Over the last few weeks we’ve looked at the church’s responsibility to Widows, this week I want to turn the corner and look at the widow’s responsibility to the church reflected in the same passage. Please open your Bibles to 1 Timothy 5:3-16 where we will see that there is a dual classification of widows in the early church. In verses 3-8 we have the broader category focused intentionally on helping those who cannot help themselves and from verses 9-16 we turn the corner and we see a specialized – sacred ministry of widows in the early church who through taking a personal vow dedicated themselves completely to the Lord Jesus alone.
When we look at this passage we note that it raises the bar a bit. While it is important that we do good to everyone, it is especially vital that Christians help Christians. But there is a clear expectation that Christians be Christlike. A widow who is truly in need, whom the church should assist is a godly widow, it should not be the church’s practice to reward godlessness which is why as we look through the perspective of the widow in this passage we see first and foremost that she has fixed her hope on God.
Personal Godliness is Primary (v3-8)
In the text, every Widow must be Godly. Above all we are seeking for faithfulness. There are three general characteristics in view.
The first we see in verse five is that she has “Fixed her hope on God”. Remembering the circumstance of a first century widow was incredibly dire. She had no means of taking care of herself and was thus dependent upon others for her daily needs. Ultimately however a godly woman is one who has fixed her hope on the Living God. She trusts the Lord to take care of her.
Second she is a prayer warrior. Looking into the fifth verse again we see that she continues in prayer both day and night. Her prayers are twofold there are entreaties or requests to have a need fulfilled as well as general prayers of every other kind. She is constantly seeking God as the answer to her needs as well as pursuing him in general relationship.
Third, if you look in the sixth verse you see the negative portrayed – the positive admonition is that a godly widow is one who has learned to put to death the desires of the flesh.
The principles for the widow here serve as a guideline for being a godly woman and ultimately a godly Christian because in essence this is all that is going on. This is the goal that the Lord has for you. He wants you to look to him and not to the things of this world. He wants you to call upon him with both prayers of need and also of simple trust. The almighty God of the universe wants you to dwell in relationship with you. In fact he wanted a relationship with you so strongly that he sent his son to DIE in your place so that the sin which you and I so willingly walked in could be atoned for.
An excellent example within the pages of the bible would be Anna in Luke 2:35b-37 (Read it)
Anna was a woman who went the extra mile. She stayed in the temple. More than serving as a model for every godly woman she also seems to foreshadow the women in verses 9-16 who had a special ministry.
Seek Selfless Sacrifice (V9-16)
While the first group consists of widows the church would support, in the early church there was also a group of widows who were brought into an almost covenantal relationship with the church to be involved in ministry.1 They took care of orphans, the sick and prisoners.2 They pursued selfless sacrifice.
Of course in Titus 2:3-5 we read that the older women were given the direct responsibility of discipling the younger women, not merely in the faith but also in the common sense every day ministry of life so that anyone watching them would walk away with a positive image of the church.
“…that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be dishonored.” (Titus 2:4-5)
Look at the requirements for ministry they had. Keep in mind that this list is very much like the list given for Overseers and Deacons – it is not as much a hard and inflexible checklist as it is a character overview. What would happen to a 59 year old woman who wanted to be on this list? What about a woman who was never married – would she be excluded? Just as with the elders and deacons in chapter 3 who are required to be one woman kind of men, here these widows who would be sworn in to this ministry needed to be one man kind of women.
The requirement that she be sixty here is because that was the “commonly understood number of years denoting old age.”3 That number would be shifted upward today Though I’m not fool enough to tell you what I think it is 🙂 . So the generalized requirement is that she be elderly and as you read through the rest of the passage you can see that the offset is that she not be a young woman who is likely to get remarried.
As you look through the rest of the list you can see one item after another in which the overall picture is that this is a woman who has a history not only of godliness but of selflessness. He lists raising children (which certainly demands selflessness) as well as showing hospitality to strangers. This really matters to God. It is impressive how often hospitality is portrayed in light of righteousness in the scriptures. He goes on but the general rule is that she has devoted herself to every good work.
The reason for the heavy requirements is closely related to the work ahead of them. In fact the ministry of these widows was so intense that they were brought into to by taking a sacred vow. And it is this vow which serves as the cornerstone reason for denying those who might not be committed completely.
Separate from Circumstances which could Lead you to Sin (v11-15)
When these women were brought into ministry it was a formal ministry. As a part of their enrollment they swore a vow to the Lord. While we don’t know exactly what was involved in that vow we at least know this much: it involved complete and total devotion to the Lord at the exclusion even of marriage. Breaking this vow was tantamount to turning aside to follow Satan (v15).
This is a key reason why Paul says not to let the younger widows sign up on this list. Two key issues come to the forefront here. First it’s likely that they would later want to remarry. (thus setting aside their pledge!)
Second of all part of the widow’s ministry was that of visitation. But this can quickly turn from holy to unholy as these widows misuse their time and, as is prone to happen perhaps – they turn from speaking of the holy word to gossip. Idleness is the devil’s territory. ” Too much time with not enough to do is dangerous for anyone except those too old to get into trouble.”4
While this passage is obviously turned toward a specific ministry involving widows there are some important lessons. Certainly there is the often repeated appeals towards personal godliness. Relying upon God and seeking him and his provision in prayer as our needs rise.
Any action in assisting others by the Local church should not encourage their further sin, but rather move them towards more godliness. This helps to explain the dichotomy here in helping widows. And it provides a sort of “requirement of holiness” that should be placed upon those we help in general. The church is no mere charity it is an organization bent towards creating holiness in individuals and preaching for them redemption.
There is also the continued lesson that God expects his people to walk in Holiness before him. He really wants every single one of you to be fit for ministry and devotion to Him.
But whatever else is going on here there is certainly an indicator of how seriously God takes our vows and pledges. If we say that we will do something we must for our Word means something to God.
Let me say it again: God expects you to pay your vows! All of them. Promises and oaths matter to God.
So let me ask you, have you made a promise to God that you haven’t yet kept? Maybe during a time of distress or an illness you swore that if God would only get you through this, you would do something. I guarantee that God wants you to fulfill your vows.
Today let me challenge you to fulfill your vows to the Lord.