Introduction. Read 1Tim5to6v2.

Paul instructs Timothy in this chapter how different groups within the church should be treated. I did not undertake this study with much enthusiasm because the church at Ephesus was so different from my own. There are no slaves, no impoverished widows, only one elder and absolutely no one equivalent to Timothy.

(A) How to behave in general.

Paul tells Timothy how to treat church members according to their age and sex:

(1) Older men like fathers. Sometimes elderly Christians are in the wrong and need putting right - just as our fathers may require correction. It is to be hoped that when we correct our fathers we do so with respect, restraint and understanding. We shouldn't weigh in harshly or fiercely for that will only result in lasting wounds. One evening when I was in my late teens my father gave me out LBW at cricket. He gave the bowler the benefit of the doubt in order to show that he was not biased in favour of his son. I abused my father at the top of my voice all the way back to the pavilion. He never umpired again. I regret my behaviour to this day. So if we have to correct an elderly Christian let us do it gently and without rancour.

(2) Younger men like brothers. I had a more robust, rumbustious and contentious relationship with my brothers than my parents. However it was also open, good-humoured and supportive. This is a good sort of relationship to have with younger Christians.

(3) Older women as mothers. I was generous, helpful and tolerant towards my mother. I took her where she needed to go - to the supermarket, doctors and church. This is something we can all do for the older ladies of our fellowships.

(4) Younger women as sisters. Unfortunately I never had a sister. I feel the lack of one today! I hope if I had a sister my behaviour towards her would be proper, chivalrous, understanding and affectionate. This is not a bad way to treat younger Christian ladies.

(C) How to behave towards widows.

(1) Widows with family. Paul made it quite clear that it was a families' responsibility to look after a widowed mother or grandmother. This would free up the church's resources to care for a truly destitute widow with no one else to provide for her.

In Paul's day widows needed material support - food, clothing and shelter. In our day what is often needed most is care. This is because more and more people are living till they are very old and frail and also there is an increase in the numbers of folk who suffer from debilitating illnesses like Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.

It is not easy looking after a frail and feeble parent. Many Christians make excuses for not doing so. Paul indicates that we should do so because:

(a) It is a way of putting our religion into practice. "Honour your father and your mother" is after all one of the Ten Commandments.

(b) It is a way of repaying parents and grandparents for all they have done for us.

(c) It is pleasing to God. Warren Wiersbe writes about a missionary friend of his who left the field of her calling to care for her sick and elderly parents. She was severely criticised by some for not obeying Jesus who said we should love God more than father and mother. However in caring for her parents she was obeying God. We love God by loving his people and this includes the elderly, widows and orphans.

(d) Failure to do so is to deny the faith and to be worse than an unbeliever.

There is invariably a blessing in obeying God. See A Eulogy to my Father.

(2) Destitute widows without family. These were all widows, whether old or young, who who were really in need. Unlike today there were very few employment opportunities open to widows. There were three groups of widow really in need:

(a) Young widows. Paul believed young widows should be encouraged to marry again. He gives a number of reasons for this:

  • To satisfy their sexual desire.

  • To avoid idleness.

  • To keep from gossiping and stirring up trouble.

  • To have children and manage homes.

  • To ensure the enemies of the church had no ground for slander.

Today there are few young widows in British churches. There are more likley to be spinsters or divorcees who would love to marry or re-marry. They are not a drain on the resources of the church because most work and support themselves. I believe there is a real need for young Christians to marry as this is the best way to deal with sexual desire. Married couples should also have children to replenish the church. The low birthrate of British Christian couples has contributed to the decline of the church.

(b) The old widows not set aside and dedicated to serve the church. Paul taught these destitute widows, who were too old to remarry and in real need, to:

  • Put their hope in God.

  • Pray night and day to God for help.

  • Resist the temptation to envy the rich widows who lived for pleasure and were little better than living corpses.

There is no doubt that many devout elderly ladies, whether widowed or unmarried, have been among the greatest of the church's prayer warriors. They have also undertaken many practical tasks in the service of God and for the benefit of their brothers and sisters in Christ.

(c) Old widows who were especially set aside and dedicated to serve the church. This group had to satisfy certain criteria. They should:

  • Be over 60. Paul reckoned that young widows were unlikely to keep their pledge to devote themselves entirely to the service of the church. Given half a chance they would abandon their calling and get married. The apostle also accused the younger women of being more prone to idleness and gossip - twin evils that have caused much harm to the church through the years.

