David Guzik Commentary on the Bible
1 Timothy 5
1 Timothy 5:1-25 - HOW TO TREAT PEOPLE IN THE CHURCH
A. A summary of how to treat all people in the church.
1. (1 Timothy 5:1) How to treat the men in the church.
Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers.
a. Do not rebuke and older man: Paul directed Timothy that older men are generally not to be rebuked. A young pastor such as Timothy must shepherd them faithfully, but with due respect for the years of the older men.
i. Any godly person will show a deference to those who are aged. You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:32) The silver-haired head is a crown of glory, if it is found in the way of righteousness. (Proverbs 16:31)
ii. There is another reason to exhort rather than rebuke an older man - he may simply not receive a rebuke.
b. Do not rebuke: The ancient Greek verb for rebuke is not the normal word for “rebuke” in the New Testament. This is the only place this word is used, and it means literally “to strike at.” Timothy was told not to lash out at older men, but to treat them with respect - as he would treat the younger men with respect as brothers.
i. The command is not that Timothy must never rebuke older men, but that he was not to strike at people with an overly harsh rebuke.
ii. Apart from this particularly severe word, in general rebuke is an important duty of a pastor. It is the simple, clear, presentation that someone is wrong, either in their conduct or thinking. Its main goal is not encouragement as much as to clearly confront someone with their wrong behavior or thinking. In another letter to a pastor, Paul made the importance of rebuking clear: Rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you. (Titus 2:15)
iii. In 1 Timothy 5:20 - this very chapter - Timothy is told there are times are when not only an elder should be rebuked, but times when he should be rebuked publicly. Therefore, in this verse Timothy was not told to never rebuke, but to never rebuke too harshly.
iv. The problem is that many people amass all their defensive ability at a rebuke - if not at the time, then later, after having time to think and listen to their pride. Some become experts at criticizing the one who brought the rebuke, and consider their hurt feelings more important than the truth of the rebuke.
v. No one likes to be rebuked; but the wise person uses the rebuke as a valuable means to growth. Spurgeon said, “A sensible friend who will unsparingly criticize you from week to week will be a far greater blessing to you than a thousand undiscriminating admirers if you have sense enough to bear his treatment, and grace enough to be thankful for it.” (Lectures to My Students)
c. But exhort him as a father: Exhortation is encouragement to do what needs to be done; it has the manner of an encouraging coach, helping the athlete to achieve their best.
d. Younger men: These were to be treated as brothers; that is, as partners and friends in the work of the gospel, but without the same deference due to older men.
2. (1 Timothy 5:2) How to treat women in the church.
Older women as mothers, younger as sisters, with all purity.
a. Older women: These were to be treated as mothers, with the respect and honor due their age. A young pastor must accept - and appreciate - some amount of mothering from some of the older women in the church, and it is proper to give them honor as such.
b. The younger: These younger women were to be treated as sisters; Timothy, as any godly man, was to always make certain his conduct towards younger women was always pure and above reproach. A godly man is not flirtatious or provocative, and does not use double entendre’ (witty words that can be taken in a flirtatious or provocative way).
B. How to treat widows and those in need.
1. (1 Timothy 5:3) The general principle: help the needy who are truly in need.
Honor widows who are really widows.
a. Honor widows: In the days the New Testament was written, there was no social assistance system from the government. In that day there was one especially vulnerable class - elderly widows, who were without means of support from husbands or grown children, and without means to adequately support themselves. These are those who are really widows.
i. “One meaning of the word to honour, is support, sustain; and here it is most obviously to be taken in this sense.” (Clarke)
ii. The principles revealed here are extremely relevant today, when many look to the church as a place where the poor and needy should be able to come for financial help.
iii. Any pastor can give you many, many stories about strangers who call the church and ask for some kind of assistance - and any pastor can tell you how hard it is to deal with such situations with love, but without getting ripped off. The writer has had several experiences with the kind of man who call you from a hotel with the big, sad story, pleading for money in the name of Christian love. Upon arrival, the man’s room was a mess, his TV turned to filth, phone book open to the Yellow Pages section of churches because he had been calling all around town for pastors to tell his sad story too. When asked to describe his favorite Bible verse, the man was dumbfounded. Upon many other occasions when helping those who are in need, the needy are asked to have their home church pastor call with a word of thanks - and it never happens.
b. Who are really widows: Those who were really widows were to receive honor - which in this context means financial support, yet given in a dignified and honorable way.
2. (1 Timothy 5:4-6) How to tell those who are really widows.
