I Timothy 5

New King James Version 1. Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers,

The Resultant Version 1. Do not rebuke an older man, but admonish him as a father, younger men as brothers,

In this chapter, the Lord through Paul continues His instructions to Timothy regarding proper behavior in the dispensation of grace. We must keep in mind here that no such situation existed in Ephesus as a “church” such as we know it today. There was a company who believed in Jesus Christ. A large number of these were Jews who believed. They lived together in a community, and the leaders among them were not only religious leaders, but also community leaders in every way. It is regarding this situation that Paul makes his statements here, and not about a modern-day church organization or meeting.

First, he urges Timothy not to rebuke an older man. The word for “older man” is presbuteros, the word that is often translated “elders.” Yet if we think of the “elder board” of a church in our day, we would be thinking the wrong thing. The word means a “representative,” and the elders were the representative man. The elders would often be older men, but I believe that the criterion to be an elder was that you were the patriarch or oldest living male representative of your family. If you were the elder of your family, then you could be chosen as elder of other things as well. Of course, how old you are when your father and grandfathers are all dead is not a set thing, and varies from person to person. Once one became the family elder, then he could be chosen as elder in other things as well.

Yet in this context, wherein Paul contrasts the presbuteros with the neoterous or “new men” (young men), it would seem that the contrast is indeed one of age. Timothy was still a fairly young man here, and he would often be dealing with men much older than he was. Paul orders him not to rebuke an older man. We must be careful here, for of course Timothy was in charge, and was God’s representative to these people. It could be that an older man would need a rebuke, and if so, it might well be Timothy’s job to do it. Yet the idea is not simply not to do it, but seems to have to do with how it is done. The idea of “rebuke” is to rail at or strike repeatedly with words. This would not be a proper way to treat an older man, even if he did deserve a rebuke. Instead, Timothy is to act as a paraclete toward him, coming alongside him to help him. He needs straightening out, but Timothy should do this in an exhorting way, not in a railing way. Moreover, Paul suggests Timothy should treat such older men as fathers. If one loves and respects his father, he would not treat him harshly, even if he had to rebuke him. The same should be true in Timothy’s conduct towards older men.

He also urges Timothy to exhort younger (or “new”) men as brothers. Though we do think of Timothy as young here, he was no longer 15 or 16, as he was when he first joined Paul. By this time, he is probably around 30 or in his early thirties. Therefore he would be dealing with some men who were younger than he was, and he is to treat such young men as brothers. I suppose the same is true, that one would not treat a brother overly harshly. Instead, Timothy is urged to act as a paraclete towards them. He is to come alongside them to help them, to exhort and encourage them to do what they should. This is indeed a gracious way to treat someone who has done something bad enough to deserve rebuke!

New King James Version 2. older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, with all purity.

The Resultant Version 2. Older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.

Paul continues the thought now to the older women, urging Timothy to act as a paraclete towards and exhort the older women as mothers. The word for “older women” is presbuteras, and is indeed the word for a female elder. Many in our churches today make a big deal out of only men being elders, while others make a big deal about being sure that women can be elders as well, and both try to justify their positions by the word of God. Yet the Bible never really sets forth such a thing as “church leadership,” nor does it have anything in mind like a “board.” There are indications, even as we have seen earlier in Timothy, that there were women who were leaders. We come upon that once again here with female elders. Again, though, this could mean female representatives, and generally when we read of women as leaders, their leadership role is over other, younger women. In fact, Paul spoke against women having authority over men in this very book we are studying back in chapter 2.

In this context, the idea would simply seem to be of older women, as opposed to the younger ones. Timothy as a leader should treat the older women when they need rebuke like he would treat his mother if she needed rebuke.

Finally, he urges Timothy to rebuke the younger women as sisters. Yet this is always a sensitive thing, when male leaders must deal with the younger women, so though he urges him to treat them as sisters, he reminds him to do so with all purity. He is not to get too close or act too familiarly with these young women, but is to act with all purity. This is a good thing for all God’s people to keep in mind at all times: that purity is important in the sight of God. Therefore, Timothy should always keep purity in mind while dealing with the younger women.

