1 Timothy 5

Timothy had been entrusted with special responsibilities both as to teaching and as to order in the church. Consequently if he kept right and in a state of happy deliverance from these dangers he would be a minister of deliverance to many others. But then this might bring him into a measure of conflict with some. An elder even might need admonition as verse 1 of chapter 5 shows us, and Timothy must be careful not to set himself wrong in attempting to set him right. The truth teaches us to render to all our fellow-believers their due, whether men or women, whether old or young.

In verse 3 the question of the treatment of widows comes up and the subject is continued to verse 16. We might be tempted to wonder that so much space is given to the matter did we not remember that it was this very question which first brought the spirit of contention into the church of God, as recorded in Acts 6:1-7.

The general instruction of the passage is quite plain. Widows 60 years old and upwards without relations to support them were to be “taken into the number,” or “put on the list,” as receiving their support from the church if they had been marked by godliness and good works. The church is to relieve those who are “widows indeed” but not others. How wise is this ordering!

Other instructions come in by the way. Notice how clearly it is taught that children and descendants (the word is “descendants” rather than “nephews”) are responsible for the support of their parents. Thus they shew godliness or piety at home. Let us emphasize this in our minds for it is easily forgotten in these days of “doles” and other forms of public support. The denunciation in verse 8 of the man who avoids or neglects this duty is very severe, showing how serious a sin it is in God's sight. There may be men quite renowned for piety in public who are nevertheless branded as worse than an infidel for lack of this piety at home.

The characteristics of a “widow indeed” as given in verse 5 are worthy of note. The Christian who in the days of her prosperity gave herself to such good works as are enumerated in verse 10, would have recognized that after all it was just God Himself ministering to the afflicted through her hands. He was the Giver and she but the channel. Now the position is reversed but she knows well that she must not look to the channels but to the mighty Source of all. Hence her trust is in God and upon Him she waits in prayer. She too is marked by that trust in the living God which is so large an element in practical godliness.

Contrasted with this is the widow living “in pleasure” or “in habits of self-indulgence.” Such an one would be seeing life according to the ideas of the world, but she is here declared to be dead while living – practically dead, that is, to the things of God.

Sometimes worldly-minded believers ask rather plaintively why it is that they do not make spiritual progress or have much spiritual joy? Verse 6 supplies us with an answer. There is nothing more deadening than self­indulgence in pleasure. The pleasure may be life of a worldly sort but it is death spiritually, for the soul is thereby deadened towards God and His things.

The bad effects of idleness come strongly before us in this passage. The younger widows were not to be supported at the expense of the church lest having no very definite occupation they should decline in heart from Christ and come under judgment – not “damnation” which is too strong a word. Their idleness then would assuredly produce a course of tale­-bearing and general interference in other people's affairs which is most disastrous to the testimony of God. Idleness in the twentieth century produces exactly the same crop of evil fruit as it did in the first century.

Further instruction as to elders is given in verses 17 to 19. An elder was not necessarily a recognized teacher of the word, though he was to be “apt to teach” (3:2). Those who did “labour in the word and doctrine” were to be counted worthy of double honour, and that honour was to be expressed in a practical way as might be needful. If any of them lacked in material things they were to be supplied as the Scripture indicated. The first quotation of verse 18 is from the Old Testament but the second is from the New, Luke 10:7. This is interesting evidence that Luke's gospel was already in circulation and recognized as the inspired Word of God equally with the Old Testament.

Above all, Timothy was to be moved by a care for the glory of God in His house. Those who sinned were to be rebuked publicly so that all the believers might be admonished and sobered thereby, only the greatest possible care was to be taken lest anything like partiality should creep in. Nothing is more common in the world than favouritism, and we all of us so easily form prejudices either for or against our brethren in Christ. Hence this solemn charge laid upon Timothy “before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels.”

Connected with the solemn charge of verse 21 against partiality comes the injunction, “Lay hands suddenly on no man.”

The laying on of hands is expressive of fellowship and identification, as Acts 13:3 shows us. Barnabas and Saul were already prophets and teachers when the Spirit called them to launch forth in the evangelization of the Gentile world. There was therefore no thought of “consecrating” them when their fellow-workers laid hands upon them, but rather of showing full fellowship and identification with their mission.

Timothy was to avoid haste in giving his sanction to any man lest later he should have to discover that he had accredited one who was unworthy, and thereby he might find himself in the unhappy position of having a share in his misdeeds. The believer is to be careful not only as to purity of a personal sort but also as to his associations.

Paul evidently knew how careful Timothy was as to personal purity, hence the instruction of verse 23. This verse has been much quoted in arguments as to the “temperance” question. It shows without a doubt that Scripture does not warrant the propaganda of extreme reformers. It shows however with equal clearness that a really godly Christian, such as Timothy was, kept so clear of wine that he had to be exhorted to take some medi­cinally, and then he was only told to take “a little.”

Verse 24 is connected with the earlier part of verse 22. Many things whether evil or good are not at all open and manifest and we may therefore be easily deceived in our judgments. Ultimately however all will be manifested for nothing can be permanently hid. A solemn thought this!