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. Now she who is really a widow, and left alone, trusts in God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day. But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives.
a. If any widow has children: Those who should be legitimately helped by the church should not have family who can assist them. If they do have family to assist them, it is the responsibility of the family to do it.
i. This passage describes a “real” widow as one who is left alone; she has no one else to support her. “This shows that widows indeed are those that have neither children nor nephews, no relatives that either will or can help them, or no near relatives alive.” (Clarke)
ii. Let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents reminds us of the ongoing responsibility adult children have towards their parents and grandparents.
iii. “The Christian who falls below the best heathen standard of family affection is the more blameworthy, since he has, what the heathen has not, the supreme example of love in Jesus Christ. We may add that Jesus Himself gave an example of providing for one’s own, when He provided a home for His mother with the beloved disciple.” (White)
b. Trusts in God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day: Those who should be legitimately helped by the church should serve the church in some way. In this case, the widows would be given the job of praying for the church.
c. But she who lives in pleasure: Those who should be legitimately helped by the church must have godly lives. It is appropriate to say, “You’re not living a godly life, so you won’t receive financial assistance from the church.”
i. “It does not indicate grossly criminal pleasures; but simply means one who indulges herself in good eating and drinking, pampering her body at the expense of her mind.” (Clarke)
ii. Is dead while she lives: The life lived for mere pleasure and ease is no life at all. It is a living death, whether lived by a young widow or anyone else.
iii. Many who come to the church for assistance are in need because they have lived their lives for the pleasures of alcohol, drugs, or whatever; now they are in need and they want the church to help. It’s legitimate to say, “No.”
3. (1 Timothy 5:7-8) Where provision should come from.
And these things command, that they may be blameless. 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.
a. These things command: A good pastor will teach these things, so all will know what God expects of them.
b. If anyone does not provide for his own: God’s normal way of providing for the needy is not through the church, but through our own hard work.
c. He has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever: In the strongest terms, Paul emphasized the responsibility of a man to provide for his family - to do all he could to support them.
i. This is the minimum required of a Christian man; if he does not do even this, his conduct is worse than an unbeliever’s is.
ii. “We may add that Jesus Himself gave an example of providing for one’s own, when He provided a home for His mother with the beloved disciple.” (Expositor’s)
iii. This is why when someone is out of work, we can pray with such confidence, knowing it is God’s will for them to provide for the needs of their family through work.
4. (1 Timothy 5:9-10) Helping older widows.
Do not let a widow under sixty years old be taken into the number, and not unless she has been the wife of one man, well reported for good works: if she has brought up children, if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work.
a. Do not let a widow under sixty years old be taken into the number: The idea is that if someone is under sixty, they could still support themselves or get remarried. They did not need to be added to the support list of the church.
b. Well reported for good works . . . if she has diligently followed every good work: Those widows who were accepted into the support of the church must not only be true widows, but they must also have godly character. They were called to a job, not merely to a handout.
i. When Paul says that they she should have brought up children, he probably has in mind both the raising of one’s own children, and the receiving of abandoned infants (which were all too common in the ancient world). “The words brought up may refer to the children of others, who were educated in the Christian faith by pious Christian women.” (Clarke)
5. (1 Timothy 5:11-16) Helping younger widows.
But refuse the younger widows; for when they have begun to grow wanton against Christ, they desire to marry, having condemnation because they have cast off their first faith. And besides they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not. Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully. For some have already turned aside after Satan. If any believing man or woman has widows, let them relieve them, and do not let the church be burdened, that it may relieve those who are really widows.
a. Refuse the younger widows: As a general rule, these were not to be added to the support roll of the church, because they generally could provide for themselves and could remarry.
i. Adam Clarke on the idea of “grow wanton”: “The word is supposed to be derived from to remove and the rein; and is a metaphor taken from a pampered horse, from whose mouth the rein has been removed, so that there is nothing to check or confine him. The metaphor is plain enough, and the application easy.”
b. They desire to marry, having condemnation: Paul isn’t condemning young widows for wanting to get married, only observing that many unmarried women are so hungry for marriage and companionship that they don’t conduct themselves in a godly way in regard to relationships.
i. Many people get into a bad romance or spoil a friendship, because they are desperately needy for relationship. It’s a common occurrence that Paul warns against.
ii. One doesn’t have to be a young widow to fulfill the description of they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not. Those who spend much time talking about other people’s lives need to get a life of their own. “It is no sin in any case to marry, bear children, and take care of a family; but it is a sin in every case to be idle persons, gadders about, tattlers, busybodies, sifting out and detailing family secrets.” (Clarke)
iii. Paul is not condemning any young widow’s desire for romantic companionship; but he insists that it be pursued and expressed in the purity that befits all believers.
c. If any believing man or woman has widows, let them relieve them: Paul concluded with a principle he has alluded to three times in this section (1 Timothy 5:4-5, and 1 Timothy 5:8). The first responsibility for support is at the home; the church is to support the truly destitute who are godly.
