1 TIM. 5:1-8,17-21 - EXTRA NOTES
CONTEXT: Chapter 5 begins a new section focused on how Timothy is to treat-oversee-different groups of people within the church. This includes a respectful attitude towards both men and women, young and old. A large portion of the chapter deals with how to care for widows. The theme of Paul's instruction is prioritizing those who are truly in need, and not enabling those who are merely lazy. Timothy is also instructed on how to screen out baseless accusations against an elder, and how to properly discipline them if they are found in sin. With that in mind, Timothy is also warned not to be reckless in who he appoints as an elder. First Timothy 5:1-2 is a brief description of how Timothy, as a church leader, ought to interact with the men and women of his congregation. These commands are brief, but they have powerful implications. These commands are in the context of Timothy's role as a spiritual leader and teacher. Timothy is to treat older men and women as fathers and mothers-with respect and support, not harsh rebuke. Younger men and women are to be treated with fairness and equality, rather than arrogance or lustfulness. First Timothy 5:3-16 gives Paul's instructions regarding priority in the care of widows. Since church resources are finite, it is important to focus attention on those who are most needy. In this case, Paul refers to such women as ''true widows.'' Those who are younger or more capable should not be given an excuse for laziness or gossip. And, family members have the first and foremost responsibility for caring for each other. The guidelines given here focus attention on the most vulnerable women and avoid enabling immodest behaviors. First Timothy 5:17-25 provides guidelines on how a church should honor elders. It also refers to the proper way to discipline them, if this becomes necessary. Those who devote themselves to serving the church should be supported, meaning paid, so they can fully focus on the needs of the congregation. Accusations should only be taken seriously when there is sufficient evidence. And elders who are found in sin should be publicly rebuked.
v. 1: Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers - Verses 1 and 2 deal with men, addressing both those who are old and those who are young. Timothy is not to "rebuke" or speak harshly to older men, but to treat them as a father. We should note that there are times where Christians are called on to "rebuke" those who teach or practice certain things (1 Timothy 5:20; 2 Timothy 4:2). However, in most cases, and especially when dealing with a fellow believer, the best tactic is gentleness and respect. This goes a long way towards improving our impact on non-believers, as well(1 Peter 3:15-16). Treating older men as "fathers," in that culture, was no minor thing: a father was to be treated with respect and honor (Exodus 20:12).
• Younger men are to be treated "as brothers." This means considering them as family, not as a club member, employee, or slave. In this verse, Timothy is given advice similar to what Peter told elders of the church: "shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:2-3). Paul called all male church members "brothers," including slaves (1 Timothy 6:2), reminding the reader of their equality in Christ.
• The specific context of this command is from the end of chapter 4: Timothy's role as a teacher and church leader. Paul is not telling Timothy (or us) to treat every man in the church identically to our actual brothers or fathers. Rather, this is the attitude Timothy is to convey as their spiritual leader.
v. 2: the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity - Verse 2 switches from older and younger men to Timothy's treatment of older and younger women. He is to treat "older women as mothers." As was the case in verse 1 with fathers, this is no trivial command. Mothers were worthy of honor (Exodus 20:12). Timothy's own Jewish mother had raised him to know Scripture (2 Timothy 1:5). As with verse 1, the specific context of this command is Timothy's role as a teacher and church leader. Paul is not telling Timothy (or us) to treat every woman in the church identically to our actual sisters or mothers. Rather, this is the attitude which Timothy is to use when he interacts with these women as their spiritual leader.
• Younger women are to be treated "as sisters, in all purity." Paul has already mentioned purity as part of Timothy's example as a young leader in 1 Tim. 4:12. He is to view young women as sisters in his family. This strongly discourages viewing them with lust or sexual impurity. Paul would elsewhere call Phoebe his "sister" (Romans 16:1) though she was only a sister spiritually, and make a similar remark about Apphia (Philemon 1:2). Referring to Christian women as sisters appears to have been a common practice in the early church.
• Paul has already spoken about the differing roles of men and women in church leadership (1 Tim. 2:9-15). At the same time, he clearly views women as having equal value and deserving of care and dignity (Gal. 3:28).
v. 3: Honor widows who are widows indeed - Building upon the treatment of older women as mothers and younger women as sisters in verse 2, Paul changes to a discussion of widows. While the term most literally means a woman who has lost her husband to death, in that culture the term was more often used for women who were also childless. This is why Paul specifies special concern for "widows who are truly widows." Honor included the respect given to parents (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:1-3) as well as God's treatment of widows as expressed in the Old and New Testaments (James 1:27).