  • Have been faithful to one husband.

  • Be known for their good works.

  • Have been good mothers.

  • Have a reputation for hospitality.

  • Be willing to serve their fellow Christians in humble ways - like washing feet - a job usually done by a slave.

It is interesting that the church at Ephesus and doubtless elsewhere supported a special group of elderly, dedicated, practical and humble women to serve the fellowship. There are tasks women are better at than men: giving advice to young mothers, helping with babies, counselling teenage girls, visiting the infirm and helping with household chores.

Informal groups of elderly women exist in many churches today that take on the role of the 'women on the list' that Paul refers to. Perhaps they should be both better organised and officially recognised by the churches. Our fellowships would be very much the poorer without these dedicated ladies.

(C) How to behave toward Elders.

It is not easy to equate Timothy's role in the church at Ephesus with the role of individuals in the church today. It appears Timothy took Paul's place when the latter left Ephesus to travel to Macedonia. Paul gave his representative authority to command certain men not to teach false doctrines. 1Tim1v3.

I dont believe you could call Paul or Timothy elders of the church at Ephesus. While they were in residence they had authority over the elders but they did not stay permanently. Paul certainly moved on and it seems as if Timothy did as well. See 2Tim4v21.

The New Testament account of the early church suggests that it is dangerous to leave the local church entirely to itself. A certain measure of oversight was needed such as Paul or one of his representatives provided. Later in the history of the church bishops were appointed that had authority over groups of churches. I belong to an Association that practices what is called the congregational order of churches. What this means in practice is that matters are decided democratically. The members have the ultimate authority. They decided on all appointments - pastor, elders and deacons. This model of church government is not Biblical and there are many dangers inherent in it. The wonder is that it has worked as well as it has for so many years.

It appears from the passage that there were two kinds of elder in the Ephesus church. Wiersbe calls them ruling and teaching elders. See v17. However, two of the essential qualifications of an elder were the ability to manage his own family well and the ability to teach. See 1Tim3v2to4. It is possible some elders specialised in ruling and others in preaching although at a pinch they could do both.

During my 37 years as a school master my speciality was undoubtedly teaching. Nevertheless I also had to rule - hence the expression school master. I had to maintain class order, discipline individuals, provide counsel for troubled souls, perform bus and playground duty, assess a pupil's progress and provide a good classroom environment for teaching. A church needs the same kind of care as that provided by a conscientious school teacher. Wiersbe writes: If a church is not organised, there will be wasted effort, money and opportunities. If spiritually minded leaders do not supervise the various ministries of the church their will be chaos instead of order.

Paul gives advice on:

(1) Paying the elders. See 17and18.

Paul is in no doubt that elders who give themselves wholly to the work of the church should be remunerated. He quotes Dt25v4 in support of his view: Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain. See also 1Cor9v7to12. Furthermore Paul refers to what Jesus said when he sent out the 72 to publicise the coming of the Kingdom of God: "When you enter a house ..... Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages."

The apostle is emphatic: The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. v17. It is not clear what double honour means. I think the elder who serves the church well should be both respected and remunerated financially. If he declines the latter he should certainly be afforded the former - sincere respect.

My father was the pastor of a Grace Baptist Church for 27 years - from 1947 to 1974. He was a capable preacher and usually took four services a week. For years his weekly wage was 5.00. On the one occasion he requested a rise - mainly for the sake of his wife and four sons - a deacon in the Church Meeting said, "What does he want more money for?" The church refused my father's lone request. I know of this because many years later a lady who was there told me what took place. It was a terrible thing to have happened and the church suffered as a consequence. I was personally so disgusted with what transpired that I vowed never to be dependent upon the Lord's people for financial support. I became a Geography teacher rather than enter the ministry.

The Bible is not always an easy book to understand. See for example my exposition on the Feeding of the Five Thousand. A preacher who, with the help of the Holy Spirit, can get the meaning of Scripture right, make it clear and show its relevance for today does at least deserve gratitude and respect.

(2) Disciplining elders. See v19to21.

Jesus gives excellent advice on how to deal with someone who wrongs you personally. It is a great pity that more Christians do not follow the advice of Jesus in this matter. What a lot of distress could be avoided by obeying the Master.