C. How to treat elders.
1. (1 Timothy 5:17-18) Elders are to be honored according to principles from Scripture.
Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”
a. Elders: The word here is to be understood in a broad sense of those in leadership. The focus is made on elders who rule and elders who teach. Not necessarily will every elder who rules will also be an elder who teaches.
b. Be counted worthy of double honor: If an elder (such as a pastor) does rule well and does labor in word and doctrine (clearly speaking of hard work!), that one is worthy of double honor.
i. In this context, double honor means financial support. Paul has already stated that certain widows are worthy of honor (1 Timothy 5:1), speaking of financial support. He then goes on to say Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. Some think the church should not support staff, and that the paid ministry is an abomination - they say that the church instead should be using the money to support the needy. This is an attractive way of thinking; but it isn’t Biblical. If the needy (that is, the truly needy) are worthy of honor, then those who rule and teach in the church are worthy of double honor.
ii. “Almost every critic of note allows that timee here signifies reward, stipend, wages. Let him have a double or a larger salary who rules well.” (Clarke)
iii. White paraphrases Paul’s idea: “What I have been saying about the support of widows reminds me of another question of Church finance: they payment of presbyters. Equity and scriptural principles suggest that they should be remunerated in proportion to their usefulness.”
c. For the Scripture says: The principle that those who serve God’s people should be paid (when possible, of course) is supported by Scripture: Deuteronomy 25:4, and Luke 10:7 (significantly, Paul quotes Luke and calls it Scripture).
2. (1 Timothy 5:19-20) How to treat a leader accused of sin.
Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.
a. Do not receive: In these verses, Paul hit the balance between believing and acting on every bit of gossip that comes along about a leader in the church, and ignoring serious sin in a leader’s life. Either extreme is wrong.
i. “Nothing does more harm than when some people are treated as if they could do no wrong and others as if they could do no right.” (Barclay)
ii. “The reason of this difference is evident: those whose business it is to correct others will usually have many enemies; great caution, therefore, should be used in admitting accusations against such persons.” (Clarke)
b. Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses: Any accusation against a leader should not be automatically received. The accusation should be carefully verified by two or three witnesses - not just two or three others who also heard the gossip. Timothy can’t allow false accusations about church leaders to circulate.
i. “It is indeed a trick of Satan to estrange men from their ministers so as gradually to bring their teaching into contempt. In this way not only is wrong done to innocent people whose reputation is undeservedly injured, but the authority of God’s holy teaching is diminished.” (Calvin)
ii. There is an old story about a pastor who was trying to defend himself against criticism. He said, “There’s a story going about that I told my wife not to go to a certain church that has wild meetings. They say my wife went anyway, dragged her out of the church by her hair, and hurt her so badly she had to go to the hospital. First of all, I never told her to stay away from that church. Second, I didn’t drag her out by her hair. Third, she never had to go to the hospital. Lastly, I’ve never been married so I don’t have a wife.”
iii. Spurgeon advised in Lectures to My Students that when people come to a pastor with gossip, he should say, “Well, all this is very important, and I need to give it my full attention - but my memory isn’t so good and I have a lot to think about. Can you write it all down for me?” Spurgeon says this will take care of it, because they won’t want to write down their gossip.
c. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest may fear: However, if leaders are in sin, it must be addressed forthrightly - with public rebuke, to promote a fear of sin among the leadership and the entire church.
i. Many churches have had great trouble because sin in the leadership was not forthrightly dealt with. It’s important that everyone understand that leadership in the church does not shield one from accountability, it makes one even more accountable.
ii. In the Middle Ages, the church protected its corrupt bishops against accusation by demanding that 72 witnesses be brought forth to confirm any accusation against a bishop.
3. (1 Timothy 5:21) Do not be prejudiced or show partiality.
