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The Practical Ministry of Every Christian (1 Timothy 5:1-16) – Mark Ottaway

The Practical Ministry of Every Christian 

1 Timothy 5:1-16


1 Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather plead with him as a father, to the younger men as brothers,

2 the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity.


3 Honor widows who are widows indeed,

4 but if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God.

5 Now she who is a widow indeed and who has been left alone, has fixed her hope on God and continues in petitions and prayers night and day.

6 But she who lives in self-indulgence is dead even while she lives.

7 And command these things as well, so that they may be above reproach.

8 But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.


9 A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man,

10 having a reputation for good works; if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in affliction, if she has devoted herself to every good work.

11 But refuse to put younger widows on the list, for when they feel sensual desires in disregard of Christ, they want to get married,

12 thus incurring condemnation, because they have set aside their previous pledge.

13 And at the same time they also learn to be idle, as they go around from house to house. And not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention.

14 Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no opportunity for reviling,

15 for some have already turned aside after Satan.

16 If any believing woman has widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed.

1 Tim 5:1-16 (LSB)


Expository preaching takes us to 1 Timothy 5, how to look after widows. Has anyone taught on this? Maybe some of the ladies have looked at this at some point in their ladies’ studies. Admittedly, this was a passage that I continued to read over many times to get some direction on where to go with this and found two major things in this passage: there are some significant assumptions in these sixteen verses, and there are some significant principles in these verses. And what I have done is try to come up with some principles which apply to all of us who name the name of Christ. Statements that express some ongoing principles whether we live during this time in New Testament days where the needs were with widows, to the needs of today where we are still required to care for widows among other needs. So, let’s start from the beginning and I will eventually get to some principles.

“Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather plead with him as a father, to the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity.”

1 Tim 5:1-2 (LSB)


There is to be a family atmosphere within the body of Christ. And what is sort of interesting here is that Paul is instructing young Pastor Timothy on how the church should conduct itself between each other, while at the same time, he gives some assumptions about human family life. Verse 1, “Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather plead with him as a father.” The primary introduction here pertains to how to approach and relate to an older gentleman in the congregation, respectfully. But the assumption is what? This is how we would treat our earthly father. And then treat other men in the church as brothers. What is the assumption? That you treat your human brother well. Treat older women as mothers. What is the assumption? That you treat your real mother well. And treat younger women as sisters. What is the assumption? That you would treat your sister very well.


In marriage counselling it is sometimes apparent that how a young man has learned to respect and treat his mother is often how he will treat his wife. And how a young girl has learned to treat her father is often how she will respect and treat her husband. Sometimes in dating, it is a good sign if your boyfriend has a good relationship with his Mom. And a good sign that your girlfriend has a good relationship with her Dad. And there can be other factors, but this is something to consider and understand. I had it made as Anne always loved her Dad and respected him greatly. And there is still the need for a couple to be themselves, and to leave Mom and Dad, but that respect level often does carry over to the spouse.


And we see in the Bible that there is great value placed upon relationships, and to avoid that is to our own detriment. Young people, to believe that, well no, I don’t get along with my parents, but when I have children, I will be a great Mom or Dad. That may not likely happen. Because learning to get along with others, especially family, are skills that we learn in life. And so to walk away from Mom and Dad and think that you will become a great parent is not realistic. And I understand that having a great relationship with someone is not one-sided, but as far as we can, from our perspective, there is great skill in interacting with people.


Treating older men with respect, and this respect level is carried through to older women as well. Again, the assumption here is to treat older women in the church as mothers, assumes that mothers are to be highly respected. And treating mothers respectfully is so much the responsibility of Dad. One, that Dads would never allow their children to be disrespectful towards Mom and or speak harshly to her; and secondly, children would also learn from not just Dad’s instruction, but they would learn by the way Dad himself speaks gently to his wife, their Mom. These are lifelong principles we can instill in our children. And whether you yourself grew up in this kind of peaceful home or not, you can still give this example to your children.


And I also understand that this passage is not primarily about family relationships. But the assumption from Paul’s perspective is that parents, children, and brothers and sisters will work hard to nurture those relationships and properly treat each other. To say that I do not treat my sibling well, or my children well, or my spouse well is really from this passage a sign of immaturity. When children misbehave when siblings don’t get along, when parents yell at them, and when husbands and wives are grumpy with each other, let’s just call it what it is, immaturity. So, now we are going to bring this into the church. And if family unity and peace are not going that well, then bringing this into the church may not be a good idea. However, Paul assumes in this passage that you have the family home harmony thing down pat. By the way, last fall we did a marriage seminar on a Saturday and Sunday. We are planning a similar event this fall for families and raising children. So, we look forward to gaining from God’s Word some great encouragement in this vital area.