• Those who are "truly widows" or "really" widows in need narrows the discussion from all women whose husbands have died. Rather, Paul is concerned with a particular group of widows in the church congregation who fit specific criteria. These criteria are discussed in the following verses and include distinctions between older and younger widows, the character traits of widows, and widows who should be cared for primarily by their own biological family members, rather than the church.
v. 4: but if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God - The first phrase, regarding children or grandchildren, is not about whether family members are believers, but whether a widow has living family who can help care for their needs. Immediate family is always the first recommend-ed step for assistance to widows in the church. This is true whether the widowed woman's help comes from a child-either a son or daughter who is old enough to provide help-or a grandchild. Later verses will point out that Christian believers are particularly obligated to care for their families (1 Timothy 5:8)
• Again, the concept of "godliness" is mentioned in connection with serving others. Here the specific context is that of widows. The purpose of encouraging family to care for their elders is so that children and grand-children can repay the investment made into their own young lives. According to this verse, "this is pleasing in the sight of God." This idea of "pleasing" is the same one Paul uses in 1 Timothy 2:3 regarding prayer for all people, including kings and governing authorities.
v. 5: Now she who is a widow indeed and who has been left alone, has fixed her hope on God and continues in entreaties and prayers night and day - The previous verse taught that the primary responsibility for a widow's care is her immediate family, including any children or grandchildren. This verse defines those who are "truly widows" (1 Timothy 5:3) as women who are "left all alone." While the term "widow" has always referred to a woman whose husband has died, the implications of such a state, in Paul's era, were very different. At that time, a woman's only source of financial security was her husband and children. A woman in Paul's day who had neither of these was a "true widow." These were women left with no other source of family assistance.
• Instead of relying on family, the true widow "has set her hope on God." For such a woman, her life is now devoted to serving in the church, and God is her only source of help. The Christian church, as the household of God (1 Timothy 3:14-15) is intended to help the truly needy in God's family.
• According to Paul, a true widow is reliant on daily, ongoing prayer to meet her needs. As later verses in this passage share, the true widow is too old to maintain a profession, to provide for her own needs, or to remarry. The widow who has no family to help her, or an inability to help herself, is a priority when the church seeks to provide comfort.
v. 6: But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives - Prior verses have discussed the need for the church to care for "true widows," defined as those who truly are alone and unable to care for themselves. Clearly, though, not all elderly or single women are legitimately in need of the church's charity. For example, in contrast to the "true widow," who prays to God for help, are those women who are selfish and ungodly. Paul uses the Greek term spatalōsa here. This refers to someone who is consumed with pleasure, sensuality, or materialism.
• Such a woman is described as being "dead even while she lives," echoing the spiritual emptiness of worldly living. This is the same sentiment seen from Paul in Romans 8:6 and from John in Revelation 3:1. The Greek behind the phrase "dead even while she lives" is literally "has died while alive." An ungodly widow is still alive, but is as good as dead since she does not live for God. The church can help any person to show God's love, but was not required to do so for widows who lived for self rather than God. Verses 9-10 reveal a godly widow was known for being a "one woman man," and had a reputation for good works.
• Not every woman who has lost family or a husband will be known for having a reputation of good works (1 Timothy 5:10). It stands to reason that some of the women taking support from the church in Ephesus were living sensual, extravagant, ungodly lives. Paul warns against this here as well as in 1 Timothy 5:13.
• The goal in mind is for the church not to be "burdened" (1 Timothy 5:16), but to help widows who are sincerely in need, with no other help, who are following the Lord. Resources which could greatly help a suffering "true widow" are wasted on a woman who is only looking for selfish pleasure.
v. 7: Prescribe these things as well, so that they may be above reproach - Paul's commands regarding widows were not for Timothy alone. Here, Paul teaches him to give the instructions found in verses 1 through 6 to all of the house churches of Ephesus. Paul's reason for this is to keep the churches from "reproach." They are to be commanded to follow these instructions to live without reproach in their church and community.