I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality.
a. I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels: This strong statement reflects the seriousness of the job of leaders in the church; they serve an eternal God and must please Him first in everything they do.
i. “We are safe in saying that the elect angels are identical with ‘the angels which kept their own principality’ (Jude 1:6), ‘that did not sin’ (2 Peter 2:4).” (White)
ii. “He adds to Christ the angels, not that they are judges, but as future witnesses of carelessness or rashness or self-seeking or bad faith. They are present as spectators, for they have been given charge to care for the Church.” (Calvin)
iii. “And indeed the man who is not shaken out of his carelessness and laziness by the thought that the government of the Church is conducted under the eye of God and His angels must be worse than stupid, and have his heart harder than stone.” (Calvin)
b. Observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality: Prejudice and partiality are grave sins before God. In the New Testament, the emphasis is on partiality according to class (James 2:1-9); but partiality according to race and gender is also included (Galatians 3:26-29) and regarded as sins.
i. “Do not treat any man, in religious matters, according to the rank he holds in life, or according to any personal attachment thou mayest have for him. Every man should be dealt with in the church as he will be dealt with at the judgment-seat of Christ.” (Clarke)
D. How to treat potential leaders in the church.
1. (1 Timothy 5:22) Be careful about approving the ministry of another person.
Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure.
a. Lay hands on anyone: This is used in the sense of ordination. Paul cautioned Timothy to let a man prove himself before he was recognized in ministry. There should not be a rush; time must season a man and his ministry.
i. Some think the admonition do not lay hands on anyone hastily has to do with receiving repentant people back into the fellowship of the church. It seems that in some early church circles, those who had fallen into scandalous sin had to be received back into the church with the laying on of hands and prayer by church leaders. If so, Paul is saying, “Don’t go too fast. Let them demonstrate their repentance first.”
b. Lay hands on: Since ordination simply recognizes God’s calling, it is all the more reason to not be in a hurry - time should be given to allow those gifts and callings to demonstrate themselves.
i. It isn’t uncommon for a young man in the ministry to be a bit impatient; he wants to do great things for the Lord, and is anxious for pastors and elders to lay hands on them in recognition of God’s work in them.
ii. Yet, there is danger if anyone waits to give themselves fully to serving the Lord until they are recognized with a title or the laying on of hands. This means they are more concerned with image (how it appears to others) than with substance (what they can really be doing for the Lord right now).
c. Keep yourself pure: This connects to an important idea. If Timothy was called to observe and assess the lives of others, it was important that he pay even more attention to his own life.
i. “The intention of the warning would be that Timothy would best avoid clerical scandals by being cautious at the outset as to the character of those whom he ordains.” (White)
ii. Nor share in other people’s sins: We all have enough sin of our own; we do not need to add to it by partaking in the sins of others. There are many ways we can do this.
· We can share in the sins of others by setting a bad example before them.
· We can share in the sins of others by approving of them or ignoring them.
· We can share in the sins of others by joining a church that is spreading dangerous teachings.
2. (1 Timothy 5:23) Paul’s medical advice to Timothy.
No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities.
a. Use a little wine for your stomach’s sake: Water in the ancient world was often impure and Timothy probably had problems from the impure water. Since the fermentation process would eliminate some of the harmful things in the water, it would be better for him to drink a little wine rather than water all the time.
b. Use a little wine: Timothy was probably abstaining from alcohol for the sake of setting a good example. However, this abstinence was hurting his health - wine was safer to drink than water. So Paul is telling Timothy that it isn’t wise to sacrifice his health for the sake of this abstinence - he will do more good for the Lord by taking care of his body in this circumstance.
i. “Paul is simply saying that there is no good in an asceticism which does the body more harm than good.” (Barclay)
c. Your frequent infirmities: Timothy was the victim of frequent infirmities; yet Paul did not simply command a healing on apostolic authority, or even send him a handkerchief with healing power (Acts 19:11-12). This demonstrates that Paul did not have miraculous powers at his own command, but only at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Apparently, there was no such prompting in Timothy’s case.
i. If it is God’s will for all to be healed right now, then Paul (and the Holy Spirit who inspired him) here led Timothy into sin - calling him to look to a natural remedy instead of a divine healing. God uses natural remedies and the work of doctors in healing, as well as the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit - they don’t contradict one another.
3. (1 Timothy 5:24-25) The difficulty in looking at a man’s sin and his good works.
Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later. Likewise, the good works of some are clearly evident, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden.
a. Some men’s sins are clearly evident . . . but those of some men follow later: It is easy to see the struggles and sins some have; but with some others, the sins are hidden.
i. We all have areas of our lives God is dealing with; and sometimes the area is something clearly evident to others. But sometimes it is not evident; some people are regarded as holy just because they are good at hiding their sin!
b. Otherwise cannot be hidden: Good works are always eventually revealed; but sins are sometimes hidden, and will be evident only at the judgment. These words are meant to be a caution to Timothy in his appointing of leaders. Sometimes what one sees on the outside isn’t really an accurate picture, so we need to take it slow, so we can wait on God for discernment.
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