1 Timothy 5:17-21 The Care and Feeding of Elders I

Very early on the in the newborn church the Apostles provided the initial teaching (Acts 2:42ff), but later , other teachers who understood the gospel began to travel from town to town teaching as best they could. For instance consider Apollos in Acts 18:24-28. He came first to Ephesus and then went on to Corinth to teach.
As the church continued to expand, they appointed elders to guide them. The elders were responsible to leading and teaching the church. The church in turn had a responsibility to the Elders. This passage provides some guidelines for the Church in taking care of her Elders. The first aspect of this is in the area of finances.
Now I have to be direct here: this is a very uncomfortable passage for me to teach because it can be misconstrued to be self serving. To a certain extent I suppose it can be. But quite frankly if it wasn’t “the next verse” I just wouldn’t teach it because it really does make me uncomfortable. But you know when I was called to the ministry I made an intentional decision to teach exactly what the word of God said no matter what. And many times I’ve preached passages that were difficult in other ways and I’ve done it without regret. For the same reason – and because this is the word of God I’m going to bring this message today without regret.
Please open your Bible to 1 Timothy 5:17-25 and read it with me.

Provide Their Living VV17-18

The honor here is not only respect but, as with the widows in v3 means financial compensation. The principle at work in this text is simply that: Provide for the financial living of your elders.

Pay the Elders What they’re worth.

It was the elder’s task to devote himself to preaching and teaching and leadership. He was to guard the church from error both internal and external. He was to disciple and train and the only way he could do this successfully is to make his position in the church a full time endeavor. That is why the elder — or in our context the pastor gets a paycheck.
Now in writing out this prescriptive Paul gives three specific directives which serve to provide instruction not only to the church but from my perspective also to the elders. The first is the idea of a double honor to those who lead well.

Pay good leaders well

When Peter asked Jesus if he should forgive his brother seven times, Jesus replied – no, seventy seven times. We understand that passage to mean more than raw mathematics. This passage is just like that. It’s not that you calculate a salary and then double it. I believe it’s more an issue first of adequate and then of appropriate compensation.
I know one pastor in Michigan who when he got there they asked him what kind of salary he required. So he sat down with his wife and worked out a strict budget and brought it forward to the board of the church and said, “this is the absolute minimum for subsistence living.” They immediately offered him a much lower number.
The old adage “The Lord will keep him humble, and we’ll keep him poor” reflects a godless and outright sinful attitude towards the Lord’s servants. Of course we’re not talking about exorbitant pay but about appropriate pay.
That being said, don’t miss the dual emphasis here. If compensation is necessary so is earning it. The Christian work ethic of a days work for a days pay applies everywhere. Those elders who rule well are worth twice as much! Now, when he defines them as elders “Who rule well” it’s clear that not every elder is in view, but a subgroup of them who are effective at leading. In other words, every pastor should be compensated but this is much more true for those who are effective at what they do.
Further this text implies continued leading, the idea being that the elder in question is given permission and charge to lead by the congregation. If that is never granted – not merely in word but in deed – than this aspect of measuring ministry simply isn’t possible.
So leadership effectiveness is one measuring stick the second is teaching.

The measure of good ministryis the ministry of the word.

Going on he says, “especially” those who work hard at the ministry of the word are particularly worthy double honor. The idea of work here means “Laboring to the point of weariness.” Those guys who are so committed to proper teaching that they will expend themselves on it, are especially to be honored.
Now think about why this might be. First is that studying the word takes time and effort. By far one of the more time consuming tasks I take on is the careful study and subsequent exposition and teaching of God’s word.
Second it demonstrates the overwhelming importance of the Bible. The Bible itself is the very word of God delivered to man. It is the method God used to reveal himself to us. It is absolutely imperative that we know it, understand it and apply it. This is why I spend my energies analyzing the original languages, doing a translation, investigating nuances and ultimately taking pages and pages of notes all so that I can teach effectively.
This is why in Acts 6 when a very real problem erupted in the church and a need arose for someone to take care of the ministry to widows the apostles said, “it’s not a good idea for us to neglect the prayer and teaching of the word in order to wait on tables. But making sure those ladies have something to eat is also important so you should set aside someone who’s ministry it is to do that. “
Do you see how critical the word of God is? We’ve just spent three weeks talking about how vital it is to minister to those who have needs but the teaching and preaching of God’s word is more important even than that. For no-one can hear the good news of salvation without it.
Someone who works hard at preaching and teaching the word of God is someone who considers the truth of the scriptures as paramount and is willing to risk everything to say the truth even when it’s unpopular.
John Maxwell tells the story of a man in the church who came up to him and told him that very thing. He didn’t like where the church was headed and he was going to withhold his tithe until the day came when either the pastor left or things changed. And John says, “so I took him aside and said, fine let’s pray about that, ‘Lord, John here has decided to rob you…’ and the man freaked out saying ‘I’m not doing any such thing!’ But he was. Malachi 3:8 says, ‘will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, ‘how have we robbed you?’ In tithes and offerings’.” By withholding their offerings for whatever reason they were stealing from God!
That is why in the 18th verse Paul moves on with a scriptural principle of not begrudging a laborer his wages.

The laborer is worthy of his wages.

Long before the combine, they would cut and bundle the grain and then lay the bundles out and an ox would be put to work dragging a heavy threshing sled over them in order to separate the grain from the stalks and ultimately collected. As you might imagine your average ox would look down below his feet from time to time and say to himself, “Self, I am hungry – I think I’ll take a bite of that!”. Of course the natural reaction is to put a muzzle on that ox so he won’t eat any of the precious grain – but God saw that as unrighteous and unfair. So in Deuteronomy 25:4 he says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” It was only right that the one doing the work benefit from it’s fruit. That principle is brought to bear in this passage.


The application of this passage is rather simple. It is my responsibility as your pastor to labor hard at preaching and teaching the Word of God. It is likewise my responsibility to lead and to lead well. It is right for an elder who does these things to be appropriately compensated.
My actions are visible, your requirements are visible but more importantly both are also hidden in an attitude of the heart. Here the promise of 2 Corinthians 9:7-11 holds true.
(2 Corinthians 9:7-11) “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; as it is written, “He scattered abroad, he gave to the poor, His righteousness endures forever.” Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God.” (NASB95)