According to what Paul said in chapter 3 vs 15, he is writing this letter to Timothy “so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.” Now that should be of importance to all of us, and I assume by your presence here today that you too are interested in how you should conduct yourself in the household of God.
And that the church is likened to the household of God I think is the key to understanding these verses. He is speaking of the church body as being the family of God. A family should be known by it’s love for one another. That’s the hallmark of a good family, they love one another. They respect one another. They submit to one another. They help one another out. They are concerned for one another. And according to the Biblical standard, one doesn’t grow out of that family. The commandment to honor your father and your mother doesn’t have an expiration date on it. I’m sure those of you that are parents continue to love and be concerned for your children even though they are grown and may have children of their own. And I’m sure that all of us that have living parents continue to love them and care for them.
That model of the natural family is the illustration of the spiritual family that we belong to if we are Christians and a part of a godly church. In many cases, our church family has even replaced our human family, perhaps due to the rejection that we have suffered from our family as a result of our coming to the Lord. I think that was often the case in Paul’s day, especially among Jewish converts who found themselves ostracized by their unconverted Jewish families.
So our conduct in the church towards each other is that all is to be done in love, as if those in the church are our fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters. And to that effect, Paul gives some practical advice how that love for one another should look. He says in vs 1 and 2, “Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but [rather] appeal to [him] as a father, [to] the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, [and] the younger women as sisters, in all purity.”
Paul is speaking primarily to Timothy, but indirectly he is speaking to everyone in the church. And we are all to have this familial type of love for one another. There is a bond that you have with your natural family, I’m sure. No matter how your paths in life may separate you, there is still nothing like being able to pick up the phone and talk to your mother or one of your siblings. There is an acceptance and freedom and love in those relationships that is essential to our well being. My mother has been dead for about 5 years now, and I still find myself sometimes wanting to pick up the phone and call her. She may not have always been the perfect mom -though I don’t think that anyone can be the perfect mom or dad – but nevertheless she was always interested in what I had to say and willing to listen. That kind of love should be characteristic of God’s family as well.
In regards to rebuking older men, upon further study we find that the ancient Greek verb for rebuke is not the normal word for “rebuke” in the New Testament. This is the only place this word is used, and it means literally “to strike at.” So basically what Timothy was being told was not to lash out at older men, but to treat them with respect as he would his own father. In fact, the idea behind “appeal to him” means to take him aside. The issue is not whether or not the pastor should rebuke an older man. We are told elsewhere, such as in Titus 2:15, “Rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.” Now that is the more common word for rebuke, but the idea is clearly stated that there are times when people are to be rebuked. But in the case of older men, don’t lash out at them but treat them with respect and honor.
And just for reference, Timothy was probably around 32 years of age. So an older man would be someone perhaps 60 years old or older. If you’re younger than 60, it’s ok to lash out, I suppose. I’m kidding, of course. But I must admit I have always had a certain degree of jealousy for some of our Old Testament models of leadership who didn’t seem to have a problem administering corporal punishment.
For instance, I’ve always admired Nehemiah when he found out that the sons of Israel were marrying the pagan women from around the region near Jerusalem. And he said “So I contended with them and cursed them and struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor take of their daughters for your sons or for yourselves.” I’ve always been a little jealous of the fact that Nehemiah was able to slap and pull the hair of people that were disobedient. I wonder if that would be effective today. I kind of doubt it.
In fact, Paul warns us not to lash out against those men that are older, but treat them like you would treat your father, and younger men as brothers. I’m going to take exception to the brother part and try to treat younger men better than my brother and I treated one another. We fought constantly our entire childhood. And even today, if we get together for more than 10 minutes we will be arguing so heatedly my wife is afraid that we will come to blows. But ideally, treat younger men as brothers. Maybe the idea there is to treat younger man in the church like an older brother who takes his younger brother under his wing and teach them the essentials of life.
And then Paul adds in regards to older women, treat them like you would treat your mother. Or at least, like you are supposed to treat your mother. You show them respect, honor them. Listen to them. You know, the fact is, a lot of us probably had parents or family relationships that were far from perfect. A lot of us wish that we had a godly mother that could have set the right example, that had a sacrificial love for her children, that gave wise advice. The hope is that in the church, you might find such a person who could be the godly mother, or godly father, or big brother or sister that you never had.
I think this is what is missing today in the church. We all know that we are told the characteristic of the church is that we are to love one another. But we don’t know how that is supposed to look. To be a godly mentor, a godly big brother, or a godly mother to a young woman who may not have had a good mother in her life, that’s the practical way that you love one another. It doesn’t mean that you have to have a one on one Bible study with someone in order to love them. It may mean that you take a young man fishing, or take a kid surfing, or take some young woman in the church out to lunch, or to a farmer’s market, or any other of number of ways you can practically love someone.
