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Bible Commentaries
1 Timothy 5

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Vine, W.E. An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Virginia: MacDonald, n.d.

Verses 1-2

Rebuke not an elder, but entreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity.

elder: Since the word "elder" is used in contrast to younger men and along with elder women, it is obvious that the term here refers to an older man and not necessarily to one who holds the office of an elder. "Rebuke" is translated from the Greek word epiplesso that means to strike at, to smite.

entreat: This Greek word parakaleo means to ask or to beseech. Therefore, older men should be approached with kindness and respect out of consideration for their age and experience as one would approach his own father.

The real intent of Paul’s teaching becomes obvious when the following prepositional phrases are grouped together: "as a father, as brethren, as mothers, and as sisters." In a few words, Paul is saying, "Timothy, relate to others in the church as if they are your very own family members."

Verses 1-25


Paul deals with social, family, and spiritual relationships in the three divisions of this chapter. In the first section--verses 1-2

--the Apostle Paul teaches about the relationships between the younger and the older in the church.

The second division--verses 3-16--contains directives primarily about the care of widows but also about other areas of family responsibility.

Then in the third division--verses 17-25--Paul draws a contrast between elders who rule well and elders who sin. He concludes by explaining how elders in each category are to be dealt with.

Verse 3

Honour widows that are widows indeed. But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God.

Honour widows that are widows indeed: This verse contains an outright command to care for widows indeed, and the church must not overlook this duty. "Honour" means "the respect and material assistance to be given to widows." The word "indeed" demands that the church must first determine if a sister whose husband has died is really in need and if she actually qualifies for support by the church.

children: The word "children" designates sons or daughters.

nephews: This word more properly denotes grandchildren. In old English the word "nephews" meant the same as the word grandchild means in new English.

piety: The word "piety" is used to convey the idea of showing reverence with a sense of duty toward the care of another.

requite: The word "requite" literally means to repay, conveying the sense that widows are deserving of the care and support of their relatives.

The conclusion is that God’s plan and God’s will for church members is to see to the care of their widows, an act that "is good and acceptable before God."

Verses 5-10

Qualifications of a Widow Indeed

Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day. But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth. And these things give in charge, that they may be blameless. But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man. Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work.

Paul has in mind a certain category of widows when he discusses their being supported by the church, and he here outlines the qualifications they must meet before being considered for support. In the midst of those qualifications, he inserts two warnings, in verses 7 and 8.

these things give in charge: Paul here commands Timothy to "make solemn warning" concerning these qualifications and guidelines.

But if any provide not for his own: "For his own" refers to relatives in general.

those of his own house: This phrase refers to one’s immediate family.

denied the faith: Paul issues the warning that the man who does not provide for his family has rejected the faith; that is, he has done contrary to the essence of the Christian faith. An essential component of a Christian’s life is to provide honorably for his own. To reject this part of the Christian’s belief renders his entire set of standards void and useless. This teaching has no application to the disabled but refers to the able-bodied individual who is too lazy and selfish to provide for his own relatives.

worse than an infidel: This phrase simply means that even the unbelievers provide for their families. Therefore, the Christian who will not do so is worse than an unbeliever.

The subject of providing for one’s family is directly applicable to what Paul says to Timothy about support for the widow. Paul shows that certain desolate widows should be supported; not included in this number are those who are the responsibility of their faithful Christian relatives.

Let not a widow be taken into the number: This phrase in verse 9 is essential in understanding this section of the study. The "number" necessarily implies that there is a certain class or category of widows whose entire living is to be supplied by the church. Any woman whose husband has died may be considered; however, only those who meet the following guidelines Paul begins laying down in verse 5 may be selected to receive their living from the church.

desolate: The first qualification for a widow who is to receive support is that she be "desolate," that is, abandoned or forsaken. If a widow has children who are not members of the church but are willing to care for her, then she is not in need. But if unbelieving children have abandoned her, the church is obligated. Paul makes it clear that the rule of caring for one’s own applies to believers, because he adds in verse 16, "If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged, that it may relieve them that are widows indeed." A widow is not desolate when she (a) has believing children since they are commanded to care for her, (b) has unbelieving children who will care for her, (c) has been provided for through trusts, savings accounts, or life insurance left her by her husband, or (d) has her own pension or government assistance.

trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayer night and day: This rule must be understood in contrast to the next phrase.

But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth: One whose highest purpose in life is the pursuit of pleasure is spiritually dead. The church would be squandering funds to support such a person, for the funds given to her would be spent on frivolities. Therefore, the widow worthy of support trusts in God and proves her trust by a habit of prayer and supplication.

supplications and prayer: "Supplications" means requests or pleas for help of one who is capable of supplying. "Prayer" is a broader term that may include thanksgiving. The person who has no trust or confidence that God can or will supply his needs is not likely to bother himself with prayer and supplication to God. Prayer and supplication, then, is an indication of one’s trust in God.

blameless: She cannot be rightfully charged with wrongdoing.

threescore years of age: She is age sixty or older.

having been the wife of one man: "Having been" demands an inquiry into the widow’s past. If she is to be taken into the number, she must have been married only once.

