1 Timothy 5:1-16

1 Timothy 5:1-16

Serving the needy in the church


First, what I say in this message is said with fear. I’m afraid of getting the exposition, and therefore, application of this text wrong.


Second, let me say that this passage introduces challenges that can’t be addressed in full in a Sunday morning sermon. These challenges must be fleshed out in fellowship with one hand on the Manual and one hand on the work.


Third, let me say that we have elders who are reading great resources (When Helping Hurts, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkertt) on this and evaluating how we as a church do this kind of work with the truth of Scripture dictating how the church ministers grace and help inside and outside.


Now, let’s turn to 1 Timothy 5:1-16.


[1] Do not rebuke (subjunctive {making a request / expressing opinion} – strike – metaphorically to hit with words) an older man but encourage (parakaleo – same word used to define the Holy Spirit; to speak along side; to counsel – the word is applied to each of the groups in the church) him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, [2] older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. [3] Honor (imperative – esteem and reverence) widows who are truly widows. [4] But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn (imperative – 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 (imperative – charge; command) these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. [8] But if anyone does not provide (present, active, indicative – ongoing supply as needed) 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 (imperative – enroll) 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 (imperative – have nothing to do with) 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 (imperative – care for) for them. Let the church not be burdened (imperative – burdened), so that it may care for those who are truly widows.


This passage seems strange on the heals of chapter 4 if the passage is not studied in light of the whole message of Paul’s writing to Timothy.


Some members of the church at Ephesus had abandoned truth and godliness (1:5-6; 2:8). Some had shipwrecked their faith (1:19). Some women had abandoned their proper role and were trying to usurp the function of the men (2:9-15). Some men in leadership and aspiring to leadership and service were not qualified, so Paul instructs on the qualifications necessary for elders and deacons (3:1-13; 5:19-22). Some were teaching demonic lies (4:1-5; 6:3-5). Some older widows were living impure lives (5:6-7), as were some of the younger widows (5:11-13). And finally, some so-called Christians were letting the church take care of their family while neglecting their duty.


When reading this passage there is a key question to help us to learn what I believe the point of the text is.


The most important question here is not, “what do we do with widows?” The most important question here is why did Paul move from the commands to teach and apply truth to addressing how we speak one another in the context of serving the widows?


What the text says, which is quite clear, is only the first step in study. We have to move from what the text says to understand what it means and only then can we make application.


What does the text say?


The text tells us that Paul instructs regarding how to address each other regarding the treatment of widows.


Who is being addressed in this passage?


There is the church as the community of the kingdom of God, which is family (v. 1-16)


The church is the community of the kingdom of God and that community is truly family. Jesus taught this when he spoke about his followers as his mother, brothers and sisters (Mt. 12:46-50).


Paul tells Timothy regarding the instruction he is to give in this situation to “command these things so that they may be without reproach” (verse 7).


Paul wants Timothy in his teaching for the community of the kingdom to command them for the sake of them not being able to be blamed for wrong. He wants to rescue them from accusation.


Paul is not saying that those who are wrong should not be rebuked.


Those striving for holiness should be treated as the family they are.

What does that look like in the family and who is receiving this instruction?


There are older men. (v. 1)

The older men striving for holiness should not be rebuked.


Paul says to “encourage” them. The same word used by Jesus to identify the Holy Spirit is used here “parakaleo”, to speak beside. Paul wants Timothy and us to speak as the Holy Spirit ministers to each other because this word is applied throughout verses 1-2 to all the groups in the church.


The older men acting like unbelievers should be rebuked and commanded to get in line with the gospel.


There are younger men. (v. 1)

The younger men striving for holiness should be treated like a brother. Perhaps not like a Jolly boy brother at this current phase when all things involve wrestling for dominance, but that brotherly like commitment to each other’s good and joy.


Younger men acting like unbelievers should be rebuked as such.


There are older women. (v. 2)

The older women striving for holiness should be treated like momma. Gentle and kind.


The older women acting like unbelievers should be properly corrected.


There are younger women. (v. 2)

The younger women striving for holiness should be treated like the young sister with complete purity. She should not be the object of the young man’s scheming, rather protected like a sister.


The younger women acting like unbelievers should be properly corrected.


There are true widows who are older. (v. 3, 5, 9-10)

The pious widow, in this situation, was at least sixty years of age. Sixty was the age in this culture at Ephesus that people began to “retire”. According to Plato men and women were to become priests and priestesses at this age.[1] This age requirement ensures that these widows would not be driven by desires ranging from their sexuality to their profession.


The idea here is to be whatever age this is in a particular context.


True widows who are morally, ethically and practically seeking holiness and service to the fellowship (continue in prayers and supplication night and day), are to be honored through meeting whatever need there is.

There is indication that these true widows served the fellowship in some way and was dedicated to that service, and therefore, they were to be cared for.


There are children and grandchildren. (v. 4)

The children and grandchildren are to pitch in and serve their widowed mother or grandmother. This is the way it is.


