Author: Ron Graham
Verse by verse study of Paul’s first letter to Timothy. In this lesson we continue to examine the second last chapter (1Timothy 5:1-25). We are looking at the proper order in the church, which is the subject of the last two chapters of the letter. In this lesson we focus on the church’s ministry.
As we said in our previous lesson, the church was never intended to take over from the family. The two institutions have their own special purposes and functions. However, some people do not have a family and are alone. In this case the church family is the only family they have, and so the church family must assume responsibility for their care when they are in need and have no other help. The church is not a charity for one and all. However there are certain needy, like the "widows indeed" whom the church should support (1Timothy 5:3,9-10). These widows had a ministry of prayer, which is a powerful ministry indeed.
Another group whom the church should support are its workers. Those who work hard in the gospel — the congregation’s elders for example — are entitled to support for "the labourer is worthy of his wages" (1Timothy 5:17-18). It is often the case that the church expects much of its workers, but neglects to pay them properly. Timothy was to teach the church to act responsibly in this matter.
Paul now turns his attention back to Timothy himself, and the order that should characterise Timothy’s own life and ministry in the church.
The point we are about to notice, may be added to the principles of Timothy’s ministry which we studied in our previous lesson. A principled ministry contributes to order in the church —indeed it is an important part of that order.
Timothy, as a gospel preacher, has to be "without bias" in the way he deals with complaints, accusations, sinful behaviour, and so forth. He must handle these matters without fear or favour. He must be dedicated to the truth regardless of pressure from those with clout because they have social status, financial power, a following in the church, or some other leverage. He is to treat every person on their spiritual merit in the eyes of God and his angels. Timothy must not be swayed by worldly considerations (1Timothy 5:19-21).
Paul gives Timothy some direction on staying blameless, especially by avoiding involvement in other people’s sins. Timothy needs to use common sense, however. There is a danger in not being careful enough, and there is a danger in being careful to a fault. Paul mentions three things of concern to Timothy.
In 1Timothy 5:22, Paul tells Timothy not to lay hands hastily on any one. Sometimes a preacher has to "set in order the things that are lacking" and appoint elders or deacons (Titus 1:5). The preacher, however, does not choose them himself. Rather, he teaches God’s instructions, the congregation chooses accordingly, and he appoints the chosen. Even the apostles followed this pattern (Acts 6:1-6). The preacher needs to teach and encourage the church to maintain order through an effective presbytery, however he also needs to be sensible about this, for if he appoints men ill chosen, then he will share some of the blame even though the choice was not his. The way to avoid that problem is to appoint only those who, over a reasonable time, have established a good track record. Paul has already instructed Timothy on this (1Timothy 3:1-13).
In 1Timothy 5:23, Paul touches on another matter in which Timothy was trying to keep himself free from other people’s sins. Timothy was apparently practising abstinence from wine, which abstinence Paul elsewhere recommends because wine is a cause of stumbling to many (Romans 14:21). It also appears that Timothy was frequently ill, and it had something to do with his stomach and the water he was drinking. So there was a need for some common sense and discretion to be applied. Paul tells Timothy to "use a little wine" for his stomach’s sake. Of course it goes without saying that Timothy would be expected to do this discreetly, so that he still did not cause anyone to stumble.
In adding that last sentence, I am not suggesting that Timothy should become a secret drinker, but merely pointing out that Paul is by no means telling Timothy to become a social drinker. On the other hand, some assert that the word "wine" here refers to fresh grape juice. I would like to be convinced of this, however in the context Paul is talking about involvement in others' sins. Fresh grape juice has no discernible connection with people’s sin, but alcoholic wine certainly does. Paul’s pragmatism with regard to Timothy using a little wine for a sensible purpose in no way weakens the general case for abstinence or the principles on which it is based, which Paul himself advocated.
In 1Timothy 5:24-25, Paul addresses one of the problems one encounters when one tries to avoid involvement in other people’s sin. Whilst some people are obviously bad or good, there are others who are not what they seem, and whom it is easy to misjudge on shallow sight. It pays to take a close look at people so that you get involved with the right ones. The right ones are not necessarily those who have a high profile and are well regarded in the church. Should they later be found out to be sinners, and become the center of a scandal, you will be ashamed and chagrined to have been associated with them. Sometimes the right ones are not recognised, because their personality or social status does not easily endear them to others or command respect. But some day their worth will be discovered, and you will be happy that you had associated with them. If we are to avoid sharing in other’s sins, then we must be sensible like God who "sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1Samuel 16:7).