The Meaning of “Honor” in 1 Timothy 5:18

Presenter: Bob Deffinbaugh

Question: What does “honor” mean in 1 Timothy 5:18?

Let me begin by saying that I believe the word “honor” in some contexts refers to financial support. I believe that such would be the case in Matthew 15:4-6 and Mark 7:20 where Jesus refers to the command to honor one’s father and mother. The Pharisees contrived the “corban copout” as a way to avoid financially supporting their parents. Honor likewise refers to financial support in Paul’s command to “honor” widows in 1 Timothy 5:3. Thus, I would conclude that “honor” in 1 Timothy 5:17 includes (if not primarily refers to) the financial support of at least certain elders. In this text, “double honor” is to be given to those who “rule well” by “laboring hard at preaching and teaching.”

Does this mean that all elders should be paid? We know that any elder must be “free from the love of money” (1 Timothy 3:3). Thus, money should not be the motivation for becoming an elder. Generally, the way we have applied this instruction in 1 Timothy 5:17 (along with other texts like 1 Corinthians 9:7-11 and Galatians 6:6) at our church is that to the degree that what we expect an elder to do infringes on his employment, we compensate for that portion of his time. For a full-time elder, that would mean full-time compensation (at a rate near that which he would be paid at a comparable job — such as a teacher in a public school or college). This may also be applied in a way that pays a person a part-time compensation. We also have circumstances where one’s resources are such that they do not need financial support, regardless of how much time they spend in ministry. In our local church, we have always attempted to err on the side of generosity, and this has worked very well for almost 40 years.