• James 1:27 presents a similar theme regarding the church's role toward widows: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." Jesus personally condemned those who mistreated widows (Mark 12:40). His own mother, Mary, was likely a widow (John 19:25-27) since Joseph is not mentioned during the years of Jesus' ministry. And, based on what we read on the Gospels, it seems Mary's other children-Jesus' brothers and sisters-were not yet following Him (Matthew 13:53-58; John 7:2-5). Churches which do not adequately care for society's most vulnerable are subject to criticism.
• At the same time, churches should not provide aid to those who are simply looking for a handout (1 Timothy 5:5-6). Those who do are also vulnerable to "reproach," since they are wasting their resources.
v. 8: But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever - Paul likely had the entire church in mind in the previous verse. Here, he turns more directly to individuals, particularly men. Those who can provide for their families are obligated to do so. Paul repeats the theme he used in verse 4, beginning with a conditional statement. More specifically, Paul directed his command in verse 4 toward people caring for members of 'their own house-hold." While it may not be possible for one person to care for every relative, even unbelievers in Paul's day understood that a child's responsibility is to care for their widowed mother.
• The second half of the condition in this verse provides the consequences, consisting of two parts. First, those who fail to reasonably support their own families are said to have "denied the faith." Paul mentioned two men who had denied the faith in 1 Tim. 1:19-20. He also spoke about the subject of denying Christ in 2 Tim. 2:12-13 and denying Christ's spiritual power in 2 Timothy 3:5. Christ's command is for believers to love one another (John 15:12) and that those who love Christ should follow His commands (John 14:15). It stands to reason, then, that a person cannot claim to be committed to following Christ when they choose not to care for their own families.
• For the same reason, professing Christians who refuse to care for a widowed family member are considered "worse than an unbeliever." This was the ultimate shame for Timothy's audience. To be called an unbeliever would be insult enough; to be called "worse than an unbeliever" is a purposefully derogatory statement. Being cold and callous towards one's family is bad enough. To do this while dragging down the name of Christ, and Christianity, is truly despicable. This is intended to show Timothy and his church members the vital importance of caring for one's immediate family.
Summary of vv. 9-16 (skipped): These eight verses list specific criteria to qualify or disqualify a widow to receive support from the church: (1) age 60 or older [v. 9]; (2) good moral reputation [vv. 10-11]; (3) not to remarry outside the faith [v. 12]; (4) not a gossip [v. 13]; (4) younger widows encouraged to remarry [v. 15]; and (5) doesn't have other family able to support her [v. 16]. We don't have time for it now, but I could speak volumes on how the traditional role of the church has been usurped by various federal and state government agencies in caring for widows, orphans, and elderly people. We call them "entitlement programs."
v. 17: The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching - This verse begins a new section turning from the needs of widowed women to the treatment of elders. Here, Paul addresses the "elders who rule well." The Greek word used is proestōtes, which literally means "to oversee, superintend, or manage." In context, this appears to be the same group as the elders or overseers discussed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. Those who oversee appropriately are worthy of "double honor." This likely is meant to imply both respect as well as financial support. Verse 18 makes the payment aspect of this "double honor" clear. This is a key passage in understanding the New Testament stance on those who earn their living through service to the church (1 Timothy 5:18).
• This two-sided honor is especially for those whose primary task is pastoral: "those who labor in preaching and teaching." Both preaching and teaching are considered important work for an elder. An elder has other biblical expectations as well, especially prayer (Acts 6:1-7) and congregational care (1 Peter 5:1-3). However, preaching and teaching are areas specifically worthy of mention when considering financial support. Paul earned money as a tentmaker at times in addition to sharing the gospel (Acts 18:1-4), but whenever possible gave his full time and energy to preaching. Paying elders may have been especially appropriate given the large size of the Ephesian church and the size of the city.
v. 18: For the Scripture says, "YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING" - In Paul's writings, reference to "Scripture" almost always means the Old Testament. The first quote regarding an ox and grain is from Deut. 25:4, the final book of the Torah. This verse has both a specific and general application. Putting a muzzle on the ox would prevent it from eating grain while it was working. This might save a small amount of grain, but it means the ox can't replenish its strength while it works.
• It is more sensible-and fair-to let the animal eat while it works. The net benefit is considerable. In the more general sense, as Paul is using it here, this also means it's both beneficial and fair for those who labor in teaching and preaching in the church to be paid for their work. This is primarily so they can devote their time and energy fully to service of the congregation.
