Sermons Updates

Strong Leadership In a Strong Church (1 Timothy 5:17-25) – Mark Ottaway

Strong Leadership in a Strong Church

1 Timothy 5:17-25


Turn to 1 Timothy 5. Let’s pray. Lord, we pray that You might bless the teaching of Your Word this morning. May we use our minds to think deeply of the truth that is given here by Paul, and that our lives might be passionately conformed to Your Word and Your will, so that we truly are followers of Jesus Christ, amen.


You may think this to be sort of strange, but as I have said before, one of my favourite things to do is to work on a message outline. So, this is what I came up with originally when going through these verses: an elder must be a good leader (vs 17-18); an elder must have good character (vs 19-21); an elder must have a good reputation (vs 22); and an elder must have good gumption (from vs 23). I just wanted to use the word “gumption.” And this was to go along with the title I had selected, “Choosing the Right Elders.” Yet I am not sure this is completely in line with Paul’s main focus of writing this letter to Timothy. Paul was clear in his purpose as we have noticed a few times as he wrote:

“I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.”

1 Tim 3:15 (LSB)


And so, I thought it would be best to not place the entire focus on the elders this morning but to keep the focus on the church and therefore the elder’s role within the church, as the church has always been the focal point of where God has chosen to proclaim His truth. It would be hard to read the New Testament and not understand that the work of Christ is to flow from the church. And this is important to understand as we do live in a Christian culture that can be disconnected from the church at times. And this can show itself in many ways: a greater interest in what an outside voice is saying (e.g. on the internet) than what your church is saying; a greater energy being exerted in an outside church endeavour rather than on what your actual church is doing; or a greater excitement of unity with a Christian movement than with the people that God has placed in front of in your own church.


Now some of these challenges are becoming a little more unique to our day, as the church in Ephesus where Timothy was the pastor would have little connection with other churches than through the letters that they might receive from some of the apostles or hearing about them from a visit of Paul. Yet these influences, visits, and letters were intended to further connect people with their own church, which can be the intent of some of these parachurch ministries today or popular websites, but they can also take our hearts away from our local church. I guess the most negative result of all this, is the Christian who gets so involved in someone else’s ministry or teaching, that attending their own church ends up being merely a ritual, or even worse they end up becoming a stay-at-home internet Christian.


This past Sunday evening we were looking at the writer of Hebrews challenge of keeping our affections pure. The need for each believer within the local church to be completely plugged into the local ministry. Not those who show up to do their ministry, but those who are at the very heart of ministry. I believe as our world gets smaller, and as we have greater access to ministries all over the world, that there is the temptation to allow our hearts to wonder, or have our thinking and study be more influenced by outside ministries than within the body where you attend. So, comparisons between ministries become easy, and the focus can become more on my personal Christianity than it is on the church. So, I have chosen to place a greater emphasis on the church in this sermon, as I believe this would best honour the context of the passage, as this exhortation seems to be placed upon the church as much as on the elders.


  1. The Church Must Have Strong Leadership (vs 17-18)


“The elders who lead well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor at preaching the word and teaching.”

1 Tim 5:17 (LSB)


We could read this passage and say, elders, lead well. Yet if we read it carefully, who is the statement being addressed to? The folks within the church. The instruction is that if your elders lead you well, what will you do? Consider them “worthy of double honour.” In other words, appreciate those leaders who simply (vs 17) lead well. This is so obvious to me and likely to you as well if you have been part of church life for any length of time just to think back to some great pastors/elders over the years who have been in some of the churches you have been part of, and can say, Lord, I am so grateful for their good leading. I can think back to one specifically who you have heard me mention before, and that is Rick Baker, who still ministers at Calvary Baptist in Oshawa, for his passion, his understanding of the Scriptures, his clear teaching, and his love, all helped to mould me as a young Dad. Mould is used as a verb. Not mould as a noun, he didn’t make me mouldy, but he challenged me to be godly.


