be given to leaders as you would to others. 

Paul isn’t trying to protect those who have done the wrong thing as some of our churches have done in the past. This has been a great scandal in our community and it has brought the gospel and the church into disrepute. Paul doesn’t want to cover up things to protect the leaders and the church and its reputation as some churches have tried to do. Instead when an accusation has been proven true, he wrote that there ought to be a public rebuke of the elder as a warning for others and we are to do this without showing favouritism or partiality. It’s all to be done in a way that is fair and protects the innocent and condemns the actions of the guilty. 

3.3 Carefully chosen

Lastly, we honour elders by carefully choosing them in the first place. When elders fall into sin, Paul has written that they are to be publicly rebuked, but the best way to avoid such a situation is to be very careful when you chose your leaders in the first place. Timothy is told not to be hasty in the laying on of hands.

1 Timothy 5:22-25.

22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.

23 Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.

24 The sins of some men 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 cannot be hidden.

Paul has already given Timothy and the church a list of qualification for overseers in chapter 3. But in order to work out whether people are suited to function as an elder they must be tested, and you need time to do this. “Human beings are frequently different from what they appear at first sight. ”[4]This is how so many people fall into trouble with scammers. People appear genuine and friendly over the phone and they seem like they are there to help. My late dad was scammed a couple of times for small amounts of money by people who rang up claiming to be people that they were not. Just this year alone in Australia there have been over 70,000 phone scams reported with $29 million reported lost[5]. People frequently are different from what they first appear, and it is right to be cautious and careful when it comes to appointing someone.

Timothy and the church weren’t to be hasty about such appointments for while some things about a person might be obvious from the beginning other things will take time before you get to see them. There is a care and cautiousness that needs to be exercised when it comes to appointing leaders. Elders need to be carefully chosen so that there might be no cause for not being able to honour them and so the gospel is not brought into disrepute.

4. Honouring masters

In chapter 6 verses 1 and 2 Paul lastly addressed the slaves within the congregation and talks about how they were to behave with respect to their masters. Again, there is talk of “honour” in how they were to conduct themselves in the situation that they found themselves in.

1 Timothy 6:1-2

All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters are not to show less respect for them because they are brothers. Instead, they are to serve them even better, because those who benefit from their service are believers, and dear to them. These are the things you are to teach and urge on them.

Paul doesn’t have an illusion about slavery being easy. He called it a yoke and a yoke was what they put on oxen to plough the field and it was often used to refer to the burden of slavery. He also doesn’t have any illusions about masters. He doesn’t argue that all masters are the sort of people who are worthy of respect or honour but literally he told those who were slaves to consider or to reckon them worthy of all honour. Their masters might not have been men or women easy to respect but they were to honour them never-the-less so that the name of God and the teaching of the gospel might not be slandered. They were to do this not because their masters were great people who deserved to be honoured but so that God’s name might be honoured and so the reputation of the gospel might not be soiled. 

What this meant for slaves was that they were to serve them well. We can see this in verse 2 where Paul argues that if their master was a believer that they weren’t to despise them but the fact that they were fellow believers ought to have been even more motivation to want to serve them even better. What it meant for these slaves to honour their masters was to respect and serve their masters well. Paul told those who were slaves in Ephesus that they were obey their masters and to serve them wholeheartedly as if they were serving the Lord and not men (see Ephesians 6:5-9). Wanting to serve the Lord really is the motivation for honour and serving their masters for we are people who want God’s name to be honoured and the teaching of the gospel not to be slandered. 

4. Honouring others

All of us are to be similarly motivated. Of course, none of us are slaves but we are to honour others by doing our work well not serving our own interest but so that others might benefit from our service. We are not to be like those who are just there at work serving their own interests. Believers should be the most helpful people at work, people who are willing to serve and who are seeking to bless the people around them no matter what they are like. We ought to be known as people who work and serve and keep on doing what is good. This is what we are to be like in the church and it ought to be our reputation wherever we work. It’s terrible sad when churches and believers earn reputations for honour themselves and not others.

What always gets in the way of honouring others is wanting to honour ourselves or to have others honour us. Our best politicians are those who believe they are there to serve and honour others and our worst are there seeking their own honour. Our churches honour God when we are there to honour others more than ourselves. But the reverse is true. We will only honour others if first and foremost our lives are all about honouring God and glorifying his name.

5. Living together as God’s household

As members of God’s household, we need to understand how we are to relate to one another. In chapter 5 Paul has given two important principles. We are to learn to treat others as family and we are to learn to honour one another above ourselves. What we have seen is that honouring others is more than just speaking a few choice words about them once they’ve gone. It is about our action and behaviour towards them that will honour them, and it will mean different things for different people. We honour needy widows by providing practical care and support for them. We honour the elders by making sure that they are adequately supported so that they can spend their time teaching and preaching without having to worry about how they will support themselves. It will also mean carefully choosing who to appoint to such a task. Lastly, we honour those that we are working with and for by working well and seeking to benefit them and others. These words are for all us. Paul wrote to Timothy that these were the things that he was to teach and urge on the believers in Ephesus and this morning/evening the Lord is teaching and urging each one of us to also keep these instructions. If we do then we will be a people who are honouring the name of God and commending the gospel to others. 

[1]Except where otherwise indicated all Scripture citations are taken from The Holy Bible: New International Version—Anglicised. (1984). (electronic edition). London: Hodder & Stoughton.

[2]John Stott, The message of 1 Timothy and Titus, page 138.

[3]The Bible uses three words interchangeably of the same office: pastor, elder, overseer. For instance, Peter wrote as a fellow elder to the elders and told them to be shepherds (pastors) of the flock serving as overseers (bishops). See 1 Peter 5:14.

[4]Stott, 141