Order Concerning Relationships in the Assembly
1 Timothy 5
1 Timothy 5
1 Timothy 5. This chapter deals with the relationships between individuals in the house of God. First, the relationships of older and younger men and women are addressed, and we find respect and purity are paramount. This is followed by a special dealing with the issue of widows, both older widows and younger widows. We find that those least honored by men are given special honor and care in the house of God. This is then followed by the treatment of those who are in place of oversight in the assembly, how they are to be honored by all, and treated carefully in a case of accusation. This is followed by instructions for Timothy regarding discipline in the assembly, impartiality in judgment, and a warning against making hasty assessments on first impressions. This chapter is an extremely helpful treatise on relationships in the house of God!
Older and Younger Men and Women (5:1-2)
The Household. It is striking that in the house of God, the relationships in the assembly are elevated to the level of a family or household. Older men are fathers, older women are mothers, younger men are brothers, and younger women are sisters! This is God’s mind for those in His house, to be relationship-rich!
¶ 1 Rebuke not an elder sharply, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brethren, v.1 Older and Younger Men. The “elder” in v.1 is not an overseer, as in ch.3, but an aged brother. There are times when an older man in the assembly will fall into sin, teach wrong doctrine, or behave according to the flesh. Age does not necessarily bring wisdom (Job 32:9), nor does it bring infallibility (Prov. 16:31), but it does demand respect. In the house of God, the natural relationships ought to be recognized, and given their proper place. When dealing with an older brother in error, a younger brother such as Timothy would need to be careful about his attitude and manner. An older brother is not to be treated as a child; “rebuke not an elder sharply”. Instead, he is to be treated with the dignity that his age demands. Note that in v.20 even an elder might need to be convicted before the assembly, but v.1 shows that it should be done with special care, if an older one. To “exhort him as a father” would be to approach the older saint with the same delicacy, love, and respect that one would have in speaking to their own natural father about some fault. A nice example of this is when Naaman’s servants said, “My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?” (2 Kings 5:13). When it comes to “younger men”, there should likewise be a mutual respect when dealing with them; “younger men as brethren”.
2 elder women as mothers, younger women as sisters, with all purity. vv.1-2 Older and Younger Women. The same carefulness and respect follows through with addressing older women and younger women, to treat them like “mothers” and “sisters”, respectively. A nice example of “mothers” is Rom. 16:13 where Paul could speak of having gained a mother; “Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.” Notice that when speaking with sisters, a guard is added; “with all purity”. There is a danger for men, to view Christian women with whom they interact in an unholy way. To think of them as “sisters” would give a Christian man the right frame of mind! God intends the saints in His house to be close with one another, but never in a way that is inappropriate. There is a particular danger for men when dealing with younger sisters, of being improper or inappropriate. Paul would warn Timothy to be on his guard about this. For instance, a pastor would be wise to avoid ever meeting with a younger sister in private. There are also personal topics that simply do not fall in the realm of a man (even a gifted man, or one in oversight) to address with a young woman. Paul instructs the older women (Titus 2:4-5) to teach the younger women, and an older woman would certainly have liberty to address those things that are otherwise inappropriate for a man to address.
Widows. We might at first wonder why the apostle Paul devotes such a lengthy section in this epistle to widows. But if you recall, the very first difficulty that came up in the early church had to do with the care of widows “in the daily ministration” (Acts 6:1). It is perhaps hard for those of us who live in Western society to understand, but in those early days there were many more widows than there are today. For one, hard labor was the portion of many men in the Roman Empire. This led to a shorter lifespan for men. Also, it was very common for men to be married to much younger women. This resulted in many women being widowed at a fairly young age. Without a social welfare system, the care of widows was a very serious issue among people in that era, and among believers in the house of God. In this chapter Paul lays down very clear requirements for the care of widows, outlining when it was the assembly’s responsibility to care for a widow, when it was the family’s responsibility to care for a widow, and when it was a widow’s responsibility to remarry. In any case, those who are real widows are to be honored in the assembly!
