Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.
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.
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 elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning. I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.
Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.
Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.
The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever.
- 1 Timothy 5:1-25
Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments
On ‘giving proper recognition to widows really in need’: “’To show respect or care,’ ‘to support,’ or ‘to treat graciously.’ Although includes meeting all kinds of needs, Paul had in mind here not only this broad definition, but primarily financial support (cf. Ex. 20:12; Matt. 15:1-6;27:9). Not all widows are truly alone and without resources. Financial support from the church is mandatory only for widows who have no means to provide for their daily needs. Families, not the church, have the first responsibility for their own widows. Children and grandchildren are indebted to those who brought them into the world, reared them, and loved them. Fulfilling this responsibility is a mark of godly obedience (cf. Ex. 20:12).The form of this Gr. word [left all alone] denotes a permanent condition of being forsaken and left without resources. She is ‘really’ a widow, since there is no family to support her.”
On ‘idlers / busybodies’: “’Gossips’ are people who speak nonsense, talk idly, make empty charges, or even accuse others with malicious words. This idleness and talk also made them suitable targets for the false teachers (1 Tim. 1:6). The term ‘busybodies’ (lit. ‘one who moves around’) refers to those who pry into things that do not concern them; they do not mind their own business.”
On ‘two or three witnesses’: “Serious accusations against elders must be investigated and confirmed by the same process as established in Matt. 18:15-20. This process for the whole church also applies to elders. This demand does not place elders beyond successful accusation, but protects them from frivolous, evil accusers, by demanding the same process of confirmation of sin as for all in the church.”
On ‘elders who are sinning’: “Elders who continue in any kind of sin after the confrontation of 2 or 3 witnesses, especially any that violates the qualifications to serve (1 Tim. 3:2-7).”
On ‘hasty’: “’Hastily’ refers to proceeding with this ceremony without a thorough investigation and preparation period to be certain of the man’s qualifications (as in 1 Tim. 3:1-7).”
On ‘use a little wine’: “Paul wanted Timothy to use wine which, because of fermentation, acted as a disinfectant to protect his health problems due to the harmful effects of impure water. With this advice, however, Paul was not advocating that Timothy lower the high standard of behavior for leaders (cf. Num. 6:1-4; Prov. 31:4-5).”
- John MacArthur, One Faithful Life
1 Timothy 5:22 ‘keeping yourself pure’: “We all have abundant reason to look at home and worry about our own sins. Nothing can be more absurd than for a man to take his hoe and weed everybody else’s garden and leave all the thorns and thistles to flourish on his own plot. If, as our proverb puts it, ‘Charity begins at home,’ so should criticism. And criticism concerning character had better stop there. There is so much dirty linen in our own house needing to be washed that none of us need to take in our neighbor’s washing. The apostle Paul was inspired to write to the Thessalonians, ‘Seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business’ (1 Th 4:11). And he and Peter sternly condemned those who were busybodies, worrying about the concerns of others.”
- Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes
This chapter of 1 Timothy has two basic themes with a few short statements that are golden nuggets. The concept of honoring and respecting elders has been totally lost in our society. The Counter Culture of the sixties tried to destroy it, and they did a descent job, with small pockets, mostly within Christian homes where the mother and father are respected. Even then, the concept of discipline has drastically changed in my lifetime. School principles proudly displayed their paddles as an effective deterrent. These days the children run the schools. They would laugh at the principle and say, “I dare you.” But the elders must also respect the next generation. After all, they will be passing the reigns over to them.
This mutual respect between generations leads to the first of two controversial topics in 1 Timothy 5, care of widows. Caring for widows may not seem controversial, but the Apostle Paul’s approach would garner the ire of many people today: widows under 60 years old who want to be catered to, families who would rather have nothing to do with their widowed mother, churches that have too hard of a time balancing the budget and getting the roof fixed to even think of helping widows, etc.
I have known widows who wore the widow mantle for countless years, wanting sympathy and handouts, and less than 60 years old. Of course, MacArthur explains the 60 year cutoff quite well. We might change that to 65 or 70 in today’s Western culture. Full social security benefits in the USA are on a sliding scale with the people retiring now getting full benefits around 66, but that will shift to 67 or higher in future years. With my wife and I both collecting social security, we are making do just fine, but if my wife were to pass away, I might have difficulty balancing the budget. My wife would have to move in with our younger son in Tennessee, because my Veterans disability would stop upon my passing and of course the lesser (hers) of the two social security payments. Our budget is that tight.
But we have a son that is willing to take us in, and grandchildren to love on.
Yet, I know of a few widows that have children and their children will have nothing to do with them – or they remain with their hand out, asking their widowed mother for money. I know young widows who never worked a day in their lives, and quickly became the idlers and busybodies that the Apostle Paul speaks of. Odd how some churches cater to such idlers and busybodies, throwing fund-raising dinners and bazaars for them, while the quiet 80-year-old that cleans houses four days a week, and is constantly at the church volunteering the rest of the week, is not even recognized on her birthday. I suppose that the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Yes, the church today would have a hard time dictating to the family to take care of grandma. And the church would have difficulty doing their duty, according to 1 Timothy 5, by taking care of these elderly widows. They have personnel to pay and a building(s) to maintain. Odd, how the Apostle Paul worked as a tentmaker to earn his keep as a church builder and founder and the church was not a “building.” But today, the funds needed to help the poor, widows, and orphans is tied up in salaries and building maintenance, and the ruling body spends almost all their meeting time discussing money instead of spiritual matters.
