Elders: Deserving Servants (1 Tim. 5:18)

timothy my son Sep 10, 2023

17 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 18 For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” 19 Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. 20 But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning. 21 I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.


Paul now grabs two quotes from the Bible.


Much of what we read in Deuteronomy is amplification of the Ten Commandments: How should you be honouring God, keeping the Sabbath, dealing with law-breakers, and maintaining relationships? A lot of it deals with the ceremonial law, or the moral law, and even civil law. But in between a passage about appropriate punishment for law-breaker and a section dealing with family obligations is this little verse: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain" (Deut. 25:4). It seems oddly placed. But if you read the previous few chapters, you find that each paragraph (which didn't actually exist in the original Hebrew writings - that's how we organize our thoughts in written English) addresses a different issue. This verse doesn't seem to fit into any of the categories - it's not ceremonial, it's not moral, and it's not civil. It just sounds like good advice, but it provides a principle which Paul is encouraging here.


"Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain."


Here's the picture you need to get in your head.


There's a threshing floor, wheat is scattered, and an ox walks through it, crushing the stalks, and releasing the grain. As the ox walks through the grain, it's automatic response would be to put its head down, pick up some of the grain in its mouth, and eat it as it goes. And the response of the owner of the wheat could be to say, "No! You're eating my wheat!" So, he puts a muzzle on the ox, to increase his profit.


The principle is pretty simple, and applied to oxen, and to you and me: If you participate in the production of something, it's reasonable to assume that you should reap some benefit.


Paul's application in this passage is to say that the leaders of the church ought to be honoured, because they deserve it.


This becomes even more clear when we realize that Paul write about this passage again, in 1 Cor. 9:7-12


7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? 8 Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?


So here we have Paul explaining Paul. In other words, look after those who serve the church.


A while back, I received a surprising phone call from a florist. I was busy and didn’t pick up, but they left voicemail. I checked it, and was told that I had a delivery for that afternoon, and they wanted to make sure that someone would be at home. Elsie would be there, and a couple of hours later, a beautiful bouquet of flowers was delivered to our home, with a note from a wonderful family at our church. The note said simply, "Thank for your serving our church." One of the great pleasures for the last 12 years of my life is being a member of the Council of Elders. What a pleasant surprise! It makes me want to serve another 12 years! Small appreciations can keep you going for a long, long time.


“The worker deserves his wages” is another interesting quote, but that's because it doesn't come from the Old Testament. These are the words of Jesus, as recorded in Luke 10:7.


In this passage, Jesus is sending out 72 of his disciples two-by-two to visit the towns where he was going. In each town, they were to enter a house, and say "Peace to this house." If you were welcomed in, "Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages."


Now it seems to me that "The worker deserves his wages" was probably a pretty common saying. If someone works for you, they deserve to be paid; if you work for someone, you deserve to be paid. But the application here is not about employment - it's about ministry. If someone is ministering to you, support them financially. If you are ministering to someone, and they offer to support you, offer them a gracious "Thank you!" Let them partner with you in ministry. You deserve it!