Working With Other Members   
1 Tim. 5:3 - 6:2
By Paul Robison

A great NFL coach was once asked what it took to make a winning team. He replied that most football teams knew their plays and their strategies, and they had plenty of discipline.  But there was a third ingredient that many failed to have: if you're going to play together as a team, you've got to care for one another.  Each player has to be thinking about the next guy and saying to himself: “If I don't block that man, Paul is going to get his legs broken.  I have to do my job well so that he can do his.”  Yes, the difference between mediocrity and greatness is the feeling these players have for each other.  Then someone made this application: “In a healthy church, each Christian learns to love one another.  As we take seriously Jesus' command to love one another, we contribute to a winning team” (Stinnett in Rowell).  Thinking about one another, helping one another, making it happen together, respecting one another, loving one another—isn't it great that we can experience all that in the Lord's church?  Christ and His church offer a closeness that we just can't find in any human organization!  In the letter of 1 Timothy, we discover that the church in Ephesus has been in chaos. Paul hopes to come soon to help the church get back on its feet, but until he can arrive, he writes this letter to help Timothy and the members there know how to conduct themselves and to carry on.  He gives instructions about avoiding the heretics, former church leaders who have shipwrecked their faith, about salvation (which is for all and not just for those with special knowledge), about lifestyle (a peaceful, evangelistic, and spiritual one that all members should display), about good church leadership (providing qualifications for elders and deacons), about essential truths that can't be compromised (Jesus' incarnation, His resurrection, His ascension, His Gospel, His church, and His glorification), about the false teachings of the heretics (who were forbidding marriage and eating certain foods), and about specific instructions to Timothy (and we've seen how those could be listed in about 20 commands).  In the next section, Paul instructs Timothy about working with various group and other members.  Let's see what Paul tells Timothy as he works with four groups, so that we can develop more care for one another.
 
The first groups are widows. Let's read now 5:3-16: “Honor widows we are really widows.  But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God.  Now she who really is a widow, and left alone, trusts in God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day.  But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives.  And these things command, that they may be blameless.  But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.  Do not let a widow under sixty years old be taken into the number, and not unless she has been the wife of one man, well reported for good works: if she has brought up children, if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints' feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work. But refuse the younger widows; for when they have begun to grow wanton against Christ, they desire to marry, having condemnation because they have cast off their first faith. And besides they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not. Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house, and give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully.  For some have already turned aside after Satan.  If any believing man or woman has widows, let them relieve them, and do not let the church be burdened, that it may relieve those who really are widows.”  Paul must have believed that women and their influences were very important to the church because this is one of the longest sections in this book.  Paul gives two basic guidelines here: financially help those older widows who are destitute and meet the qualifications, and don't financially help widows who have relatives who can help them or who are younger.  Destitute means that have no relatives to help them, and the qualifications were: trusts in God, prays much, is at least 60 years old, has only had one husband, well reported for and diligent in good works, raised good children, lodged strangers, washed members' feet, and helped the afflicted.  Basically, if she has aided others throughout her life, then she is worthy to be put on the list of those who would receive financial aid from the church.  Now if she has Christians relatives, they should be first to step up and care for her.  If she is a young widow (below 60), it would be better for her to remarry, share her husband's income, and raise a family.  Paul had seen that too many young widows had been tempted to put pleasure before Christ, or they had too much time on their hands, and their idle hands became the devil's workshop for divisiveness.  This might be reading too much into the text, but Paul says some young widows have already tuned aside to Satan.  Now it is interesting that Satan was mentioned earlier when Paul said that he had disciplined two heretics by turning them over to Satan.  Perhaps these younger widows were helping the heretics by opening up their homes for worship places and by preparing food for them.  Now that's just personal speculation.  What is not speculation is found in verse 7: “And these things command, that they may be blameless.”  The apostle Paul is not merely giving Timothy good advice; he is establishing guidelines which all churches down through the ages are to practice.  We talk much about restoring the primitive church, but in my short lifetime, I have never worshiped with a congregation which financially supported widows on a regular basis.  Most American congregations have let our government provide the support.  But to their credit, some congregations have provided supplemental income, transportation, and other good works in order to help godly widows who were destitute.  Paul shows us quite clearly that those good sisters, who have contributed to the church, served the church, and honored Christ, should be helped.  And here's another brief aside.  Let's not forget to help our widowers too.  Men suffer and have to make painful adjustments just as much, if not more so than women.  My father told me once that when he was a widower, he could count one hand the number of Christians who had come to visit him in the last 5 years.  And he lives in place that has hundreds of Christians. Let's truly care for our widows and widowers since so many of them worked in the past and sacrificed to build up the local congregation.
 
