The Agora
Godliness with Contentment - 1 Timothy

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VIII. Widows (5:3-16)

This section is about widows. It is very interesting and has a practical bearing on today's problems. How should the aged and dependent be cared for?

The emphatic overall teaching of this portion is that, generally speaking, it is a private and not an ecclesial matter. Well-meaning individuals may feel this should be ecclesially organized and undertaken on a large and official manner. But all the emphasis and force of Paul's words here is on restricting organized ecclesial participation' except in special circumstances and on stressing individual responsibility. Three times he emphasizes this basic principle: vv 4,8,16.

In a sense the ecclesia itself is a "widow", since her bridegroom has been taken away (Mat 9:15) and she awaits the return of her husband or lord (Rev 19:7,8). There are, therefore, important lessons for the whole ecclesia to learn from these verses (ie, v 10; Mat 25:34-40).

A. 5:3-10: Widows Indeed

Paul says it is acceptable for "widows indeed", those with absolutely no one who should care for them, to be taken on as regular ecclesial responsibility, but even then only with several rigid and demanding restrictions (vv 9,10 -- which we shall examine).

What of others who are equally in need, but do not so qualify? The general and consistent instruction of the Scriptures concerning love and care for others, especially those of the Household, would adequately take care of all needs in a Body that is truly and spiritually alive. The divine command to all is:

"He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none, and he that hath meat let him do likewise" (Luke 3:11).
All who are truly in the Truth will not only be willing, but happy and eager to do so, as children of a bountiful Father. For those not of this enlightened and spiritual disposition, God has nothing to offer. "As a man soweth, so shall he reap."

Honour widows that are widows indeed.

The Greek for honour is timao, from which "Timothy" is derived. Honour means "support" (Diag.), as in the English "honorarium". The same Greek word clearly means this in Acts 28:10. "For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother" (Mat 15:4). "Despise not thy mother when she is old" (Pro 23:22). There were ample provisions for the care of widows in the Old Testament (Exo 22:22; Deu 14:29; 27:19), as well as for fatherless and strangers. God Himself set the pattern in His care for the weak (Deu 10:18; 24:17; Psa 68:5). The trouble was that the Jews did not truly live by the Law. It remains for the followers of Christ to fulfill this requirement. This is the essence of true religion -- "To visit the fatherless and afflicted" (Jam 1:27). We see hints of this assistance in Acts 6:1; 9:39.

But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God.

Nephews is translated as "grandchildren" by RSV and NIV.

Let them learn first to show piety at home means 'Let their relatives learn as their first obligation to be "dutiful"' (Diag), their duty being the honouring or support of parents (Mat 15:4, 6). "These should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents" (NIV). In these verses in Matthew, Christ condemned those Jews who claimed to "dedicate" their goods to God's service, when their sole aim was to preserve their own wealth and to avoid contributing to the welfare of their parents.

Requite means "To render proper returns..." (Diag). Can we ever repay our parents? Our children learn how to treat us by the way we treat our parents.

Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day.

A widow indeed would be the widow who would not fit into the above category (v 4). That is, she would have no relatives to care for her. The RSV substantiates this. "She who is a real widow and is left all alone."

The truly desolate, those with no strength of their own, "the poor of this world", are those most able to trust in God. We must first learn to humble ourselves, to see ourselves for what we are, weak and pitiable, before we can have true trust and faith in our Heavenly Father. Here is the Divine rationale for pain and suffering.

Such a person knows her help comes from above. She is like the lily, who relies wholly upon God's care:

"Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these" (Mat 6:28,29).
Thus she is a widow in the natural sense only, because the Father in Heaven is her true Husband and Protector.

Supplication and prayers would be 'petitions and devotions' (1Ti 2:1n). Anna was a superb example of this:

"And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day" (Luke 2:37).
See also Psa 119:164 ("Seven times a day do I praise thee") and Dan 6:10 ("He kneeled upon his knees three times a day").

But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.

Life is given to man for one reason only, to serve and glorify God, to give Him pleasure and to be useful in His eternal purpose.

Pleasure in the abstract is not of itself wrong. There is, in fact, infinitely more true pleasure and enjoyment and satisfaction in the Way of Life than the way of death. David said of that glorious condition to which he looked forward in faith.

"In Thy presence is fullness of joy, and at Thy right hand are pleasures evermore" (Psa 16:11).

But Paul is talking about self-pleasing as a motive, compared with God-pleasing as a motive. It is the motive and the motivation that determines whether our service is spiritual or carnal. If we serve God simply to get ourselves into the Kingdom and enjoy its pleasure, this is merely a higher and disguised form of the same old selfishness.

But if we forget ourselves, and serve God out of the joy of love and gratitude and worship and devotion, we shall find all other things are added unto us. Pleasure sought selfishly is never found. It only comes as a by-product of love and service.

