Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.
Paul calls Timothy his true son in the faith [1 Tim 1:2], and in his first letter to Timothy, Paul largely instructs and encourages the younger man. At this point Paul is probably rather old already, with plenty of experience in terms of the Christian life, church-planting and teaching, whereas Timothy was likely a young leader, with little experience in leading and building a church. Yet he had spent much time with Paul, and Paul’s high regard for Timothy was obvious through hints here and there in his other epistles, but most evidently from declarations of love and concern in his two letters to the young man. In 1 Timothy chapter 5, Paul advises Timothy on how to handle the widows, elders and slaves in the church – perhaps because these were three groups of people that were harder to deal with than the rest. Widows because of their need, elders because of their leadership position, and slaves because of their status. In this study, we will be looking at the phrase ‘laying on of hands’ and look at the responsibility that one will bear when making another person a leader.
Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands – In English the phrase ‘lay hands on’ generally means to get a hold of something, and more often than not carries a negative connotation with it. But the Biblical use of this phrase is often to used to refer to ordination, ie. to accept somebody into ministry or clergy. There are two other instances in his letters to Timothy that Paul used this phrase – Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you [1 Tim 4:14] and For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands [2 Tim 1:6]. In the immediate context of this verse we see Paul spending some time advising on the conduct of elders, which adds up to a list of high expectations of their life and conduct. The verse prior to this – I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism – calls for impartiality even when judging the most influential of elders, and therefore it is natural to think that in this verse, which comes immediately after that, Paul advises caution in ordaining any man to be an elder.
do not share in the sins of others – I’m sure this can be applied in a variety of different scenarios – in fact, in all the actions of others that goes against the word of God. However, putting this into the context of the elders, and of ordaining someone, then this sheds a harsh light onto the act of ordaining – we see now the responsibility of making someone a servant of God or a spiritual leader is a task with huge responsibility. And with good reasons, perhaps, for any elder that had been ill-chosen will perhaps be easily pulling the congregation down with him. There is no meaning in admitting anybody into the ministry of God hastily. Instead, let that person first be proved that he is worthy of double honor [1 Tim 5:17]. I suppose that also means that he should be righteous and be adequate in teaching his family, be full of grace and full of faith, be proven in his character. What does it mean to share in the sins of others in this case? Even if you weren’t the one nominating the elder or suggesting the option or making the decision, if you do not restrain or reprove of a person not proven, then you are sharing in the sins of those who are making the decision.
Keep yourself pure – No man can truly keep himself from sin; as only Christ is able to keep them from falling. Not from one’s own sins – not in this context at least, but the sin of nature and actual iniquities. Keep ourselves pure from the sins of others, by not rashly and hastily admitting any into the ministry. In this case Paul’s advice to Timothy would be to remain pure by not taking a part in the sins of others through the observance of a strict discipline in the house of God. Some refer this to chastity of body, in opposition to the sin of uncleanliness, which Timothy’s youthfulness would mean that there are many more temptations that he would be exposed to in this regard. These would be very damaging to a person of his position. It is thus even more so important that he, as a young minister, should keep himself pure. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity [1 Tim 4:12|Article].
Most people probably do not really lay hands on another person anymore when they make them an elder. Maybe your denomination still do, I believe most ordained ministers still go through something similar. But can you imagine a hasty ‘laying on of hands’? Grab somebody, lay your hands on him, and he’s an elder. I don’t quite think that happens either. I’m not in a position in church in which I have any say over who gets to be what, for I’m a youngster barely out of school, but in my Presbyterian context we still do have to vote, and I believe this applies as well. If you are an elder, you have huge – but not impossible – boots to fail. It is because of the trust others have in you that they are willing to take on the responsibility of sharing your sins if you fail in your capacity. 1 Tim 3:1-13 is a renowned benchmark of what conducts the elders and deacons should be associated with. Regardless of our roles in Church, let’s try our best to stay pure.