Lesson 10: "Doing Nothing By Partiality" (I Timothy 5:21)
I Timothy 5:1-21
Paul's Letters To Preachers. This is lesson # 10. We read the first 21 verses in ch. 5 near the end of our last lesson. In this section, Paul discusses Timothy's relationship to some of the various social groups in the Ephesian congregation, just as Paul discussed Timothy's ministerial conduct in (4:6-16) that we covered in our last lesson. If you have taken the time to re-examine this, in the first two verses (here), Paul breaks the adult population of the congregation into two groups by gender, i.e. men and women. Then, the adult men and the adult women are both arbitrarily divided into two age groups: the older men, the younger men, the older women and the younger women. Children are not considered. The word "elder," v.1, is a reference to one of these groups, the older men of the congregation. This is not the church office or congregational overseers (also) called elders. Paul eventually discusses the ruling elders or bishops down in v.17-21 as another social group, making five social groups we have mentioned, thus far. However, before discussing the bishops, Paul discussed the widows of the congregation (v.3-16) which is by far the largest section in this breakdown. The widows are further subdivided; but, we'll wait until we get to that. Right now, let's cover the first two verses quickly and get that out of the way.
Timothy is told with respect to the first group, "Rebuke not an elder," i.e. do not harshly reprimand an older man of the congregation. The next phrase, "but entreat him as a father," I think, helps to explain this. A respectful son would not rebuke his father in public; although, if he thought him out of line he should go to him in private, quietly and keep even criticism respectful. The younger men (who err, i.e.) are to be handled as equals, with reason and genuine concern. Then moving to the women, the older women as mothers, i.e. with love and respect, no essential difference. The younger women as sisters. Thus, all groups are to be treated (in effect) as family. They are (after all) the family of God, the church. At the end of v.2, Paul added the phrase: "with all purity" concerning younger women. The teaching of young women should always be above suspicion, i.e. with absolute purity, Paul is saying. Now, if I may add my two cents worth; it would simply be "Amen." If these rules were followed, I ask you: how many church squabbles and dropouts and smart talk and hard feelings would be eliminated? I see nothing wrong with young men and young women dating and keeping company even in the assembly; but, it should be done with all modesty and absolute chastity in godly fear and reverence. To say it another way, everyone must respect everybody and everybody IS somebody in the church of Christ.
O.K., widows (this is v.3-16). Widows and orphans have been a touchy subject in many churches. No one is against them! But, it seems everybody has their own idea of how they should be cared for. In many instances it seems more effort and concern goes into HOW it is to be done and HOW it is_ to be financed than goes into the doing of it. If this concern says nothing else; it indicates we need to sit up and listen to how Paul through the H.S. said it is to be done. Try to visualize and try to understand this section in the context with which Paul wrote this. It really deals with what our government usually terms "welfare" or "welfare work." Some people were impoverished in the first century and some still are. It happens to members of the church just as it happens to people that are non-Christians. The big difference in the first century and the 20th century (as I see it) is that back then this was a work of the church. Today civil government and legislated taxes have largely taken over that aspect of our society. Many look upon that as a great improvement. However, if it were done as it should be done and attitudes were maintained as they should be with honest church people; then our modern governmental handling of this is far inferior and much less efficient. A tax dollar that goes to Washington comes back a bureaucratic fifteen cents...in food stamps and surplus commodities that breed graft and fraud. Nevertheless, don't forget, Christians are instructed to honor civil government. That comes from Paul (in the 13th ch. of Romans). It goes without saying, civil government (in America today) has taken over most of the welfare that was originally done by churches. But, where there is a need, the church still has this responsibility. However, keep in mind that the context (here in ch. 5) involved a church WHEN CHURCHES WERE the principal welfare providers of that day, at least as it involved Christians. AND, being consistent with today and what we learned about Thessalonica; there have always been the lazy, the indolent, and those who beat their way competing with the widows and the orphans for a handout. So, in arriving at proper context, you must stir that thought into the Ephesian population as well.
