Paul's esteem for those called to leadership is evident from the way he begins his instructions with those who had remained faithful. The church was to honor them doubly. On the one hand, believers were to give them all the honor and respect due them as leaders appointed by God. In practice this means submitting to their authority and following their leadership (compare 1 Cor 16:16; 1 Pet 5:5). Not only had God chosen them, but they had proved themselves to be devoted to the work. On the other hand, as verse 18 indicates, those called elders were to be supported financially (or perhaps "materially," since we do not know what form this support would have taken) by the church for their service. Double honor, therefore, brings together respectful submission to authority and remuneration.
What characterizes the faithful elder? First, this leader must have an established record of skillful management. Perhaps those appointed to the presbyterion ("the body of elders"—4:14) did not initially receive support. This management (3:4-5) included the whole range of pastoral activities, from preaching and teaching to administration and oversight of the church's entire ministry and life. In the Ephesian house churches, management also meant upholding the Word of God in the face of false teaching, turning back the verbal attacks of the heretics and making every effort to hold the people together.
However, the second characteristic is that the elder be involved in preaching and teaching. Especially those whose work is preaching and teaching should probably be read "in other words, those who preach and teach." It is possible that these full-time ministers of the Word represent a subgroup of all the elders. But it is more likely that the task of managing the church was generally associated with those selected for full-time ministry. In modern terms, Paul has in mind the pastoral staff, whose members, in obedience to God's calling, have devoted their lives to service in the church. The "overseer" of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is the same as the elder in this passage.
The full-time minister's right to remuneration was not an innovation but a well-established tradition in the early church. Paul supports his teaching by appealing to the Scriptures. First comes a citation of Deuteronomy 25:4, which originally provided that threshing oxen be allowed to eat from the field in which they were working. Paul had applied this text earlier, in 1 Corinthians 9:9, to argue for the right to material support from that community.
A second citation applied the teaching of the Lord to the matter; in Jesus' opinion those working for the kingdom of God deserve to be supplied by those benefiting from their ministry (Mt 10:10; Lk 10:7). This principle probably derives from God's regulations for provision for the priests and Levites, who had no lands to till and whose responsibilities as ministers of God occupied their whole time (Num 18).
God's choice of the elder and the work of ministry are to be specially honored by God's people. Those who labor faithfully in this ministry deserve and need to be supported both by the congregation's respect and submission and by its financial contribution.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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