Well reported of for good works: Her reputation as one who is engaged in righteous activity must be well-established. Four categories of good works are specifically named.

if she have brought up children: This verse does not say if she has born children, rather if she has brought up, or reared, children. Therefore, she could have reared her own or orphans. Please note that to bring up children is here complimented as a good work.

if she have lodged strangers: Opening her home to the care of visitors to provide food and shelter for them is a requirement for the widow indeed.

if she have relieved the afflicted: This sister must have waited on or have given aid to the sick or injured.

if she have washed the saints’ feet: Footwashing is as literal as lodging strangers and relieving the afflicted. As in the case of hospitality and caring for the sick, it applies in a personal way when there is a need for footwashing. One cannot lodge strangers until the opportunity presents itself. One cannot wait on the sick until someone is hurt or becomes ill. Footwashing was a common practice, an act of hospitality, in the time this was written because most travel was by foot. The command is as binding now as in the time the passage was written, as the need arises and the opportunity presents itself. In our time, the opportunity to wash feet might present itself in a situation in which someone is too sick to bathe himself or because of surgery or injury cannot bend forward to wash his own feet.

Footwashing is an act of hospitality and humility, not an act of worship. It is to be performed outside the services of the church on an individual basis. The scriptures nowhere instruct Christians to meet in a formal footwashing ceremony. The same logic that would insist on footwashing as a part of a church service must also require a service for waiting on the sick and lodging strangers.

Washing feet, lodging strangers, and following every good work are activities the Christian woman is to have engaged in during all of her Christian life, not just as she turned 60. Her reputation should show that she performed these good works when she had a husband and children at home.

In summary, a widow must have the following qualifications to be eligible for full church support:

1. She must be desolate.

2. She must show by continual supplication and prayer that she trusts in God.

3. She must be blameless.

4. She must live by faith and trust in God, not in pleasure.

5. She must be at least 60 years old.

6. She must have been married only one time.

7. She must have brought up children.

8. She must have washed the saints’ feet.

9. She must have relieved the afflicted.

10. She must have lodged strangers.

11. She must have followed all good works with diligence.

Verses 11-15

Younger Widows

But the younger widows refuse: for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry; Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith. And withal 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. I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully. For some are already turned aside after Satan.

In these verses, the apostle explains why younger widows are not to be considered for support by the church. One reason Paul gives is that they are prone to seek the gratification of their physical desires (thus growing cold in their service to Christ) and eventually will decide to marry. Vine defines "wax" "to become" (1226) and "wanton" as "lasciviousness" (1220); thus, the young widow’s behavior becomes carnal, which is in opposition to Christ. That such women would "cast off their first faith" indicates that they would fail to keep their priorities straight and forsake that which at one time had been first in their lives.

Paul further states that to support the younger widow will encourage her to be idle. With time on her hands, she will be tempted to wander from house to house as a tattler or a busybody, speaking things which she ought not. He goes on in verse 14 to recommend that younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, and give no reason for the adversary to speak reproachfully. The woman who so occupies herself will not be guilty of any of the above transgressions, for she will fill her every day with the righteous deeds mentioned.

When Paul says "I will therefore that the younger women marry" because of the pitfalls they will face, he is not commanding marriage. Rather, he is giving guidelines for a fulfilling and satisfactory way of life for younger women. "I will therefore" indicates that this recommendation is a personal one rather than a hard fast rule that obligates a young woman to marry in every case.

Verse 16

If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged that it may relieve them that are widows indeed.

Here Paul simply reiterates the responsibility that men and women have to support family members who are widows. In verse 8 he had declared that one who fails to fulfill this responsibility "hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel."

Verses 17-18

Instructions Concerning Elders

Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, the labourer is worthy of his reward.

rule: This word, meaning to stand before, lead, attend to, carries with it the idea of special care and diligence. The elder does not rule a congregation as a dictator but rather presides over it with the same affection as a father presides over a household. The scriptures picture an elder actually as a leading servant.

double honour: The first honor is the esteem given to those who have met the qualifications and have been appointed to the office. The second honor is money or material support for one who gives himself to the work of caring for the flock and the gospel. Those who teach and preach are here regarded as laborers who are worthy of support. Verse 18 is proof that financial support is here considered, for he quotes from Deuteronomy 25:4 and the words of Jesus in Luke 10:7.

Verses 19-20

Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.

Paul emphasizes in these verses that an elder is not above sin and that when charges are brought against him, an evangelist may hear those charges and make an investigation of the problem. However, unless at least two people will agree in their testimony against an elder, the matter is to be abandoned. When it has been established that an elder has sinned, he is to be rebuked "before all" so that others will not emulate him in his mistakes.

