I Timothy 5 Part 2
New King James Version 9. Do not let a widow under sixty years old be taken into the number, and not unless she has been the wife of one man,
The Resultant Version 9. Do not let a widow less than sixty years old be enrolled, having been the wife of one man,
Paul now continues by listing certain criteria that must be met before a widow shall be taken into the number or enrolled. First of all, He demands that a widow must be at least sixty years old in order to be enrolled. This might seem rather harsh to us, for surely a woman might be younger than this and yet lose her husband, have no father to return to or grown children to look to, and therefore be desolate? This is certainly true, but I think we must consider carefully what this list was before we get too upset at this requirement. It does not seem that this list was just a list of those to whom they were going to give charitably. Of course kind-hearted individuals among the believers would want to help out some poor young woman in such a condition, and this passage is saying nothing against them doing so. So this list must be something more than merely a list of widows who were going to be supported permanently by the ekklesia. What it was is very difficult to say, since Paul does not elaborate. Perhaps it was simply an “honor roll” of widows who were marked out in the community of believers in Ephesus. If they had any duties or position of leadership over the younger women, we do not know it. But it does seem that these widows were honored in some way, and Paul wants to set down criteria before placing any widows in this kind of respected position. The first criteria is that she must be sixty years old. This will ensure that she is of sufficient age that her Godly character should be well established and beyond question.
Besides her age, the Lord insists that a widow enrolled in this number must have been the wife of one man. This criterion now has to do with the character of the woman to be enrolled. This matter of “the wife of one man” is in Greek a “one man woman,” or the female version of the criterion for an overwatcher in I Timothy 3:2 that he be a “one woman man.” We can clearly gather from this passage that Paul did not necessarily have polygamy in mind in that passage at all, for polyandry (the practice of having more than one husband at once) was not really practiced at all in that part of the world. Clearly he has other conditions in mind, like a woman who has been divorced and remarried, or one who defiled herself outside of marriage. These are not the sorts of women that God wants included in this number that is dedicated to Him. Rather, He wants women of exemplary character.
We would question whether or not this refers as well to a woman who was widowed more than once. It may be, yet Paul is clear in I Corinthians 7:39 that the law only binds a woman to a man as long as he is alive.
39. A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.
So after her husband has died, she is free to marry again. Therefore, one could assume that she would be qualified to be enrolled in this list who had been widowed more than once, and who now was over sixty years old with no children or grandchildren to care for her. Yet it is hard to say this for certain.
New King James Version 10. well reported for good works: if she has brought up children, if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work.
The Resultant Version 10. Being well attested in good works: if she has nourished children, if she has shown hospitality, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has relieved afflicted ones, if she has followed after every kind of good work.
The Lord continues to write through Paul criteria for taking widows into the number of particularly honored widows. She must be well reported for good works. In other words, there must be plenty of people who could testify of the good she has done for them and the service she has performed. She must not be a selfish or self-centered person and then be taken into the number dedicated to God. Rather, she must be the kind of person of whom all know of her good works.
Then, she must have brought up children. This might seem like an odd thing here, for earlier we read the requirement that these widows not have any children or grandchildren to care for them. How, then, can a criterion be that she has brought up children? There are multiple ways this could be true. For one thing, she could have brought up children and then they died. That is what happened to Naomi in the book of Ruth. Then, she might have brought up children, but they were only daughters and so not really in the position in their culture to help their widowed mother. But then this could also be referring to children in general. Has this woman, perhaps without children of her own, nevertheless given herself freely to aiding in the bringing up of other children who were in need in her community? This might well be what Paul has in mind, for her doing such a thing would indeed be commendable. Yet ultimately, if we believe that this list of widows is different from the list of those the ekklesia was monetarily supporting but instead was an “honor roll” of widows of some sort, then we realize that it had nothing to do with the earlier subject of destitute widows, but could include widows who did have living relatives and plenty of support. This listing seems to be to honor them or to place them in positions of leadership and example, not to provide physically for them.
