Chapter five returns to instructions about certain groups in the church, specifically widows and elders. The church is to be a family of families, meaning that we should relate to each other as fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters (1 Timothy 5:1-16). Like one would take care of an aging grandparent, Paul said that the congregation is responsible for widows in their church family, under certain conditions. First, if the widow has family, they are responsible for her, not the church. Second, only older widows are included in this care program. Paul specified “sixty years old” (1 Timothy 5:9), but this could be considered descriptive rather than prescriptive, due to cultural life expectancies. Third, she was to be “the wife of one husband” (1 Timothy 5:9). This phrase is the exact opposite of an elder’s “husband of one wife,” meaning that she was “characterized by being a one-man type of woman.” Fourth, she was to be an example of godliness.
Paul specifically commanded that younger widows not be accepted “on the list” (1 Timothy 5:11-15). Rather they should remarry and fulfill their roles as described in 1 Timothy 2:9-15. In a statement that could have been written today, Paul noted that younger women with no responsibilities and full provision “learn to be lazy, and…also gossips and busybodies.” Although this may seem harsh or unfair, every civilization can verify its accuracy.
Another reason Paul wanted them to remarry had to do with a “former pledge.” In context, it seems that this complete provision for widows was a kind of remuneration for devoted service to the congregation. Because these widows had no families and were characteristically godly servants, it is possible that they pledged themselves to their congregation. Early church history shows that this is where the Catholic practice of nuns derived. However, it also may refer to the “women” or “wives” in 1 Timothy 3:11. If this is so, this group of widows probably served with the elders and deacons, possibly in ministry toward women. 1
In 1 Timothy 5:17-25 Paul came back to the elders, this time concerning congregational support for them. Some have argued that elders should not be financially supported, but this passage clearly disputes that notion. First, Paul quoted from both Deuteronomy 25:4 (Moses) and Luke 10:7 (Jesus) to prove that the one who works should receive payment for his work. Even animals get that much. Second, Paul used the same Greek word (τιμή, timē) to describe how the congregation treated both widows (1 Timothy 5:3) and elders (1 Timothy 5:17). Because this word means both “honor” and “compensation,” some argue that elders should only be honored. However, since the word obviously means compensation for widows, and the immediate context is payment for work, it must mean compensation for elders as well. Elders should be taken care of by those they serve, especially those “who work hard in speaking and teaching,” because it does not allow as much time for another form of work to provide for his family.
However, lest anyone think that this elevates elders to a level of “untouchable” clergy, Paul told Timothy that elders were still subject to discipline for sin, just like any other congregation member, and that their discipline should be public within the congregation, “as a warning to the rest” of the seriousness of sin. Thus, elders will be held up as examples, for both good or bad. For this reason, elders should be appointed carefully and slowly. Paul’s mention of Timothy’s stomach ailments may indicate that choosing elders is a stressful and difficult process.
- Church history shows that once the role of deaconess was established, they helped prepare women for baptism, childbirth, etc. ↩