Working With Widows

Posted: November 10, 2008 in 1 Timothy

1 Timothy 5:1-16, “Working with Widows”

As a letter to a young pastor, Paul’s instructions to Timothy have been a great mix of the theological & practical. Theologically, we’ve looked at the lawful use of the law – the grace of God to save sinners – acknowledging Jesus as the one mediator between man & God – the essentials about the deity, death, resurrection, & ascension of Christ – and the coming (and now is) Great Apostasy of the latter times… On a practical level, Paul’s covered issues such as what to teach, what men & women should do in the church, what to look for in leadership, and what things Timothy should personally be about doing. With this section on widows, Paul gets back to the practical & looks at how to work with people within the church – specifically how the church should demonstrate compassion on widows & those in serious need.

This is one of the great things about the Bible! It not only transforms us by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:2), but it also equips us for every good work (2 Tim 3:17). And showing the compassion of Christ to our own family members is definitely a good work!

1 Timothy 5:1-16 (NKJV)
1 Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, with all purity.

A. What’s wrong with rebuking someone? Isn’t that what Elihu did with Job & his 3 ‘friends’? Doesn’t Paul actually command this? 2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. [] If this is one of the functions of ministry, is this a contradiction in Scripture? No. The difference is in how the rebuke takes place. Actually 2 different words in Greek. In 2 Tim 4:2 (and elsewhere in the NT) the word means “to censure, admonish, charge”. The word used in 1 Tim 5:1 is the only time the word is found in the NT & means “to chastise/upbraid”…actually a compound word combining “over/beside” & “to pound/smite”. Here, Paul’s referring to harshly berating an older man – and that’s simply not appropriate for a younger Timothy to do, nor is it reflective of the heart of Christ.
__a. The old children’s chant “Sticks & stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” really isn’t very true. Words DO hurt. So what words we use & how we use them absolutely matter. All Christians (young/old, pastor or not) are supposed to speak the truth in love…
B. What should Timothy do? Exhort! Gk = paracaleo “invite” (Paraclete)…same word used in 2 Cor 1 in describing the ministry of the church to come alongside one another & comfort each other with the comfort by which we’ve been comforted… The idea is for Timothy to come alongside the church & invite them to do better in following Christ… Older men are exhorted as fathers – younger men as brothers – older women as mothers – younger women as sisters. Everyone was to be exhorted…
__a. One specific note about the younger women: Timothy was to treat them “with all purity.” If there’s any way Satan loves to attack ministers of the gospel, it’s through infidelity. Paul would save Timothy (and the rest of us) from that & the best way to go about it is by remaining above reproach.
3 Honor widows who are really widows.

A. This might seem kind of redundant to us, but in Paul’s day, not every woman who lost her husband was really a ‘widow.’ He’ll qualify the term in vs. 4… Culturally, a widow had very little options. The husband was the breadwinner; once he was gone, women usually had very little respect and/or ability to make a living. (Some exceptions: Lydia – Acts 16)
__a. God has always had a heart for widows! Psalm 68:5 A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, Is God in His holy habitation. [] Promised to personally administer justice for them (Deut 10:18) – commanded the Hebrews to allow them to glean from the fields (Deut 24:20) – exhorted Jerusalem to plead for the widows (Isa 1:17) – condemned them when they did not (Eze 22:7).
__b. Tells us something very interesting about God. He doesn’t merely pay attention to world leaders, the rich & powerful – He knows ALL His creation intimately (even the stars by name)…and so He also knows & cares for those that the world would usually ignore. And if GOD loves & cares for the widow, so ought His people whom He bought with the blood of Jesus.
B. What does it mean to “honor” them? Obviously meant to show respect to – but context refers more to financial help & donations. (Related but different word than used in vs 17 re: elders…vs 3 not quite as direct to money.) The idea was to provide food, assistance & perhaps even a stipend for their daily support. Practiced early on in the church – this was the reason the apostles appointed deacons in the 1st place (Acts 6:1).
4 But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God.

A. Before the church steps in to help these deserving widows, the Bible makes it clear that 1st the family is to provide for them. (KJV “nephews” in old English referred to grandchildren) Our modern culture has gotten away from this somewhat & it’s not uncommon to see widows & elderly fully abandoned…God would have us avoid this & have us provide for our own.
B. What does this do for the child providing for them? 2 things:
__a. It helps them “learn to show piety at home”: Two levels to this. (1) They’re able to honor their parents in accordance with the 5th Commandment as they provide for them in their time of need. (2) They’re able to demonstrate their love of God in the process. James 1:27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. [] If that applies to orphans & widows outside our own family, how much MORE to those within our house?
__b. It helps them “repay their parents”: We never quite fully understand the sacrifices our parents made for us until we become parents ourselves… To provide for those who once provided for us is simply the right thing to do.
C. Is it always easy? No… But it is good! In God’s sight, this is “good & acceptable”
__a. Our families are our 1st ministry!
5 Now she who is really a widow, and left alone, trusts in God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day.

