1 Timothy

Discipleship and responsibility, 5:1-8


Following a general comment on the importance of a young minister showing respect toward the members of his flock, Paul gives directions on the management of female members who are bereft of a partner.

The passage

v1. Paul continues his ministry advice to his protege Timothy on people-management issues. When dealing with older men within the congregation, Timothy needs to refrain from censuring them; he should appeal to their better nature in much the same way as he would appeal to a family member.

v2. So also with female members in the congregation. Timothy is to encourage them, exhort them, speak to them in the same way as he would speak to a family member. As for younger women, Paul reminds Timothy of the danger of sexual attraction and so adds the warning "with absolute purity."

v3. Paul now raises a social problem which was prevalent in ancient societies, namely, the presence of women in society who were without a partner and therefore in need of practical care and support. These women are identified as "widows", but it seems likely that the word is used to cover all women who are bereft of a partner for whatever reason - death, divorce, abandonment, etc. The Christian community is to show respect toward them with practical care. Paul adds that they should be "truly widows", that is, they should be truly in need.

v4. Of course, under normal circumstances a woman without a partner should be supported by her own family, rather than the congregation. Such care is a religious duty which should be willingly undertaken by her extended family. By giving practical and emotional support, her family is acting in a way that is "acceptable to God." Some translations have "pleasing to God", but it is worth remembering that the only person whose behavior is pleasing to God is Jesus and it is only when we stand in the radiant light of his perfection that we are pleasing to God.

v5. Paul now extends his definition of those who are "truly widows." As well as being in real need because they are on their own and without family support, they are those who believe in Jesus, that is, they have put their hope in God, and thy participate in the worship of their local congregation, in "supplication and prayers night and day." So, the woman who is "truly a widow" is a pious believer in need of practical support.

v6. The true widow is certainly not one of those women who are given over to self-indulgence. Such a person may well be living it up, but she is spiritually dead. "Though she supposes she is enjoying life, she might as well be dead, since she is of no use to anyone", C.K. Barrett.

v7-8. Paul again asks Timothy to instruct family members of their responsibility to care for a female family member who has ended up without a partner. To ignore such a person is to act in a way that denies what Christianity stands for. Even godless people have an innate desire to care for their family and so for a believer to refuse to care for a relative in need is reprehensible. It's not actually apostacy, but certainly a practical denial of their faith.

Considerate care

I have a fleeing childhood memory of being taken to see my great grandmother lying on her deathbed. I was very young, carried and then set on the bed. White frilled lace was everywhere, and the room filled with a gathering of friendly faces. What a beautiful way to see someone off; all the family gathered around. It was much the same with my grandmother. She was ninety nine years old and as bright as a button. She looked at my mother and mused how she well remembered carrying her in her arms. Family, how precious.

It seems strange that scripture should have to remind us to care for vulnerable members of our family; the old and frail, those abandoned, the black-sheep of the family. As they say, blood is thicker than water, so caring for our family is in our nature, to not care is unnatural. Still, that selfish streak in our nature can take over. Worse when it does so in the name of God, for the sake of the gospel. I am sad to have to admit that I have, at times, set aside family responsibilities for what I have believed were more important ministry duties. I have literally applied the saying, "let the dead burry their dead." Due to some pressing ministry issue I did not attend my grandparents funerals. I look back on that action with disgust. To think that I didn't stand with my parents on those occasions fills me with shame. I actually can't believe I absented myself. To act with such disregard for our extended family, in whatever need they face, is to act in a way that denies our faith. It's not a denial of our faith, but it is behavior which is contrary to all that we believe. Too often what we do does not align with what we believe. Lord forgive us!

Practical care, of course, needs to extend beyond the family. In the first century, one of the most vulnerable groups in society were women who were without a partner. They may have been widowed, divorced, a spinster, or a freed slave. There was no social security beyond the family, so a woman by herself faced terrible hardship. It is at this point that the Christian fellowship can serve as an adopted family. The Christian church has sponsored social service organizations covering the whole world, but ultimately, social care begins with the local congregation. Identifying those in need, the lonely, those facing hardship, those limited by age, these are the ones we must focus on.

So then, let us not forget the troubles faced by those around us in our family and our Christian fellowship.


1. Discuss the people management skills evident in the first two verses. Such skills can be used for the purpose of manipulation. Try to distinguish between a valid, and invalid use of such skills.

2. There is often a tension between responsibilities toward our family and that of our church fellowship. Is it family first, or fellowship first? Suggest some resolutions to this problem.

3. At one level, Christian social care is an essential ministry of the Church, but how do you rate it against evangelism?

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