February 1, 1998
Paul instructed Timothy in the appropriate pastoral care of widows, as well as older and younger men and women in his congregation. Alistair Begg emphasizes that pastors must fulfill these responsibilities with genuine respect and affection while guarding against even the slightest suggestion of impropriety. Although the Church has an important role to play in caring for those in need, providing for our own relatives is an indisputable Christian duty.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Now, if you’ll take your Bibles and turn with me to 1 Timothy chapter 5:
“Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.
“Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. Give the people these instructions, too, so that no one may be open to blame. If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
“No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well-known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.
“As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to. So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.
“If any woman who is a believer has widows in her family, she should help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.”
Do keep your Bibles open as we’re about to study this passage together.
Father, we pray that the Spirit of God will be our teacher—that although we hear the voice of a mere man, that we might, in the preaching and teaching of the Word, hear your voice and, in understanding, obey. We cry out to you, Lord, for your help in these moments, because we can’t do anything as we ought without your help—neither speak or listen or understand or obey. So we look to you. We are dependent upon you. And we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Now, last time, at the end of chapter 4, we noted that Paul was giving instructions to Timothy—a series of imperatives concerning how he was to conduct his life and doctrine. Very, very important, Paul has made clear, that the people of God would know how they should “conduct themselves in [the] household [of faith].” That’s 3:15. Not only should the gathered group have a grasp of the principles, but Timothy, as a young pastor, must himself have a clear understanding of his duty and his role and the variety of his responsibilities.
And we may well be helped by recognizing that in the original letter, there were no chapter breaks such as we find in the English text before us this morning. So in other words, there was no pause between 4:16 and the instruction which comes in 5:1. In other words, Paul is continuing his personal instructions to Timothy in the role of pastoral ministry. And here in these opening two verses, he instructs Timothy on the way in which he should treat various age groups within the congregation.
First of all: how he should treat an older man. Well, when rebuke or admonition is called for, as inevitably it will be called for… For example, when he gets to chapter 6, he is urging Timothy to rebuke those who have become rich in the present world and are tempted to place undue importance in what they have managed to accrue financially. Many of those individuals will be older men. As a result of having lived longer and worked harder, perhaps, they are now in a position of financial stability and security. And Timothy is to make sure—indeed, to command them—in their riches, that they don’t put their hope in that.
Well, when he does so, he is to do it in a way that is not harsh. So in other words, it is not that he is to step back from the role of admonition. It is not that he is to distance himself from the uncomfortableness that is involved in having to speak to someone in that way. But rather, when he does so, there needs to be restraint, and there needs to be genuine affection. It is unbecoming for a young minister like Timothy to issue severe reprimands to a gentleman older than himself.
And as I think about my own relationship with my father, who is seventy-four, I can think of only one occasion when I have admonished him about any particular and specific instance. And I remember the sense of uncomfortableness that I felt. And the one thing I wanted to assure him of was my genuine affection and my desire to be submissive to him, even though I felt it necessary to speak as I did.
Younger men are just to be treated like brothers. If you have brothers, you know what that means. It needs no application. How do your brothers treat you? They say, “Yo.” They say, “Hey.” They say, “Come on.” They say, “Let’s go.” They say, “Quit it.” They say, “Get off.” They say all those things. That’s how it’s supposed to be.
Older women: you should treat them in the way in which you treat your mom. How do you treat your mother? You don’t forget her birthday, and so on. Now, Paul is not exhorting Timothy to do something that he was unfamiliar with himself. We find this, for example, in Romans 16:13, where, in giving instructions to the congregation, he says, “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me.” So Paul himself had exercised the same approach in moving amongst the congregation. There were older women, and when he looked at these women, he viewed them through the eyes of motherhood. And that gave to him a measure of respect; it gave to him deference; it gave to him a sense of the appropriate.
