17 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.” 19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.
I want to recap a few points we have already learned in this letter. Paul talked about the “qualifications” of being a deacon and an elder. I also mentioned that we should take care to build our character in a similar manner: beyond reproach. Here, Paul is addressing how to handle situations when an elder is being charged otherwise. I think it is at least common sense that when one of the leaders of your organization (church or otherwise) is accused of something contrary to the normal activity of that office, the organization should properly investigate it. However, it would be prudent not to entertain ever accusation brought against someone, as human nature can drive one to entertain a vendetta of sorts for merely emotional or otherwise irrational reasons. This is why Paul tells Timothy to not even entertain accusations unless 2 or 3 people concur on the issue. We should all take care to handle accusations this way and understand why. It seems that Paul had to address the issue of pointing fingers back then and it still continues today.
Paul’s reference in verse 18 comes from Deuteronomy 25, a copy of Israel’s law. It talks about how to handle disputes and wrongdoing. The phrase is meant to explain that if someone is putting in good work or that if someone has put in good work, then they have earned their pay. I take this to mean that if someone is accused of wrongdoing but there is no up-front evident proof of wrongdoing, there is no reason to remove them from office or position based on an accusation. Likewise, if someone has a paycheck coming and they earned it honestly and dutifully, they should not be punished by losing their pay.
The “double honor” mentioned in verse 17 is the one that sticks out to me today. Some believe this is meant to represent that elders should get “double pay” or that they should be honored in accordance with their hard and honest work. It seems odd, however, that Paul would say that “especially preachers and teachers” should get double pay. The following two verses further define what Paul is trying to say here and I think that his statement isn’t about money, but rather giving them the benefit of the doubt in conflict. It falls in line with his caveat of “especially preachers and teachers” because to be a preacher and teacher of Scriptures or in this case the teachings of Christ, you must first become an avid student and practitioner of them. We’ve already seen the qualities that should be evident in elders; add that they are subject matter experts in church doctrine because of their duties and we have someone that is to be beyond reproach. If a church organization doesn’t have this kind of confidence in their elders, then maybe they nominated them too soon. This is why accusing an elder is a big deal because their office holds them to a higher standard. It isn’t that they are “better people,” but rather that the congregation esteems them as an example, a leader, and one who has earned respect. It’s not the position that makes the man (or woman), but rather the person earns the position and fulfills the expectations of it.
We must be careful, however, to make sure we don’t simply dismiss accusations because of our esteem for the accused. Paul never says that we shouldn’t entertain accusations, but rather that it is a very serious issue and we must make sure that there is undeniable proof before moving forward. Otherwise, the organization and leadership would be shaken up needlessly. I must say that I think our society has actually done well with this type of procedure. Most accusations we hear about, although denied initially by the accused, turn out to have truth to them. American society has become one that does not accept deception or lying.
If we ensure that our leaders have truly proven themselves to be worthy of a position, the accusations should stay at a minimum since they are beyond reproach. We should be able to give our leaders the benefit of the doubt, however we cannot let that esteem trump a solid accusation. Things should not be “swept under the rug” if they are valid. Every solid accusation should be fleshed out in order to uphold the integrity of an organization and the congruence of its appointed leadership. Otherwise, the leadership is letting down those whom they are leading. If we cannot trust our leaders, whom then can we trust?