1 Timothy 5:17-25

17 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.

[Let the elders that rule well] Dr. Macknight has remarked that, "In the first age the name elder was given to all who exercised any sacred office in the Church as is plain from Acts 20:28, where the persons are called overseers who, in verse 17, were called elders. The same thing appears in Titus 1:5, where those are called elders who in verse 7 are named bishops, and from 1 Timoth 4:14, where, collectively, all who held sacred offices in Lystra are called the presbytery or eldership, and are said to have concurred with Paul in setting Timothy apart to the ministry."

[Double honor] Almost every critic of note allows that [the word here translated honor] signifies reward, stipend, wages. Let him have a double or larger salary who rules well; and why? Because in the discharge of his office he must be at expense, in proportion to his diligence, in visiting and relieving the sick, in lodging and providing for strangers; in a word, in his being given to hospitality, which was required of every bishop or presbyter.

[Especially they who labor in the word and doctrine] Those who faithfully preach and teach the Word of God.

18 For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.

[The Scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox] Deuteronomy 25:4 This is a manifest proof that by honor in the preceeding verse, the apostle means salary or wages. "Let the elders that rule well be accounted worthy of double honor," a larger salary than any of the official widows mentioned before, for "The labourer is worthy of his hire." (Luke 10:7) The maintenance ... should be in proportion to his own labor and the necessities of his family. They who minister at the altar should live by the altar; the ox that treadeth out the corn should not be muzzled; the laborour is worthy of his hire. But the altar should not support those who do not minister at it; if the ox won't tread out the corn or if the man will not labor, let him have no hire.

19 Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.

[Against an elder] Be very cautious of receiving evil reports against those whose business is to preach to others and correct their vices. Do not consider an elder as guilty of any alledged crime unless it be proved by two or three witnesses. This the law of Moses required in respect to all. Among the Romans a plebeian might be condemned on the deposition of one credible witness, but it required two to convict a senator. The reason for this difference is evident; those whose business is to correct others will usually have many enemies; great caution, therefore, should be used in admitting accusations aganst such persons.

20 Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.

[Them that sin rebuke before all] That is, before the members of the Church; which was the custom of the Jews in their synagogues. But, if the words refer to the elders alone, then the transgressing elder is to be reproved before his fellows, and tried by them.

[That others may also fear] This is the grand object of church censures; to reclaim the transgressors and to give warning to others.

21 I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality.

[I charge thee before God] The apostle would have Timothy to consider that all that he did should be done in the sight of God, the father of the spirits of all flesh; in the sight of Christ, the savior of sinners, who purchased the Church with his own blood; and in the sight of the most holy, approved and eminent angels, whose office it was to minister to the heirs of salvation. The word elect, applied to the angels here, is supposed to distinguish those who stood when others fell from their first estate. The former were elect, or approved; the latter reprobate, or disapproved. This is not an unfrequent sense of the word, elect. Perhaps there is nothing else meant than the angels that are chosen out from among others, by the Lord himself, to be ministering servants to the church.

[Without preferring one before another] Without prejudice. Promote no man's cause; make not up thy mind on any case til thou hast weighed both sides and heard both parties with their respective witnesses; and then act impartially, as the matter may appear to be proved. Do not treat any man in religious matters, according to the rank he holds in life, or according to any personal attachment thou mayest have for him. Every man should be dealt with in the Church as he will be dealt with at the judgement seat of Christ.

22 Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men's sins: keep thyself pure.

[Lay hands suddenly on no man] Do not hastily appoint any person to the sacred ministry; let the person be well proved before he receive the imposition of hands.

[Neither be partaker of other men's sins] It is a sin for any improper person to thrust himself into the sacred office, and he partakes of that sin who introduces, helps him forward or sanctions him in it.

[Keep thyself pure] From this and every other evil.

23 Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities.

Wine with meals was common and was highly regarded for medicinal purposes, yet recreational use of wine was discouraged because of the unfortunate behavior resulting from overindulgence. Timothy must have been about thirty five when he received this epistle; and as that was on the border of adolescence, and as the Scriptures generally call that youth, Timothy might still feel himself under the custom of his country relative to drinking wine, and, through the influence of his Christian profession, still continue to abstain from wine, drinking water only; which must have been very prejudicial to him, his weak state of health considered. As Timothy's life was of great consequence to the Church of God at Ephesus, it was not unworthy of the Spirit of God to give this direction in the text.

24 Some men's sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after.

In appointing men to sacred offices in the church, among the candidates Timothy would find, 1. Some of whom he knew nothing, but only that they professed Christianity; let such be tried before they are appointed. 2. Some of whose faith and piety he had the fullest knowledge, and whose usefulness in the Church was well known. 3. Some whose lives were not at all, or but partially reformed, who were still unchanged in their hearts, and unholy in their lives. The sins of these latter were well known to all; they go before to judgement. With the first class he might have more difficulty; there might have been hypocrites among them whose sins could not be known until after they were brought into the sacred office. The character of all should be fully investigated. The sins of some before this investigation might be so manifest as to lead at once to condemnation. The sins of others might be found out after, or in consequence of this investigation. On all these accounts the exortation is necessary: Lay hands suddenly on no man.

25 Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot be hid.

Though those who are very holy and very useful in the Church cannot be unknown, yet there are others not less holy who need to be brought forward; who do much good in private; and their character and good works are not fully known till after diligent inquiry. These are they who do not let their left hand know what their right doeth.

Historical information drawn from Adam Clarke's Commentary, 2nd edition published in New York by Lane and Scott, 1850. More recent editions may be purchased from


This page updated 09/12/2008

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