Lessons from I Timothy: Lesson 11 – Widows in the Church and Lesson 12 – Honoring Elders

This series on I Timothy is planned especially for church societies, study groups, and all others interested. The writer, Rev. Henry Vander Kam, is pastor of Grace Christian Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan.


I Timothy 5:1–16

Widows In the Church

The work of the ministry includes a variety of tasks which shmJ!d be centered about the Word and the church. A minister must have a thorough knowledge of the Word and be able to defend it against its enemies. He must also have a real love for people and be able to minister the Word to them in their varied circumstances of life. He must be able to rejoice with those who rejoice; and to weep with those who weep. Timothy has been well instructed in the Word and must now be instructed by experience and by Apostolic letter in the ways of dealing with people.

How to admonish – First of all, the Apostle tells Timothy how he is to deal with people when he is to admonish them. Admonitions will have to be given hut it makes such a difference how they are given, in such a way so that the person admonished is brought to repentance, the church is honored, and the name of God is glorified.

Therefore, if an old man is to be admonished, dont come with a harsh rebuke but exhort him as a father. Timothy is still young. That should not deter him in doing his official work, hilt let it be done in such a way that the age of the person admonished is respected. Then his youth will not he despised.

If a younger man is the object of the admonition, treat him as a brother and do not lord it over him. Older women should be treated as mothers—lovingly and not harshly. The younger women should be treated as sisters, and, he adds, “in all purity.” Paul knows the dangers that exist and gives due warning. Let there never he the appearance of evil.

Worse than an unbeliever – The Apostle now gives rather detailed instructions concerning the widows in the church. This is an important topic in the estimation of the Apostle because it has so many implications. He makes distinctions in the class of women known as widows. Very early in the history of the New Testament church the church had been criticized for the neglect of widows (Acts 6). The church must do that which is proper concerning widows.

Paul makes a distinction between those who are widows indeed from these who are not. This sounds strange to us. However, the widows who are widows indeed are those who have not only lost their husbands but are also bereft of all means to sustain life. These are to be honored, i.e., these are to receive the attention of the church.

There may be other widows, that is bereft of a husband, who have children or grandchildren. These widows should be cared for by their families. Children and even grandchildren have a religious duty to give that care. In this way they are able to requite, to pay back, their parents for all the care they gave them when they were young. This surely is acceptable in the sight of God because it is fulfilling the fifth commandment. The author comes back to this subject in vs. 8. If one does not provide for his own, indefinitely those for whom he is responsible, and especially for those of his own family, he has denied the faith. Yes, his profession may be sound, but, the works give the lie to this profession. The fruits do not agree with the profession. Though it is not done in words, by his deeds he has denied the faith! He is worse than an unbeliever!

This is strong language. Is it too strong? No, because the unbeliever does not know the teachings of the Scriptures concerning one’s love-relation to his fellow man and especially to his family, and yet often gives that love and care to those of his household.

The widows important function – The widow who is a widow indeed, that is, bereft of husband and goods, has her hope set on God. She has no other helper. She has none other to defend her. Having that hope in God, she is in communion with Him night and day. She has the time for prayer. She is an intercessor for the church and for its work. She is performing a very important function for the people of God.

This is the work of the godly widow who has been benefit of everything except her God! In contrast with these Paul speaks of those widows who give themselves wholly to the pleasures of the world. They are “enjoying” a freedom which they never had before. Such, though they be physically alive, arc spiritually dead.

Timothy had been urged to teach the sound doctrine in chapter 4. However, he must also command these things—these practical things concerning the behavior in the church of Christ. This may be even more difficult to do than to teach the truth over against the heresies which are becoming more bold every day. Yet, only if he commands these things will the church be kept from the reproach of others.

An “order” of widows – There seems to have been an “order” of widows in the early church who performed certain tasks in the church. These do not seem to have been official workers, but rather an “organized volunteer group.”

There are various duties to be performed in the church which can be done better by a woman than by the minister or an elder such as, the care of orphans or of elderly women, etc. None are to be enrolled for such work, says Paul, unless they are sixty years old. Such a widow must have been the wife of one man. He does not mean that a woman who had been widowed early should not have married again to qualify for this “order” now, but, rather, the emphasis falls on the chastity of the woman. Her past must reveal that she was accustomed to do good works. She should have brought up a family so that she will now be able to give good counsel to mothers. She should have shown hospitality in the past. This was very important in that day. She should have “washed” the saints’ feet. This is not literally, but willing to do menial tasks. Her past life should show that she was a compassionate person and did good works. Such persons, and such only can be used in this “order” of widows to perform various tasks in and for the church.

The younger widows – Younger widows, that is, below sixty, you should not enroll for this work. Why not? Well, if they make a pledge of devotion to Christ to do this work, but they still have the desire to find a husband and marry again and so break the vow they have made, they make themselves guilty before God. Vows and covenant must be kept! The temptation is much too great for the younger widows.

