Sermons

Summary: To avoid appointing unqualified people to the eldership, the elders must take time to know these candidates.

“Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.” [1]

Paul has been addressing issues related to the relationship of elders and the congregation. As witnessed in previous studies, the Apostle advocated honour for those who labour among the saints, acknowledging them for their investment in the lives of God’s people. He also outlined the necessity of protecting the elders against unwarranted assaults on their character. The Apostle was not unaware of the potential for sin among the elders—they are, after all, mere men capable of base sin. When elders sin, the Apostle was unhesitating in demanding that they be exposed and removed from their position.

When he writes the verses of our text, it should be obvious that he is continuing addressing issues related to the eldership. He gives Timothy two prohibitions and a charge in the first verse and an explanation in the final two verses. Some have concluded that the Apostle is simply tying together loose ends of thought. However, it seems apparent to me that he is doing much more than merely tying up loose ends. The instructions provided would go far toward eliminating problems related to the appointment of unqualified elders.

SIN IN HASTE; REPENT AT LEISURE — “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.” Let’s be very clear that Paul is not speaking of ordination as we think of ordination in this day. He speaks of the laying on of hands, and several possibilities could be suggested without resorting to the modern concept of ordination. To be certain, the Apostle may be cautioning against a hasty elevation of an individual to the eldership. That was perhaps done in the case of the sinful elders Paul has been speaking against. This fits quite well with what Paul had written earlier in the letter concerning qualifications for eldership: “[The potential elder] must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” [1 TIMOTHY 3:6].

Alternatively, some have suggested that Paul was warning against a hasty welcome of a sinning, former elder back into the position he once held. A growing number of churches today are quite prepared to restore elders to holy office once they have received counselling and express remorse. This suggestion appears to be unlikely on several points. There is no evidence that the early churches restored sinning elders. Also, laying on of hands in the New Testament appears to be associated with accepting divine appointment to sacred office. Finally, such an understanding does a disservice to the New Testament teaching concerning forgiveness. Nowhere in the New Testament are believers urged to use caution in restoring a penitent sinner.

The laying on of hands as individuals were set apart to holy office is witnessed on several occasions in the New Testament. The first servants of the church were set apart as the Apostles laid hands on them [see ACTS 6:1-6]. This serves as the model for elders setting apart deacons with prayer and laying on of hands. The elders act to receive, as it were, the gift of those who are chosen to serve the congregation.

When Paul and Barnabas were appointed by God to launch out on the first missionary journey, the assembled prophets and teachers set them apart for that service by fasting, praying and laying on of hands. “There were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” [ACTS 13:1-3].

Paul reminds Timothy that the council of elders accepted his appointment by the act of laying on their hands [see 1 TIMOTHY 4:14]. Similarly, he will speak on conferring the gift of God through “the laying on of [his] hands” [see 2 TIMOTHY 1:6].

Laying on of hands is never said to be associated with restoration of a sinning elder. Though the discussion is focused on discipline of sinning elders, there is not a hint of restoration, either after a period of counselling, time-out or expression of remorse. The concept of restoration appears to be a modern invention growing out of a saccharine view of holy orders.

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