What does 1 Timothy 5:17 mean?
ESV: Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.
NIV: The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.
NASB: The elders who lead well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.
CSB: The elders who are good leaders are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.
NLT: Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching.
KJV: Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.
Verse Commentary:
This verse begins a new section turning from the needs of widowed women to the treatment of elders. Here, Paul addresses the "elders who rule well." The Greek word used is proestōtes, which most literally means "to oversee, superintend, or manage." In context, this appears to be the same group as the elders or overseers discussed in 1 Timothy 3:1–7. Those who oversee appropriately are worthy of "double honor." This likely is meant to imply both respect as well as financial support. Verse 18 makes the payment aspect of this "double honor" clear. This is a key passage in understanding the New Testament stance on those who earn their living through service to the church (1 Timothy 5:18).

This two-sided honor is especially for those whose primary task is pastoral: "those who labor in preaching and teaching." Both preaching and teaching are considered important work for an elder. An elder has other biblical expectations as well, especially prayer (Acts 6:1–7) and congregational care (1 Peter 5:1–3). However, preaching and teaching are areas specifically worthy of mention when considering financial support. Paul earned money as a tentmaker at times in addition to sharing the gospel (Acts 18:1–4), but whenever possible gave his full time and energy to preaching. Paying elders may have been especially appropriate given the large size of the Ephesian church and the size of the city.
Verse Context:
First Timothy 5:17–25 provides guidelines on how a church should honor elders. It also refers to the proper way to discipline them, if this becomes necessary. Those who devote themselves to serving the church should be supported, meaning paid, so they can fully focus on the needs of the congregation. Accusations should only be taken seriously when there is sufficient evidence. And elders who are found in sin should be publicly rebuked. Paul also warns Timothy not to be too hasty in assigning elders, since some men's sins are hidden and hard to detect.
Chapter Summary:
First Timothy chapter 5 focuses on Timothy's supervision of those within the church. This includes a respectful attitude towards both men and women, young and old. A large portion of the chapter deals with how to care for widows. The theme of Paul's instruction is prioritizing those who are truly in need, and not enabling those who are merely lazy. Timothy is also instructed on how to screen out baseless accusations against an elder, and how to properly discipline them if they are found in sin. With that in mind, Timothy is also warned not to be reckless in who he appoints as an elder.
Chapter Context:
Prior passages explained the burden placed on Timothy and other church leaders. In this chapter, the emphasis is on how Timothy is to treat others in the congregation. A large portion of this refers to prioritizing charity for widows. This passage will more or less complete Paul's specific instructions to Timothy in this letter. The next (final) chapter will build on all of these themes with a command for Timothy to make the most of his spiritual service.
Book Summary:
First Timothy is one of Paul's three ''Pastoral Epistles.'' Paul's other letters, such as Romans, Ephesians, and Colossians, are meant for a broader audience. First Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus are written to specific people whom Paul is advising on how to best lead their local churches. These three letters present a close look at the form and function of church leadership. First Timothy, like 2 Timothy and Titus, is less formal and systematic, and more personal. This gives great insight into the way pastors, deacons, and elders ought to prioritize their time and energy.
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