Welcome back to our series in 1 Timothy! Today, we will be looking at chapter 5, where the Apostle Paul gives instructions about how to treat various groups of people within the church.
The first problem the early church faced was also a modern one: a group of church members were neglected by the ministering staff (Acts 6). I once heard a church member describe a certain pastor as “a man who is invisible during the week and incomprehensible on Sunday.” Again, somebody in his congregation was feeling neglected.
In 1 Timothy 5, Paul instructed Timothy how to minister to specific groups in the church.
The Older Members (1 Tim. 5:1–2)
Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as your father, to the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity.
Paul admonished Timothy to minister to the various kinds of people in the church and not to show partiality (1 Tim. 5:21). Since Timothy was a younger man, he might be tempted to ignore the older members; so Paul urged him to love and serve all of the people, regardless of their ages. The church is a family: Treat the older members like your mother and father, and the younger members like your brothers and sisters.
The Old Widows (1 Tim. 5:3–10)
Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. Give the people these instructions, so that no one may be open to blame. Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.
From the beginning of its ministry the church had a concern for believing widows (Acts 6:1; 9:39). Of course, the nation of Israel had sought to care for widows and God had given special legislation to protect them (Deut. 10:18; 24:17; Isa. 1:17). God’s special care for the widows is a recurring theme in Scripture (Deut. 14:29; Ps. 94:6; Mal. 3:5). It was only right that the local church show compassion to these women who were in need.
However, the church must be careful not to waste its resources on people who really are not in need. Whether we like to admit it or not, there are individuals and entire families that “milk” local churches, while they themselves refuse to work or to use their own resources wisely. As long as they can get handouts from the church, why bother to go to work? Paul listed the qualifications a widow must meet if she is to be supported by the church.
Without human support (vv. 5a, 8, “desolate”). If a widow had relatives, they should care for her so the church might use its money to care for others who have no help. If her own children were dead, then her grandchildren should accept the responsibility. When you recall the society in that day did not have the kind of institutions we have today—pensions, Social Security, retirement homes, etc.—you can see how important family care really was. Of course, the presence of such institutions today does not relieve any family of its loving obligations. “Honor your father and your mother” is still in the Bible (Ex. 20:12; Eph. 6:1–3).
Suppose a relative is unwilling to help support his loved one? “He … is worse than an unbeliever!” was Paul’s judgment (also see v. 16). A missionary friend of mine came home from the field to care for her sick and elderly parents. She was severely criticized by some of her associates (“We should love God more than father and mother!”), but she remained faithful to the end. Then, she returned to the field for years of fruitful service, knowing she had obeyed God. After all, we love God by loving His people; and He has a special concern for the elderly, the widows, and the orphans.
A believer with a faithful testimony (vv. 5b–7). The church could not care for all the widows in the city, but it should care for believers who are a part of the fellowship. We should “do good to all people, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). A widow the church helps should not be a self-indulgent person, seeking pleasure, but a godly woman who hopes in God and has a ministry of intercession and prayer (see Luke 2:36–37 for an example of a godly widow).
It has been my experience as a pastor that godly widows are “spiritual powerhouses” in the church. They are the backbone of the prayer meetings. They give themselves to visitation and they swell the ranks of teachers in the Sunday School. It has also been my experience that if a widow is not godly, she can be a great problem to the church. She will demand attention, complain about what the younger people do, and often “hang on the telephone” and gossip. (Of course, it is not really “gossip.” She only wants her friends to be able to “pray more intelligently” about these matters!) Paul made it clear that church-helped widows must be “blameless”—irreproachable.
At least sixty years old (v. 9a). A woman of this age was not likely to get remarried in that day, though sixty is not considered that “old” today. The early church had an official list of the names of qualified widows and we get the impression that these “enlisted” women ministered to the congregation in various ways. (Remember Dorcas and her widow friends, Acts 9:36–43?)
A good marriage record (v. 9b). We have met this same requirement before for elders (1 Tim. 3:2) and for deacons (1 Tim. 3:12). The implication is the widow was not a divorced woman. Since younger widows were advised to remarry (1 Tim. 5:14), this stipulation cannot refer to a woman who had a temporary second marriage after the death of her husband. Faithfulness to one’s marriage vows is very important in the eyes of God.
A witness of good works (v. 10). If a person is faithfully serving God, the light will shine and others will see it and glorify God (Matt. 5:16). “Brought up children” can refer either to a widow’s own children or the reference may be to orphans who needed a home. If it refers to her own children, then they would need to have died; otherwise the church would not support her. It is likely the reference here is to the practice of rescuing abandoned children and raising them to know the Lord.
