The Apostle Paul is writing to Timothy who is a young minister in the city of Ephesus. And Paul is giving Timothy instructions about some of the things he needs to know and to do and to teach in the church. Chapter 4, which we studied last week, was about what Timothy needed to do in order to respond to the challenge of false teaching. And ultimately it came down to preaching and teaching God’s word. In order to combat false teaching, Timothy and ministers like him have to read, preach and teach the truth of God’s word, because it’s by hearing and believing the truth of God’s word that God’s people will be saved.
In chapter 5 and into chapter 6, Paul instructs Timothy about widows, elders and slaves. We’ll think about what he says about widows today and come back to elders and slaves next time. But the chapter begins with instructions to Timothy about how he should relate to older and younger men and women in the congregation.
Verses 1 and 2
And so, how should Timothy relate to older and younger men and women in the congregation? He should treat an older man as a father. He should treat a younger man as a brother. He should treat an older woman as a mother. And he should treat a younger woman as a sister.
And that means, though he’s the minister of the congregation, and he may, from time to time, have to correct an older man — because older men are not sinless, but they are just as likely to go astray as anyone else — nevertheless Timothy and ministers like him should not rebuke an older man harshly, but they should treat an older man with all the respect and honour which we would give to our father. And so, instead of rebuking an older man harshly, Timothy should exhort him. And the Greek word translated ‘exhort’ has a wide range of meanings including ask and plead and encourage and urge and invite and even comfort. And so, instead of being harsh or sharp with an older man in the congregation, Timothy and ministers like him need to show them respect, even when it’s necessary to correct them.
And from time to time, Timothy and ministers like him might also have to correct younger men. And so, they should take care to exhort them as they would exhort a brother. They’re not to bully younger men, because a minister should never be a bully, but he should always display the lamblike gentleness of the Saviour. And so, instead of bullying younger men, or instead of lording it over them, ministers should exhort younger men as they would their brothers. We might even say as equals.
And then, when it comes to older women in the congregation, the minister must treat them as they would a mother. So, once again ministers should honour them and be respectful towards them even when they have to correct them. And when it comes to younger women, there should not even be a hint of impropriety, but they should regard those younger women as sisters and their relationship should be characterised by absolute purity so that the minister never ever takes advantage of a younger woman.
When I was preaching through 2 Corinthians recently on Sunday evenings, I referred to a podcast I’ve been listening to about someone who was the main leader of a mega-church in the USA. The church was founded in 1996 and it closed in 2015. And for most of its existence, this church was massive, with thousands of people attending every week and there were even more people around the world who downloaded and listened to sermons from this church. But before the church closed, the main leader resigned under a cloud. He was being investigated for bullying and for other sinful behaviour. But instead of submitting to church discipline, the leader resigned. And I’ve heard that he eventually went to another church and something similar happened there as well. And the presenter of the podcast said that similar things have been reported about other church leaders in other churches in the USA. And the presenter suggested that church members were prepared to put up with abusive leaders, because they assume that’s the price you have to pay to have a dynamic and successful leader in your church. The leader has an idea, or vision, for the church; and he’ll do anything to drive the church forward to fulfil his vision. And the leader featured on this podcast spoke about how he was the driver of a bus; and if you’re not on board with him, you’ll just get run over.
But a minister must not run over anyone. No man should disrespect his father or mother, but he must honour his father and mother. And no man should bully or take advantage of his brother or sister, but he must take care of them. And Timothy and ministers like him must not be disrespectful and they must not be bullies and they must not take advantage of anyone, but they should honour and care for the members of the congregation, even when they have to correct them.
And, of course, this applies not only to ministers, but it applies to every member of the congregation. You mustn’t disrespect older members, but you should honour them as you would your father and mother. And you mustn’t bully younger members or take advantage of them, but you should care for them as you would your brother or sister. And it’s interesting that Paul doesn’t say we’re to treat younger men and women as sons and daughters. We’re not to treat them as children, who are expected to obey us. We’re to treat them as brothers and sisters who are equal to us.
Verses 3 to 16
Let’s move on now to think about what Paul says about widows and how we should care for them. And the reason he mentions widows is because, when he was writing, you didn’t have any kind of public welfare system. There was no social security. There were no grants or allowances for the elderly or poor. There were no pensions. And so, a woman whose husband died was in a vulnerable position, because what would she do for money? How could she pay her bills? How could she survive without her husband’s income? And so, when we read about widows in the Bible, very often they’re depicted as being poor. Think of the widow the Lord Jesus saw at the temple, who put into the offering two small copper coins which was all she had to live on. And in Acts 6, we read how the early church organised a daily distribution of food for the needy widows in the church. They didn’t have enough to live on and there was no one else to help them. And so, the church helped them by providing them with food each day.