And in seeking to operate with a similar sense of appropriateness in relationship to younger women, he says you should treat younger women as you treat your sisters: “With absolute purity.” Phillips paraphrases it, “[And] treat … younger women as sisters, and [as nothing] more.” And you get the point. It is absolutely clear. You don’t need to be a genius to work it out. The “purity” to which he’s referred in verse 12 he now gives expression to in the most practical terms at the end of the second verse of chapter 5.
George Knight, commentating on this, says, “Paul, with perceptive realism, gives this special word of caution for the situation where a [pastor] is called on to deal personally and privately with younger women.” It is absolutely crucial that such an individual guards against any development or even any suggestion of improper interest or improper intimacy. And that means all kinds of things in practical expression, but it does set a hedge around the idea of pastors counseling one-on-one with women—not in crisis situations but in prolonged situations. Wisdom would say, “I don’t think so.”
And indeed, when Paul gives instruction as to how those younger women are supposed to find out about loving their husbands, caring for their children, providing in various ways, to whom does he give the responsibility of the instruction? To the older women in the church. That may not necessarily mean “old women.” It may not mean that they are older chronologically. But it means those who are mature, those who are spiritually understanding the truth, they are the ones who are to deal with this. And across the country and across the world, many a disaster would have been averted by pastors paying straightforward and careful attention to the opening two verses of chapter 5.
Now, he then goes to a prolonged treatment of a subject that may at first appear to be at least at arm’s length to us: the issue of widows in the church. I don’t want to ask how many of you are widows or have been widowed, but there are a number in the church. I won’t embarrass you by asking you to identify yourself. But the very fact of acknowledging that means that in a congregation as ours, albeit a younger congregation in terms of average age, this is not something that we are removed from. And certainly, as we continue to grow together, it is something that we will continually deal with.
In addressing the subject, we should notice, first of all, that the supporting of widows was a matter of priority from the very outset of the church. In Acts chapter 6, you will remember that the apostles say, “It’s not right for us to leave the ministry of the Word of God and prayer to the serving of tables and the dealing of the distribution of food.” And what had given the occasion of that discussion and decision was the fact that certain widows were not getting their daily allotment of food in the way and in the time frame that they felt was justifiable.
Now, the reason that the church made it such priority is because the church understood that one of the classic ways in which religious expression was going to be seen was in the matter of caring for widows. For example, if you turn to James chapter 1, James, the brother of Jesus, makes this perfectly clear in the twenty-seventh verse. You want to know what pure and undefiled religion is? He says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” So he’s already been exhorting them about practical godliness, and we’re now seeing one of the ways in which this practical godliness is expressed.
The immediacy of the subject—the existential element of it, if you like—is such that I do not believe that what we have here in 1 Timothy 5 is a manual for dealing with widows in a local church: that you can simply pick up chapter 5, walk it across the centuries and across the geography, lay it down on Parkside Church, or any other church for that matter, and say, “Okay, this is it.” There are principles that we’re about to discover, but in terms of the actuality of what he’s dealing with, remember that he’s dealing with a specific historic incident within the context of the city of Ephesus. However, we’re going to discover that there are principles concerning organization, the necessity of genuine pastoral care, and the need for wisdom in discriminating where real need lies.
Well, let’s just go through the material, if we can. I’ve written four headings in my notes, which I’ll mention to you as I go along.
First of all, widows in need: widows in need are “widows indeed.” Okay? I’m not trying to be cute. That’s what he’s saying. In verse 3: “Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need.” He ends it in the sixteenth verse with the exact same expression: “I am talking,” he says, “about those who are really in need.”
Now, we need be in no doubt as to what this means, because he delineates it in the text: these women who are really in need don’t have any means of support, they have no prospect of marriage, and they have no other basis for hope than hope in God that he will provide for them. And indeed, they display their dependence upon God by the constancy of their prayers. You’ll see that there in verse 5. And they continue “night and day to pray and to ask God for help,” because there’s no social services; there’s no place where you go and put your card through a window; there is nothing for them. They have nobody that brings home a paycheck, they have no one to whom they may look, they have no source of income at all, and all they can do is on a daily basis say, “O God, you declare that a sparrow falls to the ground and you know it; you’ve told me that the hairs of my head are numbered, that my name is graven on the palms of your hand. O God, show yourself to be a father to the fatherless and a carer for the widow.”
