Just and Fair (1 Tim. 5:17-25)

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Justice and fairmindedness can take various forms, but it always reveals the same kind of heart. Remember that this giving heart has already been displayed in the section we just finished, in the discussion of widows. God loves the generous heart.


“Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward. Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear. I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality. Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure. Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities. Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after. Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot be hid”

(1 Tim. 5: 17-25).


Elders who rule well should receive double honor (v. 17). This is especially true of those who labor in the word and doctrine. The reason for this is the teaching of Scripture in two places—the first is from Dt. 25:4. The second scriptural citation is from Luke 10:7 (cf. Matt. 10:10). Having paid the elders a just wage, other forms of justice prove themselves equally necessary. Do not receive charges against an elder without two or three witness (v. 19). This refers to the threshold of indictment, not simply conviction. But if this standard is met, and the charge proves to be true, rebuke such an elder in the presence of everyone, so that the others (presumably, the other elders) would stand in fear. The apostle then charges Timothy to be diligent in these things, showing absolutely no partiality (v. 21). One of the best ways to stay out of this kind of trouble is to be slow to ordain elders in the first place (v. 22). Paul tells Timothy to keep himself pure this way, and it apparently reminded him of Timothy’s aescetic tendencies. So he tells him to lighten up, do his stomach a favor, and starting drinking wine a little bit (v. 23). Returning to his earlier point, he says that some men’s sins march into thecourtroom ahead of them (v. 24). Others are not quite that way. The same goes for good works, and the principle stands fast —over the long haul, evil deeds and good deeds are seed in the ground and there will be a crop (v. 25).

The Just Heart IS Generous

It is striking that we come from the section where Paul requires a right treatment of the widows, and then he moves to the church’s responsibility to be generous to its ministerial laborers. In that context, it is appropriate to talk about how to handle charges and trials. Biblical justice is generous. And so in this context, what does that generosity look like?

Elders who rule well are to receive double honor. This requirement has two elements—money and honor. The requirement is not fulfilled if a lot of money is given in a churlish spirit. Think of the double sense of our word honorarium. The first duty mentioned here is that of ruling well. This is not contrasted with elders who rule poorly (if they did that, then why are they elders), but rather elders who are good elders, but occupied with their daily vocation. Some elders give themselves to rule in the church, and if this diligence of theirs takes away from their ability to provide for their family, the church is to supply double honor. But some elders are more than rulers in the church—they also labor in the word and doctrine. The church is to make a special point of rendering this honor to them.

The reason for this is that the Scripture requires it in two places. First, the rule about oxen is applied to ministers in a “how much more” way (Dt. 25:4). Secondly, Jesus said (in Luke 10:7) that a laborer should be paid for his work. Note that this shows Paul quoting Luke as Scripture. But the principle is clear, in both testaments. When it comes to your enjoyment of the labor of others, don’t be a skinflint. Paul addresses the same topic in 1 Cor. 9: 9ff. “For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.”


John Calvin once said that “none are more exposed to slanders and insults than godly teachers.” Because this is true, extreme care must be taken in receiving accusations against them. This is not because they cannot sin, but there must a starting presumption that they have not. A charge must not even be entertained if there are not two or three witnesses (and anonymous blog sites don’t count—Dt. 19). “Ah,” someone might say. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” And, they add under their breath, we have a smoke machine right here. It is actually true that smoke indicates a source, but we still don’t know the nature of the fire. Is it licentiousness and self-indulgence? Or is it godly zeal that was making life uncomfortable for the envious and slanderous?


In this passage, we see how Timothy’s growth in justice was to occur. First, he was to be appreciative and generous, teaching the church to be the same. Justice is generous (vv. 17-18). Second, he is to be careful in receiving charges, but then impartial in administering the verdict. He is to play no favorites. Justice is impartial (vv. 19-21). Third, he is to display prudence and caution, protecting the church by refusing to ordain pending disasters. It is easier to not do than to undo. Justice is foresighted (vv. 22-23). Fourth, he is to be patient, understanding that men’s sins and virtues are different. Justice is patient and discerning (vv. 24-25).


Not every injustice is going to be fixed right this minute. Men sin differently. Some men’s sins impudently head into the courtroom before everyone else—either because they think they are right, or because they don’t know that room was the courtroom. Other men’s sins have to catch up with them. The same goes for virtues. Some men’s worth is evident at first glance. Other worthy men have to grow on you. But, taking the long view, we can afford to trust God.

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