Posts Tagged 'widows'

Panic Podcast – Acts, Part 5

Today I want to focus on two problems the faced the early church in Jerusalem. Squabbling widows threatened to rip the church apart from the inside and persecution threatened to do the same thing from the outside.



How to get along with just about everybody, 1 Timothy 5

With chapters 5 and 6, the apostle Paul will deal with some very specific issues relating to pastoring a church.  Up to this point in 1 Timothy, Paul, the elder pastor, had given his young pastor-friend, Timothy, general advice regarding a variety of issues that touched the whole Christian community of the first century, which was centered in Ephesus.  The Apostle gave the reason why Timothy was left in Ephesus, he gave instructions for the proper conduct of both men and women in connection with the public worship service, and he gave qualifications for those desiring to serve as elders, deacons and deaconesses.  In chapter 4, Timothy was told how to deal with false teachers and false teaching should he encounter it in his church and also how to grow personally as a man of God.

For the most part, chapters 1 through 4 are easily applicable to today’s church.  The advice Paul gave two thousand years ago is just as timely today as it was then.  Now, the great pastor turns his attention to specific groups of people that made up the congregation in Ephesus, and that make up congregations today.  We are given some insights into pastoral work from the Biblical perspective, from the greatest pastor of all.

1.  How to treat older and younger members, verses 1, 2

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.

For a younger pastor, like Timothy at the time Paul wrote this letter to him, dealing with the confrontation and correction of older church members is a part the job that can be intimidating.  But, there may well be times when older members need to be corrected.  It is not an exaggeration to say the success of Timothy’s ministry in Ephesus, or indeed the success of any pastor anywhere in the world, rested in large measure on his skills in dealing with his people of all ages.  The word “finesse” comes to mind.  No elder or pastor has the right to pummel an erring church member with his Bible!

Here is the reason why the pastor and elder of a church must be above reproach in every way imaginable.  Before an elder can deal with the faults in others, their own faults must be dealt with.  As Shakespeare observed, “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves if we are underlings.” Older members of the congregation should never be treated “harshly.”  Instead, when an older member (a man) errs and needs correction, he needs to be “exhorted,” which comes from a Greek verb meaning “to call aside.”  This calling aside would be for the purpose of encouraging or comforting or, when called for, admonishing.  Paul strikes a beautiful balance; a senior member of a congregation should never be allowed to “get away” with their sins, but they need to be approached as a son would approach his father:  with respect and dignity.

The Christian community ought to be a loving community, for we are family, and family members care for and watch out for one another.  When an elder or pastor confronts a member when that member is found to be in error, they’re not “out to get” that member or playing a game of “gotcha!”  We always lead the church in a way that is best for the church, for the glory of God, and for the good of that member.

We have an excellent example of this kind of “finesse” seen in how Paul had to deal with Philemon, pleading for mercy and forgiveness for Onesimus—

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. (Philemon 8, 9)

The same kind of “finesse” is called for in dealing with “younger men.”  These, wrote Paul, should be treated like “brothers.”

Do older women ever get embroiled in false teaching, error, or sin?  Of course they do, and since they do, older women are not exempt from the same kind of correction as that of older men.  Older women are to be treated with dignity and respect and approached by an elder or pastor the way they would approach their mother.  Can you imagine a son having to approach his mother to tell her she is in error about something?  Such a thing is not an occasion for joy.  Rather, it takes great humility and can only be done after a time of prayer and deep soul-serching, for as has been noted by many scholars, “Mothers were our first pastors.”

Younger women also deserve pastoral care.  According to Paul, if need be, they need to be “admonished” or “exhorted” as a sister.  But Paul adds a very special word of caution in regard to younger women:  they need to be treated “with absolute purity.”  As Hendriksen points out, that simple phrase “means in complete conformity in thought and word with God’s moral law and is not to be restricted to sexual purity.”  How many men since the inception of the Church have ended their ministry in disgrace and remorse because they forgot to apply this one single admonition?

