Double Honour

According to the NRSV “the elders who rule well” are to “be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching”. The new King James Bible as also the NIV similarly talk of “double honour”. On the other hand, the Good News Bible speaks of “double pay”. Similarly the Revised English Bible (following the New English Bible) translates: “Elders who give good service as leaders should be reckoned worthy of a double stipend…”. Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase in The Message is not too dissimilar: “Give a bonus to leader who do a good job…”. JB Phillips in The New Testament in Modern English interesting interestingly goes for the middle ground: “Elders with a gift of leadership should be considered worthy of respect, and of an adequate salary…”

The fact is that the underlying Greek word used here has the meaning of ‘honour’ and of ‘pay’. The question is: which meaning is present here? The context shows quite clearly that there is a financial reference: “for the scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading gain’, and ‘The labourer deserves to be paid’” (NRSV). As the distinguished Anglo-Catholic scholar, JND Kelly, wrote in his classic commentary on The Pastoral Epistles published as long ago as 1963: “The inference from 18 that financial, or at any rate material, rewards are primarily intended cannot be evaded”. Many later commentators agree. However, some commentators think that the phrase refers both to honour and to pay. So the Pentecostal scholar Gordon Fee believes that Paul is not arguing that those who preach and teach should be paid twice as much as others, but rather that the ‘honour’ should be twofold, expressed both in respect and in remuneration. The Roman Catholic scholar, Raymond F. Collins, adopts a similar position: he notes that whereas v18 refers to “the elder’s right to sustenance”, v19 expands on “the elder’s right to esteem. In providing both sustenance and high regard, the community renders double honour to an elder”. I tend to think that Fee and Collins are probably right.

So what does this mean in practical terms? First, it means that today’s pastors are due “an adequate salary” (JB Phillips). Alas, some churches can be quite grudging in what they pay their ministers. I well remember a church secretary in Altrincham telling me that my role was to “set an example of holy poverty”. Fortunately the church treasurer at the time saw things differently, and he used to always give me a substantial “bonus” (see Peterson) both at Christmas and just before the summer holidays.

Secondly, and just as important, today’s pastors are due ‘respect’. As Paul says in Eph 4.12 ‘pastors and teachers’ are Christ’s gift to his church, and are to be honoured as such. If this is so, then it means that church members should not immediately question the lead their pastors seek to give as they seek to spearhead the church’s mission and ministry. Unless church members are convinced that their pastors are about to commit ‘kamikaze’, their default position should be one of encouraging their pastors in the lead they are seeking to give.

Needless to say, in order to receive such ‘two-fold’ honour, a particular obligation is laid upon pastors. In the first place, they should “direct the affairs of the church well” (NIV) – they should inspire those who they lead. In the second place, they should preach well, and they can only preach well if they “labour” at their sermon preparation – their preaching should also inspire!

So there’s a thought for the New Year!

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