Pleasure means 'self-indulgence' (Diag, RSV). The only other occurrence of this word is in Jam 5:5, where the rich men are addressed.

"Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter."
The word does not necessarily imply what the world calls wicked. It really has to do with pampering and spoiling oneself.

For additional comments on the phrase dead while she liveth cp Rom 8:13: "If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die." And Rev 3:1: "I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead". In Eph 2:1,5 Paul speaks in a positive fashion of those once "dead" in trespasses and sins, who have been "quickened" or made alive. But the sad truth is that so many of these, in little ways, and step by step, relapse into the death-state of selfish indulgence.

And these things give in charge, that they may be blameless.

These things has reference to what is mentioned in verses 5 and 6. Give in charge means "command" -- as in 1Ti 1:18 -- to the widows.

They refers to the widows who were to be blameless. That is, whether seeking support from the public alms of the ecclesia or not, the widows of the congregation should struggle after an irreproachable, self-denying life, and show publicly before men that they were indeed the servants of Christ. In these words there seems a hint that the former lives of many of these women-converts to the Truth had been very different from their current lives, and that in their new profession as believers there was great need of watchfulness on their part not to give any occasion to slanderous tongues.

But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.

Paul has made his instruction clear to the widows. Now he instructs the brethren in their duties regarding the care of widows.

In the words if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, we are again reminded that the true faith is a way of life, in love. The Faith may be denied in daily practice, even if hypocritically kept in word and appearance -- many of the scribes and Pharisees being perfect examples (v 4). Neglecting the most elementary Christ-like duties is no less to be condemned than renouncing the Truth itself. All we have belongs to God; we will answer for our use of what is His.

A person who does not provide for his family is worse than an infidel or an "unbeliever" (Diag), because he has no excuse, being responsible (through his knowledge) to serve God, on penalty of death at the judgment if he fails. Even an "unbeliever" will perform these duties from natural promptings.

Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man.

In the phrase taken into the number a very special word is used only here. Katalego (from which we get the English "catalogue") signifies "enrolled" or "listed". There must have been a special roll in the ecclesia with the names of those widows to be supported in whole or part by the ecclesia (cp Acts 6:1). The names on the roll were to be limited to those who had the qualifications of these two verses. "Let not a widow be enrolled, unless she has been... "

It is the intention of all of us, widows included, to be "enrolled" in the book of life (Phi 4:2,3). But in this too, we must first meet the qualifications.

Having been the wife of one man means simply, a faithful wife (cp 1Ti 3:2). This cannot be a ban against a second marriage for a widow, because Paul himself says that the young widows should marry (v l4). And a woman twice widowed could be just as worthy as one who had been married only once.

In a spiritual vein, the True "Israel" must have been the faithful "wife of one man" and one man only (Eze 16:8; cp Pro 31:10-31)!

Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints' feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work.

The qualifications here are quite similar to those other lists in 1Ti 3 which can be read for particulars not expounded here. Cp also the similarities with the works which elicit the approval of Christ the Judge in Mat 25:34-36.

A widow well reported of is one who has "borne witness" within and without the ecclesia "for good works" (which Paul enumerates here).

If she have brought up children means if she has reared them in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord", a primary duty for wives and mothers. Bishops' children were always to be well-behaved and faithful (1Ti 3:4). (Of course, we cannot suppose that this would exclude the childless widows from ecclesial care, if they were otherwise deserving.)

Others have rendered this: "If she have nourished children". She should have given those young ones under her care a solid diet of spiritual food -- to produce healthy children of God. "Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Pro 22:6). This word "to train" may be given as "initiate" or "dedicate" (as Samuel's mother dedicated him to the service of Yahweh in His temple -- 1Sa 1:28).

In a broad way, the exhortation to parents (and particularly the sister-mothers) could be stated as: "Give your children adequate and regular meals of the spiritual food of life, that they might gain full understanding and become dedicated thereto."

The word for "child" in the verse (Pro 22:6) means "a child from infancy to adolescence". This is the period of development when a child is receptive to principles which will mold his character for a lifetime. The same word is used in Pro 20:1: "Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right". Whilst lacking in full understanding, a child may nevertheless manifest an attitude toward the things of God that will identify him or her as one striving to develop divine principles in daily life (Luke 2:52; 1Sa 2:26: Pro 3:1-4).

The phrase if she have lodged strangers means 'if she has shown hospitality to travelers (1Ti 3:2n).

See John 13:2-11 for the example of Christ who washed the saints' feet. This ties in with hospitality, but it depicts the true and most complete love and consideration. Paul had no doubt experienced such hospitality. For a man travelling great distances on foot, either in sandals, or barefooted, the feet would be in dire need of washing from the dust, and for the aches and possible blisters. It depicts true servitude and is perhaps symbolic of all humble and commonplace tasks done on behalf of others (1Sa 25:41; Luke 7:38). Such "menial" tasks, though despised by the proud and mighty, receive their reward from God. Jesus spoke of visiting the sick as an honorable task and he praises the feeding and clothing and giving of drink to even the least among his disciples (Mat 25:35-40; cp Jam 2:15,16).

