THE RELATIONSHIPS OF THE CHURCH
The Household of God
1 Timothy 5:1-16
Our text for today is 1 Timothy 5:1-16. These are God’s Words.
5 Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.
3 Honor widows who are truly widows. 4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. 5 She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, 6 but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. 7 Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. 8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
9 Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, 10 and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. 11 But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry 12 and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. 13 Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. 14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. 15 For some have already strayed after Satan. 16 If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Today’s text concerns Timothy’s relationships as a pastor to the various members of the church, and Paul begins with an overarching principle:
The pastor is not an overlord. Timothy is to treat the members of the church not as employees, not as servants, and not even as equals. He is to treat them like members of his own family. Older men as fathers, older women as mothers, younger men as brothers and younger women as sisters.
The correcting words of a pastor must have the kind of seasoning a son owes to a father or mother, or sister. Put another way, the rebuke of a pastor ought to feel more like warm encouragement to face sin than a stinging smack on the face. That’s verses 1 & 2.
Paul then gives specific instructions for the treatment of widows in the church in verses 3-16. This ensures that widows in Ephesus aren’t neglected on the one hand, and that they don’t take advantage of the church’s charity on the other.
Apparently, there were widows who needed genuine financial and physical assistance and there were others who selfishly wanted handouts they didn’t actually need.
A widow qualified to receive assistance is she had no family left to care for her, if she was exemplary in setting her hope on God, and vigilant in prayerfulness. Verse 5.
She must be at least 60 years of age. Presumably, younger women should be able to provide for their own needs. She also must have been faithful to her husband. In other words, the God who was faithful in her youth to give her a husband, is continuing his faithfulness in providing through the church in her later years. That’s verse 9.
Finally, she must have a reputation of good works and hospitality. The care of the church isn’t a universal right. It is a duty and responsibility to care for a beloved and treasured member of the flock. That’s verse 10.
A widow was disqualified if she had family who could support her.
Or, if she was living for pleasure. In other words, she has enough to be wasteful in her living.
The church is obligated to a widow who is in genuine need and meets certain qualifications, and those who abuse the charity of God’s people are already dead even while they live. Verse 6.
God keeps a record of those who neglect widows and he’s keeping a record of those who abuse the church, and his judgement will come without question.
Having laid out the treatment and care of older widows, Paul concludes with instructions to younger widows. His words have more of an edge in the original Greek than the English lets on. Literally, Paul says, “Younger widows? Forget about it.”
Do not put them on such a list. Apparently, younger widows in Ephesus were mooching off the church and spending their time gossiping and being idle rather than serving the body of Christ.
Paul ends with several encouragements to those younger widows in verses 14-16.
- First, be open to marriage.
- Second, have children, if God gives them to you.
- Third, manage your homes.
- Fourth, give the enemy no opportunity for slander.
- God has designed women to be producers in his world, not idle consumers.
The text ends with Paul telling us why the church must be careful about doling out charity: resources are limited, and the church has an obligation to help those who are truly in need, not just anyone who says they have a need. Verse 16.
THE OVERARCHING PRINCIPLE
If we go back to the beginning of the chapter, we see Paul’s overarching principle: we are not to treat everyone equally.
Now, I know that all your ears just perked up. And hear me: I’m not saying that some human beings are superior to others. I’m not suggesting that one gender is inferior to another.
What I am saying is that men and women are not interchangeable. Old and young are not interchangeable.
The DNA in our blood, our physical form, our smooth or wrinkled skin, our gray hair (which I gain more of each year) they are all there to help us distinguish and differentiate. Contrary to our culture, our biology isn’t inconsequential. It tells us who we are, and it even tells others how to approach and speak to us.
While all are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, while we owe respect to men and women, old and young alike, we are to remember that they are not the same thing.
Our God is a God who loves distinctions and differences. God is not us, and we are not God. There is a Creator/Creation distinction. I am not you, and you are not me. There is distinction between individual human persons. Male is not female, and female is not male. There is gender distinction. And old is not young and young is not old, there are even age distinctions.
And we honor one another, not by flattening distinctions, but by properly recognizing and giving the proper respect owing to each.
Timothy is to approach older men like he would a father, and older women like he would a mother. In other words, both gender and age inform how we are to behave around someone.
THE FAMILY AS BUILDING BLOCK
Moving on from the overarching principle to the treatment of widows brings us to a second application which is this: the family is the basic building block of healthy society.
When God create the earth, he did not begin with the government of the state, but of the family. He made a man and a woman and performed the first marriage in Eden. The creation of the state came later and is therefore less essential to human flourishing than the family.
Notice in our passage, that a widow cannot receive assistance if she has family. Why? Because God has made the family the basic unit of human flourishing and society, not the church.
And this means that social health and stability flows upstream, not downstream. The key to a healthy family is not the state. The key to a healthy state is healthy families.
