We live in evil days. It is true that always the whole world lies in darkness of sin, hatred and the lie of Satan: ye shall be like God. However, I refer to evil days for the church, days in which men have itching ears and will not endure sound doctrine, days when it can so definitely and clearly be seen that men are apostates from the truth of God in Christ Jesus, the truth of the Gospel!
We do not write the foregoing simply as a trite saying. Do we not live in perilous times of great dimensions among the nations? Are not the peoples gathering together against the Lord? Are not the nations at the four corners of the earth awakening? Is not the dream the restoration of Babel, the dream of man to establish and to maintain one world, one universal world-power? Are not the foundations of nations, that were, crumbling?
Perilous times, do you ask? Yes, and also in the church. There was a time when the true and the false church were distinguished by the earmarks given in God’s Word of the true church, and what did not enjoy these earmarks and yet called itself church was denominated to be a sect. A sect did not have the earmarks of the true preaching of the Gospel, the proper administration of the sacraments and the exercise of Christian discipline. But Satan and his sons are very deceptive; they seek to, change the foundations; then what can the righteous do? Has it not come more and more to be in vogue to speak of a sect as the little church which would maintain discipline, keep the table of the Lord pure, and purely and fearlessly preach the Word, the faith once delivered to the saints. The slogan is now: ecumenicity! In the shrine of idolatry one can do every thing in the name of and for the sake of ecumenicity. Vows once uttered before the face of the Most High God are not held sacred; the end seems to justify the means. It is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of man’s vain imagination that colors all. Men do what they wish, appealing to their “conscience” as the end of all contradiction! They walk in stubbornness and witchcraft in the form of godliness which denies its very power; they forget that the Lord would have obedience and not sacrifice and ceremony; they honor God with their lips but their heart is far from Him! Blind leaders of the blind they are!
Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure; the Lord knows who are his own and everyone that nameth the name of God, must and shall depart from iniquity. The Lord also knows who are His faithful servants, as well as He did at the time of Korah. Dathan and Abiram. It was Aaron’s rod which blossomed. It was this rod which would be a fruitful means in Israel, speaking as the prophet of Moses in the Name of God!
That truth is also proclaimed by Paul here in I Timothy 5:17, 18 where we read: “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and teaching. For the Scripture saith, thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn, and, the laborer is worthy of his hire.”
The apostle has a word too about the elders who rule well, and what should be the attitude of the church toward them. Paul does not pen down his own opinion here. He bases what he says foursquare upon the Word of God.
The “elder” here does not refer simply to men advanced in years, as is indicated in vs. 1 of this chapter, where Paul says: “Rebuke not an elder, but exhort him as a father.” There Paul definitely refers, as is evident from the context, to gray-haired men. Here Paul has in mind those who are also called with the name “ruler,” overseers or bishops. See I Tim. 3:1. He has in mind those who have been called by God’s Church and therefore by God Himself to the holy office of Christ in the Church. God has placed, instituted in the church “first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, governments, diverse kinds of tongues.” I Cor. 12:28. And in Eph. 4:11, 12 we read: “And he gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some shepherds and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, unto, the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ.” Elders are therefore those standing in the office instituted by Christ and rule in His Name; they are a gift of God to the church.
They are those who are appointed of God; they have a peculiar and definite stewardship from the Lord. They are those who labor as they who must give account to their Lord! It is a stewardship, a trust committed to them. It can and is sometimes taken away from them; they if found unfaithful, are removed from office. They are to be obedient to their Lord and master, and should feel in their hearts with Paul: woe is me, if I am not!
Note well that the apostle speak of elders, “who rule well.” The term “well” (kaloos in Greek) is really akin to honorable. It means here to execute the office rightly, suitably, as prescribed in God’s Word. To rule honorably means to rule according to the nature of the office, its stipulations, its limitations and its injunctions. Not all offices are the same. There are three offices in the church: minister, elder and deacon. It is the office of the minister to preach the gospel, be busy in private and congregational prayers, administer the sacraments, and exercise Christian discipline. It is the duty and office of the elders to govern and rule the church with discretion, aid the minister with good counsel and watch the preaching of the minister that no false doctrine be taught.
Such is their office as minister and elders. Thus it is defined in the Form of ordination and installation. Such is their “work.” Now for the sake of this work they are to be exceedingly high in love! They must be held exceedingly high in love for the sake of this “work” taken objectively as an office in Christ.
