I Timothy 5:3-16 Widows And Their Care.
Speaking of family, Paul saw a person’s first responsibility to be the care of one’s own (v. 3). A widow in Paul’s day would most likely be a woman truly in need of assistance. In Paul’s example he also views her as being old enough that she would likely have children of sufficient age to help her. In fact, he will go on to add that anyone under sixty should not be taken under care (v. 9a). Apparently he regarded any under sixty as likely to seek marriage again (v. 11). It should be said that Paul is here delivering general guidelines and not with possible exceptions. Obviously not all widows have children nor will seek to remarry (Cf. v. 10). In our day and age we also would not consider sixty as young. One’s ability and probability of having children certainly comes before sixty. However, conversely, in our day we have life insurance, and part of taking care of one’s own family surely has to include having insurance for one’s possible demise. The point is, the church should not be insurance where other options are available (v. 16).
Nevertheless, the guidelines which Paul sets down here are still relevant to the church today. The point is that we need to focus the church’s resources on those who are truly in need and who have demonstrated genuine faith. This does not mean that the church won’t help outsiders if it has the means, but just as care starts at home, even so charity must begin with those who are members of the church family. Most parents or grandparents will want to see that their children and grandchildren have what they need to get a start on life, but in some cases children will need to return this favour (Cf. II Cor. 12:14). “This is good and acceptable before God” (v. 4). A real widow is one who is truly alone, “trusts in God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day” (v. 5). This is in direct contrast with one who “lives in pleasure,” and “is dead while she lives” (v. 6). The first is a genuine believer, the second is not. As with a good minister, the former is blameless, which does not mean sinless, but she does not justify a sinful lifestyle (v. 7).
Speaking of true and fake believers, Paul goes so far to say that those who refuse to care for their own family are not true believers. In fact, these have not only denied the faith, but they are worse than an unbeliever, since many unbelievers will at the very least care for their own families (v. 8 Cf. Mt. 18:17). Besides recommending a dividing age of sixty, Paul also stipulated that she be the wife of one husband (v. 9). This could mean, as in the case of overseers and deacons, that she not be polygamous, or it could imply that with more than one husband in succession she should have set aside some resources for later years. Not all women have the opportunity to raise children, but all have an obligation, if true believers, to evidence the fruit thereof. One evidence would be the raising of godly offspring, but there are also other good works, including the lodging of strangers. Paul very likely had in mind fellow believers visiting from distant places, or in any case, those in need when she had the means to help (Cf. Is. 58:7).
We do not typically wash each others feet, but certainly offering lodging could include washing facilities and a meal. Similarly, relieving the afflicted can take on many forms depending on the nature of the affliction. The point is, there are many things that would qualify as good works. Speaking of younger widows, when Paul says that they will become “wanton against Christ,” he does not mean that they will necessarily deny Christ, but that they will likely seek to remarry rather than desiring to be married to Christ alone for the rest of their lives (vv. 11-12). Paul no doubt witnessed the danger that comes to younger widows, who because they are not busy with children or another job or good works, then become gossips and busy bodies, “saying things which they ought not” (v. 13). Again, Paul envisions younger widows as still being able to remarry and have children and thus to manage a household (v. 14a). When people are idle it gives the devil an opportunity to lead astray (vv. 14b-15).