Thursday, January 5, 2012

1 Timothy 5:3-16 Church Widows

3 Honor widows who are really widows. 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. 5 Now she who is really a widow, and left alone, trusts in God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day. But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives. 7 And these things command, that they may be blameless. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

Vs. 3 Beginning here in verse three right until verse sixteen, the Apostle Paul will address the issue of widows. An important issue in the early church since there was no social safety net per say. Yet in this he will make a distinction between widows who are really widows; that is a widow without any means of support, and those who had other options. As well as he mentions that there are widows who by reason of their ungodly conduct should not be supported by the church. The Apostle begins: “Honor widows who are really widows.” The word-translated honor here literally means, “to set a price on”. Thus we are to not only esteem their person as valued by God, by showing deference towards them. But also we are to honor them financially (consider Matt 15:4-9 and how Jesus uses the word there. In contrast this words antonym means, “to handle shamefully, with or without physical maltreatment.” See Mark 12:4; Acts 5:41; James 2:6). Therefore we are to honor widows both morally and financially. Since God throughout the Old Testament commanded Israel as His covenant people to honor/care for widows. For there He warns that His wrath and retributive judgment will fall on all those who mistreat and abuse them (consider Ex. 22:22-24; Isaiah 10:1-4; Malachi 3:5). For the Lord God of Israel unequivocally is the defender of widows and orphans (Psalm 68:5). Therefore He expects the same from His people; regardless of the Covenant (Old or New) we are in a relationship with Him by. The Apostle James likewise exhorts every believer and Christian assembly: "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." James 1:27
Honoring widows then as with the poor and elderly (James 2:1-6; Lev. 19:32) is to respect their person; provide for their sustenance; and spend time with them in their troubles. Now a widow can forfeit the honor God has commanded be given her (Isaiah 9:17). Yet great consideration and care must be used if one feels compelled to employ that principal to withdraw the honor due her. Therefore the Apostle Paul will list some qualifications with which the church can distinguish between those widows to receive not only honor from us; as their persons inherently deserve, but specifically finical support. Now a true widow here means a widow who cannot support herself and or has no surviving family members to support her. Such woman must have a priority in the churches charitable activities (Ps. 68:5; Acts 6:1-7; Gal. 2:10).

Vs. 4 Therefore if a widow is destitute; yet has believing children or grandchildren their first duty as Christians is to provide for her, to “…first learn to show piety at home, for this is good and acceptable before God.” For church always begins at home. Whether its parents rearing and providing for and teaching their children not only the Christian faith; but the sound life principals born out of it. Or adult children honouring their elderly, bereaved, or sick parents; church always begins in the home. On this point the Lord Jesus severely rebuked the Pharisees for nullifying God’s commandment to honor ones parents financially under the guise of financially honouring God instead (Matt. 15:1-9). For you don’t take what should go to your parents and then “tithe” it to God leaving your parents destitute. You financially honor your parents, and you financially honor God as well. Now the Lord Jesus places such a high value on widows that He warns that those in ministry who devour widow’s houses (i.e. exploit them for their own financial gain) will receive greater condemnation (Matt. 23:14).

Vs. 5-7 Having given a command that adult age children and grandchildren provide for their own widows. The Apostle Paul now makes a distinction between a Godly widow in verse five (Like Anna mentioned in Luke 2:36-37); and the one who only lives for her pleasures in verse six. Pleasure here means a voluptuous lifestyle. That is a lifestyle that is marked by living to indulge one's own appetites and desires (See James 5:5 and the words use there; and Louw Nida 88.252 & Enhanced Strongs 4684 for the definition given here). Therefore a true widow trusts in God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day (vs. 5). While the other only lives for pleasure and is dead while she lives (vs. 6). The word the Apostle uses to describe her as being dead while she lives is used only here in the N.T. in the sense of being spiritually dead, and thus such a widow is living with no expectation of the life that is to come. Being governed by her senses, and or sensuality, and not by the Spirit of God.
“And these things command, that they may be blameless.” Vs. 7 Now this is the second time in this epistle that the Apostle Paul has exhorted Timothy to command all the things he is instructing him on (see 1 Tim. 4:11) that we might all be blameless before God. The Apostle Paul then is making it clear that he wants all adult children and grandchildren to support their widows, but also that all widows who receive church support to live Godly lives.

