Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 347 - April 1885
Next the apostle treats of special provision for a widow who had none bound to care for her. Grace is the life-breath of the saint and of the assembly; but the grace is in harmony, not conflict, with righteousness. There are circumstances and limits which cannot be neglected without loss to man and dishonour to God.
"Let a widow be enrolled not less than sixty years old, wife of one man, witnessed of in good1 works, if she reared children, if she entertained strangers, if she washed saints' feet, if she relieved afflicted [persons], if she followed up every good2 work. But younger widows refuse; for when they wax wanton against Christ, they desire to marry, having as accusation that they slighted their first faith. And withal they learn also [to be] idle, going about the houses; and not only idle .but also tattlers and busybodies, speaking things that are not fitting. I will therefore that the younger marry, bear children, rule the house, give none occasion to the adversary for railing; for already have some turned aside after Satan. If any believing man or woman bath widows, let [such an one] relieve them, and let not the assembly be burdened, that it may relieve those that are really widows" (ver. 9-16).
Here is much more a widow in a privileged if not official position. But there is no indication of a diaconal class, the age being adverse to any great activity of personal duties of the kind; nor yet of a presbyteral sort, though the least limit of sixty years might be claimed in its support. But there is a total absence in the context of any such functions, whatever scholars may argue from Fathers, Greek or Latin, in order to confirm the idea that female superintendents are in question. The apostle appears simply to contemplate such widows as the assembly is bound to put on the list of its care and bounty, and hence speaks of past life and ways, not of future duties less or greater.
There is therefore a certain gradation in those described: 1st., widows in general; 2nd., widows really; 3rd., widows on the list of the assembly's special recognition. But no trace appears of an organised, still less, ordained, class of widows, known as it is to have existed afterwards. There is first an age sufficiently advanced for the list, irrespective of any disabling malady which might commend the youngest person if destitute to gracious consideration. Next, it is required that she have been wife of one husband. With this may be compared Luke ii. 36, 37, though it has no bearing on 1 Tim. iii. 2, nor consequently derives any illustration from it. Then her general character in respect of reputable works is insisted on. Rearing of children (not necessarily her own) is not forgotten; as well as the exercise of hospitality to strangers. Even this alone would not bear the christian stamp; and the apostle adds that lowly act, so consecrated to deeper meaning by our Lord Himself in John xiii.—washing saints' feet; which would be sure to receive an immense impulse from that blessed example, though alas! turned to vanity or a sectarian badge in days of degeneracy. Relief to distressed people in any form follows, and general diligence for whatever called for active benevolence. Widows known so to have lived were to be remembered especially by the assembly, without a word of investing them with ecclesiastical functions for the future. When cared for, they would not assuredly cease to care for others: godly and gracious habits do not so change; and the assembly was not to neglect but honour widows of such a sort.
Younger widows on the contrary Timothy was directed to decline—certainly for the list of which we have just heard, like older ones suitable otherwise; and perhaps even more generally. The apostle adds a reason which would not fail to act on the sensitive spirit of the labourer he is addressing. It is of deep value to see how Christ, and not moral or prudential or personal considerations, weighs in the apostle's mind. So should it be with us. The young widows are judged according to their relationship to Christ. They of all perhaps might have been expected from their personal experience of sorrow to feel that the time is straightened, and that the fashion of this world passes. But they lose sight of Christ and His dealings with them and look out for themselves. Instead of seeking to please Him, they wax wanton against Him and cannot rest without a return to that estate which had just closed for them. Nothing of vows or of office appears here, but what became a younger widow looking for Christ, as all saints are called to wait.
Failure in faith entails serious consequences on those that bear the Lord's name. Others may be restrained more by character, value for social opinion, or other inferior motives though common in the world. But professing Christians, when they take a true position and swerve from it, fall lower than others; and none so much as those who pique themselves en their fidelity. Faith alone keeps up lowly dependence on the Lord. Those of whom the apostle treats, having cast off their freshness of faith, slip lower and lower. "And withal they learn to be idle, going about the houses," i.e. known as of the saints generally; "and not only idle but also tattlers and busy bodies, speaking things not fitting." It is severe but how true! was it not called for and wholesome? How often from what seems a little departure great evils ensues? To believe the word is to be warned and kept by grace.
Just as in 1 Cor. vii. while the apostle tells us what his judgment is, be lays not down all in the way of commandment. So here, "I will that the younger marry, bear children, rule the house, give no occasion to the adversary for railing; for already some have turned aside after Satan." This was most painful to one that loved the assembly. " She is free to be married to whom she will—only iii the Lord."
It seems singular that -the English Versions since Tyndale should have supplied "women"; for widows only are meant as Wiclif properly said. The Rhemish seems exact by expressing neither; but the Greek form precludes the necessity of adding females, and the context is decisive that the apostle speaks of none but those who had lost their husbands.
How different from scripture is the enforced celibacy of nuns, not to speak of monks and priests also! To what moral enormities, as well as wretchedness, this daring encroachment on God's prerogative has given rise for ages! Yet no doubt need be that it grew out of a desire for thorough devotedness. The due limits are laid down in Matt. xix. 11, 12, and 1 Cor. vii. as well as here. The unmarried state has its advantages where grace gives the due inward condition, which would surely fit into suited external circumstances and issue in such a life and service as we see in the apostle himself. But to all this is not given, nor is it of man's will, but of divine grace. Make it a law, and the grace is destroyed; and a speedy result of sin, shame and misery, proclaims the wisdom of God's ways and of Christendom's folly. Presuming to do better, they have fallen notoriously not only into the violation of common morality but into unspeakable turpitude covered with the veil of hypocrisy to the ruin of souls and the present worldly advantage of those whose unswerving instinct is doing evil that good may come, whose judgment is just.
The external authority for the shorter reading (ver. 16), πιστή (א A C F G P &c.) with some ancient versions and-Fathers, is so decided as to sway the chief modern critics, the Revisers, &c.; but the sense resulting is strange and unsatisfactory. Why should the support or relief of a young widow be cast on a believing woman peculiarly? Is this like the sobriety, the largeness, the wisdom, of scripture? That a believing man or woman should be appealed to on the behalf of such a needy connexion is very intelligible; and the text which exhibits this is given by D Κ L and most of the cursives, with some ancient versions and Fathers. The direction in 16 is in no way a mere repetition of the principles laid down in verses 4, 8. In the earlier case (4), if a widow had children or descendents, they were, before others could be rightly called on, to learn pious care for their family in requital of their parents; and this is enforced (8) as a duty of providing so plain, that failure in it is denounced as a denial of the faith, and to be worse than an unbeliever. Then after describing a widow that is entitled, not here to respect simply as in 5, nor yet to censure as in 6, but to be placed on the list of the assembly's support (as in ver. 9, 10), we are confronted with the delicate question, especially for such an one as Timothy, of younger widows, whose dangers are set forth, answered by the apostle's will about them. This is followed by the call on any believing man or woman connected with such, that relief should be given to those that were truly widows. There is no question here of scandal or of unfitness for official duties: indeed the latter is nowhere, save in men's imagination now or in fact at a time posterior to the apostolic age.