The next group that Paul mentions is the elders. Let's read 5:17-20: “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.  For the Scripture says, 'You shall not muzzle the ox while it treads out the grain,' and 'The laborer is worthy of his wages.'  Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.  Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest may fear.”  The expression “rule well” shows us that elders do have an authority and a duty to exercise.  When they do this properly and devote much time to teaching, Paul is saying that such men should be paid by the church for their labors.  Paul even quotes scriptures to prove this.  Turn over to 1 Corinthians 9:8-12, and you'll discover that Paul quotes this same scripture from Deuteronomy 25:4 about not muzzling the ox, and explains that it was written to show that preachers should get financial help when they share spiritual truths with others.  Paul also quotes Jesus here when he says: “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”  This statement is found in Luke 10:7, and do you see that Paul is quoting from Luke's gospel and calling it scripture on the same level of authority and inspiration as the book of Deuteronomy?  Now Paul is writing to Timothy around 62 A. D., so this means that Luke's Gospel was written either at this time or before this date.  But let's return Paul's point: Elders who rule and teach well should be given a double honor, which means they should be praised and paid for their efforts!  Then Paul warns Timothy not to jump to conclusions about accusations against elders.  Just as the law of Moses taught, it would be good have the verification of two or three witnesses before an accusation is seriously considered.  But if an elder's wrong-doing has been observed by multiple witnesses, then Timothy should not hesitate to rebuke their sinning before the rest of the church.  One commentator rightly observed: “When we cover up sins in the church, we corrupt the morality and virtue of the church and destroy its [effectiveness] to honor God or to save men.  Evil teachers and evil men must be exposed and purged out of the church, or the church becomes corrupt and becomes a synagogue of Satan instead of a church of Jesus Christ” (Lipscomb).  So Paul shows us that elders can be paid and can be rebuked depending on how they handle their duties.  Remember, it was elders who left the truth and started preaching false doctrine to gain a following for themselves that brought the chaos to the church in Ephesus.  This was just as Paul had warned these elders themselves in Acts 20:29-30!  Continue to pray for our elders, to tell them you appreciate their efforts, and to submit to their decisions!
 
Now the next instructions are given with regard to all the members.  Let's read 5:21-25: “I charge you before God and Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality.  Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people's sins; keep yourself pure.  No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach's sake and your frequent infirmities. Some men's sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later.  Likewise, the good works of some are clearly evident, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden.”  When Paul gives a serious command, he often calls upon God, Jesus, and the good angels as witnesses.  So notice that Paul charges or commands Timothy before these witnesses to treat the widows, and the elders, and all members without prejudice and without partiality.  In particular, Timothy must be very cautious about laying his hands on anyone.  Look now at Acts 13:1-3: “Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who is called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.  As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said: 'Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.'  Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.”  You see, the hands were often laid upon members who were about to begin some special ministry.  Now Timothy had the authority to lay his hands on other members as the evangelist to commission them for their ministries.  But, just guess what could happen if Timothy does this too frequently?  Yes, it looks like Timothy is favoring and elevating certain members over other members.  In other words, it would be easy for members to see those members commissioned by Timothy as his favorites or as his clique.  So, Paul cautions Timothy about being overly enthusiastic in laying his hands on others.  Then, Paul warns Timothy about two other matters: “Do not share in other people's sins and keep yourself pure.”  Now why would Paul make this remark?  He gives a reason for it in verses 24-25: Some sins and good works of members are pretty evident, but some of their sins and good works are hard to determine.  This is where spiritual discernment and caution again enters the picture.  You know, some trouble-makers in a congregation sure like to get the preacher's endorsement for their hobbies.  Now the church at Ephesus had had enough problems with all the chaos and divisions going on.  Isn't Paul basically wanting Timothy to follow Jesus' advice in working with all members: “Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16)?  By the way, the passage in verse 23 on drinking wine sure sounds like Paul is passing on Dr. Luke's advice here.  Those who use this passage as an endorsement for social drinking have completely abused the context.  Let's follow Paul's command to Timothy and do our best to keep ourselves from being prejudice and playing favorites, from endorsing and participating in sin, and from getting involved in actions that might lead us to becoming impure!
 
Now the last group Paul addresses is Christians who are slaves and masters.  Note what he says in 6:1-2: “Let as many bondservants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed. And those who have believing masters, let them not despise them because they are brethren, but rather serve them because those who are benefited are believers and beloved. Teach and exhort these things.”  Slavery was very common in Roman Empire, and many Christians worked as slaves.  This is one reason that the early church had their worship services either very early or late in the day.  Sunday was a work day, and the slaves were expected to be on the job.  The slavery of Paul's day had both its good points and its bad points.  It is interesting that Paul doesn't tell Christians to buck the system and get involved in a social revolution.  Someone has rightly noted that Christians are to bring about social reforms as leaven and not as dynamite (Coffman).  Christian slaves are to honor their masters, and Christian masters end up serving or bringing blessing to those who are brothers or sisters working for them as slaves.  Isn't it amazing how adding Christ to the situation brings out the best in both the slave and the master?  And won't this be true in our work situations as well?  “People may despise this ethic [of bringing Jesus into the workplace] if they choose to do so, but it was this very thing that ... lifted the yoke of slavery from the back of humanity. [You see,] Christianity pours in the oil that lubricates and improves even the most unsavory situations” (Ibid).  It may be difficult, but try to bring Jesus into our workplace or into the relationships that you have with fellow workers!
 
There is something very noteworthy in this text.  Widows in difficulty are to be honored, elders who work well are to be given double honor, all members should be treated with equal honor, and slaves were to honor their masters and masters were to help their slaves.  We are to honor one another.  Doesn't that sound a lot like that third ingredient that was mentioned in our introduction?  We are to be thinking about each other, helping each another, making it happen together, respecting each other, loving each other.  “How sweet, how heavenly is the sight when those that love the Lord in one another's peace delight and so fulfill the word. When each can feel his brother's sigh and with him bear a part.  When sorrow flows from eye to eye, and joy from heart to heart.  When love in one delightful stream through ever bosom flows.  When union sweet and dear esteem in every actions glows” (Swain).  Working with others in the church can enrich and bless your life.  If you're not in the church, you need to be.  The Lord will add you to His church when you become a disciple of Christ and put Him on in baptism.  Jesus said that He is the Good shepherd and there is but one flock made up of believers from all parts of the world.  Perhaps, as a Christian, you haven't been showing much honor to your fellow Christians.  If this is the case, you can ask for Jesus to help you do a better job.  Whether we like to admit it or not, we really do need each other, and we really do need Jesus too!