In 1 Timothy 5:17–25, the apostle Paul gave special guidance regarding church leadership. He recognized that these individuals were not perfect. But Paul was eager for the church to appreciate and acknowledge the value of pastors, teachers, elders, and other leaders who work hard and serve in a worthy manner: “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17).
Paul considered ministry leadership an honorable position to hold. Earlier, he told Timothy, “This is a trustworthy saying: ‘If someone aspires to be a church leader, he desires an honorable position’” (1 Timothy 3:1, NLT). The leader who performs the duties of his position responsibly and diligently, according to Scripture, is worthy of double honor.
“Double honor” refers not only to an abundance of respect and obedience from members of the church but also reasonable pay. The Greek word translated “double” in 1 Timothy 5:17 means “two-fold.” And the term for “honor” in the original language includes the notion of a price or compensation. In English, we also connect the word honor with the idea of recompence through the noun honorarium, “a payment for unbilled professional services.” Paul felt that dutiful and diligent shepherds of God’s flock, the church, ought to be honored in two ways: in proper esteem and fair compensation.
Paul’s meaning becomes apparent in his following statement: “For the Scripture says, ‘You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.’ And in another place, ‘Those who work deserve their pay!’” (1 Timothy 5:18, NLT). The apostle argued that, if God in His law had made provision for the hard-working ox (Deuteronomy 25:4), then members of Christ’s body ought to show proper concern for their spiritual leaders. Paul’s second statement, “The laborer deserves his wages” (ESV), closely resembles these words of Jesus: “For the worker deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7).
Elsewhere, Paul said, “Those who are taught the word of God should provide for their teachers, sharing all good things with them” (Galatians 6:6, NLT). The church has an obligation to protect dedicated leaders from being overworked and underpaid. Failure to adequately support them indicates a lack of honor.
Paul’s use of “double honor” is probably associated with the “double portion” reserved for the oldest son in a family (Deuteronomy 21:17). The dual benefit of being the firstborn was both respect and financial reward.
Paul worked as a tentmaker to support himself in ministry (Acts 18:3; 1 Corinthians 9:3–18; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8) but considered his position the exception, not the rule. Scripture teaches that it is both suitable and essential for Christian ministers to receive financial support from the congregations they serve, just as a laborer rightly deserves a paycheck from his employer.
Paul singled out preachers and teachers, indicating that their work is of utmost importance in the church. Those who fulfill these services in a commendable manner are especially deserving of double honor.