3 Honour widows who are really widows; 4 but if any widow have children or descendants, let them learn first to be pious as regards their own house, and to render a return on their side to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God. 5 Now she who is a widow indeed, and is left alone, has put her hope in God, and continues in supplications and prayers night and day. 6 But she that lives in habits of self-indulgence is dead while living. 7 And these things enjoin, that they may be irreproachable. vv.3-7 Real widows. Those who are real widows are to be honored in the assembly! This is quite a contrast to the way the world would treat a widow. In v.4 we find that if a widow had children or grandchildren, those descendants should care for the older sister as someone in their house, under their responsibility. This responsibility is the most basic fruit of responsible Christian behavior. It is viewed here as a “return on their side to their parents”, considering all the care and support the parent showed to the child in raising them. This “return” is something that is acceptable in the sight of God. Notice that Christianity, far from lessening the individual’s responsibility toward family, actually deepens the sense of duty, as it shows us that such care is acceptable in the sight of God! Our Lord patterned this for us in that, on the cross, He gave commandment to John to care for His mother. He did not commit Mary to the care of His brothers, perhaps because they did not at that time believe on Him (John 7:5). We might add that even if a widow has relations to care for her, she is still worthy of honor (v.1), and others may visit and care for her (James 1:27). In v.5, Paul defines what a real widow is; (1) “left alone”, or without support from a husband or family, (2) “has put her hope in God”, or is living day-to-day in dependence on the Lord, and (3) “continues in supplications and prayers night and day”, expressing dependence in prayer. In v.6, Paul defines the antithesis of a real widow; “she that lives in habits of self-indulgence is dead while living”. The opposite of dependence, which marks the real widow, is self-indulgence. Habits of self-indulgence would refer to the lusts of the flesh; examples would be gluttony and fornication. Such behavior was abhorrent to the apostle, and no doubt to God. How sad that such a widow, seeking to find satisfaction in the things of this world, would only find herself worse off; she “is dead while living”. It was therefore necessary for Timothy to instruct the saints about what a real widow is.
8 But if any one does not provide for his own, and specially for those of his house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than the unbeliever. v.8 Providing for Family. Paul then turns aside to address the family member (son, or grandson) that would not provide for his widowed mother or grandmother. This verse is broad enough to apply to any family relation where responsibility for others is implied, such as a father providing for his children. A person who will not provide for their own “has denied the faith, and is worse than the unbeliever”. The language is very strong. Remember, this does not apply to the poor man who cannot provide, but rather to the callous man who chooses not to provide.
9 Let a widow be put upon the list, being of not less than sixty years, having been wife of one man, 10 borne witness to in good works, if she have brought up children, if she have exercised hospitality, if she have washed saints’ feet, if she have imparted relief to the distressed, if she have diligently followed every good work. vv.9-10 Widows on “the list”. The practice in the early church was to have a “list” of widows officially recognized by the assembly for financial support. The danger was that those who really did not need the support were getting on the list, and this would become a burden to the assembly, and also it would be harmful for the women. Paul gives Timothy a list of qualification for a widow to be put on the list. Notice the difference between these qualifications and those of v.5. Earlier it was a description of a real widow, here it is the requirements for a real widow to be officially placed on the list. Although in many parts of the world today there is not nearly as severe a problem with widows, these scriptures do give the assembly a pattern for regular distribution. Sometimes there are saints in need who get ministered to very sporadically, because there isn’t an assembly consistently providing for them, as there would with a list. Certainly, the principles contained in these verses should be considered and practiced by assemblies today, as the need arises. The qualifications for those on “the list” are as follows:
- Sufficient age, “being of not less than sixty years”. This is a general safeguard that the assembly should use that would prevent younger widows, whatever their circumstances, from being placed on the list. It isn’t that the assembly couldn’t support a young widow who was somehow disabled, but simple that she shouldn’t be officially placed on the list.
- Marriage history, “having been wife of one man”. An example of this would be Anna, in Luke 2:36-37.
- Good works, “borne witness to in good works”. Good works are the natural fruit of faith, and if this fruit is absent, there is a real question as to the reality of such a widow, or any professing believer. Following are five different classes of good works, all in past-tense.
- Raised children, “if she have brought up children”. A care for children is an important quality for every older sister, and imperative if a widow would be put on the list. W. Kelly noted that “if she have brought up children” does not necessarily mean the widow’s own children, but it could also include other children.