God has not given the family or the church the power of the sword to punish criminals. And in the same way he has not created the state the primary provider of welfare. That’s not to say there shouldn’t be any agreed upon social safety nets in a city or a nation. It is to say that the most competent and efficient strategy for social stability is the family, not the government and not even the church.
We live in a culture that has spent trillions of dollars fighting poverty and building schools with little to show for it. We also live in a culture that believes school boards and administrators know better than parents what is good for children.
But God’s Word tells us the family is the basic unit of social stability and flourishing. You families: you have a divine obligation to the members of your family that you do not have to anyone else. I have an obligation to my family that I do not have to you.
And unless we set the family as a foundational institution upon which all other institutions are built, we are not honoring our Maker’s design.
Imagine owning ski-boat and rather than launching it into the lake, you tried to run it across Buster Boyd Bridge. First of all, you wouldn’t make it very far, and second of all, you’d tear off the gel coat, shred the prop, and end up with a pile of junk. Why? Because ski boats weren’t made for concrete bridges. You aren’t honoring the design of the maker.
A boat does not enjoy freedom when it is liberated from the constrains of the water. It only finds true freedom and purpose and accomplishment as it honors its design.
The same is true with the human societies. Until we honor the Maker’s design for the family, until we set the foundational institution properly in its place, we won’t be able to build anything else. It’s the basic building block of a healthy society. You are to train up your children, administer discipline, put food on the table, prepare for the future, and you are to do it all as a weighty assignment from the risen Christ.
We are to recover this eternal truth in our day: the family is the basic building block of social health.
THE DIGNITY OF WORK
We also have to recover the dignity of work. In order to qualify for the assistance of the church, a widow had to be truly unable to provide for herself, and she had to prove to be someone who served the church through good works, hospitality, prayer, and ministry.
The younger widows we encouraged to marry, have children, and run the household. In other words, God made human beings for work.
God worked. He created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th. He established the pattern of work and rest for his creatures. He made Adam and put him in the garden to work and to keep it. This means that not only is work not beneath God, it’s integral to who and what he created us to be.
As Dorothy Sayers put it: “What is the Christian understanding of work?… [It] is that work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties … the medium in which he offers himself to God.”
Sadly, because our world and the human beings in it are fallen, work comes with difficulty. In the last year several members of our church have run into the results of the Fall in their work.
Some of our members work in environments that strategically target their Christian beliefs. Others work alongside Christians who have treated them worse than non-believers. Perhaps you spent the last year navigating a painful transition in your career, or perhaps you spent it working a good job, but wondering if it’s your true calling in life.
The futility of working in a fallen world isn’t limited to the secular marketplace. That same futility is felt by those who work in the home, and even in the church.
You workers in the room, who are constantly crashing into the futility of working in a fallen world, hear me out: Work can be frustrating and exhausting. But work is not to be simply endured or avoided.
You retired workers in the room: We happen to live in an affluent area. Many of you moved here to return on the lake and you have several decades left. Just because your career is completed, does not mean your calling to be productive can be shelved. Who are you discipling, who are you counselling, who are you mentoring? Are you volunteering at a clinic, or a political organization?
Friends, we believe that God sovereignly sustains and provides for the world. And the number one way we see his providence is through work. The only way needy widows are provided for is through someone’s work. The only way that the poor is fed is through someone’s work and generosity.
In fact, so valued is work in this passage, that it’s one of the main qualifiers for receiving assistance. Those widows who were hospitable and served the church, in other words, those who showed a desire and will to be productive, are those who received the assistance. And those who widows who were idle and busybodies were left out of the distribution.
And one of the questions that you are sure to be asking yourself is this: I thought the Bible is all about charity! I thought Christians have a duty to help the poor and to help widows and to help orphans. Why all these qualifications? Why do some people receive help while others don’t?
And you’re right. The Bible does say the church is to care for the poor. But you can’t quote one part of the Bible and act like the rest doesn’t exist. The same Bible which tells us to give to those in need also says that God hates sloth. That a man who will not work ought not eat so that his hunger drives him to be a productive citizen.
Remember verse 8: Paul says those who don’t provide for the needs of their own family are worse than a non-Christian. Imagine that.
Having a big heart does not mean incentivizing sloth or trampling the boundaries and obligations God places on the family. One of the most dangerous things you can do is hand out charity without discernment.
HELPING THE HELPLESS
Finally, when you help the helpless you are showing that you have a right understanding of the Most High and of yourself. A chief sign that you understand God’s grace is that you are becoming a generous person.
For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly,
but the haughty he knows from afar.
The truth is that we are all lowly. Everything we have, we receive because of sheer grace. And those who give joyfully are those who know that grace. Those who let go of their belongings understand that, in truth, they were never their belongings. Everything is on loan from God. You may have worked a job to purchase a home, but your next breath does not belong to you. We serve a God who is utterly high. He is exalted. He is the Most High. Yet, he regards, or comes near to the lowly.
If you do not help the helpless, you are showing you believe yourself to be the Most High.