Paul moves on in this section to discuss how people are to be treated in the church, giving Timothy instruction in several areas of concern. First of all, he tells Timothy how he should deal with people by age groups. Older men are to be treated as fathers, older women as mothers, younger men as brothers and younger women as sisters. Notice the comparison with family here; everyone is to be treated as family members and with love and respect.
Widows presented a problem and are singled out as a category. Back in the day, when a man died, his widow would have no means of support and wasn’t really able to engage in business other than prostitution. If the family wasn’t wealthy, and if there were no surviving males to take care of her, she would be in dire straits. Paul makes it very clear that if there are surviving children or grandchildren in the family, they have the responsibility to take care of the widow, for she had contributed greatly to them in their younger days. It’s interesting for us to take note of this, since our society has in many ways gotten away from this idea. Before there was Social Security in America, this was how things were done in this country, but now… Some still follow these rules, others don’t; often the surviving widows do very nicely with retirement plans and the like, but what about those who don’t have these things and need help?
The church was to maintain a “widows list” and care for those widows who needed it and didn’t have family members who could care for them. This list was not a general welfare program, however, for only women of good character over the age of 60 without family to step in were to be cared for. Younger widows were to remarry so they could be cared for by husbands. Paul makes an interesting observation about younger widows who are cared for and have a lot of extra time on their hands; it seems that they were prone to talking nonsense. I can’t help but smile as I recall a number of conversations I’ve heard around kitchen tables when the ladies forgot there was a man in the room…
You might think that I agree with Paul’s comment in verse 13, yes you might very well think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment.
Paul’s actual point here is that the church has a responsibility of last resort. No widow in the congregation should suffer destitution in her old age, but her family has the first responsibility to care for her. If she has no family of her own, then her church family is obligated, and this is putting our faith into action in both cases.
Verses 17-18 deal with elders being supported by the church; if they do their jobs well, particularly if they preach and teach, they are worthy of “double honor” which is to say that they should be paid so that they might do their work full time: I have not seen this practice in our time, quite to the contrary in fact.
Accusations against elders must be brought with the testimony of 2 or 3 witnesses to be taken seriously. This is not to sweep wrongdoing under the rug, far from it, but it does recognize the fact that those in leadership often become targets of those who harbor resentment and questionable motivations. Verses 20-21 make clear that an elder who abuses his trust is to be exposed in public and dealt with.
The balance of this chapter contains some random personal notes urging Timothy to exercise wisdom in certain areas and should be self explanatory.
This chapter contains a lot of grace, some tough love and above all a strong message of putting our faith into action both as individuals and as a community. When seen within the context of this letter and Timothy’s mission to clean up the mess caused by false teachers, it is both intriguing and challenging. To my mind there is an underlying question implicit in this, and that question for us is this: Do we really believe that what we believe is really real?