Give Proper Recognition
1 Timothy 5:1–25
Key Verse: 5:17
“The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.”
Most Christians who read this chapter cannot fully comprehend it nor see how it could be relevant to their Christian lives in any significant way. So it is likely that many who read it simply pass over it without much thought, thinking widows and elders are not my concern. But that’s precisely why this chapter is of great importance and very relevant to our Christian lives. Widows and elders should be our concern. In fact, if Paul devoted a whole chapter writing about them to Timothy, then we should take a very close look at them to see why and make them our very personal concern. For one good reason, simply because a whole chapter had been devoted to them. And for another, because they must be God’s serious concern as well, otherwise Paul would not have given such attention to the subject. Part of the problem is that we have a tendency to read the Bible for ourselves, seeing in it what is relevant for me, and not truly seeing the big picture of what’s truly relevant in God’s sight. When Paul wrote letters to the churches, he wrote not necessarily to individuals, though we all receive much grace personally when we read them for ourselves. But he wrote his letters to the churches. When he wrote to Timothy and Titus and Philemon, it wasn’t so much personal as much as it involved the church as a whole as well. Let me remind you of what he said in chapter 3:14-15: “I am writing you these instructions so that … you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” His purpose in writing chapter 5 has not changed. It was to remind Timothy how church members ought to conduct themselves in God’s house. There is a way that we ought to conduct ourselves in God’s family and God’s house, towards God and towards each other. We may not have widows, but we have mothers and sisters. We do have older people as well as those who serve in the role of elders. How do we conduct ourselves towards each other as Christians? Yes, this chapter seems to be very relevant to us as a church. We ought to pay careful attention to its teaching.
There was a time in his life when Paul did not give much thought to anyone but himself. He was a high ranking Pharisee who only loved himself and could only think about how to advance his career. To do that he didn’t care how many lives he destroyed. But something happened to him when he met Jesus in person. His life changed and he became a man of genuine love and compassion, a man after Jesus’ own heart. And this chapter really reflects his heart. Why? Because in it, he tells the church how to conduct themselves in the matter of those who are most needy, and most helpless in the world. The widows. And he spends much time on instructing the church on how to deal with widows. No other writer has spent this much time instructing his congregations on how to take care of widows. It’s truly remarkable. Paul, like Jesus, is really a champion of those who are needy and helpless. Paul also does something else in this chapter. He also teaches the “Household of God”, the church, how to tend to the needs of the Elders or Pastors of the church. Why? Because in a sense, they too were among the helpless people. Nobody thinks of such people as helpless. But in reality, when elders are doing what they are supposed to do, which is to tend to the needs of others, they are unable to tend to their own needs. Thus in a sense, Paul considers them as helpless, and in need of being taken care of. Without faith, we cannot truly see the power and beauty of such a chapter as this. May God give us faith to see what Paul through the Holy Spirit is trying to teach us.
Read 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.” It’s very interesting the way Paul begins this chapter. Paul has already told Timothy to command certain men in the church to stop teaching false doctrine. (1:3) Later he had told him not to let anyone look down on him because he was young. (4:11) Certainly in doing so, sometimes rebukes are necessary. But even so, whoever it may be and in all relationships in the church, one thing must not be lost nor put aside in the household of God— respect. In verses 1 and 2, therefore, Paul’s advice to Timothy has everything to do with respect— that is, respect for every member of God’s household. We are surprised that Paul had respect on his mind when counseling Timothy in his relationships with everyone. Of course, it wasn’t only for Timothy’s ears, but for everyone in the church community. You would think that the concept of respect was sacred in Paul’s time. But apparently, it needed to be addressed, as much as it is needed to be addressed this very day as well. Respect today has either completely lost its meaning, or has been limited to something that serves only itself. For example, today’s young people don’t really have much respect for their elders. They think those who have preceded them are too old fashioned and lack understanding. So our youth have almost completely lost respect for their parents and their teachers and even for the worthy authorities in their lives. Of course, some of them respect their bosses only because if they don’t they might get fired. So that kind of respect is false and self serving. It is not genuine. And its not entirely their fault. We understand that often those who would be respected end up dishonoring themselves and lose the respect of others. Even parents dishonor themselves and end up losing the respect of their children. It used to be where people respected men and women of God. But no longer! Now even those who would be respected as men and women of God end up dishonoring themselves and their roles as God’s servants. For the most part they end up no longer worthy of respect. But listen to this: Paul says nothing to us that we should show respect only to those who are worthy of respect. Paul tells Timothy and the church to respect all, especially those who are of God’s family.