However, Paul here underscores also the other side ofthe matter. They must be held in exceedingly high regard in love when they actually “rule well,” Fact is, they must be accorded “double honor.” It is well to notice what constitutes “honor” according to the Scriptures. This should not be confused with mere sentimental appreciation, such as a sentimental flower on mother’s day. Such cannot very well be the epitome of honor. Honor is a spiritual-ethical concept. It is associated in Scripture with such concepts as glory, power and might. It is an adoration and esteem of the heart which is always in relationship to authority. Hence, it is a term used of man’s worshipful and obedient attitude, first of all, toward God, and toward His Christ. Wherefore, the grand doxologies of Scripture abound and are replete with the term “honor.” Thus we read in Rev. 4:9-11: “and when the living creatures shall give glory and honor and thanks to him that sitteth on the throne, to him that liveth forever and ever, the four and twenty elders shall fall down before him that sitteth on the throne, and shall worship him that liveth forever and ever, and shall cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Worthy art thou, our Lord and our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power: for thou didst create all things, and because of thy will they are, and were created.” With this compare Rev. 5:12. “Glory” is the revelation of the divine perfection in all the works of His hands, in creation and re-creation, in both heaven and earth. “Honor” isascribing all the glory to God, acknowledging that he is the most high and glorious God. “Thanks” is our bowing lowly and expressing this in worship before God’s throne.
Wherefore “honor” is’ the term which is employed to enjoin upon the children obedience in the Lord to their parents. Thus we read in Exodus 20:12: “Honor thy father and thy mother, that it may go well with thee and that thou mayest live long upon the earth.” And the Heidelberg Catechism interprets this as referring also to “all who are in authority over me.” We fear God andhonor the king. I Peter 2:17.
When therefore the apostle enjoins Timothy and the entire church that “double honor” is to be shown to the elders, who stand in Christ’s office and rule well, it is important that we give full attention to the Scriptural implication of the term “honor.” We are to acknowledge the office-bearers and to accord to them the reward which God has laid away for such. Such it must be in every sphere where authority is exercised in the name of God and of Christ. Thus in the school the board rules, while the teachers exercise such authority in the class room. It is the great commandment with a promise. It is a commandment of the first degree, taken up in the first table of the law. No one can honor God who does not honor those duly appointed unto the office of authority in His name.
Now it seems to me that “double honor” here in the text does not refer to a double portion of wages. The term honor “timee” in the Greek does not really mean a stipend. That would mean that those who labor well should receive twice the amount of salary as those who labor not well. It seems that the latter should receive no stipend at all, but should be removed from office. The term “honor” as above noted refers to acknowledgement of God’s authority. It is better, therefore, to interpret “double honor” in a figurative sense: very great honor in love for their works’ sake! It refers, to preeminence in the case of the first-born who received the double portion! Thus Paul definitely states in I Thess. 5:12-14.
It should furthermore not be overlooked that Paul in speaking of this double honor has particularly in mind those who labor in the “word and doctrine.”
We notice that Paul here makes a distinction between elders and elders. Some were ruling elders. They were overseers over the flock. They too must admonish with the Word. However, they were not busy in the exclusive sense such as “shepherds and teachers” were. Paul has reference to the teaching elders here. He singles them out. The term “especially” is the translation of the Greek term “malistee” which is the superlative from the word “mala” it means as such: very, very much, exceedingly. The adverb malistee seems definitely to be used in the New Testament Scriptures in the sense of especially! And then it often has the resultant sense of “namely.” Thus we saw already in our discussion onI Tim. 4:10 where we read: “For to this end we labor and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially those who believe.” We noticed then that “all men” means all kinds of men, and that of all kinds of men, those who believe, are the objects of salvation. Hence, the text can very well be paraphrased “all men, namely, those who believe.” See for the resultant sense also II Peter 2:10; Philemon 1:16; Titus 1:10; II Tim. 4:13.
So here Paul refers in particular to those who labor in the Word and doctrine. Such must be given a double honor. Such are faithful men who preach the Word of God in Christ’s name. Whosoever receiveth them receiveth Christ who sent them. And whosoever receiveth them not, receiveth not those sent by the Lord. However, only those who “rule well” are to be accorded such honor, whether they labor in the Word and doctrine or not.