I just couldn’t figure it out this week. Almost an entire chapter in 1 Timothy dedicated to taking care of widows? How in the world would that apply to us? As usual, God had a plan. Aren’t you glad he always has a plan? Now let’s dig in.
Remember, friends, context is important. So let’s review…Paul is writing a letter to Timothy about all the things he wants Timothy to remember, teach about and practice. There is no church building, no Bible (other than the first five books, “The Law”), no paid church staff. This Christianity business is brand new. Being a Christian meant you bought into this Jesus guy who died on a cross and came back to life. You decided to live life with other people who bought into it too. It wasn’t a popular thing to do; people were being persecuted, even put to death, for buying into this new belief system. But word was spreading that this Jesus was the Messiah, who Jews everywhere had been waiting for! His church (the people, not the building) was growing daily, but it was confusing to hear some teachers teaching a mixture of the old way and this new way. So Paul wrote a letter to clear things up.
Paul starts off this section of his letter (1 Timothy 5) by telling Timothy to treat the believers as family members. He needed to remember that they were all in this together. He should treat older men like fathers, even when a rebuke was needed. He should treat the older women like mothers and the younger men and women like brothers and sisters. Family.
But then he goes off and starts talking about widows. Dealing with widows must’ve been a pretty big problem in the first century church because Paul has a lot to say about it. I get the idea that he probably had a few specific ladies in mind as he wrote, but we’ll never know for sure. Either way, we have to have confidence that what he said still holds true for us today. It’s in the Bible! Paul tells Timothy that there are different kinds of widows. Some widows have children and grandchildren who can take care of them. Others don’t. Some widows are young. Others are old. Some widows live a life of purity for God. Others don’t. Some widows have dedicated their lives to good works. Others live for themselves.
The first century believers kept a registry of true widows. Paul laid out the requirements for who should qualify for this list. In order to be put on this list, the widow must not have any living family members who can take care of her. She must be over 60, a one-man-woman (she was faithful in her marriage), and she must have a reputation for good works. If a woman was put on this list, the church took care of her. But remember, this wasn’t a line-item in the church’s annual budget. Support for these widows was coming out of the pockets of the different families who comprised the church. It was as if my family got together with your family and a few other families and we all pitched in as much as we could and somehow we were able to get food on the table for all of us!
There were other widows, though, who didn’t qualify for this list. If they were younger than 60, Paul told them to go ahead and get remarried. He wouldn’t want their passions to draw them away from Christ! There were also widows who had children and grandchildren who were living. He instructed Timothy not to support those widows – it was the duty of their families to support them and if the didn’t, it was worse than unbelief!
Then Paul switches gears to talk about the elders. Remember, this letter is full of instructions on how Timothy was to set up order in the church. Paul was trying to cover all his bases. He had just finished telling Timothy that the church was to support certain qualifying widows. Now he says that the church should also give double “honor” to elders who do their jobs well. Honor could mean respect or it could mean a paycheck. Paul cited two Scripture references – one from the Old Testament about an ox not being muzzled after it plows a field and the other was a saying of Jesus about paying a laborer his wages, so “honor” here probably refers to some type of financial payment. But either way, the church was to support the men who led them well.
If an accusation was made against an elder, it must not be entertained unless it was brought by two or three witnesses. This was to protect these men who led the church against false accusations. But sometimes elders were caught in sin. In that case, the sin was to be made public to the church, so that everyone who heard about it would think twice before sinning themselves. Paul encouraged Timothy to keep all of these rules without partiality. God doesn’t show favoritism, so neither should Timothy.
Paul also reminds Timothy not to be hasty in the laying on of hands. This one hit home for us because we are beginning to search for a new “elder” to fill a position in our church staff. It’s so tempting just to stick someone right in there to fill the hole. Paul warns against that. He says some sins are obvious, others are less obvious. And the same is true with good deeds. So rushing to appoint someone as a leader in the church is not a good idea because you could find out some less obvious things down the road that will make you wish you hadn’t rushed.
I love the little tidbit Paul adds in verse 23, when he tells Timothy to quit drinking water and go ahead and have a little wine to help his ailments. Timothy must’ve tended to be a bit legalistic about things like wine and so Paul had to remind him that Jesus came so that we could live in freedom. A little wine to help your stomach is a good thing, Timothy. Don’t be so legalistic.
I finished teaching this last night and I asked the ladies that were there to be sure to find me and tell me what God taught them through 1 Timothy 5. I had spent the week preparing the study and I admit I was really wondering what on earth God was going to be able to teach us through such specific instruction about widows and elders this week! Would this even apply to anyone? “Oh ye of little faith!”, right?
Right away, one lady approached me and told me she would really like to get involved in our church’s nursing home ministry. Hooray! We have a handful of people who go to the nursing home every Saturday morning to minister there and they are always looking for more help. Praise God!
And then another call came in today from a lady who said she was so convicted last night about helping in the nursing home. Ms Ann is going to be thrilled when I send all these new helpers her way! Praise God!
My favorite comment so far has been from one lady who came to me after Bible study and told me she was so glad she came because it reminded her that sometimes we are just too comfortable with sin. We aren’t doing what God says to do and we aren’t living the way he says we should live. We aren’t even bothered by the fact that we are comfortable in our disobedience. Wow. You really got THAT out of 1 Timothy 5??? I LOVE IT.
What a great reminder! God has a PLAN for his church. He wants us to obey him, even down to the nitty gritty daily details. He will bless our obedience. He will not bless our disobedience. He wants us to stop being comfortable in the way we think church ought to be. It’s time to get uncomfortable. It’s time to obey.
“And being made perfect, he (Jesus) became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.”
That is such a precious promise.