Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, with all purity. Honor widows who are really widows. (1 Timothy 5:1-3 NKJV)
Much emphasis is put on family in chapter 5. Paul refers to both the spiritual family in the church and the physical family at home. Both are important and so the title for the message is ‘family matters’. Not just the matters of the family but an emphasis that family does matter.
The church is described as a family throughout the New Testament, as seen in references like these:
Col 4:7 “Tychicus, a beloved brother,”
Rom 16:1 “our sister Phoebe”.
Rom 16:13 “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.“
Notice that! Paul had even valued Rufus’ mother as his own!
I love how the church is described in Ephesians 3:14-15:
For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.
We are all part of the family of God. With this family dynamic expressed, Paul suggested to Timothy that he should treat the church like members of his own household.
Firstly, the older saints were to be treated with respect. This has always been God’s way:
Leviticus 19:32 NLT “Stand up in the presence of the elderly, and show respect for the aged. Fear your God. I am the LORD.
Proverbs 16:31 says:
The silver-haired head is a crown of glory, if it is found in the way of righteousness.
Older wiser saints are a treasure to the church, when they are found in the way of righteousness.
Personally, I am growing more and more fond of hearing the life lessons from the senior saints. Often there are hidden gems of wisdom and great testimonies when we take time to listen, and not pretend we already have it all sussed.
Older women often seem to be the nurturers and can have a wonderful ministry within a church, especially to the younger women as Titus 2 expresses.
Flowing on from the first few verses, Paul reminds us of our responsibility as a family to care for each other, especially those in need, like the widows in the churches.
From the beginning of the church in Acts we saw the church initiative to support the widows by a daily distribution system. This system was great but quickly showed the common symptom of being overwhelmed. That’s what was happening in Ephesus, the church couldn’t meet all the needs, so Paul put in some qualifications for who the church should support, and in doing so highlighted the great importance of the physical family unit.
But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God. (1 Timothy 5:4 NKJV)
In other words. The first responsibility for caring for the needy should fall on their own family (not the church). This is described in terms of ‘repayment’.
In other words: The parent nurtured and cared and provided for the child through their years of need. It is expected that the same occurs when the situation is reversed. Such an attitude is pleasing to God (ESV, NLT etc).
In fact, Paul is so bold to say in verse 8:
1Ti 5:8 NLT But those who won’t care for their relatives, especially those in their own household, have denied the true faith. Such people are worse than unbelievers.
One way to think of it is, even unbelievers understand the importance of taking care of their own. Shouldn’t the believer excel that standard?
The Pharisees, as often is the case, gave us an example of the wrong attitude in Matthew 15:
3 Jesus replied, “And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God?
4 For instance, God says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’
5 But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’
6 In this way, you say they don’t need to honor their parents. And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition
All this to say, maybe we need to rethink how we treat each other in our own families. Maybe we need to remember our responsibility to our own.
Ruth was a wonderful example in the Old Testament.
She was a widow with needs. She ended up gleaning from the leftovers in the fields which co-incidentally was part of God’s social welfare programme at that time for widows.
Despite Ruth’s situation, she set a wonderful example of a daughter taking care of her widowed mother-in-law (Naomi). Through this God showed her great favour by means of her ‘happening upon’ the field of Boaz, and ultimately her name was sealed in the family line of Christ.
The final example that comes to mind was that of Jesus. While on the cross, one of his final concerns was for his mother.
When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, "Woman, behold your son!" Then He said to the disciple, "Behold your mother!" And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:26-27 NKJV)
There is so much in 1 Timothy 5 and it is hard to condense all the teaching into so small a space. But the underlying message is the care and concern we should have for each other as the family of God.
I do want to say that there are situations where some of these things can be abused, where unfair expectations can come upon people and relationships. Sometimes we need to guard ourselves from toxic relationships. There is biblical wisdom we can call on to deal with such issues, but for now lets take away the general principle for God’s plan for us.