The Church of Ephesus had been built up and consolidated by the personal presence and influence of St. Paul, resident there some three years; and at the time when St. Paul wrote to Timothy it was second in numbers and in influence to none of the early groups of congregations (except, perhaps, to the Christian communities of Syrian Antioch). Placed by an Apostle as the first head of such a community, intrusted with one of the greatest and most important charges in Christendom, Timothy indeed needed to be watchful. Well might St. Paul remind him of the tremendous witnesses who would be present in his hour of trial.
And the elect angels.--St. Paul had been speaking of the internal organisation of the church on earth, and had been dwelling, first, on rank and order among women, and secondly, among men, especially directing that a special position of honour should be given to the more distinguished and zealous of the presbyteral order. The term "elect" here given to certain of those blessed spirits--in whose sight, as they stood and ministered before the throne of God, Timothy would rule over the charge committed to him--would seem to imply that, as on earth, so in heaven are there degrees in rank and variety in occupation. These holy ones are probably termed "elect" as especially selected by the Eternal as His messengers to the human race, as was Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God. (See Luke 1:19.) St. Paul loves to refer to the ranks and degrees of the host of heaven. (See Romans 8:38; Ephesians 1:21; Colossians 1:16.) But it is possible that these "elect angels" were those blessed spirits who "kept their first estate," and had not fallen. (See 2 Peter 2:4, and Jude 1:6.)
That thou observe these things.--The "things" Timothy was to observe, as ever in the presence of so august a company of witnesses, were the varied points touched upon in the preceding verses, relating to the internal organisation of the church over which he was presiding, especially bearing in mind (for St. Paul again refers to this point) his words which bore upon judgment of presbyters--the men whose lives and conversation were to be an example to the flock.
Without preferring one before another.--More literally, without prejudice. He who presides over a great Christian community must be above all party feeling. That unhappy divisions existed in the churches, even in the lifetime of the Apostles, we have ample evidence, not only in the inspired writings, but also in the fragments we possess of the earliest Christian literature.
Doing nothing by partiality.-Although these reminding words, and those immediately preceding, were written with especial reference to the judicial inquiry Timothy would be constrained to hold in the event of any presbyter being formally accused either of a moral offence or of grave doctrinal error in his teaching, yet they must be understood in a far broader sense. The presiding elder in Ephesus must never forget that he bears rule, not only over one school of Christian thought, but over all men who acknowledged Jesus as Messiah and Redeemer.
and the Lord Jesus Christ: who also is God omniscient; and is Jesus Christ the righteous, the Head of the church, and the Judge of quick and dead; before whose judgment seat all must appear; where there will be no respect of persons, nor any partiality used.
And the elect angels; by whom are meant not some of the angels, the more choice, excellent, and principal among them; as the seven angels in the Apocryha:
"I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, which present the prayers of the saints, and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One.'' (Tobit 12:15)
among whom Raphael is said to be one. But this is a spurious account, and not to be credited; nor was it an ancient tradition of the Jews, that there were seven principal angels; See Gill on Revelation 1:4. The Chaldee paraphrase on Genesis 11:7 is mistaken by Mr. Mede, where not "seven", but "seventy" angels are spoken of: but here all the good angels are designed, called sometimes the holy angels, and sometimes the angels in heaven; and here, by the Syriac version, "his angels"; either the angels of God, as they are sometimes styled; or the angels of Jesus Christ, being made by him, and being ministers to him, and for him; and also "elect", because chosen to stand in that integrity and holiness, in which they were created; and to enjoy everlasting glory and happiness, while others of the same species were passed by and left to fall from their first estate, and appointed to everlasting wrath and damnation: so that it may be observed that God's election takes place in angels as well as in men; and which flows from the sovereign will and pleasure of God; and was made in Christ, who is their head, and by whom they are confirmed in their happy state; and in which they must be considered in the pure mass, since they never fell; and which may serve to illustrate and confirm the doctrine of election with respect to men. Now before these the apostle charges Timothy; since they are near to the saints, encamp about them, minister unto them, and are concerned for their good; are spectators of their actions, and witnesses of what is done in churches, since they frequently attend the assemblies of the saints, and will descend with Christ, when he comes to judge the world in righteousness: the mention of them in this, charge gives no countenance to the worshipping of angels, since they are not set upon a level with God and Christ; nor is the charge delivered before them as judges, but as witnesses; nor are the words in the form of an oath, but of a charge; the angels are not sworn by, or appealed unto; only in their presence is this solemn charge given; and it may be observed, that even inanimate creatures, the heavens and the earth, are sometimes called upon as witnesses; and besides, it was usual with the Jews to make such kind of obtestations, So Agrippa (i), in his speech to the Jews, exhorting them to fidelity to the Romans, beseeches them by their holy things, , "and the holy angels of God", and their common country, that is, the good of it, that they would remain steadfast. What is the amount of this charge follows,
that thou observe these things; either all that are contained in the epistle, or more particularly the rules prescribed in this chapter; concerning rebuking members of a different age and sex, providing for poor widows, and taking care of the ministers of the Gospel, and chiefly what regards the discipline of the church with respect to the elders of it; as not to admit an accusation against them, unless it is sufficiently evident, and yet not connive at notorious sinners, but rebuke them publicly; and this charge belongs not only to Timothy, but to the whole church, and to all succeeding ministers and churches in all ages. The manner in which these things are to be observed is,
without preferring one before another; or, as the words may be rendered, "without prejudgment"; that is, without prejudging a case, or determining, before hearing, how it shall be; or as the Syriac version renders it, "in nothing let thy mind be prepossessed"; the sense is, that he should attend to any case that should come before him in the church, without prejudice or prepossession, and hearken to what is said on both sides; and judge impartially, and not in haste, but weigh well and consider the evidence that is given, and then determine as the case appears; so the Arabic version renders it, "without haste", or precipitancy; to which agrees the advice of the men of the great congregation, or Ezra's congregation, who were in his time, and succeeded him; , "be slow in judgment" (k), or long at it; that so by strict and close examination, things not known at first may be discovered: and when judgment is passed, it should not be through affection to one party, and disrespect to another; which is called in Scripture a respect of persons, and here a preferring one to another; and which is further explained by adding,
doing nothing by partiality; or by inclining to one side more than to another. A judge should not preponderate to either side, but should hold the balance of justice even, and do nothing to turn the scale one way or another, but as the weight and truth of the evidence direct; and such a rule should be observed in all church affairs.
(i) Joseph. de Bello Jud. l. 2. c. 16. sect. 4. (k) Pirke Abot, c. 1. sect. 1. Vid. Maimon in ib.