Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure. (1 Timothy 5:22)
The subjects addressed in today’s verse are all matters of character…
The “laying on of hands” referenced here is the setting apart of men to the role of elder in the church. It was customary for those assuming the eldership, or any other ministry on behalf of a church family, to have hands laid on them by other leaders.
It was possible for this wonderful act to be miscarried if performed in haste. In other words, if Timothy selected men to serve in the role of elder without taking time to discern their true character, or because he wanted to show partiality to certain individuals, he could regret it.
How long should we wait before setting a man apart for the eldership? The Bible doesn’t give a definite time-frame. Since we want to insure he is a man with a good reputation, we surely need time to allow others to share their respective perspectives. It is also good to see a man serve in person to understand his heart and evaluate how he responds under pressure.
At this point I am going to interject a personal opinion. I say it is an opinion because I cannot support it with scripture. It is merely an observation. During the early years of my ministry I served in churches in communities where good leadership was hard to come by. We had some great men in our congregations, but they were not leaders. It was difficult to find someone with a deep knowledge of God’s Word, a shepherd’s heart, and visionary leadership. Every now and then a man would move to our community, or leave another church family to attend our congregation who came “pre-packaged” to lead. By this I mean he was all of the things I have mentioned here and more. He may have served as an elder in his previous church, preached, or functioned in other ways as a leader. More than once we immediately placed a man like this in the role of elder, and more than once we were sorry. It isn’t that these men were not good men, but rather that we failed to take time to make sure they were philosophically in agreement with our ministry, or that they weren’t bringing unhealed wounds with them from another experience.
What seems good and even urgent can turn out to be hasty. It is also possible, when Paul added, “And do not share in the sins of others”, he was adding parenthetically, “don’t select elders too quickly, because you might be letting your relationship with them blind you to their weaknesses.” Paul’s words could very well be a call to impartiality, and a desire to care as much about our integrity when we choose leaders as we do that of the leaders themselves.
One thing is for sure: it is a lot easier to pass on a leader who may not be ready or well-suited than it is to confront and dismiss one who should not be leading.
The more I think about the job Timothy had before him, the more I respect him. I can’t imagine the challenges he faced, and the way he must have struggled within himself to choose the right leaders. But from all appearances he did the best he could as God worked through Him in his circumstances…
…which is all God expects of any of us.
Dear God, guide me in this important task of leadership. In Jesus’ name, Amen.