So, what does it mean by “double honour”? Well, it does not mean that whatever appreciation or regard you might give to one elder, then to the one you really like, give him twice as much. It is a statement to emphasize the need to give honour and respect to those who lead you well, in other words, don’t be hesitant to give them honour, when the ministry that they lead is a ministry that benefits you spiritually. I have mentioned to you before of the need to be honest and direct with your children when they do something good. Not necessarily blurted out or said somewhat without thought. But at a choice time, before bed or at the supper table, late at night with a teenager, John, Grace, loved what you did yesterday. Peter, Sarah, I was really proud of you. And of course, your eleven other kids are all sitting there thinking, what about me? Listen, if you are direct with your children in such a way, they will know that you treat them, each of them with “double honour.” In fact, they will even learn to rejoice in the praise of another brother or sister. And then Paul says something that might seem somewhat odd.

“For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while it is threshing.’”

1 Tim 5:18a (LSB)


I never thought of myself as an ox threshing. What Paul is stating here is that if folks in the church become negative or down on the ministry, we sort of quiet the one who is preaching and teaching. And I believe we can quiet him in a few ways. One, we quiet him by closing our ears to the message, that the instruction or encouragement is not really heard, that the Word is presented and we see ourselves as in a mirror and yet we walk away without change. And that deadness becomes apparent to the preacher, as the lack of excitement for ministry and spiritual growth does become apparent to the one teaching. Or secondly, we quiet him with unnecessary criticism. That as his speaking is not in line with every understanding I have, we might challenge him, Not interject with a good thought to add, but actually challenge him. If I hear absolutely nothing, or you all look completely dead sitting there, at some point, you will muzzle this ox, and you know I am sort of joking.


All the elders here teach in many ways. Effort is given by them, commitment is made by them, and energy is imparted to you. And what Paul is saying to the congregation is don’t douse out that excitement for the Lord and His church, in other words, make it a joy for them and not a burden for them. Why? Because the church must have strong leadership, as the challenges are great and the enemy is strong. And we, all of us at times can be weak. So, be grateful for those who minister among you in leadership.


  1. The Church Must Demand Strong Character from its Leaders (vs 19-21).


Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.20 Those who continue in sin, reprove in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful.21 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His elect angels, to observe these instructions without bias, doing nothing in partiality.”

1 Tim 5:19-21 (LSB)


These verses simply state that if an accusation comes against an elder, people will not entertain it, unless there are witnesses. And the assumption here would be that these need to be trustworthy witnesses. Those who have a godly concern for the ministry, who also pour their heart into the church, and care deeply for its biblical correctness. We learn from this passage that there may be false accusations made about an elder. It may be that they simply do not agree with his biblical teaching or maybe for some reason they simply do not like that elder. As there is a long list of biblical characters who were godly that people criticized. Moses certainly was criticized and so was David.


But there are also times when there is a concern for the character of a man or the biblical integrity of someone, where this cannot go without being confronted for the sake of the ministry. And the statement that there must be two or three witnesses does not mean that he is guilty if there are at least two or three witnesses, it means that the accusation then must be taken very seriously. So, we could say from this passage that a person needs to think very deeply about bringing an accusation against an elder, but if there is something that needs to be said, it should be said. And (vs 20) teaches that if that elder does not consider a true rebuke, he needs to be reproved in the presence of everyone. And this has nothing to do with sides or preferences, for Paul is clear (vs 21) that this is not to be done with any kind of bias.


I do believe that the bad testimony of churches or the wasted ministry of churches over the years, has at times, been due to church leadership or a pastor being “unchecked,” wrong habits, wrong teaching, or his sin has been swept under the carpet. So, the church must demand strong character from its leaders, why? Well, the days are difficult and time cannot be wasted, as the Bible is always clear that there needs to be an urgency about spiritual things. I suppose the opposite of spiritual urgency is the description of the church in Sardis in the book of the Revelation.

“I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of My God.”

Rev 3:1b-2 (LSB)

And being a spiritually lethargic church does not mean that the church is not busy, for this church had a name that they were alive. In other words, they must have been known as a church that was active and doing ministry of some sort, for it says that they were doing deeds. Yet the problem was it was not addressing the spiritual growth of its people and somehow not honouring Christ, nor was it preparing the church for the attacks of the evil one. So, folks, we do not want to be a wasteful church, using the resources that God has given to us to just get along or to try to survive, because there are so many things that we need to be working at. I was speaking last Sunday PM on the Hebrews 13 and we were studying verse 4.

“Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled, for the sexually immoral and adulterers God will judge.”

Heb 13:4 (LSB)


And we read this quote from Al Mohler:

“This is a radical statement to make in today’s world, but it’s deeply biblical. Scripture recognizes sex within marriage as something good and worthy of celebration … [However] any form of sex outside of the marriage covenant is an affront to God’s gift of marriage and therefore is deserving of God’s judgment.”

Al Mohler

And I said that the talk on the street is likely that sex before marriage happens and is accepted, but it is not likely so within “good” families. And I went on to say that I would think that there are still many parents (unbelievers) who would desire their children to wait until marriage. And I was looking for some nodding, agreement, but all I got was these blank stares, as they said that for the most part, no, no one lives this way anymore. You have to know that the Sunday evening crew is so negative. No, it was me that was likely too naïve, and this is not a great priority in the culture today. Why must the church demand strong character from its leadership? Because if the church is going to make an impact within and without the church it must demand character and purity from its leaders so that they would not only teach truth to the church but also exemplify this truth in action to the church.


And let’s face it, it takes courage to confront an elder. Yet it is the low character of elders within so many churches that has been the cause of so many scandals, as often lead pastors get “caught” in a sin only to go and do ministry somewhere else. And pastors/elders may truly repent of a sin and be forgiven by their congregations, but it does not necessarily mean they are then qualified to resume ministry. Sometimes those who overlook a serious sin by a church leader feel they are being gracious. They may claim that they do not want to be judgmental. Yet it is not judgmental to state that something is wrong when God has already declared it to be wrong, and we actually judge God if we do not take His command seriously. See, if the leadership itself is waffling on its character, good luck to the church, good luck to the kids growing up in that church, and good luck to the society the church desires to influence. The book of Revelation might say that you have some great ministries going on but you are making zero spiritual impact in the lives of your people, therefore, the church must demand strong character from its leaders. And flowing from this one is verse 22:

“Do not lay hands upon anyone hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself pure.”

1 Tim 5:22 (LSB)


  1. The Church Must Understand the Great Responsibility of Church Life (vs 22).


“Never be in a hurry about choosing a pastor; you may overlook his sins, and it will look as if you approve of them” (TLB). This is a loaded verse, as there are those in the church who believe they have nothing to do with this. In fact, they might say, well the existing elders choose a pastor, or the existing elders choose other elders, so I have nothing to do with this. Is that really true? Do you really think that your ministry in a church, your commitment to a church, and your strong love for its people do not have an impact on the hearts and the minds of the elders? Is not the carefulness of decisions and looking ahead to the future as leaders, is that not influenced by the love and support of its people? And I am not trying to shift responsibility here, but elders are not robots who make decisions without considering always the congregation. No one can come to church and sort of disconnect themselves in such a way. No, we are a church together, and we have elders who lead and guide us and we work together as a body, amen? Is that not true?


And I would agree that the first thrust of this passage is toward the elders who would lay their hands on someone for leadership. But they are encouraged by the strong prayers of the people in the church. They are encouraged by the strong faith of those within the church. They are motivated to make sure that there is strong leadership for people for whom they dearly love within the church. When I think of Elim Bible Chapel, I am not thinking about a general congregation that I am trying to encourage. No, I am thinking of you, your marriage, your children, your work, and your ministry here. And the reason that all of us must take this so seriously, to understand the great responsibility of church life, as Paul’s warning here is that if we do not, it may lead to the sins of others. And a good question to ask ourselves is this, do my actions and speech lead others to a pure life of godliness and does my life draw people to this church? Or am I being used to bring disrespect to the church? Listen, the elders are firstly responsible for those called into eldership, but the church’s support and prayers come from its strong people.


