We have been studying foundations for faith as Paul has written to Timothy on instructions to give to the church where Timothy is working and proclaiming the gospel. 1 Timothy 5 is a chapter about honor. Verse 3 speaks about honor, verse 17 speaks about honor, and chapter 6 verse 1 speaks about honor. But this is a lengthy chapter so we are going to break the chapter into two pieces with the same title: Be Honorable. Before we go into the text I want to think about how important this message is today. We need people to act more honorably today. We need people to show other people honor. So let’s look at the first picture of honor is given in the first two verses of 1 Timothy 5.
Honor Each Other (5:1-2)
Paul begins by wanting us to think about how we talk to each other. Speak to an older man like he is your father and speak to a younger man like he is your brother. Talk to an older woman like she is your mother and a young woman like she is your sister. Think about who you are talking to and how you are talking to them. Show honor in how to talk to each other. We should never speak to another person harshly. Think of each other like family members and speak with the kind of honor toward that person. Not only should we speak with honor, but notice that part of this honor is that the younger women are to have pure interactions. Women should feel safe around men. So men need to guard their thoughts and watch their interactions so that purity is communicated in the relationships that we have with each other. Avoidance is not the answer. Purity in mind, words, and actions is what is necessary. Men, we have a choice in what we do with our minds. You can remove the temptations from your mind if you want to. Change how you look at women. Change how you think about women. Yes, immodesty is a sin and there will be an account for that. But this is not an excuse for men to allow impurity to be in the mind. Women are honored when we have these kinds of pure relationships with each other.
Honor True Widows (5:3-8)
Now Paul turns his attention to honoring widows. As we will see in the context of the teaching, the honor given to widows is be to respect as well as financial support. Remember that James taught that pure and undefiled religion is caring for widows and orphans (James 1:27). We forget that caring for those who do not have family is an important concern to our Lord. This was especially true in the ancient world where there were not governmental or societal provisions for wives who lost their husbands. They did not have social security. They did not have Medicare. They did not have the opportunity to get a degree from a college or go to work. Widows were in a very precarious and dangerous position in the ancient world. Remember in the book of Ruth that we read about Naomi who sends her daughters-in-law away because with her husband dead, she is doomed. So God says that they must be honored by being cared for in their distress.
In verse 4 Paul notes that family is to be the ones to care for a widow. Children and grandchildren show their devotion to the Lord by caring for their mother or grandmother. In fact, Paul says that the children and grandchildren are giving back for what they had done for you. Children are expected to financially care for their parents. This can be hard for those who have fractured relationships with their parents. We may not be able to have a good, godly, healthy relationship because of sins of our parents. But we must never forget that godliness is never dependent on the goodness done toward us. We must still make sure that our parents are cared for if they are in true need. In Genesis 2 we learn that we are to leave our parents and created a new primary relationship. But this does not mean that the bond with our parents is severed once we are married. While our spouse becomes the primary relationship, there is still a responsibility to our mothers and grandmothers who would be in need because the father or grandfather has died. In short, Christians care for their parents. Notice the end of verse 4: “This is pleasing in the sight of God.”
Paul really drives this point home in verse 8. If you do not provide for your family, you have denied the faith and are worse than an unbeliever. Even an unbeliever understands caring for your own family. You are acting worse than the world if you do not care for your own family. We make sacrifices for our family. This is what God wants. If we do not do this, then we have denied the faith. If we do not show a care and love for our family, how can we say that we love God and how can we think that we will love others? We have an obligation to our family, caring for each other.
Therefore, a true widow is pictured in verse 5. She is left all alone. She does not have family who can care for her. She is left alone and is in need. But there are also supposed to be spiritual considerations. She has put her hope in God and lives a life full of prayer. I believe a good example of this picture is seen in Anna. Listen to what the scriptures say about her.
And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. (Luke 2:36–37 ESV)
She was only married seven years and then lived the rest of her life as a widow until she was 84 years old. What did she do? She devoted herself to God. She worshiped with fasting and prayers day and night at the temple. This is what Paul seems to be picturing in 1 Timothy 5:5. She puts her hope in God and continues day and night in prayer and requests to God. Further, she is not self-indulgent. She does not live for this world. Her hope is not in wealth. She is not in luxury. Notice what Paul says about this. People who live like this are spiritually dead even while living. Paul will come back to this idea in chapter 6 of this letter. But this is an important warning for all. We are spiritually dead while physically alive when we are self-indulgent, living for this world. True widows live for God and not for wealth and luxury.
