Widows and Elders – 1 Timothy 5
Read the Passage: 1 Timothy 5
Older Widows (5:1–10)
1 Tim. 5 begins with Paul’s instructions to Timothy on how to generally interact with church members as the pastor of the church. Regarding older men, Timothy was to exhort them and to refrain from sharply rebuking them. The idea here is not that Timothy was to avoid confronting sin in the lives of his elders; rather, he was to do so courteously, with respect and honor. Regarding younger men, Timothy was to interact with them as brothers, not lording his authority over them. Regarding older women, Timothy was to treat them as he would his mother, with the same respect, honor, and deference Paul had mentioned concerning older men. Regarding younger women, Timothy was to treat them as he would his own sister, especially being sure to treat younger women “with all purity” (1 Tim. 5:2). Of these four groups, perhaps interacting with younger women would have been the most difficult for someone of Timothy’s age and position.
Paul’s discussion of church members led him to address an issue that may have been problematic in Ephesus—that is, the care of widows. In this short passage Paul gives several characteristics of “widows who are really widows” (1 Tim. 5:3). These are: (1) She must be without family who are able and willing to care for her; (2) She must trust in God and engage in continual prayer; (3) She must be at least sixty years of age; (4) She must be a one-man type of woman; and (5) She must be known for her good works, such as: rearing children, showing hospitality, and caring for those in need. With these characteristics, it is clear Paul is not prescribing a wide-scale church welfare project, nor is he describing some type of entitlement program for all widows. Rather, here Paul teaches about the common duty of the church to care for its members, especially those who have the greatest need.
Younger Widows (5:11–16)
Paul had taught that one of the characteristics of widows “who are really widows” (1 Tim. 5:3, 16) is that they are at least sixty years old. This invites the question of what to do with younger widows. Here in 1 Tim. 5:11–16 Paul addresses this issue, first giving two reasons why the church ought not to materially assist such individuals. First, Paul writes that younger widows are prone to desire marriage and the benefits thereof, which will impact their service in the church. Second, if younger widows are financially supported by the church, they may become idle gossips and busybodies. Therefore, Paul writes it is best if younger widows marry, bear children, and manage their homes well. Indeed, as Paul had already written in 1 Tim. 2:8–15, in general, this is part of God’s design for women. Note Paul’s threefold call at 1 Tim. 5:4, 8, 16 for families to care for widows.
In 1 Tim. 3 Paul had given extensive instructions on the characteristics and duties of elders, who are also called pastors, overseers, and bishops in the New Testament. Here in 1 Tim. 5:17–20 Paul again addresses the role of elders in the church, as he writes, “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the Word and doctrine” (1 Tim. 5:17). From this verse we see three of the main roles of pastors—these are, leading the church, preaching Scripture, and teaching doctrine. Here Paul writes that pastors who excel in preaching and teaching are to be particularly recognized. The citation of “double honor” (1 Tim. 5:17) is likely a reference to remuneration, as is indicated by Paul’s later reference to “wages” (1 Tim. 5:18). In 1 Tim. 5:19–20 Paul writes that the process of rebuking elders ought to follow the general pattern set by Jesus in Matt. 18:15–17.
As he ended this chapter, Paul gave Timothy several personal instructions. First, in 1 Tim. 5:21–22, Paul reminded Timothy not to be hasty in his confrontation of sin in the church. While some of the elders may have been teaching false doctrine, since pastors are public figures, they are more likely to be personally criticized. Therefore, Timothy had to be discerning in his pastoral charge. Second, in 1 Tim. 5:23, Paul instructed Timothy that it would be acceptable for him to drink wine, on account of certain unspecified health issues. Third, in 1 Tim. 5:24, Paul reminded Timothy that no sin escapes the judgment of God and no good work ultimately goes unrewarded. Perhaps Timothy was discouraged by his slow progress in rooting out the false teachers in the Ephesian church. Paul’s reminder here would have encouraged Timothy, for God’s justice always prevails.
- Do you know any widows? What unique challenges do widows face that can be met by other believers within the church (cf. Jer. 49:11)?
- Of the four group of church members Paul mentions in 1 Tim. 5:1–2, with whom do you think Timothy would have the most difficulty interacting?
- Why does Paul list certain characteristics of widows in this passage? How can the modern church best care for widows and others who have material needs?
- How ought the church to deal with widows who have families who are unwilling to materially care for their own relatives?
- Why was it necessary for Paul to instruct Timothy on the proper way in which to rebuke elders? What are the marks of a faithful pastor?