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Advice About Widows, Elders and Slaves August 24, 2013

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
Tags: , , , ,

Here are my thoughts on 1 Timothy 5:1-6:2.

Summary: Paul begins by telling Timothy to reprove older people as he would his own parents – instead of harshly rebuking them; he should also show brotherly gentleness to younger people. Indeed, he should have a serious demeanor with everyone so that nobody can complain about him.

Paul then tells Timothy that the church should take special care of widows who are destitute. Now those widows who are not destitute should perform godly duties at home among their own families to train themselves for worshiping God, as God has commanded that this should happen. In contrast, destitute widows have nothing to distract them from their single-minded devotion to God, and so they give themselves to unceasing prayer, while those widows who indulge themselves are living useless lives. Timothy should warn his church about this so that all of the believers in Ephesus can live exemplary lives. Indeed, any believer who neglects his relatives has no reverence toward God; moreover, they have less excuse than unbelievers in this matter, since they have 1) God’s light and 2) natural affections.

Now Paul states that the church should only look after widows who:

  • are elderly
  • had been content with one husband
  • have done good deeds for fellow believers
  • have a generous spirit
  • have performed acts of kindness.

Paul then states that the church should not look after widows who are not elderly, as their age would make them desire marriage – abandoning their calling. Widows who remarry and abandon their calling bring shame on Christ and the church; they will be led further away from God until they reject Christianity. These widows also indulge in gossip. Thus, he advises these widows to refrain from declaring that they have a single-minded devotion to God; instead, they should:

  • remarry
  • manage the business of bringing up a family
  • care for their homes as housewives

so that malicious people cannot slander them. Indeed, some of these widows have already been placed under Satan’s control.

Paul reminds believers that they should care for the widows in their own families.

Now Paul shifts gears here; he asserts that those presbyters who carry out their responsibilities diligently should receive even more honor than the widows who are being looked after by the church – especially if these presbyters are diligent in teaching the Word. To support this assertion, he quotes from Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7; people agree that:

  • they should be kind to brute beasts
  • people deserve to be treated fairly

so they should not deny a livelihood to their presbyters. Also, presbyters should not be burdened with unsubstantiated accusations. Yet those presbyters who live dissolute lives should be severely punished. He solemnly appeals to Timothy – who is in the presence of God and the excellent angels – to pronounce judgments without prejudice, remaining impartial.

Paul then tells Timothy to not assent to illicit ordinations so that he will not share in the guilt of others; he should not pollute himself.

Now Paul rebukes Timothy for his excessive austerity so that Timothy can be useful to God and to his neighbors.

Paul then encourages Timothy by noting that although some known hypocrites are harming the church, God will publicly expose all sinners in His good timing – even those whose sins come to light more slowly. Also, sometimes godliness wins people’s approval speedily, while sometimes it remains unnoticed; yet God will make all righteous people shine like the dawn in His good timing.

Paul again shifts gears here; he insists that slaves should be faithful and diligent in carrying out their duties, and they should sincerely respect their masters as people who have been placed in a higher position than them to rule over them; thus, no one will speak badly about God’s name and the Gospel. Paul concludes by stating that slaves should willingly submit themselves to masters who are also believers, as they all share in God’s grace; Timothy should constantly emphasize these truths in his teaching.

Thoughts: In this passage, we see that Paul states that the church should not support widows who are not elderly. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 11 of chapter 5:

Living an undisciplined life of luxury is equated with not being dedicated to Christ, to whom they had consecrated themselves. Paul had seen this happen many times, and to prevent it happening again, he says that no woman should be enrolled as a widow whose age would make her desire marriage.

Now Calvin’s note that “Paul had seen this happen many times” implies that there were many younger widows in the church at Ephesus at that time. In that case, why were there so many younger widows in Ephesus (not including younger widows who were unbelievers)? Perhaps the life expectancy of an Ephesian man was well under 60 – leaving many Ephesian women as widows before they reached 60. One must wonder if inadequate health care, poor diet or warfare played a role in depressing the life expectancy of an Ephesian man. Ephesus was one of the most prominent cities in the Roman Empire at that time; did these believers belong to the lower strata of Ephesian society?

In verse 22 of chapter 5, we see that Paul exhorts Timothy to avoid joining others in performing illicit ordinations. Calvin offers some insights on this point:

Paul undoubtedly wanted to protect Timothy from the endless complaints that are leveled against godly servants of Christ, when they refuse to give into the self-centered requests that are constantly being made of them…Some people seek to ordain someone on the slender grounds that he has given one or two reasonable performances. A prudent and earnest bishop should resist such impetuous desires, as Paul tells Timothy to do here.

It can be inferred that some people in Ephesus wanted Timothy to ordain them – or their friends – as ministers, despite the fact that they were not fueled by a desire for purity. If Timothy refused to perform these ordinations, perhaps these aspiring ministers sought the assistance of less scrupulous ministers. Perhaps illicit ordinations were not uncommon in the early church, since there were no written rules regarding the selection of ministers before Paul wrote the Pastoral Letters to Timothy and Titus. In that case, the early church would have resembled the “Wild Wild West”; to extend that analogy, Paul would have been the sheriff who came to town, restoring law and order through his efforts.

In verses 1 and 2 of chapter 6, Paul states that slaves should be diligent in fulfilling their responsibilities and respect their masters. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 1:

Nobody gives to a ruler or master what is his due, unless he reflects on the fact that God has raised him to his eminent position and thus honors him as one of his subjects. While such people may not deserve to be honored in themselves, the authority that God has bestowed on them entitles them to be honored.

These two verses are consistent with the other passages in Paul’s letters where he discusses slavery; my understanding is that his main point is that slaves should remain in their current positions and live exemplary lives so that the progress of the Gospel would not be hindered by their actions. Now our church does support Route One Ministry, which aims to minister to women who have been exploited by the sex industry. I thought about how our support of that ministry meshes with Paul’s main point. Eventually, I concluded that the Bible consistently condemns idolatry and sexual immorality; since these women, as slaves, were compelled to commit the latter sin, their slavery was detestable in God’s eyes and so He approved of their emancipation. On the other hand, what if a slave in the antebellum South was being constantly beaten by their master? Moreover, what if a master refrained from corporal punishment, but he refused to let his slaves learn how to read and write? It seems that in either case, the slave should remain in their current position according to Paul’s main point. I wonder how the antebellum abolitionists interpreted these verses.



1. Godlessness in the Last Days | Ringing In - September 25, 2013

[…] church. I then recalled Paul’s injunctions against the church assisting younger widows in 1 Timothy 5:1-6:2, and I drew a connection between that passage and this verse. Perhaps these younger widows had no […]

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