And that brings us to Paul’s instructions to Timothy in verses 3 to 16. And he begins by telling Timothy to give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. A more literal translation of what Paul said is that Timothy was to honour such widows. And by telling Timothy to honour them, he really meant he was to help them. That’s how you honoured them: you helped them. And this wasn’t something only Timothy was to do, because in verse 7 Paul tells Timothy to give the people in the congregation these instructions so that no one may be open to blame. So, Timothy the minister was to teach every one in the congregation to help needy widows.
However, Paul identifies three categories of widow in these verses. There are widows who have relatives who can help them. Then there are widows who do not need help. And then there are widows who have no one to help them. And the members of the church are to help the third category of widow. They’re the ones who are really in need, because there is no one else to help them. And so, the church should provide for them. However, since the church is small and its financial resources are limited, the church needs to ensure that what little they have goes to those who are really in need and who have no one else to help them.
Widows with relatives
And so, as we turn to this part of Paul’s letter, it’s interesting to note that he addresses three times the relatives of widows. He does so in verse 4. He does so in verse 8. And he does so in verse 16.
So, according to verse 4, if a widow has children or grandchildren, then those children and grandchildren should learn to put their religion into practice by caring for their family. When he says they’re to put their religion into practice, he’s saying this is a matter of obedience to God and this is how they demonstrate their devotion to him. The Bible makes clear that the way to show our love for the Lord is not only about what we do in church, but it’s about how we live our daily lives and how we love and serve the people around us. And adult children and grandchildren display their devotion to God when they care for widows in their family.
And Paul says that by caring for them, they’re able to repay their parents and grandparents. We ought to repay them, because didn’t they look after us when we were small and weak and when we had nothing? When we were living at home, and before we had a job, we relied on our parents for everything. There was nothing we could point at and say ‘That’s mine’, because everything we ever possessed was given to us by someone else and usually it was by our parents. And if we’re grateful for our parents, then we should also be grateful for our grandparents who gave us our parents.
So, out of gratitude for all that our parents have done for us, adult children and grandchildren should care for widows in their family. And Paul adds as well at the end of verse 4 that this is pleasing to God. So, if you’re a believer who loves the Lord and wants to please him, remember that this is one of the things that pleases him. God is pleased when his children love and care for widows in their family.
And then, in verse 8, Paul says that if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse then an unbeliever. And this verse is interesting, because up to now Paul has been focussing on widows. But this verse is more general. We’re not to restrict the help we give to widows only, but to anyone in the family who requires our help and especially those members of the immediately family. So, this would include fathers and it would include siblings. Think of an elderly father who is in need. Think of a sibling who falls on hard times. Anyone who claims to be a believer but does not help his relatives has denied the faith. And we’ve denied the faith because we’re not doing what we’re supposed to do as those who claim to love the Lord. In fact, we have become worse than an unbeliever, because even unbelievers do these things for their relatives.
And then, in verse 16, Paul addresses any woman who is a believer and who has widows in her family. It’s not clear why Paul only addresses women in this verse, but perhaps he knows that the burden for caring for widows often falls on daughters and granddaughters and daughters-in-law. In any case, Paul instructs such women to help the widows in their family.
And do you see in verse 16 the reason why family members should help widows in their family? It’s to prevent the church from being burdened. The church is small. Its resources are limited. And so, adult children and grandchildren should provide for the widows in the family so that the church can keep whatever resources it has for those widows who are really in need.
There’s a helpful book with the title, ‘Honouring the Elderly: A Christian’s Duty to Ageing Parents’ by Brian De Jong. And it’s filled with wisdom such as how adult siblings should work together to care for ageing parents, so that no one child is overburdened. He also makes the point that adult children should work together with care workers and care homes to provide their parents with the proper care. So, adult children should not think they have to do it all on their own, but they should make use of whatever support is available. And if ever care workers and care homes fall short in the care they give, then adult children can speak up for their parents. But what adult children and grandchildren must not do is to disregard their ageing parents, because caring for them is pleasing to the Lord.
Widows who don’t need help
So, Paul address widows who have relatives who can help them. He also identifies widows who do not need help. I’m looking now at verse 6 where he says:
But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives.
And then there’s verses 11 to 13 where he says:
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 gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to.