New King James Version 3. Honor widows who are really widows.

The Resultant Version 3. Honor widows who are genuinely widows.

Now we come upon this matter of widows. We have to use care to understand the situation, for when Paul speaks of those who are “really widows,” he does not mean that some are only pretending their husbands are dead. Rather, we need to realize the plight of many widows at the time. A woman in their culture could not work outside the home. Inside the home, she was considered a valuable part of the family business. Yet of course, just as today, women could become widows. There were plenty of ways for a man to die young at the time, just as there are today. Moreover, sometimes younger women would marry older men, which of course would make the possibility of her being a widow at some point much greater.

Now a young woman would work at her father’s business, a married woman would work at her husband’s business, but a widow would need to work at her son’s business, if anyone was to take care of her. If she had no of-age, working son, then she might hope that some charitable family member, perhaps a son-in-law, would take her in. Yet if she truly had no relative to work for that could care for her, she was all but destitute. A woman without a family was extremely limited in her options. She could try to marry again, she could become a prostitute, or she could be a beggar. If she could not do the first and would not do the second, she would end up all but destitute. This then is what Paul means by “really widows” here: he means those who are truly destitute, with none to care for them.

Now God in the law had commanded the wealthy and powerful in Israel to care for the widows. First of all, the tithe every three years was to be partially for the care of the widows, according to Deuteronomy 14:28-29.

28. “At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. 29. And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.

Then, He had made provision that during the harvest they could gather some of the harvest to sustain them, as Deuteronomy 24:19-21 commands.

19. “When you reap your harvest in your field, and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. 21. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it afterward; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow.

This is the very thing we see Ruth doing in the book of Ruth in order to maintain life for herself and her mother-in-law. Therefore, it was always a concern of God that the widows in Israel be cared for, and not be as destitute as perhaps widows in such a case might be in the other nations around Israel. This certainly carried over into the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ as well. He and His disciples had a common purse, and it is clear that out of it they made some provision for the poor. We can see this in the fact that this is what the other disciples mistakenly thought Judas was going to do when he left the last supper in order to betray the Lord, as we see in John 13:29.

29. For some thought, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus had said to him, “Buy those things we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor.

When the disciples were gathered together in the great unity at Jerusalem in early Acts, they had all things in common. Many sold their houses or lands (investments) in order to lay the money at the apostles’ feet, and they distributed it to whomever had need, as we read in Acts 4:34-35.

34. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35. and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.

Certainly, as we mentioned above, considering the poverty and destitution of widows, they were well represented among those who received this distribution. We can see that clearly, for when the task started to become too large for the twelve apostles to keep up with it, it was the widows who started to suffer first, as we can see from Acts 6:1.

1. Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.

Therefore, the care of widows had always been a major issue among the followers of Jesus Christ. In Ephesus too, it seems, this was a major issue, and yet there were some problems associated with it. Paul and the Lord are about to deal with these problems in this letter to Timothy.

New King James Version 4. But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God.

The Resultant Version 4. But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them be learning first to be showing reverence unto their own house and to render returns unto their parents, for this is ideal and acceptable in the sight of God.

First of all the Lord wants to make it clear that if a widow is not truly alone but has children or grandchildren who can care for her, that these should be burdened with her care first. This is something they need to do themselves, not shift the responsibility to “society” or someone else. He suggests that this will teach them piety at home. The word for “show piety” is eusebeo, which means to act piously or reverently, either toward God or toward others to whom reverence is due. In this case, reverence is due to a mother, and so an elderly mother should be cared for by her own offspring. Moreover, by having this responsibility they learn to repay their parents. The idea is that they learn to pay back recompense to their parents. Of course, when one is a child, he is completely helpless, and must be cared for by his parents or he will not survive. Therefore when a parent becomes old and needs care, it becomes an opportunity for a child to learn to pay back his parents for all their former care.

Yet we must also keep in mind that our society is not like theirs. A widow in our day is not without recourse. It is no longer true that a widow cannot work outside the home, or that women must work for the family business. Moreover, our system allows much to be done to prepare for retirement for both men and women. It may be that a widow is well-provided-for without any burden at all being placed on her descendants. We are not suggesting that these rules are rules for today, or must be followed.