Then we come to rebuking church leaders. I have seen church discipline run amok. I have seen church discipline totally ignored. Both cause division. Both have an origin in sin. Without sin, there would be not need for rebuke, discipline, expulsion, whatever.
I was part of a youth group that challenged things that the pastor had said in his sermons. The young pastor explained to us teen-agers (most being 19 and in college) that the Bible was filled with countless errors and contradictions and the Bible could never be considered the inerrant Word of God. It became a strange youth group meeting with the seminary trained, and duly ordained, pastor questioning Scripture and the teen-agers explaining how his contradictions were not contradictions at all. The ruling body got wind of the youth group meeting and asked for the pastor’s resignation. Tears were shed, but the pastor moved on and the church moved on. I was the most affected of the church members in a strange way. The pastor with faith issues was a good softball player, and the new pastor was totally inept from an athletic point of view – and I was the manager of the church’s softball team. Yes, I know, that is rather petty, but within a year, our church could hardly tell the difference, other than the sermons were a lot better.
I have known two pastors who performed marriage counseling and ended up marrying the married woman being counseled. One was a married pastor who had to divorce his wife, the other a long-time bachelor, but the woman got a divorce as a result of counseling. In both cases the pastor left the church where he was preaching at the time, but as ordained pastors, they each got new calls to different churches.
I have heard of deacons who were married to one woman with children but living with another woman and nothing was ever said. But I know of a situation where church leaders requested that another elder should be rebuked, and they found themselves kicked out of the church for being judgmental.
While Rev. Spurgeon might have a point regarding judgment of others, and I love his metaphor with the garden and the weeds, we cannot ignore blatant sin by church leaders that goes on and on with no sign of repentance, in many cases no sign of them recognizing what they are doing is a sin. It flies in the face of what Jesus taught us.
Yet, in gathering two or three witnesses, in many cases half the church could testify, it is still like having a clogging (or tap dancing) competition in a minefield. While the purity of the church can be maintained, while the message sent to all church members and the community about holiness can be stated, there will be outfall. There will be people who side with the accused, even though they know their behavior to be wrong.
Some Serendipitous Reflections
“How many widows are there in your extended family? At present, how are their needs met?
“When (if ever) have you suddenly become single? What was that like?
“How would you evaluate what your church is doing for those in need? Who, besides widows, are people in your church that need some help the church can provide? What is your church doing, specifically, to target help for widowers? Single parents? Divorcees? The unemployed? The chronically ill?
“Of the various instructions in chapter 5, which one has your name on it? Why?”
- Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups
In a way, the question about suddenly becoming single is a bizarre way to put it, after just asking about widows. But think about those times when you were separated from your spouse on a business trip. My wife recently spent months babysitting our grandchildren, over 800 miles away. A couple of church friends called to see if I was okay by myself. I don’t know of anyone who called my wife when I was gone on business for trips between two weeks and six weeks in length. Was it the longer duration – months versus weeks – or did my wife’s friends have greater confidence in her abilities to handle things alone?
I think the hardest ‘business trip’ that my wife had to endure was when I was in the army, and oddly one of the trips of the shortest duration. Months before, I obtained a NATO Cosmic security clearance, being hand-selected to be a part of a classified war game scenario. Due to the classification issue, I could say nothing, not even let her know that I had a new security clearance, but even I had no idea how the war game would start. If I were picked up from home and told to report, I would say that I would see her in two weeks. But they called for a general alert for everyone in Europe. It was the usual thing that 90% of the time would be over with by noon never lasting past the end of the day, but only the selected few remained in ‘alert’ status, hopping into quarter ton vehicles (like the predecessor of the Jeep Wrangler) and disappearing (each vehicle with one officer, one sergeant, and the driver). My wife only knew that all the other husbands in our block and the next block came home except for me, and no one knew, or would say, whether I was still alive. And all she knew was that no one would say anything for two weeks when I showed up, having not even had a bath in two weeks. I had another of those types of missions, but the second one was for an overnight trip, and back the next day. At least, my team on the second trip, a different three-man crew, came back the next day, because we had the necessary technical skills to get the job done in a day – the driver also being a signal corps radio operator. That trip, we nearly did not make it home, because we ran out of gas and we had very little German money, getting home on fumes.
I suppose that the authors of the Serendipity Bible thought that a reflection question on rebuking elders might quickly become a reason for gossip and could be judgmental. But, rather than consider the church leaders who have flaunted their feet of clay, consider what sins might be worthy of rebuke, and what sins might be worthy of expulsion and removal from the office of elder or deacon, leaving any discussion of naming names out of it.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.