The Scriptorium

Honoring Elders

Elders deserve our love and support. 1 Timothy 5.17-20

The Pastoral Epistles: 1 Timothy 5 (4)

Pray Psalm 146.10.

The LORD shall reign forever—
Your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the LORD!

Read and meditate on 1 Timothy 5.17-20.


1. How are we to regard the elders in our churches?

2. How should we deal with sin? 

Paul provides a bit more instruction about the work of elders, and how the congregation should regard them. 

The work of elders is to rule, and they are expected to rule well (v. 17). Elders rule by keeping the church in order according to the teaching of Scripture. The word used here, προεστῶτες, proestotes, is from a verb that means to help, give aid, strive for something intensely, and devote oneself. Ruling is thus quite consistent with the work of shepherding, as Jesus and Paul practiced and taught it. There is in this verb no sense of lording it over people, ordering folks around, or pursuing one’s own agenda. Elders rule well when they help others realize their calling and potential in the Lord – equipping the saints to grow in Christ and for ministries that build up the Body of Christ in love (2 Cor. 3.12-18; Eph. 4.11-16).

Two sorts of elders are indicated: those who teach – like Timothy – and those who work as shepherds (rule). All elders who do their work well are worthy of double honor. There is a reference here to material remuneration, as Paul indicates by citing both Moses and Jesus; however, the primary emphasis is on honoring the elders. This we do by esteeming them highly in love (1 Thess. 5.12, 13); submitting to them as they watch over our souls (Heb. 10.17); and not lightly speaking ill of them (1 Tim. 5.19). It is instructive to see Paul citing a passage in the Law of God (and the Lord Jesus) to support his argument here. He understood that those ancient statutes, precepts, and judgments still have value, but only when we use them lawfully (1 Tim. 1.8).

It’s not that we should never confront an elder about some sin. I take Paul’s comments in verse 20 as a continuation of his discussion about elders, and not about confronting sins in God’s people generally. Jesus taught us to begin that process privately, and only to make it public if other private steps fail (Matt. 18.15-20). But an elder who is sinning is a different matter, and demands a more careful and more public approach. Once again, Paul goes back to the Law and Jesus to insist on two witnesses for confronting an elder in sin (v. 19; cf. Deut. 17.6; 19.10); Matt. 18.16). Elders who are found to be in sin should be rebuked openly (v. 20), both to emphasize the direness of their transgression – because they are supposed to lead by example (1 Pet. 5.1-3) – and to instruct the community about the seriousness of sin.

1. What should be your role in giving double honor to the elders of your church?

2. The work of elders involves labor (v. 19) – in the Word and among the people. How can the people of God help their elders fulfill their callings?

3. Why are two witnesses necessary for confronting an elder who is in sin?

For this is the ultimate aim of their teaching: to lead their disciples, both by what they do and what they say, into the way of that blessed life which Christ commanded. John Chrysostom (344-407), On the Priesthood 4.8

Lord, I pray for the shepherds of our church. Today, use me to encourage them by…

Pray Psalm 146.10.

The Kingdom of God unfolds in and through the church as duly-elected elders rule well. Use this one verse to pray for the leaders of your church, that by example and word they may shepherd the flock of Jesus for His glory.

Sing Psalm 146.7-10.
Psalm 146.7-10 (Hallelujah! What a Savior!: Man of Sorrows
Jesus sets the pris’ner free, heals blind eyes that they may see, 
lifts those burdened painfully – God forever reigns in Zion!

He the righteous loves the best; wand’rers in His grace are blessed;
needy ones in Him find rest – God forever reigns in Zion!

But the wicked who defame His eternal blessèd Name, 
them He brings to ruin and shame – God forever reigns in Zion!

T. M. Moore

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All psalms for singing adapted from The Ailbe Psalter. All quotations from Church Fathers from Ancient Christian Commentary Series, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006).All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.