- Hospitality in general, “if she have exercised hospitality”. Hospitality is one of the primary ways a sister can demonstrate the heart of God toward others. It is a sacrifice to open the home, prepare meals, etc. But it is commended over and over in the Word of God. For example, consider the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17).
- Lowly service to the saints, “if she have washed saints’ feet”. A special form of hospitality is then mentioned; footwashing. Here the hospitality is more specifically; toward the saints! In the first century church, literal footwashing was a cultural practice done to remove the filth of dusty roads from the feet, and to give refreshment after a long day.1 It is an act of extreme lowliness and humility, patterned for us by Christ Himself. We are to have the same mind in us as was in Christ Jesus; to abandon all thoughts of self-importance, and get low, not considering ourselves above menial tasks.
- Kindness to the needy, “if she have imparted relief to the distressed”. Next is kindness and generosity toward those in distress. For most of these widows, there was a time when they had limited financial support from a husband. What were they like when they did have funds? Was it spent on themselves, or on others? Compassion for the poor and persecuted is a fundamental part of Christianity. God’s order in His house is that those who were generous in their abundance should be cared for by the assembly in their season of need.
- Diligence, “if she have diligently followed every good work”. The last requirement is very broad, and it covers the whole of practical Christianity. Who then can meet these requirements? One like Anna, whose life was characterized by full devotion to God.
11 But younger widows decline; for when they grow wanton against Christ, they desire to marry, 12 being guilty, because they have cast off their first faith. 13 And, at the same time, they learn also to be idle, going about to people’s houses; and not only idle, but also gossipers and meddlers, speaking things not becoming. 14 I will therefore that the younger marry, bear children, rule the house, give no occasion to the adversary in respect of reproach. 15 For already some have turned aside after Satan. vv.11-15 Young widows. These verses deal with younger widows. It may seem that vv.11-13 seem very harsh toward younger widows, but it is important to note that they refer to younger widows who are seeking to be put on the list. There is nothing wrong with younger widows, as v.14 shows. The reason why younger widows should not be put on the list is that being continuously supported would have an ill-effect on them. When our circumstances allow us to live independently, it can lead to departure from the Lord. This is especially true of those who are younger, who have not spent years in the wilderness learning self-judgment. Younger women in this condition can “grow wanton against Christ”, becoming dissatisfied with the portion of a widow, of having Christ as her only object; to “cast off their first faith”. This can lead them into sin of various kinds, connected with idleness; gossiping, meddling, and “speaking things not becoming”. The proper thing for a young widow to do is given in v.14; to “marry, bear children, rule the house”. Thus healthfully occupied, the young widow would “give no occasion to the adversary [Satan] in respect of reproach”. Very often trouble in local assemblies can be traced back to women who are guilty of gossiping and meddling. And women who are bored are those who gossip and meddle. This kind of behavior, almost more than any other, brings down “reproach” on the name of Christ, and dishonor to the house of God. Paul gives a final warning, to remind Timothy that there were already some who had fallen into the trap of idleness, and had abandoned Christianity entirely, being “turned aside after Satan”.
16 If any believing man or woman have widows, let them impart relief to them, and let not the assembly be charged, that it may impart relief to those that are widows indeed. v.16 The care of widows. The support of widows is summarized in one sentence: the believing family members are to care for their own widows, and this will allow the assembly to support the real widows who have no family to care for them.
