“Honor widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work… If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows..”” (1 Timothy 5:3-10, 16)
Are you a widow? Do you have widows in your family? Do you have widows in your church? If the answer is “Yes” to any of these questions, then this passage concerns you (and me). In Africa, any woman over a certain age (unspecified) is considered a widow—even if she has never married. There, and in other majority nations, where Western ideas haven’t taken over, widows are given particular respect and concern. Verses 3 and 4 reflect the honor given to these older women, who should be cared for by the younger generations, as this pleases God. However, some widows who had no families were destitute, left alone, and became faithful prayers and worshipers of God, on whom they depended. We might think of Anna who prayed at the temple, and was there when Jesus was presented (Luke 2:36-38), at the age of eighty-four and being a widow most of her life. Or we might remember the poor widow who put two copper coins into the offering box (Luke 21:1-4).
Paul’s definition of a “true widow” is a woman who is over sixty since women younger than this were expected and encouraged to remarry. It seems that there were some false teachers in Ephesus who influenced some of the younger widows to remarry unbelievers, following their passions. (1) In that light, Paul’s statement that “she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives” makes more sense since she would be casting aside her faith by marrying a non-Christian. The apostles were direct with Christians in the early church about the necessity of only marrying other Christians; syncretism was rampant among the false teachers who confused believers.
Paul’s description of the ideal older woman in verses 9 and 10 serves as a model and appeal for the younger women in the congregation. She was only married once, raised children, was hospitable and humble, and her devotion to good works was known by everyone in the community. Ladies, I know that’s a lot to live up to! But, like Dorcas of Acts 9, these are the women whom the community loved and was called to support if they had no family to help them, according to James 1:27. Today many older women have the financial means to care for themselves, with their own pensions, their husband’s or the funds from insurance policies, not to mention Social Security and Medicare.
In verse 11-16, Paul goes on to instruct Timothy about younger women who should remarry, to keep them from falling into sin by trying to live legalistically but failing, may become idle gossips. We all know the feeling of trying to attain a particular habit or work ethic only to fail because our hearts aren’t in it. This was a danger then and is still a danger today. Many women are tempted to get married as they age only because they fear growing old alone. However, with the Bible’s emphasis on family and church support, this should not worry Christians exceedingly.
There are many ways to care for widows in our families or churches today including visiting with them, helping them with chores, taking them to church events, calling on the phone, or sending them notes. What have you done lately for a widow?
* The Reformation Study Bible, Reformation Trust Publishing (Ligonier Ministries), Sanford, Fl., 2015, commentary on 1 Timothy 5:4-16.