1 Timothy 5:22- Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sin: keep thyself pure. (KJV)
The laying on of hands was a very common practice in both Old Testament and New Testament times. The custom has its roots in the Old Testament when Israel was to ordain the Levites (Numbers 8:10). And again Moses laid his hands upon Joshua anointing him to be Israel’s leader (Numbers 27:18-23). Next we find the laying on of hands in the New Testament church when praying for people to receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost (Acts 8:17, Acts 9:17). Moreover we find that the laying on of hands was used by the New Testament church to ordain its leaders and their mission (Acts 13:3, 1 Tim. 4:14, 2 Tim. 1:6). With this in mind let us look to Paul’s instruction to Timothy.
In Paul’s first letter to young Timothy it is clear that Paul wanted to emphasize the organization of the church. The Ephesian church was the possibly the largest church in the world at that time. Timothy was overseeing a large movement, not just a local assembly. In order for the church to grow and to function effectively it would need more than one man to do the job. When Timothy went to Ephesus it was already equipped with elder leaders (1 Tim. 4:12, 5:17-19). Yet, as the church grew it was necessary to ordain more overseers (1 Tim. 3:1-13). Anyone who would say that the church does not need organization would have to grossly misinterpret scripture and harm their own witness. We serve a God who is quite organized and very particular of how the church should be governed. God is not the author of confusion but of peace (1 Cor. 14:33). Anyone that has been to an unorganized church will recognize that peace is absent and awkwardness and confusion are present. Lack of preparation and organization should not be blamed on God, however it should fall directly on the leadership of the church.
Paul was adamant, when writing to Timothy, about the qualifications of a minister within the church. He was to be the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach, not given to wine, not a striker, not greedy, not a brawler, not covetous, able to rule his own home, not a novice, have a good report in the community, not double tongued, and they were to first be proved (1 Tim. 3:1-13).
The qualifications of the man entering the ministry was foremost a man that had proven his worth. It began in the home, next the community and finally within the church. They were to be able to teach, know the doctrine, care for their families, pay their bills and be an upstanding citizen. They were to be found blameless. Deacons and bishops were to prove their spiritual and natural character. God doesn’t just look to see if a man has prayed, but are his bills paid? Being able to teach the church is one thing, but can he teach his family? It would be quite an interesting situation if churches called on preacher’s family members before they asked them to come preach. For that is where true ministry is found.
Timothy was to be cautious before he was to ordain a minister. He was not to lay his hands suddenly, or hastily on just any candidate. The ministry is far more than preaching, it is a lifestyle. And if the lifestyle did not match up with the ministry Timothy was to avoid such a man. To lay hands on somebody was to affirm their suitability to the work of the ministry and the church.
For Timothy to fail to fully investigate a man’s life before he ordained them made him guilty by association. “Neither be partaker of other men’s sins. Keep thyself pure.” If Timothy were to lay his hands upon a man and ordain him and that man was not found to be blameless, then Timothy would be a partaker of his lifestyle. In other words his reputation was on the line. That is why it was very important that Timothy not lay hands on any man suddenly. He was to first make sure that this man was qualified for his position.
We preach and teach that all believers in Christ are ministers. There is a general calling, a calling that all believers share the Gospel and become witnesses. However, the calling of the ministry is a very grave and sober calling. No man takes this honor upon himself, only God can compel a man into the ministry (Heb. 5:4). It is then a self examination must take place to see if a man is qualified. God indeed qualifies the called, but He does so with His timing and sovereignty. A man is to prove himself by how he lives and behaves. A failure to do so only hurts his witness. The tree is known by its fruit (Matt. 7:16).
In our days of rushing and little patience we should not overlook the instruction of the Apostle Paul. Before we ordain ministries and accept men into the roles of leadership we must first examine the fruit in their lives. The church is not exclusive, but the ministry certainly is. For if it was not exclusive then Paul would not have taken the time to write such standards.
Therefore, before we lay hands on any man we must make sure that he is qualified for leadership, for if he is not qualified and we lay hands upon him suddenly, we suddenly disqualify ourselves.