On the First Epistle to Timothy

Chapter 5:1-8.

Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 346 - March 1885


Chapter 5:1-8

Having thus generally exhorted Timothy as to his own walk and work, reminded him of the gift conferred, urged on him practical piety and devotedness, and lifted him above all fear from his youth, the apostle goes into full details for his guidance in maintaining order among the saints so favoured of God.

"Reprimand not an elder, but exhort [him] as a father, younger men as brethren, elder women as mothers, younger women as sisters in all purity. Honour widows that are widows indeed; but if any widow hath children or descendants, let them learn first to show piety toward their own house and render requital to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God. Now she that is a widow indeed, and left desolate bath set her hope on God and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day. But she that devoteth herself to pleasure is dead while living. And these things charge, that they may be irreproachable. But if one neglecteth providing for his own and especially his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever" (ver. 1-8).

It is not the official elder who is here in view but any brother advanced in years. Of course the exhortation would apply if possible more to an elder in the official sense. But Timothy was not to speak harshly to an elder generally; he was rather to exhort him as a father. We can all feel how much is implied in this injunction; had we to reproach a parent about any fault, how much reverence would be due! What tenderness in touching that which we might rightly condemn! The humility of grace and respect alone would become us. Indeed love was to characterise his bearing towards younger men also. As brethren would he have him to regard them, and elder women as mothers. Younger women he was to view as sisters in all purity: such is the especial guard in the latter case.

This is practical christianity in a servant of God, dear to the apostle, and particularly called to act when things were decaying. Order was not the less necessary because it was apt to be forgotten; the nearness of relationship into which the saints are brought by grace exposes to peculiar danger. Nothing more opposed to Christ than an official position without the need of the full flow of love; so that speech as well as conduct be always with grace seasoned with salt. And it was the more necessary in a comparatively young man. If no one was to .despise his youth, Timothy was called to give no occasion of stumbling in anything. To this rule the apostle himself submitted that his ministry might not be blamed: "in everything," says he, "commending our- selves as ministers of God, in much patience, in affections, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings, in pureness, in knowledge, in long-suffering in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in love unfeigned, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left; by glory and dishonour, by evil report and good report; as deceivers and true; as unknown, and well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and possessing all things." Never did the apostle exact so much as, if we may so say, from himself. He is the best example in dealing with Timothy, of what he enjoins on Timothy towards others.

Next comes the important case of those who had lost their husbands, and the more so as women were in the old world of that day. " Honour widows that are widows indeed." Such is the introductory exhortation, and therefore the word is expressly of the most general bearing. Some if not many might not need material proof of care; but due regard was to be paid to all that were really widows. By this he means that they lived in a way which marked their habitual sense of loneliness and bowed to it as from God. The later ecclesiastical class may have been founded on such a passage as this; but no such thing really existed as yet so far as Scripture informs us. The context makes the meaning of the real widow plain. She had no immediate relations to take care of her, and therefore was to be the more an object of honour; and if destitute that honour would certainly imply support more or less according to her need. But it is a mistake to limit honour to such a provision, as many a real widow might have no such necessity. " Honour" here as elsewhere must be preserved in its own proper meaning.

"But if any widow has children or descendants, let them learn first to shew piety to their own house and render requital to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God." Such a widow in distinction from those of verse 3 is commended to these immediate relatives, who must learn their duty if they did not know it. Singular to say, most of the ancient Fathers as well as some of the modern Germans including Winer, understand the widows to be the persons thus to learn: so Chrysostom, Theodoret and others among the Greeks, Jerome etc. among the Latins, and even Luther and Calvin of Reformation times. But the Syriac stands with others in the true view that it is the children or grandchildren who are called to learn, as best agreeing with the context, besides intrinsic soundness morally. Affectionate and pious respect was due from the younger to the widow of their family; and herein lay the strict sense of rendering requital. The church was never intended to swamp the family. Rather should the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ deepen the sense of every duty as well as enlarge the sphere of active love.

Among our English translators Wiclif of course is misled by the Vulgate. ''But if any widow hath children of sones learne she first to gouern hre hous'' &c. Tyndale translated ἕκγονα. "neoves;" and so it is in the Protestant versions that followed down to the Authorised; which word at that day seems to have been used for grandsons or descendants generally, though. now restricted to the issue of a brother or sister. It is no mistake therefore, but only an antiquated usage in the common translation, which seems best replaced by "descendants." The Rhemish Version, as usual, cleaves to the error of the Vulgate: "let her learn first to rule her own house" &c. The true sense we have seen to be the duty, net of the widow, but of her immediate kin in descent, though as usual the apostle puts it in the largest possible form. If the ἕκγονα or descendants were exhorted, it is not merely the χήρα or widow who is to be cared for, but of πρόγονοι, the progenitors.

Only the Geneva V. among the English escaped the strange and general error of confounding piety or godliness with ruling one's own house; for which there is no real ground in the phrase or context.

"Now she that is a widow indeed and left desolate hath set her hope on God and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day." Such is the picture that the apostle draws of the widow who is commended to the church's honour. "But she that devoteth herself to pleasure is dead while living." The inconsistency of the habitual life in the latter case was most offensive to the apostle's spirit, as it ought to be to all who feel what becomes the house of God in this world. We can never form a right judgment of becoming conduct if we do not bear in mind our relationship to God and the Lord Jesus. How unseemly to despise the chastening of His hand! Was a woman wholly to forget her desolation? Were she happy in the Lord (and this no chastening is intended to touch), the last thing she would indulge in is pleasure, Satan's sorry substitute in the world for happiness above it. Enjoyment of God and His Son only makes us realise the more the bitterness of a ruined world and of all real sorrow in it; but it lifts the heart clean out of it to the things above where Christ sits at the right hand of God. It was therefore of great moment to command these things, that the saints concerned might be without reproach.

"But if one neglect providing for his own, and especially of his own house, he bath denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." Even nature teaches the contrary. What can be more distressing than, with the possession or even profession of Christian privileges, to fall short of ordinary righteousness or of family affection? To neglect care for one's relatives and especially for those that compose the household is in the apostle's energetic language to have denied the faith and to be worse than an unbeliever. Unfeeling selfishness is a denial of the faith; for what has net God given to us in His own Son? He who confesses such grace is bound t π manifest fruit in accordance with the Christ in whom he believes. If he refuses, how many heathen would put such a man or woman to shame! It is usually an effort to lay one's own burden on others, without any adequate reason, and contrary to the strongest dictates of not love only but propriety. Certainly God's church was never meant to be a club for the exercise of covetousness, but to be a school of divine love, and of righteousness unto holiness. And woe be to these '-ho despise the importance of these injunctions, whether the motive be the lowest personal interest, or the pretension be that Christianity is so high as to exclude these natural relationships! Self, and not Christ, will be found at bottom to be the root of the latter as of the former. Only He gives scope and force to all Scripture; whereas error may often hide itself behind one part of the word, which it misuses to deny another part. Faith welcomes and submits to it all. "By faith ye stand.