When I was a beginning my role as senior pastor the elders asked me what I was excepting out of the “laying on of the hands of the Elders” to install me into the office of pastor and Elder.
I said, “My main expectation is that is done biblically.” I said this because the act is not just an element in a program but a very serious commissioning before God almighty. It must be executed correctly because:
- It is nearly as important as the handling of sacraments (such as communion and baptism). It is an act before God that demands reverence and obedience. Not handling it biblically would be reckless and dangerous spiritually.
- It provides an opportunity to teach the people of God the importance of execution a biblical command for the church correctly.
Here is my “commentary” on the main passage where this exercise is written:
17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.
The call of an elder is a high calling and is not something to be messed with (5:22). It is a call that comes from God and is affirmed by the people and other elders.
The man that is called by God to serve in this position is “Worthy of double honor” – this could mean financial remuneration because of the way that it quotes Deuteronomy next and says that “you shall not muzzle the ox,” insinuating that the preacher is to get adequate care for His needs in repayment for his work. It could also carries a spiritual meaning here that the preaching elder can and should (be allowed) to grow and feast off of the very Word of God he is working so hard to correctly divide.
All elders should be able to teach if needed, but this passage is setting apart the elder(s) that “labor in preaching and teaching” as especially “Worthy of double honor.” This is communicating the high calling of the preaching Elder by God and the ‘worthiness’ he is to achieve or maintain before God and before the people (2 Tim 2:15). Though the extent is not clear, there is a differentiation here between the elder that is laboring in preaching and teaching.
18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”
As I already stated, this is a quote from Deuteronomy 25:4 which requires an owner to allow an ox to eat of the grain he is grinding. One who works for something should be able to benefit from it.
When Paul quotes, “The laborer deserves his wages,” he is quoting Christ in Luke 10:7. (Side note: This is cool because it is as if Paul, a first century Christian, is already using Luke’s letter a God-breathed scripture because he quotes it with the same authority as the “Law” in Deut.) This is obviously referring to financial earnings from the preaching of God’s Word.
19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.
This is referring to how to deal with a person – specifically an Elder because of the context – if they fall into sin. We can simply understand that how God commands an Elder to be dealt with is very serious!
He even outlines specifics on what to do if the elder falls into sin and what to do if the sin persists. The punishment for an Elder goes beyond what would be done for a congregation member as outlines in Matthew 18:15-20. No light punishment – God takes this very seriously and so should we!
21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.
“I charge you” is not just Paul’s words of the seriousness of this command, but it is the Word of God to the church – how and what he is telling us to do is a charge and a command.
Don’t miss Who’s presence it is saying that this is in front of: God, Christ, and the elect angels. This is to emphasize that what takes place here is involving the heavenly courts! (Wow, feel the weight of that! – All of heaven is watching!)
His mention of the angels is to make clear that they too will be involved in the final judgment (Matt 25:31, Rev 14:10), so they too are keeping account of how this act is played out.
When he writes, “without prejudging, doing nothing for partiality” he is using some of the same language and meaning as prescribed in 2 Corinthians 5:16 which states, “Regard no one according to the flesh.” Meaning that we are not to charge a person according to the physical and worldly standards, but God’s standards. We must not commission an Elder just because of the resume, accomplishment or earthy accolades (Paul often uses his own life and resume as an example of this – i.e. Philippians 3).
Rather, we are to commission them according the standards God has for the men who lead His Church and shepherd His people. In the same way, we must not judge and discipline them or their sin according to our own standards, but according to God’s Holy Word (which is a higher calling than any standards we could come up with).
22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.
Lying on the hands of the elders was a very special and important act that took place in the early church and should still take place today. Timothy, the recipient of this letter understood this and its importance because it was done for him and mentioned in 4:14 (I find it interesting that Timothy would have been about 30 when this happened – it can happen at any age, but this is special to me because of my age when I was installed). This is an “Ordination” and “Affirmation” is to make clear that this person or life is set aside for service unto God.
One commentator, in reference to acting hasty said, “If, out of negligence, people appoint unqualified men as elders, they are implicated in the future sin of those elders.” Therefore, the process that leads up to the laying on of the hands of Elders must be very thorough, in order to ensure that those laying their hands on the new elder believe that he will live an upright life in the way that he conducts his personal life and the way he provides oversight for the church. If there is any sin in these areas the Elders who commissioned him are held responsible. Sense the seriousness of this; an elder that is appointed by others hastily will be ‘taking part in the sin‘ of that Elder if he does fail in his handling of his own life or the church. It is for that reason that Paul is saying be careful, move slowly and “keep yourself pure.”
It is good for a Pastor or Elder to study this and understand the weight of this passage to instill a righteous fear within them as they begin their calling publicly.