Stomaching the misconduct of leaders
I think Dr. Thomas Constable was right when he wrote in his notes on 1 Timothy, “Criticism of leaders is a favorite spectator sport.”
Let’s face it – not everyone is going to agree with or “like” every pastor they come across. But how should an accusation of misconduct be handled?
As Paul continued his instructions for Timothy regarding the appointment of church leadership, he takes a realistic, yet extremely serious, approach to dealing with leaders who may not be living up the standards their position would require.
1 Timothy 5:19-21
Don’t accept an accusation against an elder unless it is supported by two or three witnesses. Publicly rebuke those who sin, so that the rest will also be afraid. I solemnly charge you, before God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing out of favoritism.
Paul’s directions fit in perfectly with what Jesus taught his disciples about church discipline (Matthew 18:15-17). Timothy must thoroughly evaluate an accusation against an elder. One person’s word isn’t sufficient. However, if the charge proves true – if the elder isn’t living up to the qualifications set forth a few verses back in 1 Timothy 3, then a public rebuke and/or removal from office may be in order. These steps would correct the issue with the elder in question…but also keep the other elders from falling into the same trap.
Paul could not have been more serious regarding the importance of going through this process without any prejudice or favoritism. When Jesus referred to his return with the Father and the elect angels, it was in regard to judgment (Matt 25:31; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; Rev 14:10). While we might be tempted to think that a public rebuke is too harsh, it is better for an elder to be confronted now than for them to go on unchecked and then be confronted later by Jesus at the Bema judgement.
In order to avoid these kinds of situations, Paul gives Timothy some additional guidance:
1 Timothy 5:22-25
Don’t be too quick to lay hands on anyone, and don’t share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.
Don’t continue drinking only water, but use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.
Some people’s sins are evident, going before them to judgement, but the sins of others follow them.
Likewise, good works are obvious, and those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden.
Paul’s water vs. wine comment might seem a little strange to us, but keep in mind that wine was used for medicinal purposes in the ancient world. Purified water from a faucet wasn’t readily available like it is for us. Even though their water may look fine, there was a decent chance that it was contaminated. Using a small amount of alcoholic wine would have been beneficial in keeping his digestive tract in working order.
It seems to me that Paul is taking a practical step from Timothy’s life and using it as an example of how to manage the appointment of leaders. Timothy needs be cautious about appointing someone to represent God and lead others in their relationship with Jesus. Just because someone seems like a “nice Christian guy” and he can quote a few Scriptures doesn’t mean he should be leading the congregation. The importance of Timothy taking preventative measures to keep pure would also ensure that the church family would also avoid having to stomach elder-judgement issues in the future.
Bottom line for us? We need to recognize that our leader’s lives matter. We can’t expect them to be perfect, but their position mandates a level of blamelessness in order for them to handle this kind of influence on God’s family. Just like Timothy needed to take appropriate steps in evaluating a leader, we need to do the same when we are considering who we get our Bible teaching from. Just because they’re on the radio doesn’t mean they are “good” and their teaching is accurate. Just because they are “really nice” doesn’t mean that we should be submitting to their leadership. We need to do some work on the front end to avoid being misled.