For an introduction to this series, click here.
October 19, 2007
Paul has a lot of specific instructions here in this chapter about people in the church:
"Honor widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." (5:3-8)
I think if you look at the last verse of this passage, it is obvious that this passage is talking about the church supporting widows. Notice Paul says that if the widow has children let "them"- that is the children- show their piety by providing for their mother. For Paul, a "true widow" would be a widow without a family. This is the kind of person the church should provide for. Of course in our time the government takes care of everyone. Going into this much detail about providing for widows shows that the Lord intended for the church to take care of the poor. But the church let the government take its role, and we are the worse for it on all sorts of levels.
This context of church support of indigent members is important to remember when reading the next section:
"Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. For some have already strayed after Satan. If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows." (5:9-16)
I think Paul's point about younger women learning to be idle explains what he is talking about. We have seen the disastrous results of welfare for single moms in our society. Paul warns against giving younger people a free ride, and lists the consequences that will happen. But I think it is most important to note that this is not talking about accepting younger single mothers into the membership of the church. A simple reading of this passage might lead you to think that, but deeper study will reveal the truth.
"Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, 'You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,' and, 'The laborer deserves his wages.' Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear." (5:17-20)
Paul says that elders, that is leaders of the church, be honored, but also that they be punished more severely if they do fall into sin. Also I want to point out that the second scripture quoted is a quote of Luke 10:7. Paul and the other church leaders immediately recognized that many of the writings being passed around among the churches were indeed Scripture, on a par with the Old Testament.
"No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments." (5:23)
Timothy apparently did have health problems. Whether these were a symptom of his poor self-esteem or were unrelated to anything else, there is no way we can know. If anything, this verse, along with several others, demonstrates that the Apostles were not teetotalers. Alcohol was very common in Roman society. Not only that, but alcohol was often used to purify and sweeten regular drinking water, which often came from cisterns or polluted wells. Paul makes this statement very matter-of-factly, not with some kind of secret agenda and not in a joking way.
"The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden." (5:24-25, ESV)
This is an interesting verse. It is an interesting comment on human nature and it is a more important comment on the nature of God. It is true that some people are very good at hiding who they are and not revealing the truth about themselves. Sometimes it is bad things they are hiding, and sometimes it is good things. But the Lord sees all, and He will reveal everything one day.