Paul deals with the action that should be taken when an elder teaches or acts in a way that adversely affects the local church. Perhaps an elder in the Ephesian church was spending too much time visiting the rich widows - or coming down heavily on people who ate pork - or actively discouraging marriage.

Similar mistakes can be made by elders in our day. An elder might be so youth orientated that he neglects the elderly or he is under the thumb of a certain faction in the church or obsessed with an expensive building project that isn't really necessary or ultra-legalistic where alcohol is concerned.

Paul gives some good advice about taking an elder to task:

(a) Establish the facts. The person making a complaint or accusation should be backed by 2 or 3 witnesses. Now it seems that Paul anticipates the accusation being made before Timothy. One would hope that he had the good sense to select a panel of elders to hear the case with him. A panel of elders would have to act by themselves in the absence of Paul or one of his representatives. When bishops were appointed they may have tried cases against elders. But even a bishop would have members of staff to witness the hearing and the verdict.

Sometimes problems can be resolved at the stage a criticism is aired before the offending elder and those standing in judgement of him. Misunderstandings can occur - apologies can be made and accepted.

It is a bad mistake for someone with a grievance who is a member of a 'Free Church' to bring it up in the first instance at a church business meeting. This does more harm than good. If no one is prepared for an accusation to be made the reaction is unlikely to be rational. Acrimony will be the result. The whole church should only become involved after the matter has been investigated by the elders or other leaders.

Warren Wiersbe writes these cautionary words in his commentary on 2Corinthians: It is sad when churches disobey the Word and listen to rumours, lies and gossip. ..... "Where there's smoke there's fire" may be a good slogan for a volunteer fire department, but it does not apply to local churches. "Where there's smoke, there's fire" could possibly mean that somebody's tongue has been "set on fire of hell!" See James3v6)

(b) The appropriate time to involve the local church as a whole. Paul writes: Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly so that others may take warning. v20.

If the disciplinary panel decide that an elder is acting contrary to God's will in a way that is harmful to the local fellowship then he should be rebuked before the whole church. This is what Paul did in the case of Peter who withdrew from communion with Gentiles and joined a Jew only group in Antioch. See Gal2v11to15. We know that Peter repented and the hope implicit in the text above is that the sinning elder will accept his rebuke and change his ways.

(c) The importance of being impartial. Paul told Timothy: Keep these instructions without partiality, and do nothing out of favouritism. v21.

Once again it appears that Paul is addressing Timothy here. Timothy, as Paul's representative, exercised more authority in the church at Ephesus than anyone else. Paul tells Timothy to act impartially. He must avoid showing favouritism in any dispute that he is called upon to settle.

Immense damage is done in churches where the members are the ultimate authority because very often individual members fail to act impartially and 'take sides'. It is possible to side with a natural family member, a friend, someone you like, someone on whose patronage you depend, a person you fear and so on.

I am coming to the conclusion that Anglicans with their employment of bishops have a better system of church government than the Free Churches - although, of course, even bishops can succumb to favouritism.

(3) Selecting and ordaining elders. See v22to25.

(a) Paul told Timothy that he must take care when he appoints elders by the laying on of hands. If he appoints men who deviate from the truth he will condone their sin. Anglican bishops and clergy who knowingly lay hands on the appointee of a man or woman to the ministry who is in a gay relationship share their sin.

Timothy needed go be careful not to compromise himself when he selected and appointed elders. Paul did not want him to be tainted by the asceticism of the abstainers. Perhaps, Timothy showed some sympathy with them by abstaining from alcohol. So the apostle suggests he drink a little wine for his stomach's sake. (Wine was a lot safer to drink than tainted water!) Paul does not want his representative to show any sympathy whatsoever for the cause of asceticism.

(b) It is far from easy to judge the suitability of a man for eldership. Not all sins are obvious. Some people are very good at hiding their weaknesses. Similarly some men's good deeds are known to all which is not necessarily a recommendation! Other men do their good deeds in secret as Jesus instructed - not letting their left hand know what their right hand is doing. So they are never appreciated, never thanked, never praised, never valued as they ought to be.

Eventually a man's good deeds will be revealed. They will not remain hidden for ever. What is overlooked by men will be recognised by God.

But in the mean time it remains true that some are appointed to be elders who do not deserve to be and others are never considered notwithstanding their suitability for the office.