Now there is a good reason that these family relationships are so important in the church. I suppose we could take these to the workplace as well, that in the workplace we would treat those older with respect, treat other men as brothers, and of course, treat younger women as sisters, in all purity. I mean we do not have to look very far to see the fallout of marriages at the workplace. When I was working in the secular field, relationships within that workplace frequently compromised the purity of marriages, as there was often flirting going on between men and women, things were said that should have never been said, and topics were discussed that should have never been discussed. And the result was often from the very least where marriages were not honoured as they should, and to the extreme, where marriages ended and new girlfriends and boyfriends were found at the workplace.


And we do not have to be naïve to believe that the notion of purity would be a given in the church, as there have been many accounts of pastors having affairs with someone in the church. Married youth leaders finding someone else within the church. Music directors being unfaithful with someone within the church. So, Paul is speaking here specifically within the church, where we may all bring our rebellion at times, or our forcefulness in leadership, or our stubbornness, or some disrespect, or our lack of sexual purity all come to the church. And (vs 1-2) Paul gives us good guidelines when interacting with each other. Also knowing older women are to have a significant impact on younger women (Titus 2). And the overall statements here by Paul give good expectancy to respect each other within the church body. So, let me state a simple principle here to get us started and it is this. Principle #1:


  1. Every Christian must cultivate caring relationships.


Now when Paul turns to widows (vs 3-16) which may seem a little unrelatable to us as a congregation, one, it does teach us that Timothy’s congregation had several older women who were widows; and secondly, it also teaches us that the church here in Ephesus had all the age groups. And this is very healthy by the way as there is a need for churches to enjoy the multi-ages of people, and that we do so much together as a congregation. It does seem like the fad to have separate services to appeal to different ages and tastes, and though it does seem to becoming less popular, it is still out there. For it is a blessing to have children, and teens, and young Moms and Dads, and middle-aged folk, and older ones all together, because we are a family. I remember hearing a story once of a family that was having a birthday party for Grandad, and all the family was invited. But before anyone came they were asking: What games are we going to play? What are we eating? Are we going to be inside or outside? And will there be music? And what kind of music? And we smile at this and think, well, no one would ever ask those kinds of questions when coming to celebrate Grandad, but they may be the questions they ask before coming to a church.


Again, this kind of honouring extends into the church, where older men are honoured, older women are respected. Where we treat younger men like brothers in a positive sense, and younger women are loved and cared for as sisters. And I believe the other thing we notice about this instruction from Paul is the expectation of church folks being close to each other. And this is vital so that both we and our children are close with other families. Certainly, Elim is small enough that we can to some degree get to know each other well. But this does take effort as we need to connect with others. We need to hang around. Sunday nights are always times of close fellowship. And this also takes effort because we are scattered. When Anne and I raised our boys in Chatham, they had church friends all over Chatham, about a 10-minute bike ride at the most. So, for us in Chatham, it was easier, but here it takes more effort. And as your children get older, church family ties are vital. I can tell you that from my own experience with four boys, to have the love and support of other Moms and Dads investing in your children is such a blessing, because every Christian must cultivate caring relationships.


Then Paul does go on to give this rather lengthy discourse on looking after widows, which was also, if you will remember an important role of the deacons in Acts 6. That part of the care given, for many things including food, and making sure that the widows were looked after. Now we could say that this is not an issue here at Elim, as one, we have few widows and they are not necessarily looking for food here at Elim. Although we do tend to get fed up at our stay-for-lunches. I am pretty good at being careful about what I eat and how much. But do you know where this is sometimes the hardest, the stay-for-lunches as there is just too much choice. Interestingly, that last Sunday night we looked at the passage in Hebrews 13:

“Let love of the brothers continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you yourselves also are in the body.”

Heb 13:1-3 (LSB)


And what we learned from that passage was a strong encouragement to show empathy to others, especially to those who are in a worse predicament than we might find ourselves. And this should be common sense for those within the church, that we would look after those who in some way are struggling financially, or for food, or in any way. The writer James refers to this:

“Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

Jas 1:27 (LSB)


A priority for the Christian is always to be aware of those less fortunate. And here James speaks of showing that by doing ministry, in other words, a Christian work. We said last Sunday in 1 Timothy 4:12, show yourself as a model to those who believe in word, conduct, love, faith, and purity. And that if conduct was the outward action, love must be the driving force, and purity must be the inward heart. This must always be the selflessness that is demonstrated by the Christian. For look at the language of Paul, (vs 3), honour widows; (vs 8), the expectation is that we would provide for our own, we should teach our children to be grateful and thankful, but in that do not miss the point that we are to provide for them, and this cannot be something that we brag about, as it is something that we are expected and required to do.