A. What happens if a widow doesn’t have any children – or at least no one to provide for her? Thus this is a person who’s truly trusting in God for daily bread! …
B. Because she’s dedicated to prayer, she’s a great value to the local church – and thus she can be supported (like overseers/elders) to pray & serve the congregation in good works. Example: Anna the prophetess who “served God with fastings and prayers night & day” (Luke 2:37).
__a. Obviously some of our seasoned saints today may not be in need of financial assistance – but many times they have a wonderful opportunity to serve the Lord! Sometimes retirement from the job is an open door into ministry and mission work…
__b. (Courson) “When you can’t sleep, don’t watch TV. Pray. Go to your knees and intercede for those who are hurting. There’s something about the nighttime hours which often become the matrix of miracles, the womb of wonder. There’s something about being in the dark with the Lord which allows you to focus on Him, to do battle against the enemy, to receive insight from Him in a way unlike at any other time of the day.”
6 But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives.

A. Is Paul suggesting that widows have to always wear black & never experience happiness again? Of course not… “pleasure” isn’t a reference to joyful living, but to carnal, self-indulgent living. …
B. This isn’t just true for widows; this applies to everybody! … … It’s actually the opposite of what Christians should be doing! Instead of being dead to good works & alive to carnality, we should be crucifying our flesh (Gal 5:24). Romans 6:11 Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. []
7 And these things command, that they may be blameless.

A. As a pastor/leader in Ephesus, Timothy had a responsibility to instruct & command these things to the widows & people there so that they would be blameless & live lives above reproach.
8 But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

A. Harsh words – but necessary to hear! Our culture has tended to abandon our elderly & it shouldn’t be so. What does it mean to “provide”? Different things in different situations. Some people feel extraordinary guilt with the thought of allowing their loved ones to be taken into a care facility…but in some situations, that kind of 24/7 care might be the best possible scenario considering our own lack of medical training… At the most basic meaning of the context in the chapter, to “provide” is to supply financial support for our aging parents – but obviously much more can be included. What may be sufficient provision for one widow might not even scratch the surface of the needs for another. Greek actually means “to provide; foresee; think of beforehand” – the question we ask with our family members is: “What are their needs?” Not “What did the Joneses do with their parents?”
__a. Modeled by Jesus – John 19:26
B. What happens if we don’t provide appropriate care for our family members? We’ve in effect “denied the faith.” Even heathens know to take care of their own; Christians definitely should! Think of it this way: at the core of our faith is the agape love of Christ. [Greatest Commandment] Mark 12:30-31 (30) And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. (31) And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” [] How important is loving our neighbor? It’s the 2nd greatest commandment & goes hand-in-hand with the 1st. The NT goes on to tell us loving our neighbor is the fulfillment of the law (Rom 13:10), fulfills the law in one word (Gal 5:14), and is the fulfillment of the royal law (James 2:8). To deny this love to our own mothers is an awful thought & truly antithetical to our faith.
9 Do not let a widow under sixty years old be taken into the number, and not unless she has been the wife of one man, 10 well reported for good works: if she has brought up children, if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work.

A. Qualifications for the type of widow that the church was to provide for…not unlike some of the qualifications mentioned in Ch 3 for elders & deacons…
__a. Age: We’ll get the reason why in vs 11 – but the guideline was that a widow would be 60 years old (elderly for the day) & thus past the age (and temptation) of remarriage.
__b. Wife of one man: As the overseers/deacons are to be one-women men (1 Tim 3:2), the widows were to have been a one-man woman.
__c. Reputation as a caregiver: Technically says “brought up children,” but Paul never specifies whether or not she was their biological mother. Many scholars believe the reference could either be to her own children or to orphans. …
____i. Many wonderful sisters in Christ ache to bear children, but cannot… You are no less valuable to the Body of Christ than any other woman! If God’s gifted you to work with children, you can still be a caregiver & bring up children in Sunday School, youth, etc… …
__d. Reputation of hospitality: Again, somewhat reflective of the requirements for overseers/elders who were to be hospitable (1 Tim 3:2). Lodging “strangers” was common in the day (Lydia) – today we’d think of someone who makes a point to be hospitable.
__e. Reputation of service: We don’t have much need for literal foot-washing today – but we definitely have need of willing servants! To the culture, foot-washing was the lowest of the low positions that a houseservant could perform (underscoring Jesus’ actions) – and the deserving widow would have been willing to serve one another in the same way.
__f. Reputation of compassion: Although the widow may not have the financial resources to “relieve the afflicted” any longer – she may have at one time. But keep in mind that ‘relief’ can include far more than cash! Providing food – attending to their needs – providing clothing…
__g. Reputation for obedience: Whatever good work the Lord Jesus placed before her, she would have willingly followed Christ in obedience.
__h. As with elders/deacons, these are all characteristics we should want to see developed in our lives. Someone being faithful to their spouse, hospitable, serving, compassionate, and obedient is just a good description of a born-again believer in Christ!
11 But refuse the younger widows; for when they have begun to grow wanton against Christ, they desire to marry, 12 having condemnation because they have cast off their first faith.

