Parity in the Eldership and the Need for Balance (part 3 of 5)

by | Nov 21, 2018 | Ecclesiology

In our last post we looked at the reality that there is a diversity of spiritual gifts in true elders.  I commented that this has important practical implications for the church and its elders.  But there is also diversity in other respects, specifically there is diversity of financial support.

The New Testament teaches that there is diversity in the matter of financial support.  Some elders may be fully supported by the church.  Other elders may work at another vocation to support themselves.  Let it be emphasized that this diversity is not the product of human sinfulness.  It is ecclesiastically lawful for it to be so.  The key text here is, of course, 1 Timothy 5:17-18.

The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”

Two questions must be answered with regard to this passage.  First, what is double honor? Second, to whom is such double honor to be given?

(1)       What is double honor?

Double honor in 1 Timothy 5:17 means generous financial support.  How do we know this?  Double honor in the context of 1 Timothy 5:17 is contrasted with the honor to be given to widows.  Without any doubt this honor for widows consists in financial support (1 Tim. 5:3, 4, 8, 16).  Widows are, then, to be honored, while well-ruling elders are to be given double honor—the generous financial support necessary to comfortably support a man in a leadership position who may also have a wife and children.

The financial character of this honor is confirmed by verse 18.  Here Paul cites the same Old Testament text that he used in 1 Corinthians 9:9 to teach that ministers of the gospel should live of the gospel or be generously, financially supported.  He also cites a saying of the Lord that in both Matt. 10:10 and Luke 10:7 had to do with the financial support of those who preach the gospel.

The term, double, used here is not intended literally.  It is used figuratively in the New Testament to refer to a large or generous portion of something (Matthew 23:15; Rev. 18:6).  Matthew 23:15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” Revelation 18:6 “Pay her back even as she has paid, and give back to her double according to her deeds; in the cup which she has mixed, mix twice as much for her.”

In accord with its usage in the New Testament, then, double here simply means or denotes that this financial support is to be ample or generous.  The generosity with which elders should be financially supported is confirmed by the parallel passages (Galatians 6:6; 1 Corinthians 9:14).

(2)       To whom is such double honor to be given?

This financial support of the elders—according to the Apostle Paul—is not to be indiscriminately divided among or necessarily given to all elders.  Notice how the passage speaks of this matter.  Timothy and the church at Ephesus under his leadership are to focus that financial support on the elders who rule well. Among those who rule well financial support is especially to be given to those who work hard at preaching and teaching.

I think of this passage as viewing the eldership in terms of three concentric circles.  Financial support is focused on the innermost circle, may extend to the next circle outward, but does not extend to all elders in general.

The measure of a man’s spiritual gifts in ruling and especially teaching and preaching (as well as his experience, maturity, diligence, and godliness) is related to the matter of financial support.  Of course, the church’s ability may in some cases prevent the church from doing all it should do with regard to the financial support of elders.  In such cases the priorities set by 1 Timothy 5:17 should govern the distribution of financial support to elders.

We may draw from all this a clear conclusion.  The Scriptures could not be more clear that there is diversity with regard to the financial support of elders.

Let me state plainly that voting a man in as a pastor or elder does not mean that the church has any necessary commitment to support that man financially.  Nor does it mean that they are committed to financially supporting that man at the level that they may be supporting pastors already.  Practically, all this means that a separate act of the church from the election of a pastor may be appropriate or even necessary to grant a pastor financial support.  1 Timothy 5:17 makes very clear that some elders or pastors may not be financially supported at all.  This is, then, a different issue than recognizing that a man is a qualified elder.

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