Besides, if these younger widows are actually enrolled for the work which widows commonly do, they learn to be idle, i.e., they do not perform the tasks assigned. They simply go from house to house, not accomplishing anything but merely making social visits. This leads to the further difficulty that they tell to the one family what they heard in another home. So they become tattlers and busybodies, speaking things which ought to be kept secret and mingling in those things which do not concern them.

This is, of course, not true of all, but the danger is presentl Everyone is not qualified to do this work in the church. It will demand an undivided devotion to Christ and His church, which everyone cannot give.

Paul has a different assignment for these younger widows. He would have them marry again hereby showing that he has no scruples against second marriage. He would have them marry and bear children and manage a household. These “natural” tasks are to be preferred above the tasks in the church for certain classes of people. While many people believe that the “spiritual” work should have first place, the Apostle is more “down to earth” in his teaching. To be a wife and mother is far more important at times than to do “spiritual” work In fact, it is dangerous for some to do the work of the church because it gives occasion for reviling by the opponents of the church. It may even lead to sin because the Apostle knows of instances where they have followed satan rather than Christ.

Although the younger widows should not be “enrolled” for the various tasks in the church and should rather marry again and have a family. there are other ways in which they will be able to help the church considerably. Some of them have means. Let them use these means to support widows who are engaged in the work of the church. Thus they will still be involved in this work and at the same time relieve the church of a burden. The church has limited means.

So it was then and so has it been throughout the history of the church. The benevolence of the church is extended to all its poor but it should also be limited to those who are poor indeed. Families and non-family rich should see their responsibility toward the poor. If these do their part, the church will be able to take care of the others. There are indeed many problems in this area, but the Apostle lays down certain principles which should guide us in the care of those who are poor. Poverty is spiritually dangerous and must be alleviated.

Questions for discussions:

  1. Does psychology play an important role in the pastoral work? Explain. Did Jesus use psychology in dealing with various people?
  2. How far do the responsibilities of children extend toward the support of an aged parent?
  3. Is it proper for the state to supply the needs of the aged instead of the church? Has the church gained or lost by this practice?
  4. Is there a place for women to work in the church today apart from official tasks?
  5. May a busy young mother complain that she does not have sufficient time for various activities in the church?



I Timothy 5:17–25

Honoring Elders

The most important office in the New Testament church is the office of elder. Those who occupy this office are commissioned by the Christ to rule His church. His body, here on earth. The manner in which this office is filled and the attitude of the church to those filling this office is of the greatest consequence to the church.

Elders worthy of double honor – Paul has spoken of this office before in this epistle but he enters into far more detail in this section. In the former verses of this chapter he had spoken of honor due to widows who were widows indeed. He now uses the same word regarding elders. However, in comparison to the former, the elders are worthy of double honor if they rule well. If they do their work conscientiously and to the best of their ability they are worthy of this double honor. Their office deserves this degree of honor. They are doing the work of Jesus Christ and He demands this honor for His representatives.

This is especially true, says the Apostle, for those who labor in the Word and teaching. These are elders, but they have been set apart from the elders to preach and teach. Here we already find a distinction made in the office of elder. Seeing they labor in the Word and teaching, it is a fulltime function.

How must the church show this “double honor”? Only by word of mouth? No, the Apostle teaches that that honor is expressed in the treatment the church gives to those who hold this office. He quotes Deuteronomy 25 where Israel was taught not to muzzle the ox which treaded out the corn. This animal was to be allowed to eat of the grain being threshed.

Next, Paul quotes the words of Jesus (Luke 10:7) that “the laborer is worthy of his hire.” The first quotation reveals God‘s kindness even to the working animal. The second quotation reveals the universal principle that wages must fit the work. These words the Apostle applies to the ministry in the church. The church honors the office by its support—but this laborer is worthy of double honor!

However, no value can be placed on this work. When the prophet says: Give me my hire (Zech. 11) the price paid him becomes a prophecy of the thirty pieces of silver for which Christ was betrayed. Although no price can be placed on the work of the ministry, the church must see to it that it does not dishonor the office of Christ by the support it gives!

Discipline of elders – The law (Deut. 17:6) required that two or three witnesses agree before a person was to be sentenced. Paul now makes a further distinction when accusations are brought against an elder. When an elder is accused by less than two or three witnessses you are not even to listen to the accusation, much less condemn him. So is honor to he shown him. Many will try to undermine the work of elders. If one would listen to all such evil reports, you would dishonor the office of the elder.

There is, of course, the possibility that an elder has sinned and that this is substantiated by sufficient witnesses. What must then be done? Such a person is not to be reproved in private, but at least before the entire body of elders. The importance of the office makes this necessary and it is also necessary to warn the others.

