Let the reputation of those who rule well be known, since they are doubly worthy of respect, especially if their work is in proclamation and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox treading out corn". And also “The labourer is worthy of his reward". Against [such] an elder do not entertain any accusation except on the word of two or three witnesses. And reprove openly any who have transgressed, in order that due respect may be [given and] shared by all. I am making this charge to you solemnly before God and [His] Christ Jesus and [in the assembly of] His delegated messengers [angels] that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing by way of preferment. Do not rush to judgement of anyone, and don't involve yourself in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.
     You should no longer only drink water but take a little wine, good for your stomach and your other ailments.
     The sins of some go on before them on their way to judgement; meanwhile for others they follow on behind. Similarly, the good works of some are on display and for others they simply cannot be hidden. - I Timothy 5:17-25/transliteration by Bruce C Wearne

Church Norway

Paul writes to Timothy about how to treat those who have leadership responsibilities in the Christian community (pictured - a church in Olden, Norway). PICTURE: Tom Skarbek-Wazynski/Unsplash

 

"Timothy, as custodian of the Good News, has to respect the 'way of life' unfolding among the believers. He is not to forget his own age in relation to those older and younger, as a young man among women, older and younger."

Just how are we to conceive of Timothy's place in whatever congregation of believers he is doing his work? Are we to see him as a representative of the “man at the top”, passing on the international organisation's rules to those “below” him in the chain of command? That does not at all comport with what Paul assumes here about the congregation's wider community engagement. Timothy, as custodian of the Good News, has to respect the “way of life” unfolding among the believers. He is not to forget his own age in relation to those older and younger, as a young man among women, older and younger.

Those with oversight of this community, those elders who have a prominent role and status, are worthy of full respect, says Paul. This is particularly so for overseers whose open proclamation of the Good News involves teaching. They are even worthy of a dual respect - from Timothy as much as others in the congregation. They deserve respect not only because they are fellow members of the congregation, not only as older members with standing, not only because they have oversight capacities. It is that they are participating in the advance and deepening of the work of Jesus Christ. Their special contribution, as well as the reputation they gain from this work, should be cultivated - it is not just a matter of remuneration although Paul is aware that such leadership will have its “perks”. And these are to be welcomed as what comes with the job.

And in such a context, Paul is aware, such teaching is needed to counter any violation of the 10th commandment. He develops his view of that commandment in his letter to the church at Rome. That formulation of the Good News exposing the covetous spirituality of those who had rejected Israel's Messiah had been initiated by Stephen in defense of his ministry [DIAKONOS] before his life was brutally taken from him. Paul came to the view that his task was, if possible, to make his fellow Jews covet the message he proclaims about their Messiah. Paul sees the Good News at work, stirring up that sense of jealousy among his fellow Jews. Will that perhaps bring them to their Messiah, Jesus Christ, and the mercies of the Lord?

Paul cuts off the power of such covetousness by a judicial principle - don't go getting embroiled in disputes and complaints about such a person's work if there is no valid cause and without witnesses who can attest to some alleged misdemeanour.

The implication is that he is to relate with elders in a spirit of mutual trust. In this passage, Paul's irony is in his advice to Timothy - it is not as if Timothy has final judicial oversight. But in resisting ill-founded accusations, in making public the covetousness of those who have brought them, there are still strict guidelines of equity and truth to be adhered to.

Paul's advice is that when such opposition comes forth, the transgressors are to be outed - just as Paul was “outed” by the word of Christ Jesus Himself on the Damascus Road, by none other than Israel's Messiah. Paul's life since then has been a perpetual acknowledgement of that reproof.

The purpose of Jesus' rebuke of Paul - shared by Ananias the witness to Paul's conversion and reliably supported by others - is that instead of a life of such jealous rancour, he was to live in a constant thankfulness of God's merciful judgement that is to prevail among the people Christ claims as their Lord.

And Timothy is not addressed as if he is “in charge”, even if there are consequences and precedents to be set by what he does. He can pass Paul's advice on to others who are curious about why he conducts himself as he does. He too is a member of the community with a particular role, a fellow worker, and perhaps even an honoured guest among the congregation's 'Board of Management'.

But, don't go rushing to judgement, says Paul. Also don't go getting yourself embroiled in the sin of others. Look after yourself. There is no demand upon you to be completely abstemious with respect to wine. Besides it has medicinal properties and it is there when you need help with digestion or when you are unwell.

This advice about a “little wine to help with your digestion” relates to what has been said earlier about those who would impose arbitrary rules about food. And it might also be an indirect encouragement from Paul to the young man to be ready to accept offers of hospitality.

Paul seems to interject a proverbial piece of wisdom here. Some people push on with their sins out in front of themselves and others - they serve to announce the person's contribution. Other people are pushed on by their sins; they are pursued by their former transgressions. They are living testimony to the sins of their past as others pursue sins in order to make a name for themselves. In a similar way, says Paul, good works are for some to be displayed but for others they simply cannot be hidden!

Timothy is charged to cut a path by avoiding transgression. This is an abiding dimension of the work of a minister of Jesus Christ.

The good work of some - such as those who exercise commendable oversight in their teaching and proclamation - is certainly on display. As well, the generosity and hospitality of those managing households cannot be hid. Their commitment to the Kingdom of God is further occasion for praising the Lord. And for others - perhaps it is in convivial conversation over a glass of wine - there is good work to be done, the fruit of which will come to light because it is all commanded and commended by the Lord. What the Lord commands is also always blessed by Him.