• Interestingly, the second quote is from Jesus. These words appear in Luke 10:7 and are similar to Matthew 10:10. Note that Paul is referring to both quotations as "Scripture," meaning Paul is placing Luke's writing in the same category as the Old Testament: inspired Scripture. This strongly supports the notion that the apostles knew they were writing divinely-inspired words.
• Also, this quotation shows the Gospel of Luke had almost certainly been written by this time. This would date the Gospel of Luke after AD 62, which was the end of Paul's house arrest in Rome,. It would also date the Gospel of Luke prior to the time 1 Timothy was written, which was approximately AD 64. The actual quote, "The laborer deserves his wages" reinforces Paul's teaching that elders who work hard are to be paid for their efforts (1 Timothy 5:17).
v. 19: Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses - This verse continues Paul's teaching about the treatment of elders. Here, he transitions from honoring elders to how to properly handle accusations against them. According to Paul, an accusation was not to be taken seriously unless it came with the "evidence of two or three witnesses." This is almost identical to the teachings of the Torah for legal cases (Deut. 19:15; John 8:17), as well the teaching of Jesus in Mt. 18:15-20. In the case of Jesus, He spoke regarding personal sins or offenses instead of misconduct of elders. In those situations, the individual was to be confronted privately first, then by one or two others if this did not resolve the problem (Mt. 18:15-16) before taking the matter before the church (or "assembly" at that time in Matthew). Paul wrote elsewhere about dealing with accusations in 2 Cor. 13:1. His teaching to Timothy on this topic appears to be common practice among the churches Paul influenced.
• Paul expected church leaders to be subject to accusations, as Paul himself often was. Persons in authority, or who speak on controversial topics, are prime targets for criticism, slander, and gossip. For this reason, only accusations involving two or more people with evidence are to be evaluated. Paul appeared particularly concerned with accusations related to elder qualifications (1 Tim. 3:1-7).
• As the next verse will show, Paul is hardly assuming elders are incapable of sin. Rather, his concern is over avoiding the distraction of false claims. Those who truly are falling short are subject to public rebuke.
v. 20: Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning - This verse builds upon Paul's comments in verse 19, as part of a larger passage related to elders. According to the prior verse, only accusations which are accompanied by two or more witnesses should be taken seriously. This is how frivolous or predatory accusations are meant to be weeded out.
• However, Paul also realizes that it is possible for an elder to stray and be in need of correction. The reference to "persistence" in sin means someone with ongoing sin, or consistent accusations, rather than a one-time concern. This is still in the context of an accusation made by two or three people. If an elder is clearly in sin and persisting in it, Paul instructs Timothy to "rebuke them in the presence of all." This appears to indicate public notification within a church gathering. At this point, the process for dealing with sin with elders is similar to that of individuals as seen in Mt. 18:17. Paul's reason for teaching this was "that the rest may stand in fear." The "rest" refers here to elders specifically, but certainly would have the same general effect on the entire congregation. To "stand" means to remain or continue, in this case meaning to remain in "fear."
• As with other mentions of "fear" in the Bible, this has to be carefully understood. The Bible speaks of fearing God (Ecclesiastes 5:7), but also that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). In the first context, "fear" speaks of reverence or respect. This is what Paul has in mind in verse 20 as well. The role involves both respect and responsibility, and should not be taken lightly by either the elder or the congregation.
v. 21: I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality - v. 19 sets a requirement that accusations against an elder come only from two or three witnesses. Here Paul reflects this gravity by referring to three "witnesses" to his command to Timothy. The seriousness, therefore, cannot be higher. In this case, should he fail, the "witnesses" against Timothy would be God the Father, Jesus, and the angels themselves.
Paul's command to Timothy is to not back down or be timid regarding enforcement of rebuking and removing sinning elders. This would likely be the most difficult work he would face as a church leader, but Paul emphasized that it must be done. The phrase "without prejudging" is the idea of without bias, meaning Timothy couldn't favor elders he liked or more harshly judge those he did not like; he had to deal with the evidence and facts of each situation. This, also, harmonizes with the need to only pursue accusations where there is sufficient evidence. In dealing with elders, Timothy could do "nothing from partiality." False teachers showed favoritism (Jude 1:16), but Timothy could not. Christians are not to show favoritism of any kind: "My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory" (James 2:1), including in dealings with church leaders.