“You Shall Not Muzzle an Ox” (1 Timothy 5:17-18)

“Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages’” (1 Timothy 5:17-18, NKJV).

From this passage, it is clear there were first-century elders who also labored in “the word and doctrine” (1 Timothy 5:17). In other words, “elders” can also fill the role of preachers and teachers. Furthermore, Paul emphasizes these “elders” were worthy of “double honor.” Thus, it was right to financially compensate those elders also serving as teaching and preaching ministers.

The original Greek word “honor” implies “financial compensation” (as the Amplified Bible summarizes it). The Greek word for “honor” is TIME. TIME is used of the “price” paid for Judas to betray Jesus in Matthew 27:6,9. It is used in Acts 4:34 when referring to the “proceeds” coming from the sale of houses or lands donated to help saints in need. It refers to the “sum” of money Abraham purchased for his wife, Sarah (Acts 7:16). It refers to the “price” paid for our own souls through the blood of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:20). In various places in the New Testament, then, this word is a reference to compensation for a service rendered. Similarly, for example, an “honorarium” is often given to a preacher presents a funeral eulogy or delivers a wedding speech as an officiant. This honorarium serves to help compensate him for his time and work.

Paul quotes from two Scriptures to substantiate his compensation expectation (1 Timothy 5:18). First, he goes back to an Old Testament principle found in Deuteronomy 25:4, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” Imagine the cruelty of taking an ox to the threshing floor as he does the hard work of “treading grain” and refusing to feed him some of the grain. It is as foolish as a farmer running a tractor during harvest season and refusing to put fuel in it. Secondly, Paul quotes from Jesus who said, “The laborer is worthy of his wages” (cp. Luke 10:7). Ministers who work on behalf of the church are worthy of compensation for their efforts.

So, as we give, please consider elders and preachers who devote their lives to the gospel. They have expenses and needs that must be met. Those may differ based on one’s family, the economy, and the community in which he lives. In fact, sometimes preachers have higher expenses when one considers most do not have a health or retirement benefit program like many corporate employees. Some preachers pay the equivalent of two mortgages when one adds up their health, life, dental, and vision insurance premiums in addition to the typical household bills. So, as Paul instructs here, let us be sure to “honor” the minister by giving him the proper compensation to pay the bills so he can give his full energy to the work God has set before us. Do not muzzle the hard- working ox.