Last year I put out two birdhouses to attract wrens. Now House Wrens are not that difficult to attract if you put out a birdhouse with a small hole. Now the way in which wrens mate as far as I know from watching them is that the male wren builds a nest often in a birdhouse and then tries to attract a female by singing, annoyingly outside our window starting around 5 am. And this male wren actually was very industrious and was working on nests in both houses I built, and he spent a good part of May and June last year working away. But male wrens do not seem all that smart. And apparently the nest the male wren builds is a little sloppy (that might not be all that surprising to you wives). Well, this poor little guy never did attract a female though he sang his heart out. But this year he is back (well, I am not sure it is the same guy, he looks the same). But he has a girlfriend this year, so he is extra happy! And I trust that they have already been officially married especially since he is at my house. Well, by this time, she is in the birdhouse, and he is working nonstop to bring food back and forth. So, even this little wren knows his responsibility to look after his own. So, we could make this second statement about this passage. Principle #2:


  1. Every Christian must live selflessly and faithfully.


This is all over this passage, as we would never want to get fooled into thinking that the Christian life is about self, but is a life that is based upon Christ and others. The teaching in the 70s and 80s, that started to present the Christian life as this extravagant living, and that God will bless financially, should have been stopped in its tracks. Elizabeth Elliot, the wife of Jim Elliot who was murdered on the mission field said:

“The will of God is not something you add to your life. It’s a course you choose. You either line yourself up with the Son of God…or you capitulate to the principle which governs the rest of the world.”

Elisabeth Elliot


Because the Christian principle is that the Christian lives selflessly and faithfully, for what she is saying here is that the dreams of the Christian are to be very different than the dreams of the unbeliever, as we are on two entirely different roads. As the Christian life is not about getting, it is about giving. For the Christian life is a life of selflessness. Which is exactly where Paul goes next in this passage, as this becomes apparent when we look at the character and life of the eligible widow to receive assistance from the church, it’s remarkable. And what it teaches us is another assumption by Paul. First, we saw where he assumed that family, physical family would have a great honour for one another. And his assumption regarding widows is that the Christian would be deeply involved in ministry, for he makes this necessary for the widow’s eligibility to be cared for by the church. For notice in Paul’s instruction that she is to be cared for by the church if she is not looked after by her family. “[B]ut if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God … If any believing woman has widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed” (vs 4, 16). If she has a strong faith and is a prayer warrior. “Now she who is a widow indeed and who has been left alone, has fixed her hope on God and continues in petitions and prayers night and day” (vs 5). If (vs 9) she is to be a certain age and has to have been faithful in her marriage. And verse 10 is just loaded:

“[H]aving a reputation for good works; if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in affliction, if she has devoted herself to every good work.”

1 Tim 5:10 (LSB)


We do not get the impression that this lady (vs 13) like some, was a talker of what should be done or what the church should do or what others should do. No, it would seem that she was a doer and made sure what needed to be done, she did it. Alistair Begg said, “It was religion lived, not talked about.” Now we might believe that if anyone had an excuse to not be so involved and want to spend some time on themselves and sit back, it would be the older woman who is a widow, but this is not at all what Paul teaches, as every Christian must live selflessly and faithfully. Now in this instruction to the care of widows, there is another statement that I notice. Principle #3:


  1. Every Christian must live with a complete hope in God.


“Now she who is a widow indeed and who has been left alone, has fixed her hope on God and continues in petitions and prayers night and day.”

1 Tim 5:5 (LSB)


Now this does not mean that we would not be sympathetic toward someone who was untrusting, or that we would not reach out to an unbeliever who was down-and-out. But if she has lived this kind of faith, she must be cared for. But what I notice here is the inclusion of verse 6:

“But she who lives in self-indulgence is dead even while she lives.”