Yet when an elderly family member is in need of care, it often seems that children no longer wish to be burdened with the care of their elderly parents. They prefer to pass them off unto a nursing home, or to have society care for them somehow. This is perhaps part and parcel of our cultural mindset, wherein we want to be free and independent and not tied down to caring for anyone or anything. It could be that this started out with the parents, for at first many parents did not wish to be a burden to their children, and so avoided receiving care from them. Now, it is doubtless true that many children would view their parents as just a burden, and have no desire to care for them. Perhaps many parents have earned this by their conduct when young parents, pawning their children off on daycare workers and others as often as they can, and seldom taking time out of their busy lives to do any real caring for their children themselves. When such parents who could hardly be bothered with parenting when their children were small become old, it is no wonder if their children can hardly be bothered with caring for their elderly parents. Thus such parents perhaps are receiving what they deserve. Yet as long as a parent is not destructive to the family, a child caring for elderly parents is still a good thing and acceptable before God, as well as a learning opportunity.

New King James Version 5. Now she who is really a widow, and left alone, trusts in God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day.

The Resultant Version 5. However she who is a genuine widow, and is left alone, has set her expectation toward God and is giving attendance unto the petitions and prayers night and day.

Now he considers those who are not like this, but who are really widows; that is, they are left alone with no one to care for them. This kind of widow, he says, trusts in God. Now we are getting into the matter that Paul is discussing: a matter that was clearly well-known to both Paul, who had ministered in Ephesus for several years and had probably set these things up while he was there, and to Timothy, who currently was in Ephesus ministering. Yet we have never been there, and so do not know what it is Paul is talking about. We have to try to gather what was going on from what Paul says in this passage.

Paul mentions “the number” of widows in verse 9. It seems that in Ephesus there was a number or role of widows whom the ekklesia, the representative leaders of the community, were charged with providing for. This was done as a charitable endeavor, and as obedience to God’s laws about the wealthy providing for the poor in Israel. Yes, I say Israel, for we must recall that, though the dispensation had changed and anyone from any nation could now come to faith in Christ, many of the believers in Ephesus were still ancestral Israelites. They had come to faith in the Acts period, when Israel was the main focus of God’s work, and they were still believers now, even though the dispensation had changed. For these Jewish believers in Christ, their relationship to each other was not just a religious one, for they also lived in community together in Ephesus. Thus this was as much a community matter as a Godly matter. They needed to care for the most needy and helpless among them, and they did this by providing for the widows in this number or list.

Now it seems that there were some problems going on with this list. First of all, widows were going on the list who should not have been accepted, since they had relatives who could have cared for them. Children or grandchildren were using this as an opportunity to cast off their responsibility for their elderly and place the burden upon the community. This was not right, and so Paul speaks most strongly against it here. No widow should be going on this list if she had family who could support her. The list was meant for women who had no other recourse, not as a means to allow families to be uncharitable to their own. Therefore those who have relatives to support them should be removed from the list, and no others like this should be allowed on it.

Yet if a widow was truly alone and would go on this list, she still could not go on it without bearing some responsibility. If someone else is supporting her, that should be for the purpose that she can devote her life to her God. She should be trusting in Him to provide for her through His people. Moreover, she should use the opportunity of not having to care for herself or for a family in order to use her time to make supplications and prayers to God.

New King James Version 6. But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives.

The Resultant Version 6. But she who lives in pleasure is dead.

The point of her being cared for by the community was not so she could become, as we call it today, a “welfare queen,” living in idleness, laziness and pleasure. A widow who lives like this, the Lord insists, is dead while she lives. She is being supported by the efforts and the goodness of the community of God’s people. For her to take advantage of this to live in pleasure would be a most condemnable thing. She should take the free time she has to serve God. If she does not have the health or ability to do anything else, she still can at least dedicate herself to supplications and prayers. Yet for her to live for her own pleasure is death. Indeed, we see this very thing being lived out in the lives of many who live off the public today, and we see it is as if they are dead while they live.