Now, in contrast to that obvious dependency, we have the merry widow in verse 6—the indulgent widow. And Paul introduces her so that there would be a classic contrast: “The widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she[’s] [living].” This woman’s life is marked by indulgence rather than by dependence. She’s living for pleasure. The details of her hedonistic lifestyle are not given to us. They’re not mentioned. I have a picture of this woman. I don’t want to describe her, but I meet her with frequency. And she jangles when she walks, and she looks like she’s really living it up. And when you get a few of these merry widows jingle-jangling around a congregation, then it’s going to be a peculiar challenge for the kind of widow exemplified in Anna in the Christmas story in Luke chapter 2—the lady who, following her marriage for seven years, was widowed for the interim period of time and was now eighty-four years of age, and she had committed herself to the temple worship, and night and day she engaged in prayers. And while Anna was, if you like, buried in the temple—to all intents and purpose, from an outside gaze, dead to the world—there were all the merry widows jingling and jangling their way around Jerusalem and apparently living it up. “Well,” says Paul, “I just want you to understand that the widow who lives for pleasure is actually dead. She just exists.”
Now, I can’t resist the temptation to point out that this is a principle which runs through the whole of the Bible—that there is a definite distinction between existence and life. Otherwise, why would Jesus say to walking, moving, living, breathing individuals, “I have come that you might have life”? Now, what’s the obvious answer? “Oh, go to somebody else! Because I have life.” No, no: “And that you might have it in all of its fullness.” He was talking about that encounter of God when a man or a woman is born again. “Unless a man is born again”—John 3:3—“he cannot see the kingdom of God. He cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
And a number of folks who are now involved in religious pursuits are the walking dead. And this is while your mind has gone. You have been confronted by the fact that you are merely existing. Your life is not all that you anticipated it should be. You do not have an understanding of why you exist, where you’re going, or what is about to happen to you should you die. And someone has suggested to you that if you would involve yourself in religious activities or in Christian pursuits, then existence plus religious activity will equal life. And you’ve been trying that, and you’re as dead as you always were. In fact, you’re even more miserable than you were before you tried this approach, because when you were thinking of trying it, it held out hope to you. But now that you have begun it, it is hopeless. And you have identified the fact that your mere physical existence, devoid of the reality of God’s liberating power within your life, has left you pretty wretched. And I can explain exactly why that is: it’s because you’re dead.
Well, what are you saying to yourself? You’re saying, “Well, I’ll do something about it.” Like what? Did you ever see a dead person “do something about it”? Dead people don’t do anything about it. Dead people just lie there. So if the widow is dead even though she’s jangling around the mall, how is she going to be made alive? The same way that any of us are made alive: when God comes by his Spirit, opens our eyes to the fact of our deadness, speaks into the very emptiness of our human existence, and in the great mystery, as the Word of God is made clear to us, our eyes are opened, and our ears are unstopped, and suddenly the lights go on, and we find ourselves crying out, “Lord, I believe! Help me with the bits I don’t believe yet.” We find ourselves crying out with the Philippian jailer, “Lord, what am I supposed to do to be saved?” And the answer comes, “If you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, you will be saved.”
Now, that’s just a little bit in passing, there. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to note the distinction between the living dead—the dreadful twilight zone of religious observance devoid of life.
Okay, the widows in need are the widows indeed, as opposed to those who have other means of support. This is reinforced by the second thing I wrote in my notes, and it’s this: if our Christianity doesn’t work at home, it doesn’t work. If our Christianity doesn’t work at home, it doesn’t work. Because home is where it’s at. Home is where we’re known. Amongst our family is where the deal is. That’s where they see you in the morning, in the night, in the middle of the day. There is no—you can’t run, and you can’t hide in there. So if your Christianity doesn’t work in the house, it doesn’t work. I don’t care how good a preacher you are. I don’t care what you do. If it doesn’t work there, it doesn’t work.