Elders Who Lead Well (5:17-19)
¶ 17 Let the elders who take the lead among the saints well be esteemed worthy of double honour, specially those labouring in word and teaching; 18 for the scripture says, “Thou shalt not muzzle an ox that treadeth out corn,” [Deut. 25:4] and, “The workman is worthy of his hire.” [Luke 10:7] vv.17-18 Elders who Lead Well and Labor. Having already addressed the subject of the elderly in vv.1-2, Paul now addresses those who take the lead; i.e. “elders” in the sense of those who have a place of assembly oversight. These ones who “lead well” are to be “esteemed worthy of double honour”. The are to be honored on account of their work of leadership, and on account of doing it well (1 Thess. 5:12-13). This double-honor was especially important when the elder was one who labored among the saints “in word and teaching”. This does not refer primarily to those who travel around from one assembly to another to preach and teach, but rather those God is using within the local assembly to minister the Word of God. Notice that gift and office may or may not be combined in the same person, which shows the distinction between the two spheres. This “honor” would include respect, but also material support when necessary (Gal. 6:6). Paul supports this instruction with two quotations. The first is from Deuteronomy 25:4 in which the farmer was not to “muzzle the ox” that was treading the corn. In other words, as the ox was working to provide food for the farmer, the farmer was not to prevent the ox from partaking of the fruits of his own labors. This is principle that Paul applies to the servants of Christ who labor to feed the people of God. “Is God occupied [merely] about the oxen, or does he say it altogether for our sakes?” (read 1 Cor. 9:9-10). The second quotation is not found in the Old Testament, although the principle of it surely is. The quotation is actually from the Gospel of Luke, which was likely written from 60-62 A.D. The fact that Paul quotes this recorded statement of our Lord and refers to it as “the scripture”, as well as (2 Peter 3:15-16), is a helpful key to establishing the inspiration of New Testament scriptures! Both quotations show that those who work for the saints should be honored and provided for (even financially, if necessary) by the saints. This is God’s order for His house.
19 Against an elder receive not an accusation unless where there are two or three witnesses. v.19 Accusations Against Elders. The work of oversight often involves conflicts that can lead to unhappiness in individuals. Sometimes those who are discontent can turn against those in oversight, making accusations that are unfounded. The Old Testament principle that “One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established” (Deut. 19:15) is commended by Paul to guard against these cases. It is certainly possible for an elder to sin, but there should be a guard against quickly receiving an accusation against him. If this principle were followed, much trouble in assemblies could be avoided. When scriptural order is ignored, it causes the work of oversight to be a treacherous and hateful work, rather than a blessed yet solemn responsibility.
Regarding Sin (5:20-25)
20 Those that sin convict before all, that the rest also may have fear. v.20 Offenders. In the case of one who did sin, not just an elder2 but anyone in the assembly, they should “convict before all”. Not even an elder would be shielded from public discipline. The result of this form of discipline (public censure) would be that “the rest also may have fear”. When sin is judged in the assembly, it results in each individual passing self-judgment on their own lives. Is a public rebuke required for every type of offense? Perhaps not. In 1 Thess. 5:14 Paul suggests a private rebuke to those who are disorderly, and 2 Thess. 3:6 commands the saints to withdraw from them if they do not heed the rebuke. The more public a sin is, the more public also is the needed rebuke. For example, Peter denied the truth of the gospel before the whole assembly, and so Paul felt he needed to rebuke Peter before them all (Gal. 2:14). Another is example is when Peter rebuked Ananias and Saphira.
21 I testify before God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, that thou keep these things without prejudice, doing nothing by favour. v.21 Impartial judgment. The exercise of discipline in the assembly was a charge that was extremely important for Timothy to carry out, but it was essential for him to do so with impartiality. Nothing is so damaging to the spirit of an assembly, or so dishonoring to the name of Christ, as authority in the assembly exercised in a partial or biased way. A two-fold guard was to be maintained. It was to be without prejudice on one hand, and without favoritism on the other hand. Prejudice means to pass judgment against someone for a wrong reason; i.e. to be predisposed against someone for personal dislikes or preconceptions. Favoritism is to show preference for someone (to spare them deserved discipline) because of a personal connection or alliance, to receive a favor in return, or because of perceived worldly importance or popularity. This warning was so serious that Paul would testify it “before God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels”. The angels are beholding the working of local assembly! Do the saints, who will one day judge angels (1 Cor. 6:3), judge righteously in matters of sin? The “elect angels” are those chosen by God, and preserved from corruption. Those who were not chosen eventually fell, and followed Satan.
