A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy 5:3-8. a) Widows to be supported.
So there are both material and spiritual conditions for eligibility for the church’s maintenance of widows. The material condition is destitution, and the spiritual godliness. *Give the people these instructions, too*, Paul continues (7a), for the care of destitute widows is to be a church responsibility, not a personal ministry of Timothy’s. The church must therefore develop a practical programme for the care of widows, *so that no-one may be open to blame* (7b). Before Paul concludes this part of his instruction, however, he repeats with even stronger emphasis what he had already written about families shouldering their own responsibilities. In verse 4 he gave positive reasons, but now he adds the negative counterpart: *If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family*, he sinks below the level of pagans; *he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever* (8). Strong language! But nature itself teaches that children should care for their parents, for many pagans by the light of nature (by the law ‘written in their hearts’ (Rom.2:14-15), have done so, and, as we have seen, provision for widows had come to be incorporated in Roman law. Are we, then, who have the fuller light of objective revelation, to despise those whom even pagans honour?
If we add verse 16, where Paul points out that to provide for our relatives is to spare the church an unnecessary burden, he has deployed four arguments. To care adequately for our own elderly family members is to repay our parents (4), to please God (4), to express and not deny the faith (8), and to relieve the church (16).
Here is an issue of considerable contemporary importance. As the medical care of the elderly improves, particularly in the West, the average age of the population continues to rise. There are many more old-folk than ever before. Geriatric wards, homes and hospitals are full. And it is fine that the church and the government should provide these. But not if it means that senior citizens are abandoned or neglected by their own relatives. African and Asian cultures, which have developed the extended in place of the nuclear family, are a standing rebuke to the West in this matter. Verse 8 tells us that it is a fundamental Christian duty to provide for our relatives. This is plain biblical warrant for a life assurance policy, which is only a self-imposed savings plan for the benefit of our dependents. It is not a contradiction of Jesus who told us to ‘take no thought’ for the future (Mt.6:25ff.), since he is prohibiting worry, not prudence or forethought. Nor is Paul contradicting his own dictum that ‘children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children’ (2 Cor.12:14), for this is obviously the right perspective when parents are in their prime. But when parents grow old and feeble, it is then that roles and responsibilities are reversed. Proverbs 6 sends us to the ants to learn wisdom. They set us a fine example both of industry and of providing for the future. What they do by instinct, human beings should do by deliberate decision.
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 5:9-16. b). Widows are to be registered.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.