Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. (
1 Timothy 5:17)
Freedom is not the right to do anything you want, but the liberty to do all that you ought. It is a liberating thing to get in my car and go where I want, but I must restrain how fast I go by the speed limit signs. Similarly, in ministry there needs to be liberty for the pastor and associates—“the elders”—as they are called here to pursue their ministries without shackles that some congregations place on them. Those liberties, however, involve responsibilities. A train has great freedom of movement, so long as it is on its tracks, but let it derail and its progress has halted. God has laid down some tracks for the minister and the members to move forward in His mission. Paul warns us not to get off the rails!
Ministry needs liberty in substance (v.17-18). The church does not pay her staff a salary for the work they do—or they could not afford it! The pastor preaches the unsearchable riches of Christ and deals with immortal souls, where the issues are heaven and hell! His reward will be in heaven, because the members simply could not pay him enough. The man of God is not a hireling. The burden of the Lord is thrust upon him and he will do his assignment whether anyone pays him a penny. He has not simply taken this as an occupation among several options because he has chosen this field—no, God has chosen him. So why does the pastor get a paycheck? It frees him to pursue his work without needless concern for his family’s needs. The shackles of debt and anxiety do not hinder him. In the case of the one who leads the flock and feeds them faithfully and fruitfully, they are to be given a larger compensation—this inspires them to work even harder.
Ministry needs liberty from slander (v.19-22). Some of the most grievous wounds a pastor ever suffers are from sharp tongues. If a minister has to worry that he will be assaulted by slander, with no defense, it has the potential to enslave him to his critics. Judas Iscariot was among the twelve, and there are some akin to him, that Satan strategically places in churches today. This does not mean the pastor need not worry about morality, or has absolute authority over the congregation. If he sins, he is to be confronted, but there is a Biblical process established here.
Ministry needs liberty from sickness (v.23-25). Timothy was a “teetotaler,” and that is a good thing—normally. In his case, however, a contaminated water supply was causing the shackles of sickness to hold back his ministry. Paul tells him a small amount of alcohol can have a purifying effect on the water—so he is free to do that. The concerns about alcohol were well-founded, however—and it is why priests and kings were forbidden from it while discharging their spiritual leadership (
Lev.10:9-11; Prov.31:4-5). Intoxication leads to immorality (v.24-25). In our time, there is little need—most
ministers have access to pure drinking water.
The principle is important. If a
pastor is not healthy, he will be hindered, and the church needs to insist he
care for his body so he can care for their souls. Let us liberate the ministry and God will
bless that church.