Verse 21

I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality.

Paul charges Timothy to follow these instructions carefully:

1. Do not follow up on a charge against an elder unless the charge can be established before at least two witnesses.

2. Rebuke those who are guilty.

I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels: Paul begins by emphasizing the seriousness of the charges he has just delivered to Timothy. He urges the young evangelist to conduct himself in these matters as if he is in the very presence of the Lord Jesus Christ and the righteous angels in heaven and to perform these duties as if the heavenly host is looking on.

observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality: Timothy is told to be impartial in all of his Christian duties, including the hearing of a charge against an elder. An evangelist might be tempted to overlook the sins of an elder with whom he has always had a pleasant relationship but to pursue the matter more aggressively with one with whom he has had a strained relationship. The evangelist must be certain he does not prefer one before another, doing nothing by partiality.

Verse 22

Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure.

Lay hands suddenly on no man: This phrase implies the seizing of another and removing him from his place. Even though this action is not to be performed literally, the context demands that removal from office is being considered. Paul commands Timothy to show no partiality even in the case of an elder and warns him to give due consideration to the matter and to conduct a thorough investigation before any action is warranted.

neither be partakers of other men’s sins: If an elder has so sinned as to demand that he be removed from office, he must be removed. An evangelist who refuses to see that steps are taken to remove him becomes guilty of partaking of the sins of the elder. This situation would, in modern terms, be likened to a coverup.

keep thyself pure: Because of frustration or bitterness, church officials often face the danger of falling themselves as they attempt to make a reconciliation that will please everyone. It is urgent that the evangelist keep himself aloof from the sins of others during any dispute.

In considering the charges against elders, the evangelist should follow these guidelines:

1. Disregard any charge that cannot be sustained by at least two witnesses.

2. When sin is apparent, rebuke before all.

3. Do not allow personal preference to influence the process.

4. Do not be too eager to take action against an elder; yet do not procrastinate to the point that it seems you are condoning the deeds of those who are charged.

5. Keep himself pure.

Verse 23

Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.

The abiding question in this verse is whether Paul was giving Timothy apostolic permission to use fermented wine medicinally or whether he was prescribing pure grape juice in place of water as a cure for Timothy’s stomach problems and other ailments.

More properly interpreted, the passage means, "Drink no longer water only, but use a little wine ...." It is not logical that Paul is telling Timothy to replace all of his drinking water with a "little" wine. Rather, he is giving Timothy apostolic permission to use a little fermented wine for his stomach’s sake, as was the custom in that time.

Another point about this passage is obvious: Timothy must have been a total abstainer until he was told by Paul that it was acceptable to "use a little wine" medicinally. This passage certainly cannot be used to justify social drinking. The application applies in cases of sickness only. Considering all the medicines and physicians available today, it is unlikely that any Christian would ever need wine, even medicinally.

The social drinker often claims that a drink or two really does nothing to alter the body’s ability to function. Paul must have expected that "a little wine" would have changed Timothy’s biological make-up at least "a little" or he would not have told him it was acceptable to use it.

Verses 24-25

Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after. Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot be hid.

These verses assure Timothy that he can investigate the situation when accusations are made against an elder. Paul is saying that, in some cases, men’s sins are easily seen "going before to judgment." In other cases, it may take more time and effort to uncover the real truth, but it can be done. Verse 25 reinforces what has been said about evil by pointing out that the rule applies to good works as well as to evil. The New International Version renders this passage as follows:

The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the places of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not cannot be hidden.

Present-Day Application

Many principles taught in this chapter have practical applications in modern times, and Paul’s instructions point toward the proper behavior of various classes of individuals in the church. He directs the evangelist, especially a younger man, to exercise care and propriety in his relationship with other members of the church. The guidelines are clear. Older men are to be revered as fathers, older women thought of as mothers, younger women related to as sisters, and younger men as brothers.

In dealing with widows indeed, Paul lays down the guidelines for full church support. They should receive their living from the church if they meet the qualifications Paul lays down in this chapter. Younger widows are not to be taken into the number, however. They should be actively engaged in their younger years in the wholesome activities of rearing children, guiding the house, showing hospitality, and relieving the afflicted, lest they should be tempted by Satan. Paul points out that widows who have children or grandchildren are to be supported by their families, so the church will not be responsible for their care.

Paul also shows that elders who rule well should be given proper esteem and honor for their work, including financial support; however, the evangelists are to hear charges against elders who are accused of sin.

Paul then turns his attention to the personal lifestyle of the evangelist, sanctioning the medicinal use of alcohol. Such use of "wine" would not affect his purity. In short, Paul leaves the message to Timothy that he should keep himself pure, thus allowing him to maximize his efforts fully in all areas of the work of the church.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on 1 Timothy 5". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/1-timothy-5.html. 1993-2022.
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