1 Timothy 5:17–25 (NKJV)
17 Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” 19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. 20 Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.1 Timothy 5:17-20
Paul moves into a discussion of the proper treatment of leaders within the church, especially those who are integral to teaching the word of God and doctrine. He identifies the office of elder. These are individuals that serve the church in leadership and ministry. This position is similar to a pastor in today’s church. Paul sees this position as pivotal to the ministry of the church. He even says that those who rule well should be counted worthy of “double honor.” Some scholars interpret this to mean the two-pronged honor of respect and financial blessing. In verse 18, he quotes various Scriptures that demonstrate the principle, citing Deuteronomy and First Corinthians saying that an ox should be allowed to eat of the grain he treads out, and Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Matthew, Luke, and First Corinthians to establish that “the laborer is worthy of his wages.” He then offers the elders a level of protection, citing the need to have two or three witnesses against them to give credence to an accusation. He then, however, says that those elders who are sinning should be rebuked publicly, so that the rest will remember the gravity of their responsibility in integrity. Either way, elders are worthy of great reward and respect if they serve well, and harsh rebuke if they do not.
21 I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality. 22 Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure.1 Timothy 5:21-25
23 No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities.
24 Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later. 25 Likewise, the good works of some are clearly evident, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden.
This latter half of the passage delves into various instructions from Paul to Timothy regarding elders in the church. He tells his spiritual son to operate without favoritism or partiality, treating all people equally and without prejudice. He also warns of not laying hands on anyone hastily, meaning that he should deliberate before setting someone forth as an elder by the laying on of hands. If he were to ordain and elder who was not living the holy life required, he could be sharing in their sin. Be deliberate and careful that the one set forth is worthy of the calling. Timothy is to be cautious so that he keeps himself pure.
Verse 23 seems to be out of place in this passage, an aside from Paul to Timothy regarding his health and a method of treating a condition with his stomach. However, as this is a letter, it could easily be something Paul inserted as he thought of it, so as not to forget later. Much of Eastern writing style is stream of consciousness, without the necessity of organization or flow. This is such an example. Timothy seemed to have made a decision to drink only water, which could have resulted in a parasitic or bacterial issue from the less-than-sanitary water conditions, thus causing Timothy to have digestive issues. Paul suggests here the consumption of wine for medicinal purposes. This is not necessarily an endorsement of social drinking, but a directive to help with Timothy’s health issues.
Paul then jumps back into his discussion of the choosing of elders by further making it clear that some people’s sins are obvious, and therefore preclude them from service in leadership. However, other’s sins are not quite as glaring, so patience and deliberation are needed in order to suss out such sins and only appoint fitting elders. Paul is giving his spiritual son guidelines with which to lead and develop other leaders within the church at Ephesus. He is also giving ministers today a valid method for choosing elders, exercising discipline on elders that fail, and honoring elders that serve well. This is also a solemn warning to those would serve as elders. Do not accept the responsibility if you are not up to the task, able to handle the duties and the scrutiny of lifestyle. However, if you are of great character and integrity, and feel the calling, accept the office and serve well. Either way, be honest and serve well so that God will be glorified and the church will be well served.