Now, why do I say this? Well, because that’s the point that he’s making. Look at verse 4: “If a widow has children or grandchildren, these”—namely, children or grandchildren—“should learn first of all to put their religion into practice.” Now, remember, in chapter 4, he exhorted the people in relationship to training themselves in godliness—training themselves “to be godly.” And remember, we pointed out that the word there, the verb, was a verb eusebia—which is where we got off and started talking about a Portuguese soccer player. I don’t think anybody had a clue what I was on about. But anyway, his name was Eusébio. And, well, here is the noun. It’s the noun. He uses the same word: eusebian. He says, “I was exhorting you to get serious about godliness. Some of you were probably saying, ‘Well, how will I know if I’m serious about godliness?’” He says, “Well, let me tell you one of the ways in which your godliness will be manifested: it will be manifested in the fact that you put your godliness into practice, and you do so by caring for your own family.”
If a widow has children or grandchildren, then it is primarily their duty to show the genuineness of their religion in their own homes by “repaying their parents” for what has been done for them. Isn’t that what it says? “Repaying their parents.” Now, I don’t know whether it’s just because I started to pay university tuition bills or not, but this strikes me with real impetus this week. And I’m not so sure that there isn’t express instruction here about how it’s supposed to be.
Because when you get married, by and large, you have no money. Some people have money. I didn’t have any money. Sue had a little. I had none. But I was with her, so it was okay. But basically, you have no money. Then you get a little bit of money, and it’s a parabola. (That’s mathematical.) And then it goes down the other side, and then you have no money at all. So you try and get some money, you get it together, then you pay for everything. You pay for everything: shoes, jackets, education—everything! Prams, cribs, trips—everything!
Then you have no money. And while you’re coming down on the far side of the curve, the Smith Barney guys are talking to you when you’re watching the golf tournaments, giving you a really bad feeling ’cause you don’t have enough money now to give to these people—dependents—all the stuff that you already gave to them. What am I supposed to do, give them everything? And then try and save up another lifetime’s income, and then die, and give them that as well? Get lost! Get serious! I am not doing that! I decided this week—I mean, I haven’t told the girls yet—but there is going to come a day when I am coming like this, and one of the two of them is buying me breakfast in Denny’s. I don’t care! They are buying. Because they’re going to repay their dad. I am buying everything at the moment. Do you realize how well off I would be? Goodness gracious!
We got this thing all monkeyed up. Because if you think about it, if… And it works in China. It works in Africa. You see, it’s the level of greed that monkeys it. Because if you understand financial independence in Pauline terms, it is “If we have enough for food and for clothes, with that we will be content.” At that level, you can be financially independent. There isn’t hardly a soul on the face of the North American continent that can’t live with financial independence in that respect. And there’s probably very little difficulty for children, in the old age of their parents, for providing for their mom and dad in relationship to food and some clothes and a bowl of soup and a place to lie down at night.
And one of the reasons for the acquisitiveness that is so pervasive in many of our minds is because we have bought a completely secular model of financial structures which have been sold to us by the world and which we have completely adopted. But the idea of family life and extended family living is supposed to ensure that children can lay their heads on the pillow at night without concern for whether they will have breakfast in the morning because their mom will care for them. And in her dotage, the mother is supposed to be able to lie her head on the pillow at night in the assurance that her daughter will repay all the debt she owes for all the times she was on the receiving end of such kindness.
You want to fulfill your religious duty? We want to fulfill our religious duties? Then don’t be indifferent to this. Don’t be reluctant when it comes to fulfilling this responsibility. Don’t pass this off to the church. Don’t give this to the social services. Don’t give this to somebody else. In fact, if we do, he says in verse 8—if we choose to neglect this responsibility—then we deny the faith, and we’re actually worse than the pagans. That’s a striking statement! What does he mean? He means this: that even pagans know they have a responsibility for their parents. Even pagans without the love and the law of Christ within their lives still care for their loved ones. And indeed, in many cases, they are a far more wonderful expression of that care than many who are so busy giving their money to some coalition or another and can’t look after their folks or send them a plane ticket or something. Christian faith ought to make us more concerned about natural, practical matters and not less concerned.