Vs. 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.” The Apostle Paul now strongly reaffirms his command in verse four about providing for ones own widows, and not burdening the church with ones own responsibilities. For to profess faith in Jesus Christ yet not provide for ones own parents or grandparents in their time of need is not only morally reprehensible; it is as the Apostle said to deny the faith. Therefore those who wilfully do so should be thought of in the lowest possible light. For both God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ command that we financially honor our parents, and providing for them in their time of need is a part of that.

Vs. 9-10 The Apostle Paul now lays down some guidelines for providing assistance to widows with no children or grandchildren, and thus have no other means of support. First a widow under sixty years of age was not to be taken into the number. That is be placed on the churches list of widows to receive ongoing support from the congregation. For if she is too young and is still capable of remarriage (or supporting herself by working) then she should do so. The Apostle Paul will later state why it is good for young widows to remarry rather then remain single. The other prerequisite is that she had been the wife of one husband. For a widow to be taken into “the number” was to be taken into church community and life and if necessary be supported for life by them. Why then should the church on an ongoing basis financially support a woman who was unfaithful to her husband and family or living in an ungodly manner? For all women in the church are exhorted to fidelity and motherhood (2:15). What message would that then covey to those who were if she were to receive ongoing support? Therefore before Timothy was to approve any widow for ongoing support she had also to have been “well reported for good works.” In other words she had to have been dedicated to her family and her church family and its well being before receiving lifetime support. The Apostle Paul lists five basic good works as character tests:

“If she has brought up children,” Raising children is what the church commends all women to (1 Tim. 2:15; Titus 2:3-5). For you generally don’t have Godly offspring without a Godly mother. Therefore in order for a widow to be considered for church support she must have been at least a faithful mother and often grandmother.

“If she has lodged strangers” (See Heb. 13:2). In the early church believers survival often depended on the hospitality of brethren; even unknown brethren, sheltering them in their time of need. The question then might be asked. How has she helped those in need? Which could’ve included lodging; clothing; feeding or assisting them in some tangible way (Deut. 10:17-19; Prov. 31:20; Luke 10:25-37; 14:12-14; Acts 9:36-42; Heb. 13:2; 1 John 3:17). Therefore what did she do to relieve God’s people in their time of need? (Matt. 25:31-46).

“If she has washed the saints’ feet,” The Lord Jesus washed the disciples feet as an example of humble service that we as believers are blessed if we follow (John 13:17). This was a stark contrast to the norms of the day when it was the household servant’s duty to wash the guest’s feet; or if there was no servant then it was the wife’s duty. However literal foot washing must not be over stressed, since generally no parallel exists for us today. Rather the idea of humbly serving other believers, in whatever capacities she could is the idea.

“If she has relieved the afflicted,” Afflictions are apart of the salvation pilgrimage as we share in Christ’s sufferings so that we may be glorified with Him (John 16:33; Acts 14:22; Rom. 8:17). Now the word translated relieved has the connotation of being strong for another. Therefore what did she do to relieve the afflictions of those people God brought her way in their times of distress? Did she visit them in sickness; provide aid; give moral support during a crises? Offer a consoling word, an encouraging smile, a gesture of kindness? For these are the most rudimentary things of following Jesus Christ. Therefore the Apostle Paul sums everything up by saying:

“If she has diligently followed every good work.” That is did she as a woman of faith prove her faith? The Apostle James adage that faith without works is dead is not unique to himself and certainly not contrary to the Apostle Paul’s understanding of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. For here the Apostle Paul and elsewhere expects that all who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ will be willing workers for Jesus Christ of doing good towards all; rather than evil (Consider Acts 26:19-20; Titus 2:13-15; 3:3-8, 14). Such a woman then would’ve proven she was committed to her family; to other believers, and her fellow person’s welfare, and thus Jesus Christ Himself. Therefore the church should support her in her time of need if she has no children or grandchildren to care for her.

