Read 1 Timothy 5:1-16
1Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, 2older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.
3Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. 4But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. 5The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. 6But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. 7Give the people these instructions, too, so that no one may be open to blame. 8If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
9No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, 10and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.
11As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. 12Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. 13Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to. 14So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. 15Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.
16If any woman who is a believer has widows in her family, she should help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need. (NIV)
When we read the pastoral letters, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, we must remember that they are practical advice for the times. We must always remember the cultural situations as to why the advice is given. This is especially true when it comes to women. Women in the Greek, Roman and Jewish cultures were not treated as equals. It was very difficult for women to provide for a steady income at that time. Some were able, but that was the exception, not the rule.
We also know that the Christian church inherited by the Jewish tradition a rich tradition of caring for people, especially the widows. And there were things to do that these widows accomplished. In the Jewish tradition, many worked in the temple doing various things to maintain the facilities.
And we know from the early church, that there was an order of the widows. Many of these widows over 60 spent much time in prayer and assistance to sick women.
There is also the sense by many theologians, that as families came to accept Christ, there was an unfortunate consequence for those households that had multiple wives. The husband felt that since becoming a Christian, he should be a husband of only one wife. This meant that women became classified as a type of widow in the church’s eyes.
We know also that when a woman lost her husband and dedicated herself to the church, she was deemed as marrying Christ. This is the reason for Paul telling Timothy to not put young widows on the widow’s list. It was considered a noble thing to dedicate oneself to be the bride of Christ and work for the church. But if the woman ever decided she wanted to marry again, she would be seen as divorcing Christ and this was looked down on. If the woman never made the pledge to be the bride of Christ and remarried, no one would have thought about it at all. It would have been natural. But once you make the pledge and go back on it, you looked down on.
We also see in this section of the letter a strong teaching that families should be the first to take care of the elderly. One of the biggest heart aches I have endured as a pastor is people coming to get help from the church because their family refuses to help them anymore. There are many reasons why and sometimes it is because of the attitude of the one needing help, but it breaks my heart to see this breakdown. But when families break down and will not help, it puts an extra burden on the church’s finite resources.
Again, as you read this section, we must always read it through the lens of the status of women at that time and the eye of compassion the church is to have for widows. Scripture speaks again and again about how God cares for the widow, the orphan and the stranger. We need to heed this in our life.
Blessings and Peace