And I do want to say that it is a phenomenal encouragement to me, along with others on our pastoral team, to see the evidences of this kind of care expressed in our church congregation. And those of you who are classic examples of the fulfillment of this principle to which I am alluding know who you are, and in every right sense, you should be greatly encouraged.
But let me give a word of exhortation to some others of us. So, you are the only person amongst your siblings that has professed faith in Jesus Christ. You have a justifiable concern for the salvation not only of your brothers and sisters but also of your parents. That’s good. You want to seize every opportunity and use every means to introduce your parents to the faith you’ve come to discover in the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s good, and that’s right. So what do you do? You invite them to things. You give them tapes. You buy them stuff that is religious and will hopefully move them in that direction. But who is it cuts their grass? It’s your pagan brother. Who is it moves the snow off the back porch? It’s your pagan brother. Who is it goes over in the middle of the night when the roof leaks? Who takes care of the natural, practical responsibilities of life? If it is our unbelieving siblings, and we think that an invitation to the children’s choir program or the Easter event is the practice of our religion, maybe it is the practice of our religion, and maybe our religion is worthless.
If our Christianity doesn’t work at home, it doesn’t work. Provision for one’s own relatives is an indisputable Christian duty. Verse 16 reiterates it. The responsibility is not to be passed off to the church. Indeed, he says if the church is busy taking care of matters that should be handled by the family, then those who have no such support system will be deprived of the help that they require.
Now, there clearly was a list, and that’s the third thing I wrote down: “Qualifications for getting on the list.” There’s a list here in verse 9: “No widow may be put on the list of widows.” This is why I say this matter is existential, in the sense that it relates to a moment in time. There are principles, but immediately we say, “Well, what’s the list? We don’t have a list, do we?”
And the people then say, “Oh, we have to have a list.”
“Why do we have to have a list?”
“Well, in 1 Timothy 5:9, says there was a list. So we’ve got to get a list.”
No, first of all we have to understand the Bible! Why was there a list? Because there was a specific thing going on in Ephesus in the first century that demanded that they set themselves up in that way. This is not Ephesus. You’ll have noticed that. This is not the first century, right? But this list comprised individuals who were suitably qualified. And the requirements, or the qualifications, centered on maturity, fidelity, and charity. They could be included or excluded on the basis of age, attitude, or appetite. The age requirement, you will notice, was sixty. Now, obviously this wouldn’t rule out helping a younger widow in the immediacy of her need. For example, the lady’s forty-two, her husband dies in battle, she comes to the church, and the church says, “In eighteen years, we will get to you.” That would not be good, right? Absolutely not, and that’s not what’s being taught, as you will see in just a moment. But that’s the kind of wooden application of the Scriptures that gets people into all kinds of difficulties.
This individual who’s included in the list should have been a faithful wife. She should have had a reputation for goodness. And her qualities in goodness—verse 10—are delineated in part as being the way in which she raised her children, the way in which she showed hospitality to strangers, the way in which she displayed the heart of a servant in the washing of the feet of the saints, and the way in which she relieved those who were in distress. Indeed, the devotion of her life was to all kinds of good deeds.
You don’t get the impression that this lady was a talker, do you? You don’t get the impression that this lady was a teacher, do you? You don’t get the impression that this lady was somehow or another walking around with a fat notebook. Not that there’s anything wrong with fat notebooks or ladies who teach. But it is the intense practicality of her life—it is religion lived, not talked about—that has made the impact. That’s why people in the community will have identified her. That’s why people in the church would have no problem in seeing support go to her. Because when they think about her, they say, “She brought her children up well. She cared for them. She was devoted to helping people. She was kind. She was tenderhearted. Sure, put her name on the list!”