A. Why not widows under age 60? 2 reasons. #1: If they were brought into the church, the expectation is that they would serve the church full-time… Younger widows would want to eventually re-marry.
B. Is Paul referring to eternal condemnation? No – KJV “damnation” is misleading in modern usage. Gk refers to more of a judicial judgment. IOW, they would have made a commitment to the church like an OT vow to the Lord, and then knowingly broken it. Thus they condemned themselves by their actions & opened themselves up to reproach. They would have pledged their faith to Christ like a marriage vow & then broken it.
__i. We’re not required to make a vow to the Lord, but we ARE obligated to pay the vows we do make (Deut 23:21-22). We’re to let our yes be yes & our no be no (Matt 5:37) – especially unto the Lord our God!
13 And besides they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not.

A. Reason #2 is a lack of discipline common in youth. The older I get, the more I realize that every age has some level of immaturity. Teenagers are obvious, but I thought I had ‘grown up’ when I hit my 20’s…and obviously still had a lot of growing to do. Hopefully we all continue to mature throughout our life. We should expect to do so as we grow in the Lord… Scriptures, prayer…
B. The specific problem with the lack of discipline?
__a. They were “idle”: Instead of laboring in prayer, they’d use the support of the church to live lazily.
__b. They were “gossips & busybodies”: Instead of going from house to house genuinely seeking how to pray & intercede for the congregation, they would seek out unnecessary details in order to engage in gossip.
____i. We have a tendency of thinking of ‘gossip’ as a sin amongst women – but it’s frequent among men too…and it’s wrong either way. Beware of the temptation to gossip! The words taste sweet going down (Prov 18:8), but it always brings trouble. Proverbs 26:20 Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases. []
__c. Instead of idle gossips, what the church needed (and still needs) are people (men & women alike) who are prayer warriors! We need those who are willing to labor away in prayers for the saints, thanksgiving unto God, and intercession for the lost…and it can definitely be labor. We need not look further than Jesus in Gethsemane…
14 Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully. 15 For some have already turned aside after Satan.

A. The answer to idleness is activity. Instead of encouraging young widows to make a vow they would most likely break, the church was to spare them from that & encourage them to remarry. If they weren’t gifted for singleness (1 Cor 7:8-9), the church was definitely not to pressure them into remaining single. That’s just setting them up for a fall…which apparently some had already done.
B. When believers fail, the enemy rejoices. Keep in mind that Satan is actively looking for believers to destroy (1 Peter 5:8). He challenged God about Job, and he had personally desired Peter by name to sift him like wheat. We’re fooling ourselves if we think the enemy is going to ignore the opportunity to tempt us!
16 If any believing man or woman has widows, let them relieve them, and do not let the church be burdened, that it may relieve those who are really widows.
A. Sums up the section.

For some, reading this Scripture has obvious application – but for others, maybe not. Many have either lost their parents already, or it’ll be years before they will be at the point of needing assistance (if ever). So what do we do with this? At the core, Paul is instructing Timothy on practical expressions of compassion – and there are always opportunities to share that. Maybe that’s with a family member, or neighbor, or co-worker…whoever it is, we need to be following the leading of the Holy Spirit & be ready at all times to lovingly respond to those He’s placed in front of us.

Depending on your relationship with your parents, this might seem like a pretty tough Scripture. I praise God for those mother/child relationships that are rock-solid & the kids can’t speak highly enough of their mothers – but not everyone has that same testimony/background. Maybe you’ve come from an abusive home, or a mom who abandoned her family & you’ve wondered how you’d ever be able to provide for your parents if they needed it.
A. God is good. As a Christian, you have been born-again & adopted as God’s own child & He loves you perfectly – far better than any human mother or father ever could! What He calls us to do, He equips us for. He offers to empower us with the Holy Spirit, strengthen us with His might & provide His all-sufficient grace. What might seem impossible is indeed possible – we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Phil 4:13).
B. There’s hardly any better witness of the love of Christ than laying down your life for those who have caused you pain. That’s what Jesus did for us – while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). When we walk in simple obedience to our Lord, demonstrating His sacrificial love, we have a wonderful platform from which to share the glorious gospel of God.


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