We may well sum up Paul’s pastoral theology in these simple terms, first spoken by Jesus in Matthew 12:48—50,

“Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”  Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers.  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

2.  How to treat widows of all ages and circumstances, verses 3—16

This large chunk of verses seems to point to an ongoing problem in the Ephesian congregation, given the detail Paul goes into.  It should be remembered that the very first problem the early church had was with widows, as far back as Acts 6—

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. (Acts 6:1)

The plight of widows was poignant in the first century because there were no pensions or life insurance or any kind of social safety net in those days.   For centuries, the Church was solely responsible for the care of widows—and the poor in general.  However, in modern America, that responsibility has largely been hijacked by the government, to the shame and detriment of the Church.  So we immediately have an “application problem” in regard to how these verses may be applied properly.  Today, for example, if a husband has any love for his family at all, he will have plenty of life insurance, and have some kind of pension plan in place to see to his family’s needs when he passes.  However, while families have a basic responsibility to care for themselves, and society has evolved to the point where we have schemes like Social Security, the Church is still on the hook to honor, love, and care for widows.

As we read these verses, the first thing we notice is how detailed they are.  The early church was highly organized, and while widows were taken care of, it was not in a haphazard manner.  The deacons looked into the financial affairs and financial state of the widows of the congregation.  They took her family into consideration before offering any help to see if any help was needed at all.

(a)  Distressed widows, verses 3—8

J.B. Phillips in his translation describes this first group of widows like this—

…widows who are really alone in the world.

These are widows who are truly alone:  no husband, no children, no grandchildren, no relatives who could contribute to their support.  According to Paul, widows in such a state should be—

…treated with great consideration.  (Phillips)

If a widow has resources such as a family to fall back on, then it is her responsibility to look after herself or her family members to look after her.  How would the church know if this widow had any family?  They would know because the leadership of the church would have done its job and investigated her circumstances.  The widow that is deserving of the Church’s help is the widow who has absolutely no resources of her own.  Not only that, verse 5 is a caveat—

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.

The deserving widow is one who is trusting in God, has a relationship with God, and is asking GOD for help.  In other words, the resources of the Church are to be shared with believing widows who are actively practicing their faith and who are members of a particular congregation.

Paul is not only addressing the situation of widows, but also the possibility of greedy and/or irresponsible relatives, who would rather pawn off such a needy widow than support her as they ought to!  Here is a standard of family responsibility which in our day seems to be lacking, especially in the church.  How often do we see elderly parents and grandparents compelled to be cared for by the State while children and grandchildren are off living completely self-absorbed lives.  And what’s worse is that some people actually think it is somebody else’s responsibility, like the church, to care for their elders; shame on a society that has allowed that to happen.

It is a serious breach of the faith to not care for your parents or grandparents.

Paul sets forth other qualifications for widows to meet—

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.  (verses 9, 10)

Notice the very strict qualifications for help:

  • She has to be over 60.  Why?  Because if she was under 60, she could get a job and provide for herself, and would also guarantee her maturity.
  • She had to have been a faithful wife.  In other words, she must have been a morally upstanding wife and woman.
  • She must be well known for her good deeds.  She must have helped and is continuing to help others in need.

A widow, in other words, must not only be in need, but also deserving of help based on how she has lived her life and continues to live her life as a believer!  Having a need is not enough.  Help should never be dispensed based on sentimentality or after hearing a sob story.   In fact, there are scholars who have suggested that what Paul is teaching is that only widows who are serving the church as a deaconess are deserving of help.  Most interpreters hesitate to go that far, but the point of the passage is abundantly clear:  it should not be easy for a widow to get help from the church; they must meet certain eligibility requirements.

(b)  Younger widows, verses 11—16

With this paragraph, Paul gives justification for his “over 60” age requirement.  It seems that being put on the list of widows involved a pledge to never remarry, and Paul felt that younger widows would find it difficult to honor that pledge, therefore they should not be put on the list.  Rather than being idle and “having too much time on their hands,” here is Paul’s very simple advice to younger widows—

…marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.  (verse 14)

Of course, Paul does not say all young widows are like this or that all older widows would never gossip or carry on.  He is merely giving general counsel.  Paul wants what is best for all concerned; he wants what’s best for the widow in terms of her testimony in the community and within the church, and in terms of her general welfare; he wants what’s best for the church, in terms of using resources wisely and practicing sound stewardship.