Now, with that background, let's get down to what Paul said in v.3-16 about widows. In v.3, we find Paul's general rule: "Honor widows that are widows indeed." You'll probably think I'm being too simple; but, what is a widow? I believe most dictionaries would say something like: a woman whose husband is dead. They come in different ages, of course. However, by that definition a woman is either a widow or she is not a widow; her husband is either alive or he's dead. So, what is a "widow indeed?" Paul said, "honor widows that are widows indeed." He used that phrase "widow(s) indeed" about three times in this section. Thus, in keeping with the context, I think you would agree, Paul not only implies she must be a widow; she must be destitute as well to be a "widow indeed." There are rich widows, you know. And personally, I'm not absolutely sure that a woman's husband had to be a dead for her to be a widow. There is always the question of women whose husbands deserted them. It happens, you know! I'm not trying to start an argument. I'm just trying to get you down to Paul's Ephesian thinking, on: what is a "widow indeed?" A widow, that was a widow indeed, qualified for being enrolled in the church welfare program and she should be enrolled, Paul is quite clear. However, when you get beyond this point, the rest of these verses (i.e. 4-16) consists of tests, questions and guideline discussions primarily concerned with the difference between a widow and a widow indeed, i.e. those who should be enrolled in the church welfare program and those who should not be enrolled.
However, before we get into the different kinds of widows and these different tests; let's explore just a minute: how was this church welfare program financed? I bring it up at this point; because, I want you to put a brain cell or two on it to play guard dog while we examine these passages, verse by verse. There was simply a common treasury of the congregation. Those who were employed and prospered, laid by in store upon the first day of the week according to the way they were prospered (I Cor. 16:2). It was part of their worship, I believe. Every man and every woman were to give as he (or she) purposed in his heart (II Cor. 9:7), not grudgingly or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. They were not harassed, this was a free will offering. Obviously the Ephesian congregation was following the same instruction here that Paul had given to the Corinthians and to the Galatian churches (I Cor. 16:1). This was not tithing (i.e. a 10% tax) as they did it in the O.Testament. Every member simply gave according to the way they were prospered and they made the decision how much to give. This was done week by week. This is according to N.T. instruction on that subject. The Ephesians obviously supported their church welfare program from that common treasury that consisted of that which was cheerfully given on the first day of the week, as we have said. Distribution was made according to the need (as the apostles done it in Acts 4:35). Orphans are not discussed here; but, I think the guidelines given here for widows (i.e. widows indeed) would apply also to orphans as well or any other social group in the church with genuine welfare needs. Now, it's obvious to me, that some were undoubtedly expecting to be enrolled that did not have a genuine need, that didn't qualify in other words, i.e. as defined in the verses down this page. There is a difference in wants and needs. Some people get a little confused on wants and needs and have trouble making that distinction. It was the duty of the elders to decide this, case by case; then, I would assume their decision was carried out and implemented by the deacons.