This matter of the discipline of office-bearers is so important that Paul places Timothy under oath that he will observe all the rules regarding it. fie charges him in the sight of God and Christ Jesus as Judge to observe these things. Also in the sight of the “elect angels” who observe all the affairs of the church, must he be aware of the gravity of this matter. Prejudice and partiality may never rule. He must judge objectively—according to the proven facts. Even though it may be very unpleasant, he will have to give an account to his God.

This matter is stressed because the being and wellbeing of the church are at stake. If an elder has fallen into sin the church will suffer greatly if that sin is not dealt with properly. Private repentance is not sufficient in this case. Those who do their work well are worthy of double honor and those who fall into grievous sin are doubly responsible. May more be asked of an office-bearer when he falls into sin than of an ordinary member of the church? Not only may more be asked, more must be asked, says Paul. Is this a double standard? Yes! Double honor double responsibility. The author considers it so important for the life of the church that he places Timothy under oath that he will carry it out.

Selection of elders – To guarantee, as far as that is possible, that worthy men will fill the office of elder, great care must he taken in their selection. Timothy is warned: Lay hands hastily on no man. That is, do not ordain to office anyone who has not been carefully investigated. If he should ordain to office someone who was not fit for it, he would partake of the sin of such a person because he had not done his duty.

The painful things referred to in the previous verses must be avoided if at all possible and therefore take heed whom you ordain to office! He must keep himself pure. He must not give occasion for anyone to revile the church.

Care for physical health – To some it seems as though the next verse does not fit into the thoughts which the Apostle has revealed in this paragraph. He now suddenly gives Timothy the advice, no, the command, to drink a little wine as well as water for the sake of his stomach and his “often infirmities.”

The Apostle is still speaking of office and natural and material things are not necessarily excluded from this subject. Timothy was very sensitive to criticism. He would rather stay away from wine so that no one would ever have occasion to claim that he took too much of it, even though it would be beneficial to his physical health. The water for drinking contained many impurities at that time and was, in part, responsible for the fact that he was often sick. Paul now commands him to take care of his physical health. He prescribes wine for medicinal purpose.

If Timothy is sick in body he will not be able to do the work to which he is called. The amount of work he was called to do was enormous. It takes a strong and healthy body to do the “spiritual” work assigned to him. Paul is, therefore, indeed still speaking of the office in the church of Christ when he introduces this item into his teaching. Could, perhaps, Timothy reply by saying: Physician . . ? Paul worked day and night for the welfare of the church. He suffered all manner of privation and persecution for the church. However, was this the example which should be followed by all others who were to follow him? God forbid. When it is necessary spend yourself completely. For the common welfare of the church, take care of yourself, Timothy, so that you may be able to do the work.

About nomination for office – In the concluding two verses of this chapter the Apostle returns to the discussion concerning nominating for office. It is so important for the church that qualified men serve as elders that no amount of effort should be spared to do everything humanly possible to obtain them.

This is a very difficult matter. The Apostle recognizes this difficulty and gives Timothy further advice regarding this matter. With some men it is very evident that they are not fit for office. Careful investigation need not even be made. Their sins, says Paul, go before them. It is clear to everybody that their sins call out for judgment. With others it is far more difficult. Their sins are hidden—they follow after. You have to be well-acquainted with them, and then for some time, to be able to see their true character. The investigation must be thorough to be able to judge such men adequately. What damage such men could do to the church should they be elected to office! What grief they may bring later when discipline must be exercised over them. Again, lay hands hastily on no man!

If there are two classes of those who are unfit for office, the opposite is also true. There are men who are so evidently fit for office that it really takes no investigation. Their good works are evident, Everyone is able to see that they live a life worthy of the gospel. Their abilities too are usually evident because they use their talents constantly in the life of the church. There are also others. Their good works are not so evident that everyone immediately recognizes them. These are the more timid souls who do their works in secret. However, in time these gifts become manifest. A consistory must surely see to it that those who are unfit will not be ordained to office, but it must also investigate so that those who are well qualified will not be overlooked. The church may suffer for many years by not “discovering” the talents of certain well-qualified men.

The officers in the church, and especially the office of elder, are so important to the life of the church that Paul gives great urgency to these matters in this section. If the offices do not function as they should, the church will soon be gone!

Questions for discussion:

  1. Are elders held in honor today? Was it different a generation ago?
  2. Must a minister command respect? May he leave this to the desires of the congregation or does he have a duty to his office?
  3. Can you respect the office and not the man holding it? Doesnt a minister demean the office by encouraging being called by his first name?
  4. Why is a minister‘s salary usually such a sensitive matter? What guidelines does Scripture give? Can you judge a congregation quite well by the salary it pays its minister?
  5. If a minister falls into sin is it sufficient if he is repentant? Explain.
  6. When things “go wrong” in a church, who is to blame? The minister? Or the elders? Who usually gets the blame?