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 5:18 regarding elders/pastors and financial benefits. (Yesterday’s post examined the preceding related verse 1 Timothy 5:17.)
Here is the verse under consideration along with the preceding verse:
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:17-18 ESV)
In my previous post concerning 1 Timothy 5:17, I concluded the following:
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.”
However, it is often brought out – correctly, I might say – that Paul uses the term “wages” in 1 Timothy 5:18, a term which probably does refer to something similar to the modern cay concept of salary. Does Paul’s use of the term “wages” indicate that Paul sees “double honor” as “salary”?
The argument is that Paul is equating “elders” with “laborers”, and he is also equating “double honor” with “wages/salary.” Thus, according to this interpretation, elders are laborers and should be paid their wages just as other laborers.
However, there is a problem with this interpretation. Mainly, it does not work with the first part of the verse. In order for this interpretation to work consistently, then Paul must also be equating “elders” with “ox,” and he must also be equating “double honor” with “grain.” However, no one argues that elders are oxen who should be given grain. Instead, it is recognized that this is a metaphor.
The metaphorical connection between “elders”/”double honor” and “oxen”/”grain” helps us understand how to interpret the connection between “elders”/”double honor” and “laborers”/”wages.” The connection is the concept of something being deserved.
Elders (who lead well) deserve double honor in the same way that oxen deserve to eat grain while threshing and in the same way that laborers deserve the wages they were promised. Thus, elders are not laborers just as elders are not oxen. And, double honor is not wages just as double honor is not grain. The metaphor is used to demonstrate that one things deserves something else.
So, 1 Timothy 5:18 does not connect “double honor” with wages. Again, “double honor” could indicate some type of financial benefit, but it is impossible to tell in that context (since the term is used in different ways in the same context – see my previous post on 1 Timothy 5:17). The use of the term “wages” in 1 Timothy 5:18 does not affect the meaning of the phrase “double honor.”