Alright, back to v.4! The first test laid down relates to the widow's family (v.4). If a widow has family members, i.e. children, grandchildren, or others that could support her; they should do it. Paul said in no uncertain terms, that is the way God expects it to be done. Verses 5-6-7 is a further comment upon this. The elders in making their decision could take into account the faithfulness of the widow under consideration. It would only be reasonable to expect a desolate widow to show a strong faith and be a faithful member of the church, i.e. everything else being equal, health, ability, (etc.). Timothy should teach on "these things" (v.7), i.e. "give in charge." I would say it like this: stress her responsibility in this respect. Then, test #2, (v.8), "if any provide not for his own," i.e. if the widow's sons and daughters, grandchildren, nephews, etc.; if they refuse to do their duty in respect to caring for this widowed relative, then this should be looked upon as a test of their faithfulness...not the widow's. Paul goes on to say, for them to refuse their responsibility in this way is the same as denying the faith, i.e. they could not be a Christian if they just outright refused. That is, IF they have the means and refuse, they should be treated as non-believers, i.e. "an infidel" is Paul's word for it. Then, test #3, in v.9, "Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old..." Now, "taken into the number" means the same as the word: ENROLLED, that we have used with reference to their local church welfare program. The word "enrolled" does not occur in the KJV, it does in some other translations. Then, I would assume that: threescore (or 60 years old) requirement is a rounded off number, i.e. an arbitrary number given as a guideline. Other things must be taken into consideration besides age. I deduct two general guidelines under this heading, i.e. - "having been the wife of one man" and -"Well reported of for good works." Then five other considerations, that fit under these two guidelines should be explored. All five start with "if she have." [#1] Is "if she have brought up children, [#2] if she have lodged strangers, [#3] if she have washed the saints' feet, [#4] if she have relieved the afflicted, [#5] if she have diligently followed every good work." These five are found in v.10! Now, we could of course, pursue and explore each of these in greater detail; but, I think it unnecessary. You understand the meaning, I'm sure! That "washing] the saints' feet," the third one, has nothing to do with worship. It was simply doing a good deed, a point of hygiene and refreshment, if you will; i.e. back in those days when almost all travel was by foot. Lodging strangers was also considered a godly thing to do back there before street light and motels. A "widow indeed" then (I conclude) was a faithful widow, destitute of any family that would care for her and above sixty years old.
With that much guideline, the apostle then turns the coin over (so-to- speak) and begins discussing the "younger widows" (in v.11), that would not qualify. Paul plainly says, "the younger widows refuse!" That's pretty straight talk, that's hard to misunderstand. Maybe, I'm reading between the lines; but, I think the idea is that widows under sixty (i.e. generally) have better health and can fend for themselves if they will work at it. However, the first reason that Paul gives is "when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry; having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith." (v.12). I'm not sure I get that thought as I would like; however, if you move on to v.13, the second word "withal" may help us (here). The apostle is apparently saying that if these younger widows were enrolled, i.e. "withal," in other words WITH the welfare help of the church ; then, the church may be doing them a disservice, in that, they would likely (some at least) as a result would take on those characteristics enumerated here in v.13, "they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not." These characteristics would in turn wreck their faith and they may wind up chasing men, hitting the night clubs and of that which would ultimately cause them to be lost. However, (v.14) if they can marry, have children, guide the home and cast themselves into that role for which women were created (going back to 2:13-14-15); then Paul recommends they do that, i.e. get married and continue in the faith. But, some had not done that (according to v.15) and apparently wound up lost, as we discussed a moment ago. Then in v.16, Paul reiterates what was said back in v.4; except, here Paul makes the point with reference to church members in general, it is the family's responsibility to see after their widows so that the church will be relieved of that duty and thus make it possible to enroll those that are widows indeed. With this, Paul terminates his discussion of widow welfare (in v.16).
Now, our time is short; but, we need to cover v.17-21, which deals with Timothy's responsibility and relationship to the elders, i.e. the bishops or congregational overseers at Ephesus. First off, (in v.17) elders were to be honored, i.e. respected and praised for their work. Especially elders apt to teach and who exercise that task well, i.e. in Paul's words: "labor in the word and doctrine." Then v.18 is a reference to the welfare of elders. If elders involve themselves with the work of the church to the extent it cramps their lifestyle materially (so-to-speak) then, the church should help them, i.e. share with them. That "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn" statement, Paul used that once before back in I-Cor. ch. 9, if you remember. There it also had to do with paying preachers and sharing with those who teach. Back there the apostle said of him and Barnabas, "If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?" (I-Cor. 9:11). Then, Jesus used that statement: "The laborer is worthy of his reward" (Matt. 10:10) back when Jesus sent the apostles out two by two on the limited commission. The KJV renders Jesus as saying, "the workman is worthy of his meat." Then in v.19 (here), Paul told Timothy to be cautious in making accusations against elders. They should be give the benefit of the doubt, in other words. Insist on two or three witnesses; however, if elders sin, rebuke them and do it in front of the other elders (v.20). Then in v.21, Paul bids Timothy to observe this instruction and to do it without partiality. God is no respecter of persons. AND, have a good day!