“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.” Notice how Paul uses words like father, mother, brother and sister in describing the church membership. To him, the church is a family. Therefore, older men, Paul says, must be shown proper respect like one’s father, even if they had committed a sin worthy of rebuke. Likewise, all members of the household of God must be respected unconditionally, regardless of who they are and what their ages are. Why? There are probably a hundred and one good reasons why we should respect one another. But let me tell you the best one: Because God had chosen us, and called us and redeemed us with the blood of his Son. We have been stamped with the mark of Christ, and we have become his children, each with a position of honor in his kingdom. If I have no respect for human beings in general, this shows that I have little value for human life and do no know the worth of every human being. But if on the other hand I show no respect for the members of my own Christian family, then something is terribly wrong with me: I show that am an immature child who doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong. But that does not excuse me nor you. You and I must still give an account to God for the way we treat each other. There’s another good reason why we must respect each other. When we properly respect each other in the Christian family, we avoid unnecessary problems in the church, and Satan cannot touch us.
Paul now began to teach Timothy and the church how to tend to the needs of his family members. And one of the first of the family members he talks about are widows. Read verse 3. “Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need.” In Paul’s time, and especially down through the ages, we know that the world and its many miseries has left many widows and orphans. They are usually the most helpless and most needy of all people in the world. But Paul is not talking about taking care of all the widows in the world. He is concerned about the widows in the church. And it seems that in Timothy’s church, and probably in many churches here and there, there are all kinds of widows who need Christian care. But Paul urges Timothy to tend to the needs of “the widows who are really in need”. Who then is the widow who is in dire need? He tells us. Read verse 5. “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 widow who is in dire need is the one who has made God her refuge and protector. She is the one who has made God her hope, and she hopes in him. Why? Because she has no one to care for her— no one to help her— no one to serve her in time of difficulty. So in her distress, she turns her heart to God to depend on him. Paul says that you can identify her by her hope in God. She is like Anna in the Bible who spent her time praying at the temple and waiting for salvation of her people. Such widows are truly the backbone of the church, because they are the prayer servants who keep the flame of God burning with their prayer life. Their hope in God encourages others and blesses them. Rather than complain and feel sorry for themselves their hope is in God. They are truly worthy of recognition because they are the most needy. They are most needy because they are the least vocal and most helpless in their situation.
Who else is the widow who is in dire need? Read verses 9,10. “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.” The widow in real need is the widow whose hope is in God. Her hope in God has driven her to devote her life to prayer for the church and its members. To do that, she had to put aside her own interests in order to serve God and her church. And Paul tells us how she serves best. First, he tells us that she is mature in her inner person, for she has reached maturity. This kind of widow does not expect others to help her because she depends on God for help. So instead of wasting her time in complaints and self pity or self gratification, she gives her time to doing good deeds in the name of Jesus. And she has many good deeds. When she is not praying, perhaps she is teaching Bible. When she is not teaching Bible perhaps she is helping those in trouble. When she has done that, perhaps she sees to the needs of those who have in turn been serving others. Clearly this kind of widow is not a burden on her Christian family, wanting love and attention and service. (16) But she is a blessing devoting herself to serving others. How precious is this kind of widow whose heart is like the heart of Jesus, full of goodness and service towards the church which gave her refuge from the world. In the churches today, we cannot find too many of this kind of widow. But the church needs widows, or women or men like her whose hope is in God, who in their helplessness and need depend on God rather than on man and trust God, devoting themselves to his service.
Such a widow, or person, as Paul says is most worthy because she had given up all things in order to honor and serve God with her life. But who will take care of her? Who will see to her own needs when she has put aside her own needs to serve others? That is why Paul tells Timothy to take care of her, because she has forsaken her own interests to serve God’s holy purpose. This is something we too can learn from this. We may not have widows. But we are God’s family. And in God’s family there are always needy persons whose needs may not always be physical. Such people need recognition especially when they are devoted to the work of God, as they hope in him to provide for all their needs. God’s promises are always true. (Phip.4:19) When people like this widow decide to trust God with their needs, God fulfills his promise and provides all the help they deserve.