¶ 22 Lay hands quickly on no man, nor partake in others’ sins. Keep thyself pure. v.22 Caution with Associations, Personal Purity. Timothy was warned not to “lay hands”, or show fellowship with, publicly support and endorse, any man quickly. It is important to really understand who a person is before we formally associate with them, especially in public service. Paul had laid hands on Timothy, but he had spent time with the young man, knew his character, etc. If Timothy were to endorse another man quickly, he could learn to his chagrin that the person was not who they claimed to be. The motivation for this is in vv.24-25. This could make Timothy guilty by association with that person. But in addition to this, Timothy was to keep himself pure. There is no use guarding our associations we do not guard ourselves. There is actually a danger of being over-focused on associations while neglecting personal purity. On the other hand, if we maintain moral purity, it will help us have discernment in our associations.
23 Drink no longer only water, but use a little wine on account of thy stomach and thy frequent illnesses. v.23 Perfect liberty. This sentence apparently comes in as a parenthesis, keying off the previous statement; “Keep thyself pure”. Evidently Timothy was so scrupulous in his attention to personal purity that he thought it would be wrong for him to drink wine, even for medicinal purposes! He would rather suffer physically than compromise purity. This is a commendable quality of Timothy. However, there was something that needed to be corrected. Timothy had liberty as a Christian drink wine. His scruples were perhaps founded on the examples of excessive drinking around him. Paul therefore recommends Timothy “use a little wine”, not in excessive amounts, and only for his stomach, and his “frequent illnesses”. We read that Timothy had some medical difficulties. Timothy could have been a sickly person from his youth, or these infirmities could have been contracted during his travels or imprisonment. Notice that Paul doesn’t recommend Timothy drink for personal pleasure, as this might cause him to go against his own conscience. In matters of Christian liberty, it is very important that the conscience be kept pure. How many Christians have suffered in refusing medical aid because of some ungrounded fear about doctors, hospitals, or medicine! Paul would clear this matter for Timothy’s conscience, and for countless others as well. It is interesting to consider that Luke, the beloved physician, was probably with Paul when he wrote 1 Timothy. It is wonderful that Timothy had those in his personal life that were concerned with his medical condition. Is a nice example of Christian liberty; “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh” (Gal. 5:13). We have liberty to use wine etc., but not in a way that would give occasion for the flesh to act.
24 Of some men the sins are manifest beforehand, going before to judgment, and some also they follow after. 25 In like manner good works also are manifest beforehand, and those that are otherwise cannot be hid. vv.24-25 The Visibility of Sin and Good Works. Returning now to the subject of sin, and association with sin, Paul reminds Timothy about the character of sin that sometimes you can see it early, and sometimes it comes out later. This is why it is ever so important to “lay hands quickly on no man”. In this life, the people that are commonly considered the “worst” are not necessarily so objectively in the final analysis. Some people live a complete double-life, and may not be found out before they die. But at the judgment throne, those sins will “follow after”. The bottom line is this: certain kinds of sins tend to be hidden from public view. But the same is true with good works. There are kinds of good works that are high profile, and seen readily by others. But the quieter works, ” those that are otherwise”, will also come to light, as it is God’s way to do so; “For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad” (Mark 4:22).3 How important then for the servant of God to not make a hasty judgment on first impressions, or even on public appearances. The proof of a person’s character is seen over the course of time, as Timothy had seen Paul’s (2 Tim. 3:10), and as Paul had seen Timothy’s (Phil. 2:22).
- I believe the context of footwashing in 1 Tim. 5 is literal. However, literal footwashing, as seen in John 13, represents a spiritual activity that Jesus does for believers even today, and which we can do for one another as well; i.e. it represents the way we are continually cleansed from the defilments of the pathway, and refreshed, in order to maintain communion with Christ. Read more…
- The first of these has nothing specially to do with the elders, but breaks into the larger field of the saints in general… To limit the range of τὸυς αμαρτανοντας (ver. 20) as if it meant only “the sinning” presbyters naturally leads to think of “the rest” of that class to the loss of a solemn injunction in no way restricted, as “before all” ought to demonstrate. – Kelly, W. The Epistles to Timothy.
- On the other hand a like difference is found in that which grace produces; for the works that are comely are openly manifest, and those that do not come thus at once into notice cannot be concealed any more than He could Who is their source (Mark 7:36). – Kelly, W. The Epistles to Timothy.