Presumably Paul had certain people in mind when he wrote these things and there may have been widows like this in Ephesus. The ones he refers to in verse 6 are clearly not in need, because they’re able to live for pleasure or they’re able to live self-indulgent lives. So, they’re not in any kind of poverty. And the widows he refers to in verses 11 to 13 are younger widows who clearly want to remarry. And there’s nothing wrong with a widow remarrying. However, in this particular case, it seems their desire for remarriage has overcome their dedication to Christ. Some commentators think there was a group of widows in Ephesus who had pledged not to remarry and to devote themselves instead to serving the Lord in the church. However, the word translated ‘pledge’ in verse 12 is the usual word for ‘faith’. And so, perhaps Paul is referring to widows in Ephesus who have married unbelievers. And by doing so, they have given up the faith and they have therefore brought condemnation on themselves. So, remarrying is not the issue, but it’s who they married. They married unbelievers. And so, they have given up the faith and are now liable to God’s condemnation.
So there are wealthy widows and there are widows who married unbelievers and who have given up the faith. The church does not need to support them. And then Paul goes on to refer in verse 11 to another group of younger widows in Ephesus who have become idle and gossips and busybodies. Perhaps they’ve been receiving help from the church. And since the church has been providing for them, they’re able to live a life of leisure. But their life of leisure means they have become prime targets for the enemy. And Paul is referring to the Devil, Satan. He’s our enemy and he’s always looking for an opportunity to lead us astray. And these widows who have nothing to do are an obvious target for him. And so, the best defence for them against the Devil’s wicked schemes is for them to remarry and have children and manage their own homes. When they have a family to look after, then they won’t have time to be idle or to go from house to house as gossips and busybodies.
So, the church should not support them, but should encourage them to remarry. And, of course, an implication of what Paul is telling Timothy is that it’s not good for any of us to be idle. Whatever age we are, we should endeavour to keep ourselves busy because, as people say, free time is danger time. Free time is danger time, because when we’ve got free time, the Devil is able to come along and tempt us to do something evil.
I don’t have much time for what Paul says about the widows who are really in need. Those widows who have a family to support them and those widows who can support themselves don’t need support from the church. But, according to verse 5, 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. So, this is a godly widow. And according to verses 9 and 10, such widows, who are aged over 60, and who were faithful to their husband when he was alive, and who are well known for their good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints — which means she was willing to do lowly work — and who have helped those in trouble, and who have devoted themselves to good deeds, such widows should be added to the list of widows who receive help from the church. And so, the church should help such widows. And perhaps that’s something for our leaders here in Immanuel to think about: how well we’re helping widows and other needy members of the congregation.
But do you see what Paul is doing here? He’s trying to protect the church from being overburdened. And so, he’s trying to keep the list of eligible widows as short as possible so that the church’s resources are not used up unnecessarily.
And by saying these things to the whole congregation, he’s teaching the women in the congregation who are not widows how they should live their lives. He’s saying to the women in the congregation that you should live in such a way that you’re well known for your good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, being prepared to undertake lowly jobs, helping those in trouble and devoting yourself to all kinds of good deeds.
And he’s saying to the women in the congregation who are not married, but who want to be married, that they they must be careful not to marry an unbeliever, because by doing so you may end up abandoning the faith and coming under God’s condemnation.
And he’s saying to the women in the congregation who are not married that they must take care not to be idle and not to become gossips and busybodies.
So, although this is advice about widows, this is also a word from the Lord to women in the congregation about how to live a life that is pleasing to the Lord. And Paul is not saying you have to be married. He’s not saying you have to have a family. He’s not saying you can’t have a job outside the home. He’s not saying any of those things. But he’s saying you ought to live in such a way that you’re well known for your good deeds. And, of course, that applies to men just as much as it applies to women.
And when we fall short of doing our duty — as we surely will because we’re sinners — we have the good news of the gospel that Christ gave up his life to pay for our sins and shortcomings so that whoever believes in him is pardoned by God and receives the free gift of eternal life. And though you may have done everything wrong — and perhaps you neglected an elderly relative and now it’s too late to do anything about it — nevertheless, because of Christ, God forgives you. And even if you’ve done everything wrong, he promises that he will always treat you as if you’ve done everything right. He’ll treat you as if you’ve done everything right, because all your sins and shortcomings have been covered over by the perfect obedience of Christ.
And not only does God promise to pardon you, but he promises to give you his Spirit to help you become more and more willing and able to do his will here on earth. And so, with the Spirit’s help, you’ll be able more and more to care for your family and to become someone who is well known for their good deeds. And so, ask him for forgiveness. And ask him for the help of his Spirit.