There are self-indulgent younger widows. (v. 6, 11-13)

Then there is the younger widow who probably adhered to the fellowship because of her husband or for social reasons, but when the commitment to serve (taken on due to being taken into the service of having her needs met) wanes due to desires and the revealing of the true intentions of the heart they walk away from their oath to serve and the reception of needs being met and become idle, gossipers, busybodies and “bumping them gums”.


I would argue that one does not need to be a widow to do that. It’s the fallen tendency of the female gender. It’s very feminine when dudes do it.


Idle – nothing to do constructive but eat lunch with your buddies.


Gossiper – telling the latest scoop


Busybody – “periergoi” alongside to work. The word in Greek means “magic art” and giving the appearance of work but really scheming. I’m not sure what all this means, but the idea we understand it to mean is “meddler” or “interferer”. This probably means that meddling is more than meddling but playing a demonic role of seeking to alter outcomes to one’s favor.


These are women whose hearts are revealed as unregenerate and not Proverbs 31 type material.


There are relatives who are not caring for their family and immediate household who have denied the faith in their failure to care for their widows. (or relatives in need) (v. 8)

These people are some who are ripe for a good rebuke.


These are the kind of folks that a “velvet covered brick” kind of rebuke may save.


It is not Christian to fail to care for our parents and grandparents or immediate households.


There are younger widows who need to remarry. (v. 14)

Paul tells Timothy that these younger widows just need to get remarried and keep that Proverbs 31 thing going.


This requires the willingness to work hard at being a biblical woman and single men willing to marry widows.


Men, where are you? What a ministry, single dudes. A younger widow with children or a young family who needs a man with a job and can lead. What a ministry!


Young single dudes for younger widows. Older single dudes for older widows. Wonder who will crank that ministry up?


There are widows (younger and maybe older) who have strayed after Satan and have been part of the spread of false teaching. (v. 11, 12, 13, 14, 15)

These ladies are just trouble. They are undisciplined, not caring for the vow they made to serve and receive help.


Paul says these ladies incur condemnation. Paul does not explain this condemnation except to say that they have strayed after Satan and have caused slander to come to the name of Christ.


This sounds like a Hebrews 6 type of situation where the unbelieving nature of their heart is revealed in the fellowship and they have strayed into eternally destructive places.


These ladies are candidates for church discipline and may never return.


There are believing women who are relatives of widows who are to care for their relatives who are widows. (v. 16)

To take it a step further, Paul says that if there is a believing lady who has a widow for a relative that she, probably along with her husband, should bear the responsibility to care for their family member.


This is who Paul is speaking to. But is that the primary reason Paul brings these issues up?


What is the central question?


The question is why does Paul address how we speak to one another in the family of God within the context of addressing widows in the church?

Let’s see if we can answer this question from the overall context of 1 Timothy.


The gospel had been traded for myths and endless genealogies as well as doctrines of demons in the practice of the church. We know that Timothy and the church gets things corrected because Jesus’ letter to Ephesus reminds us of their fighting the false teaching (Rev. 2:1-7).


Adding to the sheer confusion of the false teachings at Ephesus is what Paul calls “weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:6b-7). And it is probably some of these who have been involved in subverting church order (1 Tim. 2:8-15).


The main work of the gospel and the mission of the gospel have been marginalized. Paul says as much in 4:1-5 when he calls the peripheral bible study discussion times “devoting themselves to doctrines of demons.”


Good work, like bible studies, caring for the poor of the town, providing resources for orphans and even homes for orphans and, in the case of 1 Timothy 5:1-16, the care of widows, had become the main work and so much so that it had to be addressed by Paul in letter form and gets 10 verses. Qualifications for elders didn’t get that much space. The explanation of the gospel of the glory of the blessed God in 1:11 didn’t get any exposition. It got 1 verse! This issue must have been a real problem.


The main work of knowing God and making him know has been replaced by service work and careless application of service work without any standard of why, how and who being informed by knowing God and making him known.


Here is a direct application to the church in Rome, GA. Any time our “ministries” or our “service work to the community” take the dominant conversation over knowing God and the mission of making him known we have stepped into dangerous territory.


We see this in “Christian” community service organizations that serve needs but never serve up the knowledge of God. Need ministry has replaced the need to know God who fixes the root cause. Knowing the one whose image they bear is not important. Addressing the immediate physical need trumps the need of the soul. This type of work is a tip off that we are practical atheists because we believe the immediate need is more vital than the need of the soul. We toss to the side the fact that we are living souls not just living bodies.


Don’t hear this wrong. Immediate need is vital. It should not be ignored. However, to address the immediate need without ever getting to the spiritual need is rebellion against God.


We understand that there are strategies and necessities of addressing immediate things, but that can’t be the end. That kind of work must lead to the gospel and transformation in order for the work to be a success and complete.


This is why I want Christian families fostering, fostering to adopt and adopting. Just giving a kid a home is only half of the equation. Giving a kid a Christian home is the goal!!!!


There is action and then there is gospel action. We want gospel action, not just action.


