PAUL'S FIRST LETTER TO TIMOTHY
Relationships Within the Household (Family) of God
1 Timothy 5:1-25
GENERAL RELATIONSHIPS (5:1-2)
Paul states that the purpose of 1 Timothy is to guide us how to conduct ourselves in the household of God, that is, the church. When Paul calls the church "the household of God," he means that the church is nothing less than the family of God. While this may seem quaint to a few people, Paul is deadly serious about this description of the church. We are literally the family of God.
In what sense is this true? When each and everyone of us becomes a Christian, the Spirit of Jesus, God's Son, enters us (Rom. 8: ). Because the Spirit is the Spirit of God's Son, I then literally become a son of God. When the Spirit of God's Son enters a woman, she then literally becomes a daughter of God. We are now as much sons and daughters of God as Jesus Himself is God's Son (see 1 John 3:2). The only difference between our sonship and Christ's is that at one time we were not God's sons, while Jesus has been God's Son throughout eternity.
The ramifications for this principle are significant. One of the ramifications is that it changes my relationship with other people. If God has become my Father and if God has become your Father, then we become brothers and sisters in Christ. LITERALLY. We are now as much brothers and sisters as my physical siblings are my brothers and sisters. As a result I should be as devoted to you as I am to my own brothers and sisters, and you should be as devoted to me as you are to your own brothers and sisters.
Too often though we lose sight of this fact. It is true that there are business and educational aspects to the church. So? There are business aspects to the Ford family who live in Corsicana. Each year my wife and I go over our budget and make sure it reflects priorities and incoming revenue. Moreover, I try to educate my children regarding history, theology, politics, etc. (my wife can take care of the math). Yet my family is not a business and it is not an institution of higher learning. It is a family based upon loving, committed relationships. In the same whereas First Baptist has a budget and focuses on teaching its members, we are neither a business nor an institution of higher learning. We teach and instruct in order that we may develop healthy relationships both at home and at the church, the place of God's family. We are a church family which should be based upon loving, committed relationships.
Paul is drawing upon this when he commands Timothy: "Do not sharply rebuke an older man but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters in all purity."
MINISTRY TO WIDOWS (5:3-16)
The next category Paul addresses is that of widows within the church. This topic is significant first because Paul devotes more space to this topic than he does to any other topic in 1 Timothy (14 verses). Second, Moses commanded God's people to make sure that they care for 3 groups of people: widows, orphans, and aliens. The reason they receive special attention is that they are some of the most vulnerable elements in society. Third, this group is important because problems within this group resulted in no less than the creation of the deacon body (Acts 6).
Paul does not say that we are go offer unlimited help to any and every person who happens to be a widow. Paul is giving sound realistic advice to Timothy in the way to approach widow ministry. First, they are to need help. Simply because a widow needs help does not mean the church immediately helps her. Several considerations must be factored into the equation before help is rendered.
First, does she have a legitimate financial need? She is to be a "widow indeed," that is, a widow with legitimate needs. Some widows draw healthy pensions, while others have families who can provide for them. Some have been married more than once and have double income coming in because of 2 supportive families. Others may actually have benefactors who care for them (5:16). I told my mom that I didn't ever want her to call the church for help (turning mattresses) because that was my responsibility. When we launched the Widows' Might Ministry, I told the widows that if they could afford to have their oil changed, they needed to have it changed themselves. We would offer service to those who could not afford to have it changed.
Was I being heartless and insensitive towards widows by insisting upon this? No. I was following in Paul's footsteps--and I don't believe anybody in our church would ever call him heartless and insensitive. The truth is that our church has enough members to take care of the legitimate needs it faces. We don't have the manpower to take care of everybody's desires and wishes. When we start taking care of people's wishes and desires, some real legitimate needs are going to be neglected. That would be a shame. Moreover, people need to be very careful in going "beyond" what Paul says here. They may just be claiming to be more sensitive and caring than Paul, which just might border on arrogance, a topic Paul will deal with later in chapter 6.
Moreover, it is primarily the responsibility of the family to care for their widowed moms or dads. In fact Paul calls this an act of piety, that is, an act of godliness. How does taking care of one's parents serve as godliness? Parents are both authority figures and elders in our lives, 2 characteristics true of God as well. The result is that our treatment of our parents reflects to a large degree our treatment of God. Second, when we treat our parents a certain way, we are training our children about how to treat us when we are older. I have a great love and respect for senior adults and especially for widows because my mom and dad both showed these 2 groups great deference and love. So if you don't want your children to neglect you when you're in a nursing home, I would advise you to visit your parents whenever they are placed in a nursing home.
This is a subject which most neglect because they don't want to hurt anybody's feelings or because they don't want to come across as judgmental. Yet whenever spiritual qualifications are attached to benevolence ministries, the character of people's lives improve. If I know that I am not going to receive help unless I lead a godly life, I will most likely lead a more godly life. Some will never lead a godly life no matter what. There's nothing we can do about them; however, many (who otherwise would not do so) will live godly lives if they know this is required. This consideration is one of the reasons governments have no business in the charity business.
About 2 years ago I set a personal policy for myself with pastor's approval to require people who come in for help the second time to watch the 90-minute video Jesus on the life of Christ. In 2 years I've only had one person to refuse to watch it. That person did not get help either, especially since I had told him the first time he came for help that this was a requirement. It's been wonderful to see many people watch the story of Jesus, which they would not have done if I had not set this as a requirement. Beloved, we need to use every tool available to expose people to the gospel. I don't think God will be pleased with us if we have tools to expose people to the gospel and then don't use them.
TREATMENT OF ELDERS (5:17-25)
Finally, Paul deals with the topic of elders (pastors, overseers, bishops, or whatever else you call them). First, the elders who engage in preaching and teaching are to receive double honor. According to v. 18 this involves more than just deference; it refers to salary. The reason is that these 2 functions are critical for the life of the church. Other ministries may come and go, and the church survives; however, whenever the church fails in these 2 critical areas, it ceases to exist as a church. (Notice that this verse assumes that there are more than just one kind of minister. The pastor/teacher is one such elder; however, apparently other types of elders/pastors exist also--music ministers, youth ministers, children ministers, activities ministers, etc.)
Next Paul demands that pastors/ministers receive the same kind of consideration when accused that others receive. Moses commanded that person could be convicted only on the basis of 2 or 3 witnesses. I've seen a minister brought down because a woman charged him with having had a sexual relationship with her. He denied it. Some automatically believed it because of the seriousness of the charge and because "a woman would not make up such a charge." Paul says that the seriousness of the charge is not the determining factor here--the determining factor is the # of witnesses. One is not enough. In that situation I came away with the conclusion that the woman was either (1) promiscuous or (2) lying and that the minister was either (1) lying or (2) innocent. The verdict was still out on him, while the woman was totally discredited by her own lips. (Be careful in condemning somebody on the basis of just one witness. One day somebody may just want to level an unsubstantiated charge against you. You will receive the same treatment you dished out to others.)
The final consideration concerning elders/ministers regards being careful about whom you appoint as ministers in the church: "Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thus share responsibility for the sins of others" (5:21). The term "elder" implies spiritual maturity. In the synagogue it referred to older men because the belief was that with age came wisdom. Whereas that is not always so, there is an element of truth in it. The churches that are always going after pastors in their late 20's and early 30's are taking major risks. A lot of people in their 20's and early 30's today are still just kids. (It's not true of all those in this age group; yet it does characterize a majority of those in that age bracket.) The church will face major crises during its existence and will need somebody mature to guide it through them.