Now, there is at least a hint that being on the list meant that the individual was not only on the receiving end of charity but was also able to be engaged in ministry. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Here’s a lady who is known for good deeds, bringing up her kids, showing hospitality, exercising a servant heart, and helping people in trouble. Wouldn’t you like a hundred women like that in your church? You take a hundred women doing that, who are known for these things—goodness, what an impact! That’s what I keep telling people: “Don’t go to Florida just when you’re getting useful. You just turned sixty; don’t leave me. You just finally worked it out! Don’t go away. We love you! We want you here!” When we talk about the walking track and you stumbling around it, we actually mean that. We’re not making that up. At least I mean it. “The widow to be put on the list,” says George Knight, “is an elderly, faithful, … godly Christian for whom the church should regularly and faithfully care and to whom the church could entrust, if the need arises, tasks she has already performed.”
Now, let me come to my last point. Before I do so, let me just summarize. The passage is teaching that the church only provides for widows when their families don’t. You got it? And, now, this has applications in pastoral care beyond this specific issue, incidentally. There’s a lot of stuff where people are phoning up, you know: “Hey, you take care of this for me, please? After all, this is a church. Thank you. Goodbye.” I want to say, “Hey, wait a minute. Excuse me? No, take care of it yourself. Thank you. Goodbye.” Why? Because you’re the family. We’re not the family. And there are people who have no support that we need to take care of, but if we’re so busy running down your operation that you ought to be taking care of with your brothers and your sisters, then we won’t have time, resources, or talents in order take care of the people who have genuine need.
You see, people got a warped view of the church. You know: “Hey, I pay my dues. I’m in the organization. I’ve been paying into this—like social security, you know. I’ve been paying into this for a long time, you know. I’ve been giving my offering for a long time, and by golly, I want to see some return from it, and I want to see it now.” Well, you’re thinking like a pagan, not like a Christian. You’re thinking logically; you’re not thinking biblically. And it is biblically that we need to be thinking.
So whenever a widow is provided for by her family, there’s no need for a list. If, however, a list has to exist, then the requirements are as noted.
Now, let me just say a final thing here in verse 11: “As for younger widows, do[n’t] put them on [the] list.” And this is the last thing I wrote in my notes: I wrote down, “Two good reasons for not including younger widows on the list.” And the two good reasons are there. Paul tells us what they are: number one, they still have desires to get married; and number two, premature retirement may become the gateway to bad habits.
This is the picture: A younger woman may have lost her husband. And as a result of that, she’s tempted—when she sees the maturity and loveliness of a number of these older women who no longer have any interest in being married or having a husband—she’s tempted to say, “Oh, I’m going to be one of those women. I’m going to be unequivocally devoted to Jesus Christ.” And so, on the rebound in loss…
And incidentally, when you come out of a divorce or the loss of a loved one through death, you ought to give yourself at least a twenty-four-month cooling-down period. At least! Because there is no guarantee that what you are doing has anything marked by sanity in it at all. And if it is right, it’ll be right in twenty-four months. And if it is wrong, it’d be better that you stayed away from it.
And that is exactly the principle that Paul is delineating here. Because here’s a lady who, in her younger life, is widowed. And so she says, “Well, I’m just going to be unequivocally committed to Jesus Christ. I’m going to be involved with the widows in the church. My life is over as far as marriage is concerned, and I will just commit myself to the services.” And so she’s committed to the services, and she attends all the services. And she’s sitting in the service one morning, and she looks over, and two rows down in front of her on the right-hand side, she just sees a guy’s profile and just goes da-ding. And it goes da-ding, ding, ding, ding, ding-a, ding-a, ding, ding. And before she knows about being unequivocally committed to anything, she is unequivocally committed to finding out how tall the guy is, ’cause he’s sitting down. And then she sees him standing up, and she’s even more committed to finding out who he is. And off she goes on her journey. Is there anything wrong with that? Absolutely not. Her normal, natural, sensual desires will overrule, in the majority of cases, her avowed devotion to Jesus Christ. She thinks she’s going to be a nun? She’s crazy.