The necessary strategic means of addressing the needs of our context created by the fall are important, but they are never more important than the mission of knowing God and making him known. The end is Jesus Christ known and worshipped. How we get there is by going, healing and proclaiming. That is what he Lord said to do when he sent out the twelve.

In our town there is plenty of healing work in addressing immediate need. There is also some addressing of the proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom. But there are few who are doing both well.


LISTEN: This message is NOT a summons for TRCC people to go start ministries that do both. This message is seeking to understand Paul’s instruction to Timothy so that Holy Spirit can stir the hearts of God’s people to know Jesus Christ and make him known in the way he would direct regardless of what it looks like or cost to those who are so stirred.


What can we take away from the instruction in 1 Timothy 5:1-16?


1. In correcting ministerial failure, the family is to be corrected in grace and gentleness v. 1-2


2. Needs based ministry happens in the church primarily

The scripture is addressing the care of those inside of the church not those who are not Christians. As a matter of fact we learn here that some of the people they are caring for are leading folks after Satan, and those folks are not to be cared for like those who are seeking godliness.


The widows who are eligible for ministry from the church are those who are living holy lives in dedication to the kingdom and the church.


The primary outreach of Scripture is in the proclamation of the gospel to rescue people from the fall through healing hurt and preaching the good news. Not just alleviating needs in the community.


The best way I can illustrate this is twofold:

When there is a need in the fellowship and there is no one else to help, we help. When I get calls from people’s cell phone who are not in our church wanting the church to pay their power bill, I offer to meet with them and pay their bill if they will let me teach them about stewardship of God’s resources, budgeting, living within means and the need to be transformed by the gospel and become part of the fellowship of the kingdom of God accountable to God and each other.


There are some ways we think we are helping that actually hurt people and can facilitate the rebellion. (Read, “When helping hurts” by Corbett and Fikkert).


Most of the passages of Scripture dealing with those who need service is dealing with those who need service among God’s people not those who are just scattered about with no relation to the people of God.


Acts 4:34 “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.”


There is a proclamation of the kingdom from the fellowship that cares for those of its number whether from the resources of the whole or from the individual families of the fellowship. That proclamation beacons people to come and taste the gospel.


This kind of internal love and care helps along the external work in repairing a broken world by bringing the kingdom to bear on that broken world.


Only in the west is this unclear. The church in the east gets this. There is nothing they can do publicly, so they care for each other, and when allowed, those outside, and those on the outside are attracted to that kind of love. I have heard this from pastors in eastern countries with my own ears (thank you Bob Roberts).


We love and serve each other as a model of loving and serving out town.


3. Needs based ministry, including widows in the church, should first be taken care of by family


4. Needs based ministry, including widows in the church, should be contingent on holiness


5. Needs based ministry, including widows in the church, should never take the place of the ministry of the word and growth toward maturity in Christ through the fellowship


Needs based ministry must fit with and inside of the command, “Until I come devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13).


Needs based ministry must reflect the truth of Scripture and the demands of Scripture.


Needs based ministry must never neglect the application of Scripture to its work.


6. Needs based ministry not met by the immediate family, if in the fellowship, is unbelieving behavior and dangerous v. 8, 16


Paul actually says that those not providing for their relatives have denied the faith. Man, that’s harsh, but it’s in the Manual. In other words, God values me taking care of my family before he values the church taking care of my family.


Why? The family unit is a direct reflection of the image in which we are created. Father, mother, children / Father, Son, Holy Spirit.


We are created in the image of Trinity. Father never neglects the Son. Son never neglects the Spirit. Spirit never neglects the Father or Son and so on.


As transformed image bearers we must recognize this reality and imitate the inter-Trinitarian love displayed in Father, Son and Spirit.


A failure to do this displays that one does not know, understand or love the Trinitarian God they are claiming to follow because they refuse to imitate that Trinitarian God.


A failure to care for one’s family is a direct denial of the gospel of the kingdom.


Be warned, you must care for your parents, grandparents, wife, and children. (See verse 4).


(Note to families who use a facility for care of their parents: for those of us who have had to put their parents in a place for care this is not neglecting the duty. This is a way our culture and prosperity have provided that we can take advantage of when there are medical or life reasons we can’t just take them into our homes. We must not feel guilty for this.)


7. The neglect of knowing Christ and making him known will lead to giving Satan opportunity to slander God’s people and lead others away into following after Satan v. 14-15


Due to the poor application of Scripture to the church’s ministry Satan had achieved a foothold in the lives of God’s people and was doing his best work.


The idea of slander here is that the church is open to being spoken ill of due to some of it’s members who are neglecting holiness and giving the church, and therefore Jesus, a bad name.


The ideas is that they have had their needs met, the pressure is off and the devotion to Christ is waning and the rebellious and non-transformed heart is starting to go after it’s idols and the result is that the name of Christ is tarnished.


Above all things we must guard the reputation of Christ, refuse Satan a foothold through making need ministry the focus, hold to Scripture, meet necessary need, seek after and expect holiness and trust that Jesus will, through this work, bring his kingdom to fruition.







[1] William Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975), 109.

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