Then, she must have lodged strangers. The idea of a “stranger” here is of a foreigner. Many people at the time tended to look with hatred and suspicion at foreigners, yet God had commanded His people not to be that way, considering that they had been foreigners in Egypt. Therefore this woman must be the kind of woman who could show hospitality to people who visited from outside Ephesus. This might well refer to Jews who visited from outside, for in the community of believers at the time it was still probably true that the vast majority of them were Jews, though Gentiles could now start to freely come in among them. Yet before the change a Jew would not necessarily accept a Gentile under his roof, so the display of her hospitality would probably have come from how she treated foreign Jews.
Next, the Lord wants her to be one who has washed the saints’ feet. This reminds us immediately of the story of the Lord Jesus washing His disciples’ feet in John 13. This was not a ritual such as might be performed in a “church,” but rather was an important part of their culture. In our culture, it is considered a courteous thing to do to offer to take someone’s coat to hang it up somewhere when they arrive at one’s house in the colder months. In the same way, in their society it was considered polite to offer to wash someone’s feet when he came to your house. The roads in Israel were dusty, and they wore shoes that were open on the top so that their feet would get quite dirty just from walking around. Therefore, washing the feet of a visitor when one arrived at your house was a common practice. However, it was also considered a very low task (unlike hanging up coats), and so it was usually relegated to the lowest servant in the household. Yet Christ had shown a willingness to humble Himself to serve His disciples this way, and then He called on them to serve each other in just such a humble, self-effacing way. Thus the Lord wants this widow to have done this in her life, being willing to serve the saints in even the most humble of ways.
Next He wants her to have relieved the afflicted. She should be a kind and caring person who is always ready to help a person in need, to ease the burden of a troubled person, or to stand up for an oppressed person.
Finally, He wishes her to have diligently followed every good work. This is just the sort of woman whom the Lord would love to see dedicated wholly to Him. This is just the sort of person we should strive to be like and to emulate. This is the sort of person whom we would like others to find us to be when we are older than sixty years old. Let us all strive to live as these widows lived, for this is well-pleasing to God.
New King James Version 11. But refuse the younger widows; for when they have begun to grow wanton against Christ, they desire to marry,
The Resultant Version 11. Yet be refusing younger widows, for whenever they should grow restive against Christ, they are wanting to marry.
Timothy is to refuse to allow younger widows to be listed on this honor roll of widows. The problem comes in, Paul reveals, when they should grow restive against Christ and are wanting to remarry. This has led many to the idea that those enrolled on this list of widows were pledging not to remarry. Yet this would be a very singular thing in Scripture, and would have no precedent. God has always been willing for widows to remarry. Why would one have to pledge not to do this in order to be enrolled on this list of honorable widows? Though those who teach the value of permanent celibacy might like such an idea, the Bible never promotes celibacy over marriage, but quite the opposite. Of course, it promotes celibacy outside of marriage, but to marry is always considered the better thing. So what is the problem here?
It is, of course, simply reality that a young widow is likely to look for a new husband. But what happens if she starts to grow restive against Christ? It might be that she is not so dedicated to her faith as she might be. As she is looking for a new man to marry, perhaps she finds it difficult to find another man who is a believer, as her first husband was. Perhaps, even if there are such men, she gets a much better offer from a pagan man than from a believer. Perhaps he is wealthier, in a better position, able to give her a more comfortable life. In this case, she might be tempted to turn restively against Christ in order to marry an unbeliever.
This alone would be a grievous sin, but what might happen next? To please her new, pagan husband, she will be drawn to give up altogether the faith she had formerly professed. That was her faith with her former husband, but now she must believe as her new husband does to be a good wife. The temptation would be there to just act as he does, and if she was a young woman and a young believer, she might well give in to it. This would be bad enough in any circumstance, but what if a young widow did this who had been on promoted on the honor roll of widows as an example of what every believing woman should be? Her unfaithful conduct afterwards would make all believers look bad. Therefore, it would be better not to promote such a young woman to this honor roll of widows at all.
So we need to realize that it is not that there is anything wrong with younger widows marrying. In fact, verse 14 will tell us that Paul actually wants them to do exactly that. The problem is if a widow ends up growing restive against Christ after being enrolled when she receives a desirable offer from a man who does not believe in Him. Paul’s solution is to not allow them to be on the honor roll of widows. They may be supported by the ekklesia if they are destitute and have no one else to care for them, but let them show themselves faithful to Christ by taking a new, believing husband before they are enrolled in any position in which they are promoted as an example.
