Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching; for the scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain’, and, ‘The labourer deserves to be paid.’ Never accept any accusation against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest also may stand in fear. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels, I warn you to keep these instructions without prejudice, doing nothing on the basis of partiality. Do not ordain anyone hastily, and do not participate in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.
No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.The sins of some people are conspicuous and precede them to judgement, while the sins of others follow them there. So also good works are conspicuous; and even when they are not, they cannot remain hidden.
If you can’t get guess which verse instantly grabbed my attention, then you have never attended an Elders’ Meeting!
Before I start it is worth mentioning that Paul (if indeed it was he) probably didn’t have the URC’s Elders in mind when writing, but rather presbyteroi; ‘the older men’ – the ones of significant responsibility and age whose experience would mean they would naturally be looked to for leadership. It is therefore helpful to consider all men and women in our churches who have a leadership role – any who labour for the community of God.
The number of Facebook posting ministers and elders who look forward to ‘an evening with Glen(fiddich)’ or a ‘nice bottle of red’ at the end of the day is worthy of note. It seems that this imbibement is entirely Biblical. Was that a universal ‘hoorah!’ I just heard?
At the risk of ill-informed speculation, we can read between the lines of vs.23 and envisage Timothy drinking only water and suffering from numerous ailments or weaknesses. ‘A little wine’ in his case could certainly have been justified to purify the water. Medicinal indeed!
We might also imagine a young man whose heavy responsibilities might cause him considerable stress manifested through his ailments. Paul’s suggestion makes perfect sense.
We have cause to reflect on the strain and stress of ministry, eldership and leadership in our church life;
the effort that goes into maintaining buildings and structures,
the 5 or 6 people who are on every committee,
the family life disrupted,
the ever-diminishing number of people available to take on roles,
the challenge and toil of discerning and enacting vision through mission,
and, no doubt, the expectations we face.
All of this will have an impact on us: perhaps even physically as it did on Timothy, and may at times mask the wonderful privilege and joy of serving.
I’m not advocating that we all turn to the bottle, but perhaps we do need to take seriously how we offer rest, relaxation and restoration to those who are tired and close to burn-out.
Perhaps we can build this important facet of our spiritual and physical well-being into our church life. Perhaps we can stop judging our leaders by how busy they are – working to ban the idea that the phrase “I’m terribly busy” is somehow virtuous.
Perhaps we might indeed, leave a bottle of something fruity on someone’s doorstep, as a sign that they are appreciated and should take a breath, pop their feet up and relax.
God who rested on the 7th day, You do not call us to self-destruction, but to a life of wholeness. Help us to learn that we cannot serve each other or you, if we do not care for ourselves. Help us to get the balance right and to not feel guilty. Help us to listen when You tell us through our bodies that we need to stop and find our rest in You. Amen
The Rev’d Martin Knight is minister of St Paul’s URC in Croydon.