Widows 1 Tim. 5:1-16 CLICK TITLE FOR AUDIO
In most of 1 Tim 5:1-16, Paul gives Timothy instructions on how the church should minister to widows. In the first two verses, however, he gives us some practical instructions on how to treat each other in church. We are to treat elder men as our fathers, elder women as our mothers, younger men as our brothers and younger women as our sisters. Truly, the church is like a family. In a good family, children don’t rebuke their fathers and, thus, we don’t rebuke elders. And in a good family, daughters and sisters are treated with purity and, so, we treat young women with purity.
In this passage, Paul describes widows in different situations, so that the church will know which to support and which to refuse. We will study the passage according to these different situations.
Widows indeed – 1 Tim 5:3, 5, 16 – widows indeed are widows who:
- Are desolate – that is, they are “left alone;” they have no family to take care of them.
- Trust in God – they look to God for their provisions and necessities [Jer 49:11].
- Continue in prayer night and day – like Anna [Lk 2:36-37].
A widow indeed is contrasted with a widow who “liveth in pleasure,” [1 Tim 5:6-7]. To live in pleasure is to do as she pleases. A widow who lives in pleasure is dead in that she doesn’t trust in God and she doesn’t continue in prayer, like a widow indeed. It doesn’t mean that she is not saved. Paul said, “these things give in charge.” The idea is that widows who aren’t trusting God and faithfully praying for the ministry shouldn’t be supported by the ministry.
Paul lists the ideal qualities of a widow who can be supported by the church [1 Tim 5:9-10]. These are not absolute requirements. These are examples of the character of a widow that should be supported by the church. He instructs the church to take care of “widows indeed” who have been trusting God and taking care of God’s business. She’s:
- At least sixty years old
- Married once
- Of good report
- Brought up children – however, if her children can take care of her they should
- Lodged strangers – 2 Ki 4:8-10, not such a common practice today
- Washed the saints’ feet – 1 Sam 25:41, not a common practice in the USA, at all
- Relieved the afflicted
- Followed every good work
Widows with family – 1 Tim 5:4, 8, 16 – widows with family are to be taken care of by their family. Children “shew piety” [loyalty and devotion to parents] when they “requite” [repay] their parents by taking care of them when they are older and in need of care. This is good and acceptable before God. A family member who will not provide for his own is worse than an infidel [an unbeliever]. Families who have widows are to relieve them and not let the church be charged.
Younger widows – 1 Tim 5:11-15 – younger widows are not to be supported by the church. They have two problems. First, they will quit trusting the Lord [“cast off their first faith”] and start looking for a husband [“wax wanton against Christ”]. Paul calls this lack of faith “damnation,” as he uses the word in 1 Cor 11:29 and Rom 14:23. He’s not talking about going to hell.
The other problem is that, if younger widows don’t marry, and they are being supported by the church, they won’t have anything to do. They will be “idle, wandering about from house to house.” And they’ll wind up being “tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.”. No church needs that kind of gossip. Satan can get in the middle of it and tear up the church. Paul said that some of the young widows had “already turned aside after Satan.”
So, Paul’s instructions to younger widows is to “marry, bear children, guide the house.” That way, they aren’t a burden to the church or their families, they keep from becoming a reproach and they remain blameless [1 Tim 5:7].
Conclusion: Paul’s instructions concerning widows are very practical and very specific. Generally, he puts the burden of caring for widows on the family, rather than the church. The exception is a desolate widow who faithfully served the Lord before, and continues to faithfully trust the Lord after, her husband died.