Elders are the leaders of the local congregation of Christians under the oversight of Jesus Christ. Elders make or break a congregation. They make a congregation when they lead with vision, in love, with patience. They break a congregation when they harbor pride in their heart. In 1 Timothy 5, Paul encourages Timothy to honor good elders and rebuke bad elders.
Consider Paul’s words…
Verse 17 – Paul returns to elders in this verse and tells Timothy that those elders who “rule” well should be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who preach and teach. The verb “rule” is also used in 1 Thess. 5:12 and Rom. 12:8. There really is no distinction between preaching and teaching except perhaps the size of the audience.
Verse 18 – To prove Paul’s point, he quotes “Scripture” and, fascinatingly, the “Scripture” is not only the Old Testament (Deut. 25:4; which Paul also quotes for the same purpose in 1 Corinthians 9:9-10) but also the Gospel of Luke (10:7). This illustrates that Paul had the Gospel of Luke in front of him (so also in 1 Cor. 11:24-25) and he sets it on the same level as the Old Testament writings.
Verse 19 – Leaders often receive just and unjust criticism. Here, Paul warns Timothy not to receive accusations of sin against an elder unless it was witnessed by two or three witnesses.
The idea of having two or three witnesses is quite biblical: Deut. 17:6; 19:15; 2 Cor. 13:1; Matt. 18:16.
Verse 20 – If an elder is guilty of sin (present tense) and refuses to repent, he, too, will have to be disciplined and that is to be done “in the presence of all” so that the “rest” will be fearful. “When faced with sinning elders a spineless attitude is deplorable” (Guthrie, 121). Remember that Paul had warned the elders in Acts 20 that some false teachers would arise among them.
Verse 21 – Paul charges Timothy in the presence of All who are holy to engage in this behavior without bias (prejudging) or partiality (inclination to side with one). The fact that angels are observing us is taught both here and, at least, in 1 Corinthians 6:3; 11:10.
Verse 22 – Thus, he ought to “lay hands” on no one too hastily in appointing them as elders because we might share in their sins. So, Paul tells Timothy, “keep yourself free from sin.”
Verse 23 – Timothy was drinking only water and had developed a stomach ailment so Paul encourages him to drink a little wine for medicinal purposes.
Verse 24 – Some men, it is evident, do not need to be appointed elders for their behavior is “quite evident.” Some, however, might not be so visible in their sins until after they are appointed as elders. Their “sins follow after.”
Verse 25 – On the other side of the coin, men whose “deeds are good,” can be evident before hand. Men engaging in “bad deeds” cannot conceal their works.
Christians should be careful and follow the biblical commands closely in appointing men who will shepherd the congregation. They will either lead them to green pastures or into the waiting jaws of the wolf.