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Rays of Light Bible Lessons by Keith Holder


1 Tim 5:17-20 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The laborer 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.

The office of a bishop within the church of Christ, and the qualifications for those holding that office, were given to Timothy by the apostle Paul, as found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. Those appointed to that office are referred to as the elders of a congregation of Christians. This text also indicates the importance that God places on this office. The writer of the letter to Hebrew Christians tells us this about the eldership of the church of Christ: Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you (Heb. 13:17). Regarding the elders of the church at Thessalonica, Paul told them to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake (1 Thess. 5:12-13).

The members of a congregation of God's people are to give due respect and honor to elders, that faithfully discharge the duties and responsibilities inherent in the office they hold. They are to be counted worthy of double honor. If respect is due elders that rule well, double respect is due elders ...who labor in the word and doctrine. In other words, some elders rule Christ's church through the administration of Christian doctrine as God, in His Holy Spirit-inspired New Testament, authorized it. But there are some elders that, in addition to administering church doctrine, also preach the word of God. This tells us that, when they are qualified, preachers of the gospel of Christ can also hold, and faithfully discharge, the responsibilities of the office of an elder within the church of Christ.

The scripture, attributed to Moses, that is found in Deuteronomy 25:4 (also quoted in 1 Cor. 9:9), is quoted here: thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. This law of God tells us that animals, used to tread out grain, should not be prevented from eating the fruits of their labor. By example, the meaning here is that those laboring for the cause of Christ should be rewarded, by the membership of the church, for the spiritual blessings they receive from the labors of faithful, dedicated elders and ministers of Christ. Does this mean that both elders and preachers can, if justified by their ability, and by the time that is necessary for them to effectively discharge their duties, be paid out of the church treasury? Sure! I believe that is exactly what is meant in the lesson text.

Two other commandments regarding the elders of a congregation are, by inspiration, given by Paul in the lesson text. Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Men and women often bring charges of wrongdoing against another person. Many times the indictments are valid and can be proven. However, all to often, false accusations against another are made, due to jealousy, hate, conspiracy, or merely misunderstandings and false information. Civil courts require evidential proof of such charges, or the corroboration of testimony by additional witnesses, to prove criminal accusations. Even Jewish law required that at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established (Deut. 19:15). The apostle Paul told Timothy, and by inference, tells us today, that this same just procedure must be used when accusations are brought against an elder of the body of Christ.

A further instruction of Paul is this: them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear. Is this a general statement regarding all members of a congregation that have been, by the testimony of two or three witnesses, proven to commit sin? I think not, if it be a private matter. However, if the sin is a public reproach against the church that is fully known to the congregation, this scripture would apply, and should be used as a manner of rebuke for the spiritual benefit of all members of the body of Christ. If this inspired doctrinal decree of Paul is left in its context, it only applies to an elder that, by individual accusation and confirmation by witnesses, is proven guilty of sinful actions. The nature of the offense, warranting censure must be stated before the congregation that others will understand, and avoid similar offenses.