The phrase if she have relieved the afflicted indicates that Paul may be concerned at this time with some widespread persecution of the Christians. He is writing here during the time of Nero, who ruthlessly mistreated and even killed the saints of the Most High. It was during this time that Peter wrote his first letter exhorting the believer how best to survive the time of severe trial.

It is almost needless to point out that brethren may be afflicted in ways other than open persecution so that "relieving the afflicted" may take many other forms as well. The ecclesia is, or should be, a family, and it is largely by mixing in one another's homes that we can really get to know each other, to learn of another's weaknesses and problems (Gal 6:2), and grow in mutual concern and brotherly love (2Pe 1:7,8). Here is plenty of opportunity for useful work for any and every widow.

B. 5:11-16: Young Widows

The young widows are those most likely to be drawn aside by temptations, to marry out of the Truth, to "live in pleasure". Giving such as these a guaranteed income (on a permanent basis, at any rate) would only open the door to other troubles, as Paul shows.

But the younger widows refuse: for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry.

Wax wanton is better translated "to grow restless", as it comes from a root word signifying "to remove the reins". We have here a metaphor of a horse being freed and allowed to run wild. The young woman is freed from the necessary guiding and perhaps restraining influence of a husband in the Truth.

Most translators render wanton as "sensual" or "passionate". After having close marital companionship cut off, it is possible that this young widow will seek to involve herself in order to fulfill her previously awakened desires. Her mind could then be on more or less immediate self-gratification, as opposed to service in the ecclesia and obedience to Christ. It is a pity that, in early life, when health and zeal and energy are strong, we serve self rather than God -- and that only later, when the natural vigor for life declines, do we turn our hearts fully toward God. Let us listen to Solomon:

"Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them" (Ecc 12:1).
Nothing is wrong with widows marrying in the Truth; so Paul must mean by the phrase they will marry -- marriage with an alien, perhaps hastily entered, in opposition to the command to marry "only in the Lord" (1Co 7:39). Cp v 14. The key to this verse is in the phrase "against Christ".

Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith.

They have "apostasized". Very few things are more destructive to a life in the Truth than to marry one outside the saving name of Christ. From the very beginning there has been a sharp distinction between the children of God and the children of the world. God's whole purpose of redemption depends upon the former maintaining a faithful and holy separation from the latter. Union between them, in defiance of this eternal ordinance and purpose, has brought untold misery and punishment and evil. It has, time and time again, sidetracked the called-out people of God into the dead-end of failure.

The Scriptures abound in warnings against alien marriage. The sons of God marrying the daughters of men resulted at last in the Flood. Abraham and Isaac, faithful sojourners looking for the kingdom, opposed such marriages for their sons (Gen 24:3; 28:1). The Law forbade the yoking together of the clean ox and the unclean ass (Deu 22:10). Moses said to take no alien spouses (Deu 7:3,8). Solomon's alien wives turned his heart from God (1 Kings 11:1-11). Ezra (Ezra 9; 10) and Nehemiah (Neh 13:23-29) tell us of the evils of such alliances, and Paul has stressed the serious wrong of such unions (2Co 6:14-18).

And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.

And withal can be paraphrased as 'and even if this is not the case, they will...'

The phrase wandering about from house to house means not just wandering aimlessly, but "gadding about" (Diag, RSV) with the express purpose of gossip. "By much slothfulness the building decayeth; and through idleness of the hands and the house droppeth through" (Ecc 10:18). This "house" may well be the house of the ecclesia. In contrast to this is the description of the virtuous woman:

"She looketh well to the ways of her household; and eateth not the bread of idleness" (Pro 31:27).
Both the Proverbs and the prophet talk of the feet that "run to evil, and make haste to shed innocent blood" (Pro 1:16; 6:18; Isa 59:7). Such idle gossips may be murderers in the Lord's sight. How do they kill? With a word or an insinuation, they sneak through the night and shoot arrows at the unsuspecting and innocent. "Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment" (Mat 5:21,22).

"Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life in prospect" (1Jo 3:15).
The perfect picture of righteousness to follow is the description of the woman of Pro 31:

"She openeth her mouth with wisdom: and in her tongue is the law of kindness" (v 26).
But how far we fall short of this ideal! Unless we are constantly careful and unless we are purely motivated by love and the mind of the Spirit we shall find that much of our conversation about others, when honestly evaluated by divine standards, comes under the heading of gossip and backbiting -- or in other words -- tattlers and busybodies, speaking things which [we] ought not.