1 Tim 5:6 (LSB)


What is Paul saying here and why does he include this? The woman who is living for pleasure, is actually dead. This is the same reason Jesus taught saying, I have come that you might have life. Yet He said this to those who were alive. But what Jesus was saying was that most people are merely existing, but they have no life. And some may even try to add works to a dead life. Yet dead people cannot do anything about their deadness, for simply adding works to deadness does not resurrect life. Remember that Paul is not giving a remedy for deadness. He is not giving a gospel presentation. No, he is talking about the difference between someone, in this case, widows. The difference between a widow who has truly placed her hope in God (vs 5) versus the widow who has not (vs 6). For a person does not become a Christian by doing good works. No, a Christian is one who has placed all their confidence and faith in Jesus Christ, and the evidence of that faith is a life of service and obedience to Christ.


You may be thinking Mark, that this is just semantics. No, it is not, because it is the difference between truly understanding the gospel and completely missing the gospel. For if you believe that works and obedience save you, you have missed the gospel, and you have missed the entire message of the New Testament. For you must be born again. You must first believe in Jesus Christ, and then your transformed life will result in a life of service for Jesus Christ. To say that my works and obedience save me is a complete rejection of the work and obedience of Jesus Christ in saving you, for it was His death that saved you and it was His righteousness that accepted you before God. And yet, to claim to be saved, but not live a transformed life by the Holy Spirit of God shows that you have never truly believed, and therefore have never been saved. If you said to me, Mark, I am struggling with various sins, and I have little desire to change, am I saved? I would likely have to quote to you (1 Tim 5:6) “[B]ut she who lives in self-indulgence is dead even while she lives.” Because your transformation of character is proof of your faith in Jesus Christ, but not the cause of your salvation. Remember it was the Philippian jailor who asked Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” And Paul responded, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved,” And the faith of that jailor would have been proven over time as he served his Lord Jesus Christ. Because every believer must live with a complete hope in God. Finally, final principle #4:


  1. Every Christian must care in practical ways and it must begin at home.


You might say Mark, that is a little unspiritual. Yet look with me at verse 8:

“But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

1 Tim 5:8 (LSB)


Why does Paul say that a brother or sister who does not provide for his own family, whether that is his own children or his older Mom and Dad is worse than an unbeliever? And notice he does not say as bad as an unbeliever. Well, the reason he says this is because even most unbelievers understand this, for many unbelievers care greatly for their children and their Mom and Dad. I believe what we are learning in this passage is that the practical needs of people, not the extravagant needs of people, are to be met by those who are spiritual. We may often see a Christian son or daughter try to minister to their unsaved family. They might share the gospel with them, or buy them some kind of gospel book, or invite them out to church, and this is all good. But what Paul is referring to here is are they being looked after? Do their eavestroughs need cleaning out, does their lawn need cutting? Are they being cared for? As I get older I like verse 4:

“[B]ut if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God.”

1 Tim 5:4 (LSB)


I think I might bring that up next time they all come to visit, that they need to make some return to their parents. I might leave a list of things to do on the fridge. I think we also learn here that we should not get too carried away about spreading the gospel at work. Yes, by all means, spread the gospel, but not without it being salted with love and care and kindness. And we see from all of Paul’s teaching here that harmony and helping and care all must first be done well at home before you would ever know how to do this in the church. In other words, how would you ever minister to a needy brother here at the church, when your own brother needs your care and you ignore him? The goal is to look after both needs remembering that Christianity and care are tightly connected. So, every one of us must cultivate caring relationships. And we all must learn to live selflessly, in a selfish culture. We must place our complete hope in God. And we must care for others in practical ways starting at home and flowing into the church.


I have a next-door neighbour who as far as I know does not go to church. However, he is the best next-door neighbour for me as he is the ultimate handyman. If the hydro goes out and my generator needs starting he is usually at my door before I can even ask him for help. It is great, as he knows everything I don’t. The other day I was out watering some grass that Anne had planted at the far end of our lot and it is a long way for the hose to go out that far. And he came over and showed me his hose out back that is connected to an underground well. See, Paul is communicating here the importance of care and concern for those who need help, and in this context, widows in the church. And his point is that it should come naturally as it does within families and likely among even neighbours, for even the unbeliever (vs 8) understand these kinds of needs.


Let’s pray. Lord, You have shown us much to consider today, the care and love for those around us. So, help us to look after those within the church who are truly needful, as Paul gives the practical care of true widows, a specific situation in the church at Ephesus, yet with so many principles for us. Therefore, may we as believers cultivate our own family relationships both at home and here with our brothers and sisters in the church. May our lives showcase what selfless Christianity looks like. So that others would say to be in that man’s family, or in that woman’s family, or in their church, would be such a blessing! And all God’s people said, amen.