Vs. 11-13 The Apostle Paul now commands Timothy to refuse younger widows. This though is not a rejection of their person as church members simply because of their age. It is a warning not to put them on the list with those elderly widows who will receive ongoing church support. The Apostle Paul gives two sound reasons why the younger widows are not to be supported; thus refused:

1)    Younger widows when they grow wanton against Christ desire to marry and incur condemnation for having cast off their first faith Christ (Vs. 11-12). Now there is a difference between desiring to marry (in of itself not sinful) and making marriage ones hope after one had pledged one’s life to Christ; likely a prerequisite to being on the list. Therefore to avoid this which younger widows would tend to do; the Apostle says do not even put them on the list. In regards to their having condemnation you have to remember the times and seriousness in which people's lives and faith was being lived out. For the Apostle Paul has already stated that Godly widows are left to themselves to live lives of prayer and faith trusting in God continually as he himself was doing (). Therefore the Apostle Paul did not want the church list of widows to receive ongoing support from the community to be a half-heartedly committed to Christ, and or the greater church community.

2)    Younger widows who are supported will learn to be idle; and wander from house to house; and become gossips and busy bodies, saying things they shouldn’t (vs. 13). For in the church able men or woman are not called to idleness, nor idle speech (2 Thess. 3:6-15).

Vs. 14 Therefore to avoid these things the Apostle Paul say’s he desires; he does not command; they marry. He only commands that they not be put on the church’s list (vs. 9-13). For the word Paul uses here to describe his own will (i.e. desire) presupposes the possibility of another’s freedom of decision. Therefore he desires the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house etc. Thereby giving no opportunity for the adversary to speak reproachfully, about such a widow individually, or church collectively. Therefore by marrying and managing the home she would not become idle and disenfranchised from Christian virtues and negatively influence others. Now if a younger widow did not wish to marry, she was at liberty to pursue gainful employment and be self-supporting.

Vs. 15 “For some have already turned aside after Satan.”

Turning after Satan can be many things not the least of which is turning aside from Jesus Christ and a virtuous life and tongue and turning to idle living, gossiping or slander. Now in regards to these sins of the tongue consider how a life’s potential, or someone’s self esteem is frequently ruined by it. And thus it has far more serious implications than the talebearer ever contemplates. Consider how gossip devastates trust; ruins people’s reputations; destroys relationships; undermines reconciliation; crushes people's self esteem; prejudices people’s opinions about another person; destroys unity and fellowship. And generally forwards injustices, hatred and injury. Some of which will leave lifetime scars. And none of which Jesus Christ commands of His church collectively, or believers individually. To align themselves with the slanderer and accuser of the brethren and help him destroy people's lives, reputations, and potential. In a nutshell it creates a wide open door for Satan to walk into someone’s life, especially someone who professes faith in Jesus Christ (Rev. 12:11). Therefore believers are never called to speak ill of anyone (Titus 3:2) and certainly not other believers (Eph. 4:29-31; James 4:11-12). For such things are grievous to the Holy Spirit, violate the law (Ex. 20:16) and ultimately reproach God who is lawgiver and Judge. Now the seriousness which God views gossip is often lost on us, but passages like these remind us of it (Ex. 23:1; Lev. 19:16; Ps. 15:3; 50:20-21; 101:5; Prov. 6:19; 10:18; 11:9; 11:13; 16:28; 17:4; 9; 25;23; 26:20; 26:22; Matt. 5:22; 12:35-37; 18:15-17; Rom. 1:29-30; Gal 5:14-15; Eph 4:29; Titus 2:3; 1 Peter 2:1-3; 4:15).      

Vs. 16 Concludes the section on widows with the Apostle Paul again commanding (See vs. 4, 8) that believing men and woman must support their own widows and not burden the church so that it may relieve those who are truly widows.

Scripture Quotations
The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.
Note: this work is a draft version and may undergo changes as it is edited

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