True, there are times when it is necessary to speak of the faults of others. But unless it is truly necessary, and done in the scriptural way and in the proper Scriptural spirit we are running a grave risk of divine condemnation. The Spirit through Solomon declares:

"The words of a talebearer are wounds and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly" (Pro 26:22).
The immediate reaction of the flesh, on reading this passage, is to be struck with how remarkably it fits someone else. But let us for the time being curb this evasive reaction and consider how remarkably they fit ourselves -- how many times we have allowed the natural malice, of which we all have a share, to lead us into this flesh-gratifying sin. "The words of a tale-bearer are as dainty morsels" (Prov26:22, RV) -- how true and searching is this divine analysis!

The way of the Truth is the way of love, in all relationships. If our feelings toward our brethren and sisters are not in pure love, regardless of their faults and weaknesses, then we ourselves are not the children of God, but are of the world. Love is kindness and gentleness and a desire to help and strengthen. Solomon records again:

"He that covereth a transgression seeketh love, but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends" (Pro 17:9).
This does not mean a glossing over or condoning of what is wrong, but a proper, pure-hearted, sympathetic, loving approach with a desire to build up. Let us take heed that we do not stand at the judgment seat exposed before all as what Paul describes as "tattlers and busybodies". It is a very easy and common sin. "Speak evil of no man" is the command (Tit 3:2).

I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.

As all the context [v 11] shows clearly, Paul must be speaking of younger widows when he speaks of younger women. It is better to marry if they find they cannot contain themselves (1Co 7:8, 9). Again, of course, marriage is to be "only in the Lord" (1Co 7:39).

For comments on bear children see 1Ti 2:15n.

The phrase guide the house is from oikodespoteo, literally "to rule the household".

The question arises: Is this verse a prohibition against married sisters working outside the home? After all, the "virtuous woman" is pictured as diligent in business, at least some of which would need to be carried on in the outside world (Pro 31:16,24). It is best not to lay down absolute rules in this matter, while at the same time affirming the wisdom of general principles. Generally, and most of the time, a married sister's surpassingly useful sphere is in the home. And especially is this true when she is the mother of small children. No 'baby-sitters' or 'day-care centers' can begin to do for her children what she can. The young mother who goes out to work each day, for the sake of a higher "standard of living", will very likely do a second-rate job at both her tasks. The loss to her secular employment will be temporal and minimal, but the spiritual loss to her family may be incalculable!

[There is a considerable difference between going out of the home for a short period of time to transact business, and being away all day with a nine to five job working for a boss. We must not forget that the virtuous woman had servants at home to look after the children when she was out. Putting a child in a 'child care' center, or letting them fend for themselves when they come home from school is in no way comparable to this.]

The solution? Forget about "keeping up with the Joneses"; and be thankful for the opportunity (rare in these days!) of making a real "sacrifice" for the Truth. Recognize that the common tasks of the household are a test of your patience and faith; as much as accomplishing some "great thing for the Truth", they are the means to gain eternal life, if done joyfully and wholeheartedly, as unto the Lord (1Ti 2:15).

For comments on the phrase give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully, compare 1Ti 3:6,7. The first-century believers had many pagan opponents. The word for "adversary" here means "one who is set over against", as in Tit 2:8. These men went about seeking whom they might devour (1Pe 5:8). Inconsistent behavior by one believer would place all her brethren in the same bad light before the heathen and would bring reproach upon the gospel and the God she claimed to serve.

For some are already turned aside after Satan.

Some had turned aside to the world. Perhaps their alien husbands had led them away from the Truth. (Satan is the world, as in 1Ti 1:20, the "adversary" -- v 14 -- of the Christians.) What a sad thing this must have been! Some had served the Truth for a time, but had been drawn aside by the cares of the world. Their cases were so well-known that Paul needed not even to mention their names. And the warning is so clear that it really need not be mentioned either: "Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples (types), and are written for our admonition. Wherefore let him thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1Co 10:11,12). What a pity that in the "books" of the Father some saints are remembered only in that they turned aside from their high and glorious calling to mingle and marry with the world, and to perish at last in the "wilderness".

If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed.

Let not the ecclesia be charged means 'let not the ecclesia be instructed to care for such'.

The word relieve has reference to financial relief. Indiscriminate hand-outs by an organization are not always the best policy -- our governments have begun to discover this. In the household we must guard against this also. Institutionalized charity is a cold and humiliating and depersonalizing thing. Individual and private love and care is a beautiful, mutually-blessing bond of perfectness. Officially organized schemes can easily have dangers and problems and disadvantages.

We must be guided by the Spirit's teaching, whether we see its wisdom or not. But we often can see the wisdom, especially if we first submit in humble faith. In this case we can clearly observe around us many ill-effects from schemes that ignore the Spirit's teaching --

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