Now, loved ones, you’ve seen this come and go, haven’t you? “Don’t put younger women in that position,” he says. “Because if you do, and they finally fall in love with Levi, and he takes them out for coffee to the bazaar, and then they come in for the premarital counseling, she’s all shamefaced. Why is she shamefaced? Because it’s only four months since she said, ‘I’m unequivocally devoted to following Christ.’ And now she’s unequivocally devoted to shacking up with Levi. So what happened here? She made a wrong commitment in the first place. Don’t put yourself in that position, and don’t put this woman on the list.”
“And if that doesn’t happen to them, and they actually get on the list and they start the business,” he says, “goodness gracious, if they do not find their sensual desires channeled in the right direction in terms of their human sexuality as a result of remarriage and the bearing of children and the ordering of her household,” he says, “you don’t even want to know what they’ll get up to once you start sending them around people’s houses.” Now, this might sound like chauvinism, but it’s absolutely true. There is a peculiar proclivity, with a lot of time on your hands and a lot of places to go: with the best will in the world, you find yourself involved in gossip and involved, instead of helping, in hindering and, instead of offering sustenance, involved in slander.
So Paul says—verse 14—“This is my advice.” And I’m going to quote it from J. B. Phillips: “My advice is that younger women should, normally, marry again, [they should] bear children and run their own households. They should certainly not be the means of lowering the reputation of the church, although some, alas, have already played into the enemy’s hands.” And then he comes to verse 16. He ties it up with a bow, right back to where he started: the people who are in genuine need; comes back to the people who are in genuine need. When a “woman who is a believer has widows in her family”—and I think there may well be a link there between what he’s just saying and verse 14.
Let’s say what he has in mind is a younger woman who becomes a widow, and then she remarries. And so she now has a means of support, and she has a structure. If she then has other people in her family who are widows and who are of an age to be included on this list, then that woman now is not to pass the responsibility off to the church, which would be a burden to the church—and the point is, an unnecessary burden to the church—but instead, she’s to help her immediate family, and then the church can help those who are really in need.
Now, don’t misunderstand this. The assumption throughout the whole passage is clear: the church, the congregation, is ready to relieve need—penniless widows, old and young. When an obligated family member—say, a member of the church—refuses to care for their widowed mother, then the congregation will step in and provide the care, because they recognize the peculiar need that is there. As a result of that, the congregation will be commended, and the disobedient believer will be condemned. As long as there are children and grandchildren, it should never be necessary for the church to step in.
One of the most influential churches in Southern California for the last forty years, with thousands and thousands of square feet of building, was, in its first surge of significant building, built by a man who was a small boy when his father died. And his mom, widowed in her early thirties, had absolutely no means of support at all. And so the men from the church came to that mother, to that widow and to her small children, and they literally built her a home. And this young boy watched as the men from the church built a home in which they lived. And this little guy, Burton, in seeing this, got down on his knees, and he said, “O God, you sent the men, and you built me a house. And one day when I grow up, I’m going to build you a house.” And that is exactly what he did. And in that house, thousands and thousands have heard the gospel—been stirred to follow Christ as a result of genuine, practical Christianity.
 See 1 Timothy 6:17.
 See 1 Timothy 4:12.
 George W. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 215.
 See Titus 2:3–5.
 Acts 6:2 (paraphrased).
 1 Timothy 5:3 (KJV).
 See Matthew 10:29–30.
 See Isaiah 49:16.
 See Psalm 68:5.
 See Luke 2:36–37.
 John 10:10 (paraphrased).
 John 3:3, 5 (paraphrased).
 Mark 9:24 (paraphrased).
 Acts 16:30–31 (paraphrased).
 1 Timothy 4:7 (NIV 1984).
 1 Timothy 6:8 (paraphrased).
 Knight, Pastoral Epistles, 225.
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.