Notice that this is something Paul warns widows of, many of whom were probably elderly. Our society has created the idea of retirement, wherein one gets to a certain age and then ceases to work, spending one’s time instead in idleness and pleasure. This is not the way God intends things to be, however. There is no plan for retirement in God’s way of doing things. One who is freed up from having to support his physical needs should spend his time in service to God. We live in the middle of a war between God and Satan, between good and evil, between the Lord’s way and man’s way. There is no freedom for us to retire from the battle in order to live for ourselves. One who is retired should live in service to God. There is no retirement from His work short of death.

New King James Version 7. And these things command, that they may be blameless.

The Resultant Version 7. And these things be giving in charge, that they may be irreprehensible.

Now he instructs Timothy to command these things, so that they may be blameless. The “they” may be both the widows and the children or grandchildren. If the offspring of the widows are neglecting her and allowing her care to fall into the hands of others, they will be blameworthy. If the widow is being supported by the community and yet is using the fact that she does not have to work for her own living to live in pleasure, she will be blameworthy. Thus Timothy is to instruct them in God’s commands here, and then following them they will be blameless.

New King James Version 8. 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.

The Resultant Version 8.However if any man does not provide for his own, and especially for them of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Paul returns once again to the matter of family members caring for their own widows. He makes a very strong statement now, and expands it out from just caring for widows. He states that 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. This, of course, refers to those who have the means and responsibility to do so. When it comes to those of our family who need help and care that we are capable of providing for them, it is a seriously selfish act to refuse to provide such care for them. This could refer to elderly family members, of course, but the way Paul states this it could also expand to all family members over which a person has responsibility to provide care. If a man is caring for a wife, if he has children, then he must provide for these. If he has elderly parents or grandparents in need of care and no one else to provide it, then he must do this as well. These things are his responsibility, and it is not right for him to shirk it.

We might wonder about this matter of “especially for those of his own household.” Who might “his own” who are not his own household be? I would suspect that these might be the members of his wife’s household, or his in-laws. In their society, since families worked together and were a “family business” as well as just a family, they considered it that a woman actually left the family of her birth and joined her husband’s family when she was married. This was quite a practical consideration, since she was now working for her husband’s family business and not her father’s any longer. Her children would work for her husband’s business as well, not her father’s, so they were really only her husband’s parents’ grandchildren, not her parents’ grandchildren. Thus, though a man who was able to and wished to could generously care for his wife’s widowed mother, he was really not obligated to since she was not part of his household. Yet for his own mother, he was obligated, and it would have been wrong for him to do anything else.

God warns that any man who does not care for those of his own household has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. What does he mean that such a one has denied the faith? For surely it does not follow that he has necessarily denied his faith in Jesus Christ when he neglects the members of his household. Yet what is “the faith”? Is it not believing God? And God has stated most clearly the responsibilities a man has to his family members: to his wife, to his children, and to his parents. As Christ points out in Matthew 15:4, “For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’” Moreover, Paul repeats the command to honor one’s father and mother in Ephesians 6:2. Therefore, if anyone refuses to do this and fails to provide for his elderly widowed mother, he has denied the faith he should have had in what God told him to do.

By doing this, he is worse than an unbeliever. Why? He has failed to believe God, but why is this worse than an unbeliever? It is difficult to say for sure, so we can only speculate. I would suggest that this is because many unbelievers who do not care about or follow God’s commands nevertheless still are compassionate enough to care for their elderly parents or grandparents. Even an unbeliever who did not care for his elderly relatives at least has the excuse that he does not know nor care about the rules of God regarding this. But a believer has the Bible and knows the commands of God to honor his father and mother. For him to fail to care for them, then, is worse than when an unbeliever does the same thing, since he had the Word of God telling him to do differently. It is certainly worse than those unbelievers who nevertheless do care for their elderly relatives. Moreover, it is failing to act in a Christ-like way, and failing to walk the worthy walk that He calls upon all believers to do. A believer who does not care for his own, whether his wife, children, or elderly parents, is not just failing to believe this one thing, but failing to be the very thing a believer is called to be: a Christ-like person. This is far worse than just failing to believe a few passages. It is worse than simply not believing. That might well be what God intended to convey by this phrase.