Life-Study of 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemonby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
In 5:17-25 Paul instructs Timothy concerning how to deal with the elders. The elders are the authority, or the government, of a local church. Thus, to deal with the elders is to deal with the authority, the government, the administration, of the church. For centuries there has been a debate among Christians over the kind of administration there should be in the church. In 5:17-25 Paul touches the crucial matter of the church’s administration.
Verses 17 and 18 say, “Let the elders who take the lead well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in word and teaching. For the Scripture says, You shall not muzzle a threshing ox, and, The workman is worthy of his pay.” According to verse 18, the expression “double honor” includes material supply. Especially those who labor in word and teaching should receive this necessary supply. All the elders should be able to take the lead in a local church, but some, not all, have a special capacity in teaching. The word in verse 17 denotes the general speaking of doctrines, and teaching denotes instructions concerning particular things. Those who labor in word and teaching may be fully occupied, devoting all their time to this. Therefore, the church and the saints should care for their living. For this reason, in verse 18 Paul refers to what the Scripture says about not muzzling a threshing ox and about the workman being worthy of his pay.
In verse 19 Paul goes on to say, “Against an elder do not receive an accusation, except on the word of two or three witnesses.” According to the Greek here, the accusation made against an elder should not merely be verbal; rather, it should be put in writing. To make an accusation against an elder is a very serious matter. For the sake of accuracy, it should be put in writing and not merely be spoken. Furthermore, it should not be received except on the word of two or three witnesses.
Verse 19 is simple, but it implies something very important. The fact that Timothy was charged by Paul to receive an accusation against an elder indicates that the apostles have authority to deal with the elders after they have been appointed by the apostles to be elders. There is no doubt that the written accusation against an elder was to be presented to Timothy. Who, then, was Timothy? According to those who are in favor of a hierarchical system in which the bishops are over the elders, Timothy is regarded as a bishop. But as we have previously pointed out, according to the New Testament, bishops are elders, and elders are bishops. These terms are synonymous and refer to the same people. We know from 1 Thessalonians 1:1 and 2:6 that Timothy was an apostle. Furthermore, in the book of 1 Timothy we see that Timothy was the representative of the Apostle Paul. Therefore, for an accusation to come to Timothy was for it to come to an apostle. We would expect such an accusation to come to the apostles because they were the ones who had appointed the elders.
Some have had the concept from reading Brother Nee’s book The Normal Christian Church Life that once apostles have appointed elders in a particular local church, the apostles do not under any circumstances have the right to interfere with the affairs of that church. This, however, is a misunderstanding of Brother Nee’s word. In another book, Church Affairs, Brother Nee points out that after the elders have been appointed by the apostles, they should take the lead in the church according to the apostles’ teaching. If the elders lead others astray or if they are wrong in some way, accusation against them can be made by the saints to the apostles.
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