A widow of sixty years old or more, however, might be expected to be more sensible. She might well remarry too, of course, and yet the hope is that by that age she will know enough that, if she remarries, it is far more likely to be a man of the same faith as she is. The risk will still be there, of course, but it will be much less than for a younger woman who is not tested in her faith and who is looking to make a good home for herself for what she views as yet a long life to come. Thus it is only these older widows that Paul wants put on this honor roll of widows, and we can certainly understand why he would wish this.
New King James Version 12. having condemnation because they have cast off their first faith.
The Resultant Version 12. Having judgment, because they have cast off their first faith.
Such widows will earn for themselves judgment. Judgment is a setting in order. It could involve reward or punishment, and clearly punishment is what is in mind here. They have stepped out of order by turning from Christ when a marriage pleasing to them leads them away from Him. When they marry, they have cast off their original faithfulness to Him in order to please themselves. This makes them worthy of God’s judgment. In light of this risk it is far better never to trust them with such an honor in the first place, and that is what God advises them to do: refuse to allow these younger widows to be enrolled.
New King James Version 13. And besides they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not.
The Resultant Version 13. And at the same time they learn to be lazy, wandering around to the houses, and not only lazy but also gossips and busybodies, speaking the things which they ought not.
There are yet more reasons why these younger widows should not be accepted into the number of those who are promoted on this honor roll of widows. It seems that, among the younger widows who have already unwisely been accepted into this number, there are those who have degenerated in their lives and character due to the lack of duties and responsibilities in their lives. Not having to be the woman of the household while being supported by the ekklesia has had a negative effect on their character. Instead of devoting themselves to prayer and service, they have learned to be idle and lazy. Instead of serving God, they have learned not to work. Then, to fill their idle hours, they wander from house to house, not only being lazy but also spreading gossip. Gossip can be a problem for women in general, but it is especially so for women who do not have enough to do. Then, they also have become busybodies, sticking their noses into other peoples’ business when they have no good reason for getting involved. They busy themselves at spreading lies and increasing their self-importance by meddling in the affairs of others. They say things they ought not to say, just to try to seem big and important. These are all negative character traits, and the support of the ekklesia was not meant to produce women like this. This sort of woman is no fit servant to be listed as honorable in the sight of God!
Therefore we can see that an attempt to be charitable has resulted in multiple problems. Whether it is relatives who are neglecting their elderly mothers, widows who are enrolled and then turn their backs on Christ because of a man they wish to marry, or supported women who are becoming demoralized and degraded in character, the attempt to do good for widows has resulted in quite a mess! And this is not unusual, for we see many similar outcomes when attempts to be charitable are carried out unwisely today. We must be careful how we give our money to those in need. Our intent may be to do good, but what does our intent matter if the reality is that we only cause problems and moral degradation? We need God’s wisdom when giving to the poor, as we need it in many other areas as well.
New King James Version 14. Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully.
The Resultant Version 14. I will therefore that the younger widows marry, that they bear children, that they guide the house, giving an opposer no occasion for reviling grace.
In light of what can happen to younger widows if they remain unmarried and rely on the charity of others, Paul desires that these younger women who are widows marry instead. Then, they will have a husband to care for. This will keep them from becoming idle or busybodies, for husbands require a lot of work!
They should bear children. Of course, this assumes a woman who is still of child-bearing age, which not all women are up to sixty years old, certainly! But if she is young enough to bear children, she should do so for her new husband. This will also keep her busy and out of mischief, for children too are a lot of work, and will require much time and effort on the part of these women.
Then, they should guide the house. This is the Greek word oikodespoteo, coming from two Greek words, oikos meaning “house,” and despoteo, meaning to act as master or ruler. We get our word “despot” from the word despotes, the noun related to the verb despoteo. However, this is not such a good translation here, since our word despot has taken on a negative connotation which the Greek word did not have. The idea is not a negative one, but the connotation is clear here: the wife rules over the house. The Lord’s use of this word must give us serious pause regarding what many people believe regarding the Bible: that it teaches that a husband is to be absolute ruler over his family. If that is the case, how could Paul say that the wife is to act as “house master”?
