“17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”
In my previous sermon on 1 Timothy 5:1- 16, we saw Paul giving instructions for members of the congregation in Ephesus to “honor” their widows. The idea of honoring the elders is the same as honoring the widows in verse 3; it refers to respect and monetary support, meaning “double honor.”
Elders are called to lead and to work diligently. Because of the spiritual nature of their work, the church should esteem their elders very highly (1 Thes. 5:12-13).
In our passage today, Paul repeats what he said in 1 Corinthians 9:14; “In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.”
In 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians, Paul is clear that elders should be paid for their work. In both passages, Paul also quotes Deuteronomy 25:4; “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.”
The point is that while the ox is treading out wheat, it should be allowed to eat freely without hindrance. Similarly, the elders are to make their living out of what they do.
Even though Paul does not make a distinction among the elders in terms of their authority, position, or gifting, he does in terms of labor. The phrase “especially the one who labors in preaching and teaching” refers to the amount of labor, time, and attention, not gifting.
While all elders must be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2), not all elders teach in the same capacity. The simple reason is that some had devoted themselves to teaching and preaching as their full-time occupation. In contrast, others work outside of the church and naturally give less time and attention to the affairs of the church than their full-time co-laborers.
This passage not only tells us why the elders should be paid but also that it is the church’s responsibility to care for and provide for their elders.
Double honor is also a double duty for the church: to show their leaders appropriate appreciation and financial support.
A healthy church is intrinsically connected with healthy leadership. Healthy leadership is marked by a faithful proclamation of God’s word, and a faithful proclamation of God’s word is hard work and a weekly spiritual battle that can only go forward by and through God’s enabling grace and power.
Our responsibility as church members is to pray and make sure that the needs of our leaders are being taken care of so that they can continue to excel in their work. As they do so, the church is blessed, and we all bring glory and honor to Jesus, who said, “The laborer deserves his wages” (Matthew 10:10).