Hospitality is another factor, for this was an important ministry in those days when travel was dangerous and safe places to sleep were scarce. The washing of feet does not refer to a special ritual, but to the common practice of washing a guest’s feet when he arrived in the home (Luke 7:44). It was not beneath this woman’s dignity to take the place of a humble servant.
“Helping those in trouble” could cover many kinds of ministry to the needy: feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, encouraging the sorrowing, etc. Every pastor gives thanks for godly women who minister to the material and physical needs in the church. These widows were cared for by the church, but they, in turn, helped to care for the church.
The Younger Widows (1 Tim. 5:11–16)
As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. Thus they bring judgment on themselves because they have broken their first pledge. Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to. So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.
If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.
The younger widows would technically be women under sixty years of age, but no doubt Paul had much younger women in mind. It was not likely that a fifty-nine-year-old woman would “bear children” if she remarried! The dangers of travel, the ravages of disease, war, and a host of other things could rob a young wife of her husband. But Paul forbade Timothy to enroll the younger widows and put them under the care of the church.
The reasons for refusing them (vv. 11–14a). Because of their age, younger widows are naturally attracted to men and want to marry again. What is so bad about that? Paul seems to imply that each of the widows enrolled pledged herself to remain a widow and serve the Lord in the church. This pledge must not be interpreted as a “vow of celibacy,” nor should we look on this group of ministering widows as a “special monastic order.” There seemed to be an agreement between the widows and the church that they would remain widows and serve the Lord.
There is another possible interpretation: These younger widows, if supported by the church, would have opportunities to “live it up” and find other husbands, most likely unbelievers. By marrying unbelievers, they would be casting off their first faith.
Paul does make it clear that younger widows, if cared for by the church, would have time on their hands and get involved in sinful activities. They would get in the habit of being idle instead of being useful. They would go about from house to house and indulge in gossip and be busybodies. There is a definite connection between idleness and sin.
Paul warned Timothy against using the “charity” ministry of the church to encourage people to be idle. The church certainly ought to assist those who really need help, but it must not subsidize sin.
Requirements for younger widows (vv. 14b–16). Moving from the negative, Paul listed the positive things he wanted the younger widows to do to be accepted and approved in the church. He wanted the younger widows to marry and have families. While not every person is supposed to get married, marriage is natural for most people who have been married before. Why remain in lonely widowhood if there was yet opportunity for a husband and a family? Of course, all of this would have to be “in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39).
“Be fruitful and multiply” was God’s mandate to our first parents (Gen. 1:28), so the normal result of marriage is a family. Those today who refuse to have children because of the “awfulness of the times” should check out how difficult the times were in Paul’s day! If Christians do not have children and raise them to live for God, who will?
“Guide the house” literally means “rule the house.” The wife should manage the affairs of the household and her husband should trust her to do so (Prov. 31:10–31). Of course, marriage is a partnership; but each partner has a special sphere of responsibility. Few men can do in a home what a woman can do. Whenever my wife is ill and I have to manage some of the affairs of the home, I discover quickly that I am out of my sphere of ministry!
The result of all this is a good testimony that silences the accusers. Satan (the adversary) is always alert to an opportunity to invade and destroy a Christian home. A Christian wife who is not doing her job at home gives Satan a platform for his operations and the results are tragic. While there are times when a Christian wife and mother may have to work outside the home, it must not destroy her ministry in the home. The wife who works simply to get luxuries may discover too late she has lost some necessities. It may be all right to have what money can buy if you do not lose what money cannot buy.
How Christian wives and mothers manage their homes is a testimony to those outside the church. Just as a pastor is to have a good reputation with outsiders (1 Tim. 3:7) and the servants are not to bring reproach on God’s Word (1 Tim. 6:1), so the wives are to have a good witness. Women may not be elders of the church, but they can minister for the Lord right in their own homes (see Titus 2:4–5 for an additional emphasis on this vital ministry).
Paul then summarized the principle of each family caring for the needs of its own members. Paul did not tell them how these widows should be helped—giving them a regular income, taking them into a home, giving them employment, etc. Each local assembly would have to decide this for themselves according to the needs of individual cases.
How does this principle apply to Christians today? Certainly, we must honor our parents and grandparents and seek to provide for them if they have needs. Not every Christian family is able to take in another member and not every widow wants to live with her children. Where there is sickness or handicap, professional care is necessary, and perhaps this cannot be given in a home. Each family must decide what God’s will is in the matter and no decision is easy. The important thing is that believers show love and concern, and do all they can to help each other.
1. What would you do if an older man were clearly behaving in an unacceptable way and he quoted the verse “Do not rebuke an older man” whenever anyone attempted to correct him?
2. Should Christians see it as their responsibility to care for their ageing parents? If so, to what extent are they to do so and what support should they expect from the state?
3. How would you respond to someone who arrived at your church, at the end of the service, asking for money?