It is important to be passionate about the Gospel of salvation through Christ alone as taught by Paul God’s appointed spokesman as Paul has been teaching us (see previous reflections on 1 Timothy below). But we must remember that the church is not just an evangelistic organization but a family with some key relational responsibilities. And that seems to me to be the focus and tone of Paul’s teaching in chapter 5.
Paul actually started the letter with that tone in 1: 2. And we must always remember that we are God’s adopted and dearly loved children with many other brothers and sisters who are equally loved. And this mindset should dictate how we treat each other in the family of God.
And so Paul starts by saying that Timothy should be loving, respectful and pure in the way he deals with the different groups in the church 5: 1 – 2. This would of course then model to others as to how they should behave in the family of God. The end of verse 2 is a powerful counter-culture way seeing dating!
Obviously a problem in Ephesus, 1 Timothy 5: 3 – 16 deals quite extensively with how widows are to be helped when needy. In Ephesus there was a list of widows needing help (not a bad idea), but just being a widow didn’t get you onto the list, there was to be a proper selection process (these principles are very helpful for all needy people in the church). And really the bottom line is only those really desperately in need get onto the list. So here is how it was evaluated:
- Were they really in need? If so they got help (3).
- If the widow was really in need but had a family that could care for them then the family should do so and not be on the church list (4 + 8 + 16. Isn’t verse 8 hectic?).
- Younger widows (in the case of the Ephesian church anyone under 60) should not be on the list they should rather consider working to provide for themselves and/or look to marry again (9a + 11 – 15). That doesn’t mean they can’t get some help until that happens but it did mean that they must not be put on the list for regular help.
- Not unlike with church leaders (chapter 3) there are character traits for the kinds of widows put on the list. Paul is not looking for perfection but for widows over 60 who have a reputation for being:
- Godly (5 – 6)
- Faithful (9)
- Known for good deeds (10)
- A good mom (10)
- Hospitable (10)
- Servant hearted (10)
- One who cares for others (10)
What happened to the widows who didn’t meet these requirements? Well, I don’t know what actually happened at Ephesus but in keeping with the rest of the New Testament it wouldn’t surprise me to find that they got some help but they just would not be put on the list for regular help.
And then, talking about widows, leaders and character lists… look after the elders (dads) in the family. Honor them! Honor them, especially the preaching/teaching elders, by paying them well so that they can focus on teaching the family the Word (17 – 18). Honor them by being careful with the criticism that will inevitable come against them because they are leaders (19). But honor them and the church by responsibly exposing sin if it is found in them (20). All of this would be easier if the position of leadership was honored by being very careful of who was appointed to leadership (21 – 22. Refer to 1 Timothy 3).
It takes a lot to effectively run a church as a family passionate about what God is passionate about. What will help is if we love and respect each other like a good family; be strategic in how we encourage Christian care; set aside well paid, great leaders to equip the family of God from God’s Word to do all this! If we do that our passion for God’s passion to see everyone saved will be couched in the best possible context… a truthful, loving family.