What about young widows with means?  Here is Paul’s practical advice—

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.  (verse 16)

The church should be the place of last resort in terms of material help.  You would never know that here in Wise County, where I get a dozen phone calls a month from people looking for help paying their electric bills!   The difference between a “mission” and a “church,” is apparently lost.

3.  Elders, verses 17—22

Clearly, the word “elder” (Greek, presbyteros) has more than one interpretation in this letter.  In this group of verses, the context suggests that Paul has moved beyond discussing older men and has returned to an issue he touched on earlier, that of elders or overseers.

Effective elders who ably direct the affairs of a church, especially those who are capable preachers and teachers in their own right are, as the TNIV says:  “worthy of double honor.”  Many elders may prefer the rendering of the NEB:  they are “worthy of a double stipend.”   That is bit of a stretch, although Paul makes it abundantly clear that one who has devoted himself solely to the preaching and teaching deserves to be compensated appropriately.  An elder—not only the pastor—deserves to be honored, particularly if he excels in his duties.

In terms of financially compensating the pastor, Paul quotes to sayings:

Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain // Workers deserve their wages.  (verse 18)

The first quote is from Deuteronomy 25:4, where the admonition was given as part of the law to be obeyed by the Jews.  Heathen nations around Israel would often muzzle their oxen, practically starving them as they worked them to death.  Israel was not to do this; they were to allow their oxen to eat as they worked.  The Old Testament principle at work here, which Paul is applying to elders, is that every worker (whether that worker is an ox, a slave, a common laborer, or a minister) has a God-given right to partake of the fruits of his work.  This is reflected in 1 Corinthians 9:14—

In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

The other reference is taken from Luke 10:7, and taken together Paul is saying that good and dependable elders should be honored and respected and treated well by the congregation, and that the pastor—the elder who has devoted himself to the preaching and teaching of the Word of God—has a right to material compensation, i.e. wages, and that those wages shouldn’t be withheld.

Furthermore, an elder who has fallen into sin, because he is held to a higher standard, needs to be exposed and disciplined fairly out in the open, before the entire congregation.  This is not to embarrass the embattled elder, but rather it is to serve as an example to the whole congregation.  An accusation against an elder, though, must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and since the pastor is the one who would be expected to administer the correction, the pastor does not have the privilege of allowing his personal feelings toward the erring elder to dictate how he is treated.

4.  Immature believers, verse 22

Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.

This is a great piece of advice, often ignored by many pastors.  Officers of the church are installed by the laying on of hands, so what Paul is advising Timothy is not to be too hasty in allowing people to serve in the church.  Young or immature believers who are made Sunday School teachers, elders or even pastors, are apt to prove to be disasters, for they have no grounding or foundation in the Word.  The cart should never be put before horse in terms of the ministry.  One who is promoted too soon in ministry can only cause problems for the one who promoted them.

5.  Look after yourself, verse 23

Finally, Timothy, pastor of the church at Ephesus, must not fail to look after himself—

Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.

A pastor is not a martyr.  He does not take vows of poverty or sickness.

God’s church, done God’s way will ensure that those widows who are truly in need will be take care of.  God’s church, done God’s way will teach its members personal responsibility and family duties so that each member of a family cares for the other.  God’s church, done God’s way, will be led by able elders and those elders will be respected and honored by members of their congregation.  God’s church, done God’s way will ensure that their pastor is suitably compensated for his work and that he will be worthy of that compensation by devoting himself to the work of the ministry.  God’s church, done God’s way will not show favoritism in any way, shape or form, but will respect and honor members of all ages and backgrounds and, if need be, admonish those same people for their good, the good of the Church, and for the glory of God.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

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