You know, in your family growing up you just kind of accepted what the hand you were dealt and things happened because you lived in close proximity to one another. But in the church, you have to be a little more intentional than that. You might have to plan for it and create an opportunity. But what I think Paul is going to show here in the remaining verses, is that loving one another is a little more practical and concerned with daily needs and activities than what you might think.
The final relationship he mentions is that of young women, whom he says should be treated as sisters, with all purity. In other words, there should not be any concern about a young woman, particularly an unmarried young woman in the church. The same attitude that men would have towards their sister is the type of approach that you should have in the church. Now saying that, I do recognize that young people should ideally be able to find a mate in the church. We are to marry “in the Lord”, that is, we are to marry another Christian, and only Christians. And the pastor has the right to slap and pull the hair out of those who break that cardinal rule. But seriously, I think it’s appropriate for a young man and young woman to meet and marry within the church.
But I think Paul is speaking of impropriety, where a married man, or a pastor, or someone in leadership, is to avoid at all costs any improper conduct towards a young woman. But rather guard such women, as a young man might guard the honor of his sister. And if we look upon those women as our sisters then there should be no impure thoughts, or impure actions. Unfortunately, that has not always been the practice in the church at large. Pastors and other men have sometimes given into temptation and took advantage of these young women and in the process ruined both parties lives as well as the church’s reputation in the world. So above all, a pastor must be above reproach in that area. I said I think last week that for my part, I refuse to counsel a woman without my wife present. That’s just being prudent against gossip, or temptation or just bad appearances.
And then Paul begins to illustrate this principle of love within the household of God by dealing with a subsection of the family that we may not think much about today, but which was very much a part of the family dynamic in his day. But even though we may not have as much of this sort of thing in our churches today, we can still apply the principles to the church family in our age. Paul says in vs3 “Honor widows who are widows indeed; but if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God.”
I think it is helpful to understand the historical context in which he presents this principle. In Paul’s day, there wasn’t life insurance, or term insurance in the case of the unexpected death of a husband. There wasn’t public assistance or welfare, or government programs to help the needy. And so as a result, there were two classes of people that were left very vulnerable in that society. One was widows and the other was orphans. Both stood to become financially destitute by the loss of the husband, who was by and large the primary breadwinner of the family. Today that is not as much of a concern. We have programs and insurance and all kinds of government plans to take care of at least most of the financial needs of people that fall victim to the loss of a husband or parents. But there are still great emotional and spiritual needs that such people have that we should be concerned about.
But what Paul is addressing primarily here is the financial needs, which he says should be taken up by any surviving members of the widow’s family. If they have children or grandchildren, then the responsibility to take care of them should fall on them. The principle is that the parents took care of their needs as they were growing up, and now that they are unable to care for themselves, the children should care for the parents. And I think that we are seeing that to a great degree in our society, as people are living longer, but many times require assistance in living in their old age.
So there is a spiritual as well as a physical obligation to care for the elderly. And I would hope that doesn’t mean just handing them over to an old folks home and then forgetting about them. A person needs a lot more than just food and water to live. And additionally, the elderly have a lot more to give that we sometimes give them credit for. I don’t believe that God designed the family to be as split apart and separated as it is today. But unfortunately, economic and social concerns have taken precedence over family unity, and so a lot of young people think that growing up automatically means moving as far away from home as they can get. I don’t think that is God’s intention for the family. But nevertheless, God’s design is for the family members to take care of the elderly or widowed parent.
If you notice in Paul’s original injunction regarding widows, he says “Honor widows who are widows indeed.” Now he wants to define who are “widows indeed.” In other words, in the eyes of the church, who are really dependent widows. He says in vs 5 “Now she who is a widow indeed and who has been left alone, has fixed her hope on God and continues in entreaties and prayers night and day. But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives.”
A widow indeed is one who has been left alone, her husband has died, and there are no children or family that can help her. But even in that situation, it’s apparent that she is a godly woman, continuing in prayers night and day, and has fixed her hope on God. The contrast to a widow indeed is a woman who lost her husband, but she is living for pleasure. She obviously has the means to do so and she is not necessarily living for the Lord either. She is living for the pleasures of this world. Paul indicates that she is wanton; that means sexually unrestrained. Such women are not the kind of widows that the church should be concerned with supporting.