The Biblical view of the matter seems to be somewhat more complex than many people would make it to be. Men are generally pictured and set up by God in all positions of leadership outside the home. They represent the family both before God when it comes to religion, and before the outside world when it comes to government. Yet the picture Paul gives us inside the home here is much different. Inside the home, he says that the younger widows who become married women are to be masters of the house. This is often true in our families naturally, even without realizing it. How many wives might casually tell their husbands that “we are having so-and-so over on such-and-such a day,” and he will readily go along with it? However, if a husband dared to speak so casually of a social appointment to his wife, would he get the same reaction? Husbands are more often in the position of asking permission when it comes to guests in the home, whereas wives tell their husbands what the plan is going to be. This is just one aspect of it, of course, but generally women do rule over and guide the activities within the home. The man might represent the family before God and the government, but when he passes through his own doors, he is entering into his wife’s domain. This ruling over the household is good, and Paul wants the younger widows to do it and to keep themselves busy.
Finally, Paul says he desires this because he wishes to give an opposer no occasion for reviling grace. Though most modern translations ignore the word, the Greek word charin or “grace” is clearly there in the Greek, and should be translated here. It is a most gracious act for some to generously give of their own to support a helpless widow. For widows to take advantage of this and act in an unbecoming, lazy, dissipated, or busybody manner would give anyone who opposed the truth an occasion for mocking the grace of God that believers were attempting to model in their relationships to each other. Paul urges that no such occasion be given, and so therefore the young widows should marry and serve their new families. This was God’s will in the matter.
New King James Version 15. For some have already turned aside after Satan.
The Resultant Version 15. For some already have turned aside after Satan.
Paul bemoans the fact that, by not doing the things he has advised here and allowing younger widows to be enrolled on this list of honored widows and supporting them when they should instead be going to live with other members of their family, that they have been allowed to become idle and live in pleasure. The result has been that some have already turned aside after Satan. This is, of course, a most undesirable outcome, and so this is what Paul wishes to avoid at all costs. This is why he is laying out these rules for enrolling women on this list and for supporting them.
This is a very interesting verse when we contrast it with another passage that many people like to turn to when it comes to marriage and singleness, which is I Corinthians 7. This passage is one that deserves a lengthy study, which of course we do not have time to do here in our study of I Timothy. But this passage is one that is often used as if it were the Bible’s teaching on singles and getting married, and it is used to promote the idea that singles can serve God better than those who are married. This idea is pulled from the passage in verses such as 32-35.
32. But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. 33. But he who is married cares about the things of the world—how he may please his wife. 34. There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world—how she may please her husband. 35. And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction.
This passage is used, as we said, to promote the idea that the unmarried can focus on the Lord without distraction, as opposed to the married, who must spend time and effort caring for a family, or at least a partner. As I said above, this is taught as if it were God’s Word on singles, and it is often used in singles’ ministries as a way of encouraging them not to feel so badly about not yet being married. Yet we would point out in this very same chapter what is taught regarding widows.
8. But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; 9 but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
The way this passage is commonly interpreted, Paul is teaching that it is better for unmarried people or widows not to marry but to remain without a partner, as he was. The only reason they should not remain unmarried is if they cannot restrain their sexual passions. Yet consider what a direct contrast this is with I Timothy 5! Paul not only says that he wants the younger widows to marry in verse 14, but in verse 15 he says that not getting married has caused some to turn aside after Satan! How often is this taught in singles’ ministries? Are singles ever warned that not being married might cause them to turn aside after Satan? That they might have more time to be led astray by the Evil One not being married than if they had a partner? Why is the one passage taught and the other passage ignored?
This is a method of Bible interpretation that is all too common today: to pick out passages from the Bible smorgasbord style: putting the passages you like on your plate and leaving the ones you don’t like behind on the board. It might also be an example of the “dueling passages” method used by some, wherein two passages are put in the ring together to fight it out, and the passage the interpreter prefers is declared the winner. Yet neither is a legitimate method of interpreting Scripture. We need to decide the difference between these passages based on something more legitimate than this.
