1 Timothy 5:5-16
In the modern church there is an active debate over the
usefulness and importance of the care and feeding of the
The problem is not, as is usually phrased today, such a new
one. It existed in the
early church, as we shall see here.
The main difference is in the class of people who were to be
the beneficiaries of the church’s care.
In their day, this was almost exclusively the elderly widow.
Things have changed:
We now live in a credit and banking society – wealth can be
accumulated much more easily now.
For the middle class giver, it would seem that the poor
are largely in other countries.
Our government has taken over many of the functions that the
church could do better – for example, the elegant Ponzi scheme
called Social Security.
And despite this, we have many more homeless now than in
leave as an exercise to the reader the problem of bringing Paul’s
wisdom and counsel up to date.
Here’s what he said about the problem they had then:
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. But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is
dead even while she lives. Prescribe these things as well, so
that they may be above reproach. 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.
(1Ti 5:5-8 NASB)
Paul, it will be seen, lays down strict requirements for the
widow who would be supported by the church.
This may seem harsh to us today, but the principle is the
same: if you claim the
support of the church, then you must do the work of God.
So what does it take to qualify?
She must be one who is left alone – a woman with no family to
care for her.
She must be one who now places her hope in God, and God alone.
She must be a woman of prayer – one who lives the devotional
This, then, is a woman devoted to God – and God will see to her
The Merry Widow is also here.
She is a woman who gives herself to pleasure while calling on
the church to support her in that.
In this time, this could even mean a woman who was a
As such, she is dead. You
must profess the faith; you must also practice it.
In this we see the opposite – the woman who is not devoted to God.
The church should not provide sustenance to one who wants to
live the wanton life.
The other general principle is this:
the Christian must provide for his own family.
This is particularly true for those who are actually living
under your roof. You can
see the public reproach that will come if somebody (for example)
threw his own mother out on the streets, justifying it with the
happy thought that the church would provide for her.
Paul says that such a Christian has denied the faith, and is worse
than a heathen. How so?
If you won’t care for your own household and family, what
chance is there that you will care for strangers?
Indeed, what chance is there that you will show love to
anyone? Even the heathen
take care of their own.
The matter may seem difficult until you realize Paul’s objective:
he is concerned for the reputation of the church.
That’s been his theme so far, and he continues it here.
So what he says is designed to keep the church above reproach
in the times in which he lived.
A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty
years old, having been the
wife of one man, having a reputation for good works;
and if she has brought up
children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has
washed the saints' feet, if she has assisted those in distress,
and if she has devoted herself
to every good work.
(1Ti 5:9-10 NASB)
Here is Paul’s checklist for eligibility.
She must be sixty or older.
Why? Because (in
that time) a woman of that age would be highly unlikely to attract
another husband. It’s
also likely that she would not have the physical strength to work at
a trade – especially as an apprentice.
She must be the wife of one husband.
This does not exclude (in my opinion) those widowed twice or
more; rather, it excludes the woman who works her way through
multiple husbands with a clear eye and grasp on the husband’s
She must have a reputation for good works.
Again, this is Paul concerned with the reputation of the
She must have raised children – recall in those days that a woman
without children was considered cursed.
Children were your social security in those days.
So for a woman to have deliberately refused to have children
would not at all carry the appearance of righteousness.
She must show hospitality to strangers (those who receive His
ambassadors receive Christ).
This was of greater importance then.
She must have “washed the saint’s feet.”
A service no longer so necessary, it does tell us of the
humility of the true Christian – in imitation of her Lord.
She must have assisted those in distress – the sign of a woman who
cares for those whom Christ loves.
Paul ends with the requirement that she be devoted to every good
work. Notice there is no
thought of prayer, or reading the Scripture – nothing of the
devotional life (though that is obviously behind this).
He is concerned that the church is seen not as a woolly
headed welfare agency nor as a cold, parsimonious bunch of holier
You can see it: this is
a description of one who is devoted to Christ.
If she’s on the list, she is someone who is doing God’s work,
and accepting God’s provision.
Abased or abounding – it makes no difference.
The requirements may sound strict to us – but they ensure
that the widows on the list are those who are genuinely doing God’s
work. And for God’s work
there is always God’s supply.
But refuse to put younger
widows on the list, for when
they feel sensual desires in disregard of Christ, they want to get
married, thus incurring
condemnation, because they have set aside their previous pledge. At
the same time they also learn to be
idle, as they go around from house to house; and not merely idle,
but also gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper
to mention. Therefore, I want
younger widows to get
married, bear children, keep house, and
give the enemy no occasion for reproach; for some have already
turned aside to follow Satan.
(1Ti 5:11-15 NASB)
The argument here is somewhat difficult for modern minds to follow,
for we have abandoned the concept of submission so familiar to the
ancient church. Here’s
how they might have seen it:
Every woman is in submission to a man.
First to her father, then to her husband, authority over
her passed from father to husband.
When she becomes a widow, that authority passes from
husband to Christ, for all Christians are in submission to
But this change in authority was not her choice (unless she
poisoned her husband, which raises additional complications).
She therefore is not going to feel as committed to this
choice as she did to her husband.
But in their time, neither father nor husband was her
So with such a weak commitment, Paul advises that the younger widow
face the fact that she’s going to want a husband.
When Prince Charming calls, it is no sin to marry.
And rather than have oscillating loyalties, she should marry.
One way to see this is to take the opposite view.
Suppose we said to the young
widow that she would be supported by the church as long as she
stayed single. We would
be creating a group of women who had no employment, but no need for
it either. They would do
what they would find at hand.
That, unfortunately, includes both gossip and being a
busybody. As one comic
put it, “She lives for others.
You can always tell the others by their hunted look.”
So what’s the right answer?
Have children (yes, you.)
Manage the household.
In all this, the major purpose is to make sure that the conduct of
the Christians is above reproach.
Of course, Paul is talking about widows.
But one must ask:
does this also apply to divorced, single mothers of children?
Just what aid should the church provide a single mother of
Should we counsel her to remarriage (assuming the divorce is
morally sound) ?
Does the obligation of the church vary with the reputation of
Indeed, what is the role of the church post-divorce?
of Christian Women
If any woman who is a believer has
dependent widows, she must assist them and the church
must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows
(1Ti 5:16 NASB)
In this short passage Paul gives us an example of the principles of
We must show caring kindness to our family members before we can
do so for those who are not.
Therefore, for most such cases, the family, not the church, is
to care for those in need.
This is just – and also good stewardship.
Those are the principles; do we live by them today?
The phrase in
the NASB is misleading.
The KJV has “guide the house.”
The NIV says, “Manage their homes.”
Contrary to modern thought, it means a stay at home
wife (realizing, of course, that home was also often the
It does not mean simply cleaning and dusting.