Today: [1 Timothy 5:] Rebuke, Qualification, and Conduct: In this chapter, Paul gives many instructions to Timothy that reveal to us that leadership in the early church was not a hands-off affair. Christian leaders watched carefully over their number and often intervened in ways that today would be considered intrusive and even offensive. Could you survive being a member of the church of Paul and Timothy’s day?
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[1Ti 5:1-13 KJV] 1 Rebuke not an elder, but intreat [him] as a father; [and] the younger men as brethren; 2 The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity. 3 Honour widows that are widows indeed. 4 But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God. 5 Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day. 6 But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth. 7 And these things give in charge, that they may be blameless. 8 But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. 9 Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, 10 Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work. 11 But the younger widows refuse: for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry; 12 Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith. 13 And withal they learn [to be] idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.
In chapter 5 of 1 Timothy Paul lays down instructions regarding the treatment of various people in terms of Timothy interacting with them as a leader. It becomes evident that not all people are to be treated the same way which flies in the face of modern ideas of fairness. Paul begins with saying an elder (in this case an older person) is not to be rebuked (chastised like a child) but instead dealt with respectfully as one’s own father. Likewise, older women are to be dealt with as Timothy would his own mother which Timothy would have been sensitive to having been raised by a godly woman with a strong reputation.
Regarding the younger women Timothy encounters, he is instructed to treat them as sisters with “all purity.” The word that Paul uses here for purity is where we get our English word “hygiene,” and it conveys the meaning of reverence and innocence. As a young leader in my 20’s this passage helped me understand how to frame my dealings with my congregation that included many young business women in my age group.
Paul then goes on to address an issue that is quite uncommon for us today, and that is, support of widows. In ancient times the average lifespan was only 35 years, and women tended to outlive men, so there were many surviving spouses that looked to the church for support. The early church communities cared for the poor as one of their primary activities whereas today any substantive care for the needy just isn’t a priority in the western church. What Paul instructs here is that impoverished persons were to look to their own families for assistance including extended family members such as nephews and nieces. There were qualifications also that a woman accepted onto the dole of the church must be known for her prayer life and to have a blameless reputation. Can you imagine today a church that would support some needy people but reject others with the explanation that they just weren’t spiritual enough? That would be scandalous in the extreme in our day of entitlement without any accountability whatsoever.
As for family members not providing for their own, they were to be ranked as offenders worse than those committing adultery. This is worth further consideration. In today’s world, it isn’t uncommon to see men who won’t work, won’t get a job and look to their wives to be the primary breadwinner while they live lives of idleness. To those men who fall into these habits, Paul informs them they are worse than an infidel which puts the status marriage in grave jeopardy.
Paul goes on the insist that widows should not be subsidized who were under 60 years of age which would have limited the availability of this pension to just a very few given the mortality rate at the time. A widow supported by the church was not without any expectations imposed upon her. She was not allowed to be idle but required to serve and give of her time to the needs of the church on a regular basis. Younger women were to be refused with the insistence that their responsibilities lay elsewhere and that receiving the full-time support of the church didn’t bring out the best in their characters.
[1Ti 5:14-25 KJV]
14 I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully. 15 For some are already turned aside after Satan. 16 If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed. 17 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. 18 For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer [is] worthy of his reward. 19 Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. 20 Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear. 21 I charge [thee] before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality. 22 Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure. 23 Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities. 24 Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some [men] they follow after. 25 Likewise also the good works [of some] are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot be hid.
In verse 14 Paul advises that women under the age of 60 should not think of themselves as committed to single life but should make themselves available for marriage. Failing this they were to be considered as those who turn aside after Satan himself – very strong language. Again in verse 16 a second insistence that the families of women finding themselves unsupported should be taken care of and received by their own relatives. We can thus see that there was an apparent lack of charity among family members who sought to relieve their own burdens by expecting the church to care for their needy family members rather than live up to their own responsibilities.
Paul then addresses the issue of support for the elders. He speaks of elders who labor in the word and doctrine are to be paid in double honor, a reference to being paid fulltime for the work of ministry. Paul gives the reference to “Muzzle not the ox that treads out the corn…” to strengthen this mention of taking care of Christian leaders. In spite of this, there are those today who insist there is no scriptural proof that any ministers in the early church were paid for what they do which is a lie. There are also those who boast about not getting paid and utterly condemn any pastors or leaders who do receive salaries. These are hyper-spiritual hypocrites who are to be condemned and not esteemed for their high-mindedness and their unscriptural attitudes toward ministry.
In v. 19 Paul says that accusations against elders in office are not to be taken lightly and when dealt with should only be with two or three witnesses. Even in Paul’s day, spiritual leaders were a target of false allegations. If a leader is taken in sin and the witnesses confirm it, they are to be rebuked before all, but it doesn’t mention removing them from office. This is to be done without partiality including the charge not to lay hands on (to receive people into the membership of the church lightly). Today we welcome anyone who darkens the door, but in the early church, it is known that it could take as long as two years of examination before a candidate was even allowed to be water baptized.
Paul then addresses health problems that Timothy has encouraging him to drink wine to relieve certain stomach problems. We can see by this that caring for the church was a stressful thing and that Timothy as a leader was under constant pressure as he fulfilled his responsibilities. Paul concludes with mention of judgments becoming apparent in some men’s lives come very clearly while others may seem to go on without punishment. Likewise, the good works of many might seem to go unrewarded, but Paul’s remarks give encouragement to faithful service knowing that in due time all will become clear and reward will be forthcoming.