As I said above, to really get at the difference between the two passages, we would have to fully expound I Corinthians 7, which is too long a proposal for us to do in this study. Yet there are a few important things we can say about it. One important truth that can guide us in determining the difference is the fact that I Corinthians was written during the Acts period. The Corinthians were facing situations that were unique to that time period. The Ephesians at the time Paul wrote I Timothy, however, were living in the dispensation of grace. The situations they faced were much more similar to what we usually face on a daily basis than what the Corinthians were facing. If we would rightly divide, we would not go astray in this.
Yet the reality is probably that we are not facing exactly the same situation as was happening in either passage. But what then is the overall teaching of the Bible regarding these things? Does the Bible tend to promote marriage as being the ideal condition or singleness? The answer is nearly undeniable. From the very beginning, marriage is promoted as the expected condition. Genesis 2:24, at the beginning of Adam’s race, declares the expected standard. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” This is what is proclaimed as the best thing at the very beginning, and the Bible promotes the same throughout Its pages. Proverbs 18:22 wisely declares, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, And obtains favor from the Lord.” Hebrews 13:4 declares, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” This is the stated attitude of the Scriptures over and over again. To take the single passage of I Corinthians 7 and use it to negate the rest of what Scripture says regarding the goodness of marriage is to use the “dueling passages” method of Bible study, and it is simply not right. The teaching of the Bible is that marriage is the good thing. One who is single lacks the good thing. His singleness is not a good thing in itself. There is no such thing as a “gift of singleness.” The one who is married has the gift. The single person lacks the gift. Lacking a gift is not a gift in itself.
That said, it might well be in some situations that a person who is single can serve God with fewer distractions than one who is married. This might be true. But one who is married also has a partner for serving God, a thing which one who is unmarried may lack. A partner could be a great asset in serving. Moreover, a single might live in pleasure and might become idle, focusing on entertaining himself. A single might learn to become a gossip or busybody. In fact, being single might lead one astray after Satan. This also may well happen today, and there is no sense in denying it. The reality is that the general teaching of the Bible, weighing the two options, is, in the words of the LORD God in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” This is what is good. Being alone is not good. I Corinthians 7 should not be twisted to deny this Biblical truth.
New King James Version 16. If any believing man or woman has widows, let them relieve them, and do not let the church be burdened, that it may relieve those who are really widows.
The Resultant Version 16. If any believing woman has widows, let her relieve them, and not let the outcalled be burdened, in order that it may relieve the genuine widows.
Now Paul sums up this portion with a concluding statement of what his direction to them is regarding these things. He sums it up that any believing man or woman who has widows should relieve them by caring for them, and should not allow the ekklesia to be burdened with their care, so that it will be free to relieve those who are really widows. Of course, as we discussed above, those who are “really widows” are those who have no relatives living to support them. These are the ones to whom the charity of the ekklesia should be extended, and not to those widows who could just as easily be supported by their relatives.
Before leaving this subject, let us remember once again that the ekklesia that was supporting the widows here was not just a religious organization like our churches, but was the community leadership and representatives. As community leaders, it was their job to deal with problems like impoverished widows. They were doing so, but were encountering some problems while doing it, so Paul has written to straighten them out regarding these things.
As we close out this portion, let us consider what lessons we can learn from these things. First of all, believers should only marry other believers. Marrying an unbeliever is in itself an act of casting off the faith. Yet beyond that, a desire to grow closer to an unbelieving partner might well lead one to emulate that partner and to give up on the faith oneself. This would be a most regrettable outcome. It is far better to not even consider an unbeliever as an option, and to marry only in the faith.
Also, we do see that it is good for us to care for those in our communities, especially those who are believers, who might be helpless or have no one else to care for them. This is just the sort of thing God’s people should be doing, and it is good for us to do it, just as the ekklesia in Ephesus was doing with these widows.
Yet finally, we should be careful regarding our charity. It might well be possible to do something very generous, and yet have the outcome be a bad thing rather than a good thing. Misguided charity can actually ruin peoples’ lives and characters rather than improving them. Just as Paul urged Timothy to see to it that the Ephesian ekklesia was wise in how they gave to widows, we should be wise in how we give to the poor as well. We do not wish our charitable efforts to actually be partially responsible for some turning aside after Satan. Let us then use Godly wisdom in all things, including in how we give.