In 1 Timothy 5 Paul gives Timothy guidelines for how he is to relate to various members of the church, with a special emphasis on widows. Church leaders should treat those they lead as they would members of their own family: their elders with respect, affection, and gentleness; their own generation with equality; and the opposite sex with self-control and purity (vv. 1-2). For Timothy, being a relatively young pastor, this was a particularly delicate assignment, especially when confronting older members of the congregation. First Paul tells him what not to do. He says, “Do not sharply rebuke an older man…(v.1). The word translated here as “sharply rebuke” literally means “to strike with blows.” Used figuratively, as it is here, it means “to smite with words” rather than with fists. One of the greatest failings of those involved in pastoral work is their failure to get along with people. You can be great in the pulpit, but if you can’t get along with people, you are not going to be a very effective leader. Paul offers some additional advice to Timothy with respect to how to relate to young women in the church. “Treat the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity” (v. 2). This is more than just a warning against acts of immorality, although it includes that. It is a warning against any kind of impropriety. That is good advice, not just for pastors, but for all of us who seek to glorify God in our church-family relationships.
Paul continues in verses 3-16 to address another segment of the church who requires special attention. He is especially concerned about widows. He opens his discourse on the treatment of widows with the simple command to honor or assign high value to them. Paul is merely reflecting the teaching of the Old Testament. Throughout the Bible, justice and love are demanded for widows and orphans. God is frequently described as ‘a father to the fatherless’ and ‘a defender of widows’ (Exodus 22:22-24, Deuteronomy 27:18). And of course, Jesus was consistently compassionate towards widows. And so it make sense that Paul would open his comments by reminding Timothy of the special place widows have in God’s heart. Paul delineates three categories of widows:  widows with living relatives (5:4),  widows without relatives or a means of support—he refers to them as “widows indeed” (5:3;5,16), and  widows who are likely to remarry (5:11-15). These categories will help the church discern its responsibilities towards the care of widows. Apparently, there was a sizable widow population in the church at Ephesus where Timothy pastored. The problem was this: With respect to the church’s care of widows, how should we allocate the limited resources that we have?
Paul argues that of the three categories of widows in the church, only “widows indeed” qualify for ongoing church support. A “widow indeed” is a woman who is without a husband, without living relatives, without any prospects of remarriage, and without a sufficient means of financial support. These women are truly needy. But to be added to the “widow benevolence list,” these truly needy widows must also meet some additional qualifications (vv. 5:5, 9-10). From these verses, we can construct a profile of the kind of widow Paul says qualifies for regular benevolence support from the church. These qualifications are a combination of practical and spiritual concerns. Two questions seem to be of primary importance: Is she truly needy? Is she truly godly?
This passage also sheds some light on a very practical concern for those of us with aging parents: What is our Biblical responsibility towards our aging parents as their health declines and their financial resources dwindle? We can begin with a broad Biblical principle: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you” (Exodus 20:12). This same command is repeated in the New Testament in Ephesians chapter 5. We are to honor our parents, and one of the ways we can honor them is by helping to provide for them in their old age. Paul makes this very point in 1 Timothy (vv. 3-4). Paul says that we are to “make some return to our parents;” that is, we are to financially assist them in return for the sacrifices they have made for us. Paul says, “this is acceptable in the sight of God.” In other words, this makes God happy! When children don’t provide for their aging parents, it puts a tremendous burden upon the church and society to fill in the gap. Caring for aging parents is not easy. Your siblings may not step up and do their part. You may have to put your plans on hold. Your paycheck won’t stretch as far. But you are doing the right thing, and that is what really matters. You are honoring God by honoring your parents, and God promises to bless that. We have a God-given responsibility to care for our aging parents, and we should do so in the manner that provides the highest level of care possible. Let’s meet that responsibility not with a grudging spirit, but with a grateful one.
APPLICATION / CHALLENGE
- Remember that the church really is a family—so relate to older men as we would to our father, older women as we would our mother, and our peers as our brothers and sisters.
- Take seriously your responsibility to care for those members of our church and physical family who are the most vulnerable—widows, orphans, and aging parents.
- Work hard and get your financial house in order. Meeting the needs of your family require it. You need a savings plan, a giving plan, and a living plan.
- If you would like to know God personally, contact us here (connect.tcc.org) Scroll down to the Ministry Information Request section and mark the first or second checkbox. We look forward to helping!