Vs7 “Prescribe these things as well, so that they may be above reproach. But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” So these aren’t suggestions, they are commands. And the commands are given so that we might be above reproach in our conduct.
And the principle which is given has a much broader application than simply to widows. I think it applies to everyone. And that is, that a person should provide for those of their household. To not do so, is to deny the faith. That’s a pretty serious condemnation. That condemnation covers dead beat dads who leave their family and don’t take responsibility for their kids. But it also covers any member of the family that has the responsibility to provide for the needy ones in their family and yet doesn’t do so. Paul even goes so far as to say in 2 Cor. 12:14, that “children are not responsible to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.” So even saving up money for their children is a way that we are to provide for our household.
And of course, spiritually speaking, the church should provide for the needs of those of it’s household. That means spiritually providing for them, and if necessary, physically providing for one another’s needs as well. Those needs may be financial, but other needs that people have are just as important, such as companionship, mentorship, and so forth.
Now in the church of Paul’s day, there was such a widespread need for assistance for widows that there was a list in the church that those women were added to, that needed basic food and necessities for living. These women had no other resources for their living expenses other than the benevolence of the church. I can’t say that I have ever heard of that sort of list in churches today. We do sometimes have other type of lists in the church, especially for people that are shut ins. They may not have a shortage of food, but they are unable to get out and do things that they need to have done. So as we look at this, we’re going to look at it but briefly, not because we have the same situation occurring in our churches, but because the principle of caring for one another’s needs is applicable to many possible scenarios.
Paul says in vs9 “A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, [having been] the wife of one man, having a reputation for good works; [and] if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, [and] if she has devoted herself to every good work.” So this is a description of a godly woman, a “widow indeed” which Paul referred to earlier. She was a loyal wife, she has served the church, she has helped others and shown hospitality, and she has generally been known for her good deeds. And, she is at least 60 years old. I think as a general rule people didn’t live as long in those days, and so 60 was considered old. I used to think 60 was old. But now I don’t think it’s quite as old as I used to. But that was their standard of old age in their day. Bottom line, she was an older woman, without any real opportunity for remarriage, with no children, with no relatives, but a godly woman who lived a life for the Lord and depended upon the Lord for her survival.
In contrast to that, Paul speaks of younger widows. Vs11 “But refuse [to put] younger widows [on the list,] for when they feel sensual desires in disregard of Christ, they want to get married, [thus] incurring condemnation, because they have set aside their previous pledge. At the same time they also learn [to be] idle, as they go around from house to house; and not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper [to mention.] Therefore, I want younger [widows] to get married, bear children, keep house, [and] give the enemy no occasion for reproach; for some have already turned aside to follow Satan.”
As a general rule, these younger widows were not to be added to the support roll of the church, because they generally could provide for themselves and could remarry. Paul isn’t condemning young widows for wanting to get married, only observing that some unmarried women are so desperate for marriage and companionship that they don’t conduct themselves in a godly way in regard to relationships.
But a woman doesn’t have to be a young widow or even a widow at all to fulfill the description of “they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not.” Those who spend much time talking about other people’s lives need to mind their own business get a life of their own. We all need to guard against gossip and being a busybody. I’m afraid a lot of times gossiping masquerades as prayerful concern for others, when in fact some people find it exciting to speak of things that they shouldn’t be concerned about.
Paul was saying though that a young widow who might go on support assistance from the church could end up with too much time on her hands, which leads to being a busy body. If she were to get remarried, that problem would take care of itself. Paul is not condemning any young widow’s desire for romantic companionship; but he insists that it be pursued and expressed in the purity that is becoming to all believers.
Then finally, Paul restates the same principle he has already given twice before. So for the third time he confirms this principle in vs 16 “If any woman (some versions add man) who is a believer has [dependent] widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed.” In other words, the first responsibility for support is at the level of the family; then the church is to support the truly destitute who are godly and dependent upon the Lord.
But let me close by reiterating the undergirding principle that I started with this morning. And that is that Christian love is practical. It’s not all about feeling something for someone, or having an attraction for someone. It’s about recognizing various needs of different members of the church and then acting to supply or fill those needs. I would suggest that most of the needs we have today in the church are not financial. Though there may be some financial needs amongst the various church members. But there are also many emotional and physical and spiritual needs that people have that can be fulfilled through Christian love. I would encourage you to pray that God will identify those needs to you as you consider and pray for one another.
Jesus gave us the command to love one another. It’s restated numerous times by the apostles. Three times in John’s gospel we read Jesus’ words. John 13:34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
John 15:12, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. … And John 15:17 “This I command you, that you love one another.”
“Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging [one another;] and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24,25