Requirements For Widows (5:9-16)
Verse 9 begins by saying that a widow would be enrolled. We are not given an explanation about what this enrolling looks like. Acts 6 is likely the best place where we get a sense of what God wants with this. In Acts 6 we see that the widows in Jerusalem were receiving a daily distribution. The implication is that every day food and other necessities were being given to the widows. This seems to be what Paul is referencing. Widows can receive this distribution under certain requirements. Two requirements were already noted earlier. First, she does not have family to care for her. Second, she has set her hope in God, praying day and night, and has not set her hope on this life. The apostle Paul now continues to list requirements for widows to be enrolled on to a care list.
She must be 60 years old or older to be cared for by the church. He will explain the reason for this age in just a moment. But for now, note the age for enrollment is 60 and older. She must also be the wife of one husband. It is important to note that she can be called the wife of one husband even though she is a widow. This is important because this shows us that here, as well as when talking about shepherds in chapter 3, the idea is not about present marital status, but the faithfulness displayed while married.
Not only this, but we can further see that this requirement is not about present marital status because Paul will instruct those who are under 60 to remarry (5:14). Let me ask a question: would a widow who remarried by Paul’s instruction because she was under 60 only to have that husband also die later in life mean that she could not be enrolled as a widow because she had two husbands in her life? She did what Paul told her to do. I think it is important to see that this is not a condemnation for remarriage. Rather, the requirement is looking to her faithfulness in the marriage.
I want to bring this up because it solves some questions that can come up when it comes to the elders of the church being the husband of one wife. I believe we should apply the same understanding to them as we are seeing with the widows because the wording is the same for both. The widow is to be the wife of one husband. The elder of the church is to be the husband of one wife. Does this mean the elder is no longer qualified if his wife dies? The answer must be no because obviously the widow was not disqualified from being the wife of one husband when her husband died. Can the elder remarry and still be the husband of one wife? The answer must be yes because we just established that a widow is instructed to remarry and Paul could not be disqualifying her future if by chance this second husband also died. Being the husband of one wife or being the wife of one husband does not mean that you are married only once. Rather, it is a spiritual requirement of devotion and faithfulness to that spouse.
We this idea further in verse 10. She has a reputation for good works in raising her children, showing hospitality, washing the disciples’ feet, and caring for the afflicted. She has devoted herself to every good work. She has shown her devotion to the Lord through her serving of her family and serving others.
Now I mentioned back in verse 9 that the age requirement for being enrolled to be cared for is 60 years old and older. Younger widows are to be excluded from the role. Paul explains in verses 11-15 why this is the case. The first reason is in verses 11-12. Paul says that their passions will draw them away from Christ, desiring to marry, and will receive condemnation for abandoning their pledge. Now this might sound harsh on the surface so we need to understand what Paul means. Is Paul saying that remarriage is a sin? No, because he will tell the younger widows to marry. What Paul is saying is that by being put on the roll for the daily distribution, she is making a pledge to labor for the Lord. She is making a commitment to be a servant for the church. She is not devoting herself to a new husband and family but to the work of the Lord. So Paul’s concern is that a younger widow will make this commitment, only to find a new husband. Being put on the roll means that you are devoting yourself to the work.
Paul also has the concern in verse 13 that younger widows will be tempted to be idle, wasting time in unprofitable or sinful things. So he says that younger widows should marry, have children, manage their homes, and give no room for Satan to make an accusation against them.
So what is the big picture? God wants us to be honorable. God wants us to live honorably toward others. In our culture we see people say that someone has to earn my respect. There is a lot of disrespecting other people in our world. I want us to see that this is not the world God wants. God does not say that people have to earn your respect. God does not say that we honor others only if they honor us first. God tells us to honor people because this is godliness and to remember that every person is made in the image of God. How our world as forgotten who we are! We are made in God’s image, no matter who you are. Because of this, you are worthy of respect and we must give that honor to every person. How we talk to each other matters to God. How we act toward each other matters to God.
But here is what I really want you to see. What does a widow have to offer in terms of a worldly point of view? We live in a world where value is established by what you do as a career, what you contribute to society. In the ancient world, widows were doomed. They had nothing to give. They needed help. What does God say to do toward widows? We are to care for widows. What are they going to give in return for your caring and kindness? You see that godliness and true devotion to God is caring for people and doing right by people who cannot do anything for you. God does not evaluate us by our age, our achievements, our marital status, or what we can contribute. God tells us to care for the widows. This shows us the heart of God, which is a heart that we are to have. God’s heart is not for people who at the top of the food chain, but for the people who are forgotten. God cares just as much them. So we do not look at people and say, “Oh well. That is a tough life.” Godliness teaches us to do what we can for others without regard for what they can do for us. We are to look out for each other in this family in Christ. Pure and undefiled worship to God our Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world (James 1:27).