We must also remember that in the church there are all kinds of widows. The most godly are the widows in real need. But Paul tells us that there is also another kind of widow in the church. Who are they? Read verse 6. “But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives.” The other kind of widow is the dead widow. She is not physically dead but spiritually dead. She is spiritually dead mostly because she does not know Jesus in the depth of her heart. We do not know the situations that cause such widows to exist in Paul’s and Timothy’s time. But perhaps they came to church because she they were lonely and needy. They might have come to church to find husbands for themselves. But whatever the reason for their coming, one thing is sure— as Paul says they had not surrendered the pleasure seeking life in their heart. This is one of the most serious sins of the heart. Young women or even young men who come to the Lord but who have not give up living for pleasure or loving pleasure or pursuing pleasure in their lives. They usually think they are smart in living the double life. In church they act holy and righteous, as if they had committed their lives to the Lord. But when they are away from church, their lives are no different from any worldly person. They love pleasure and are pleasure seekers at heart. If they are discovered doing something that is contrary to the gospel, they are quick to justify their sins. They like talking about the freedom they have in Christ, thus greatly abusing and sinning against the freedom that has been bought with the blood of the righteous Christ. They hate talking about the self denial and self discipline we must go through in Christ to be a fragrance of Christ rather than a stench of the world. Such widows, or young women or men seem to have made vows to offer their lives to the Lord by word of mouth. But Paul says that their desires for the world overwhelm them and soon their desires for pleasure outweigh their faith even to denial, for Satan has a way of luring pleasure seekers away from the Lord to himself.
After talking extensively about the widows in the church, Paul turns his attention now to those who tend to the church affairs in general— the Elders of the church. Elders are not necessarily the one pastor or elder who pastors the church. Elders are those in the church who are in leadership position— those who are entrusted to give the word of God to others. Read verse 17. “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” Paul was careful to open Timothy’s eyes about the needy widows who need the elders’ recognition as well as the elders’ assistance. But now Paul also teaches Timothy about some other needy people in God’s family as well. It seems that the elders and pastors also need God’s family to honor them and to take care of their needs in return. Look at 18-25. These verses are some explicit instructions on how to take care of elders and pastors in the church. They deal mainly with issues of financial support, to how to deal with speculation and gossip or genuine concern regarding an elder’s sinful conduct. They also deal with instructions to Timothy on caution in the ordination of elders. Instructions about his health. Even instructions about watching carefully the lives of members for accountability in sin and in good deeds. They are straightforward instructions that do not need careful scrutiny.
However, one aspect of all these instructions warrants serious thought since it is a subject of concern to all. Paul teaches Timothy the responsibility of the church to take care of its own pastors and elders who are put in charge of the word of God and of God’s people. Paul charges Timothy that the elders must be cared for by the church and by the church members themselves. Why? Because in all truth, most Christians do not think much about others as much as they think about themselves. So there is a danger that not many would think about the physical and spiritual needs of those who are taking care of church affairs, especially the teaching and preaching of the word of God. In that sense the elders who are devoted to the word of God would in turn be in a helpless and needy situation.
Christians often use the term love when relating to their elders and church members. But in truth they do not have a good grasp on what Biblical love is all about. Most love in theory as some rock stars would shout to their adoring public: “we love you”. But the truth is painful, because in truth many do not practice real love. The church is founded on the love of the Savior who gave himself on its behalf, setting for us an example. So the church cannot function without the love and understanding of its members. The Church and its elders have needs, and cannot properly perform their duties if such needs are not met. Therefore, Paul taught Timothy to be mindful of the needs of those who are actually doing the work of God and who are serving the gospel message faithfully. Timothy must make sure that the Christian family does not love its elders in theory but in truth and in practice. As the pastor and the elders are responsible to care for the needs of God’s people, in turn those who are blessed must also care for the needs of those who served them. Many Christians do not like to talk about material things in the church. But in reality without material things, in a material world, there can be no efficient work of God.
We must know that a healthy church is a church which practices the love of Jesus, not in theory but in truth. A healthy church is a church which has learned to love each other in the love of Christ and does its best to serve them and tend to their needs. May God help us to tend to the needs of the helpless until in turn they too tend to our needs in Christ. Amen.