In many sectors of the church, elders/pastors and financial benefits seem to go hand-in-hand. In fact, until a few years ago, I had never heard of a church that did not fall into one of the following categories: 1) already employed one or more people as elders/pastors, 2) actively looking for one or more people to employ as elders/pastors, or 3) could not afford to hire someone as elder/pastor but was working toward that goal.
In this series, I am examining three passages (in four posts) in which elders/pastors and financial benefits are explicitly connected. Those three passages are Acts 20:33-35, 1 Timothy 5:17-18, and 1 Peter 5:2. I think it is important to analyze each passage to determine what it can or cannot mean before synthesizing the information together to help us understand what Scripture says about the connection between elders/pastors and financial benefits.
In this post, I’m going to examine what Paul wrote to Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:17 regarding elders/pastors and financial benefits. (Tomorrow’s post will examine the following related verse 1 Timothy 5:18.)
This passage is in the middle of a section regarding relationships between different followers of Jesus Christ, similar to – but a little different than – the common household relationships that Paul normally uses. The section begins in 1 Timothy 5:1 and ends in 1 Timothy 6:2 (although the 1 Timothy 6:3 continues by callings these “teachings that accord with godliness”).
Here is the specific passage in view:
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. (1 Timothy 5:17 ESV)
1 Timothy 5:17 is not directed to elders. Instead, it is directed to those who are not elders. Those who are not elders are instructed to “consider [certain elders] worthy of double honor.” Which elders are to be considered worthy of “double honor”? Well, the primary designation is those “who lead well.” (“Rule” or “lead/guide” are possible translations. “Lead/guide” is probably a better translation than “rule” given Jesus’ statement about “ruling” in the Gospels.)
The following designation of “especially those who are working hard in the word (probably “gospel”) and teaching.” These are not separate groups of elders (i.e. “leading” and “teaching). Instead, it is more like that some who are leading are also proclaiming the gospel and teaching.
The question of financial benefits lies in our interpretation of the noun phrase “double honor.” Does “double honor” indicate some kind of financial benefit? To begin our analysis, we must recognize that the word for “honor” in this passage CAN indicate the assumption of some kind of financial benefit (as seen in the verb form in 1 Timothy 5:3). On the other hand, the term for “honor” can also be used in a way that CANNOT indicate the assumption of some kind of finances (as seen in 1 Timothy 6:1). Thus, in the same context, we find “honor” used in a way that could include some type of financial benefit and in a way that could not be financial. So, context is not a big help in this situation. So, the best we can say at this point is the “double honor” may indicate that people should consider elders who lead well to be worthy of respect and honor that could include some type of financial benefit.
However, notice that the “leading” and “working hard” on the part of the elders occur BEFORE they are considered worthy of double honor. The people are only to consider elders worthy of double honor if they are already leading well and working hard in the word and teaching. There is no indication here that the people should provide “double honor” SO THAT elders lead well and work hard. So, the “double honor” in this passage is not similar to the modern concept of the salary. If anything, it is closer to the modern concept of the honorarium or “love offering.”
In tomorrow post, I will examine the next verse – 1 Timothy 5:18 – to see if it indicates some additional type of financial benefit for people who are elders.