Now this statement, the church must understand the great responsibility of church life, is stated this way because it is a very serious thing to call an elder. It means that he cannot be chosen because he appeals in some ways by such things as his personality, for he must be much deeper than that, and must have a good spiritual track record. And this is not a foolproof plan here, as we said a few weeks ago that Paul had a gentleman working alongside him named Demas, and we get the idea that Paul was shocked to hear of Demas’ desertion from the ministry. But the warning is this, be careful whom you choose and don’t be in a big hurry to choose him. And this little addition in Paul’s statement (vs 22) “keep yourself pure,” can be understood as keep your sincerity pure or your motives pure. That your judgment when selecting someone as an elder is not clouded with bias or favouritism, but it is a sincere desire to do what is best for the church. There is a great responsibility for all of us in church life.


  1. The Church Must Be Ready and Conscientious (vs 23).


“No longer drink water only, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.”

1 Tim 5:23 (LSB)


This verse has been used for the approval of alcohol for the Christian, as it says to use a little wine. And it has also been used to prohibit alcohol for the Christian, as the assumption here is that Timothy must have been an abstainer, but Paul permits some alcohol for medicinal purposes only. There certainly is some speculation that Timothy was not healthy, as Paul mentions here his frequent ailments. Earlier Paul had said regarding elders that they are not to be addicted to wine. He told the deacons to only drink a little wine. Of course, we are all responsible for our example before others, especially leaders. But what Paul could be addressing here in this statement right in the middle of this exhortation about the seriousness of church life and eldering is the need for Timothy, who may have been weaker health-wise to be alert and ready for his task as pastor.


I have said here that the church must be ready and conscientious. In other words, the church cannot be behind the times or unaware of the challenges of the day. The church cannot be a social club or something where we go have some fun. I remember when you used to send in a resume for applying for a job, you would often write that you were a “conscientious” worker. I am not sure if that is still used today. But what you were implying was that you were not only aware of what needed to be done but that you were ready and willing to do it. This is the character standard of the qualified elder. That he is alert to spiritual matters in his life. That first and foremost his own spiritual health and the spiritual health of the church are on his radar.


We also talk about fathers being elders in their own homes. Therefore, this kind of alertness is necessary for Dads at home, where they are greatly concerned about the spiritual health of their family, it is Dad’s responsibility. That spiritual growth, being in church, that the conduct of the home is honouring to God, that ideally, it is on Dad’s radar. If church life or spiritual devotion or coming to church is just part of a checklist, or something that has become a habit for you, you have missed completely what the Lord desires. For God has established the church to be the proclaimer of truth. And to not be plugged in directly to the church, places any of us in a position which a foreign in the Bible. Here is how Paul will end, stating the obvious sin of some men and yet others striving for good works.

“The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after. So also good works are quite evident, and those which are otherwise cannot be concealed.”

1 Tim 5:24-25 (LSB)


I want to close here this morning with this challenge to us as men. There is a growing number of “Christians” who are questioning the whole calling of men only for eldership. We have seen this for years within liberal denominations, but it is starting to raise its head in more conservative circles. I would suggest there are two reasons for this. One is because the confidence in the Bible is waning, as the world’s lifestyle and beliefs move further away from the Bible, the Christian can become less certain about what he believes. But I would say the second reason is that men are waffling, even men who still hold to the truth of the Bible that men are to be the elders and that husbands should be the leaders in their homes. They may hold to all that, but they are also finding other things to keep them entertained. So, they are leaders in “principle” only, but not in practice. This is a fight that we are going to have to face more and more in the future, the need for men to be men! Men who are willing to go to war, men who will defend, and men who will provide. And all that change in thinking in the secular world creeps into the church, as men are becoming less willing to go to war spiritually, or to defend spiritually, or to provide spiritually, so maybe the ladies will do it.


If there was a project that had to be done and it involved many people. What would be one of the first things you would do? Select some leaders. And you would make sure that you would select good leaders. And if the project meant anything to you, you would offer your full support to the leadership. God has created an institution called the church, through which He desires to proclaim His truth. And He has commanded that qualified men take the head as leaders in the church. And He has commanded that husbands take the head as leaders at home. And He has commanded everyone else to offer their full support. Result, strong men leadership at church means a strong church. And strong men leadership at home means a strong home. Let’s pray. Lord, You have chosen the church to be the place where the Word of God is proclaimed. Might this be our priority as a church family. And especially grant us courage as men to lead, protect, and provide. And all God’s people said, amen.