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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

1 Timothy 5

Verses 1-6

Obligations Towards Others

The exhortations in the previous verses concern the personal walk of both Timothy´s and yours. In this chapter the apostle points Timothy at his attitude towards different groups of people in the church:
1. in 1 Timothy 5:1-Exodus : different age groups;
2. in 1 Timothy 5:3-Nehemiah : the widows;
3. in 1 Timothy 5:17-Proverbs : the elders.

The 1 Timothy 5:21-Lamentations : closes the chapter with the exhortation to have nothing to do with partiality and to deal responsibly with others and with his own body.

1 Timothy 5:1. Like in a family the distinction of age and sex must also be recognized in the house of God. The first indication concerns the “older man” who needs exhortation. Sometimes it is necessary to rebuke an older person. Age doesn’t make a person immune for failures. When rebuke is necessary caution is appropriate for the way it happens (Leviticus 19:32).

An older brother should not be rebuked sharply. ‘Sharply rebuke’ literally means ‘to hit’, what indicates here ‘to hit with words’. You ought not to raise your voice to such a person. When an older brother should be admonished, it must happen with the sensitivity of a son towards his father. When younger brothers would consider this instruction more in their dealings then a lot of deep-rooted and long lasting conflicts could have been prevented.

The second category you have to deal with are your peers, “the younger men”. When you notice something there that is in contrast to God’s Word, you should approach them with the sensitivity of true brotherly love. Together with them you participate in the family of God. In that relation it is not appropriate to rebuke them high-handedly as a superior (cf. Job 33:6).

1 Timothy 5:2. The third category is that of “older women”. Like the older men here also the sensitivity of a son towards his mother has to be present. Like the other groups the point is that Timothy should express a family-oriented affection in his conduct and above all respect for the individual.

The fourth category is the most sensitive one. Timothy must really watch out how he approaches “the younger women” in case they need to be corrected. He should deal with them “as sisters, in all purity”. The brotherly love should not deteriorate into feelings of the flesh. He must be careful to be inwardly pure of his mind in order to expose a fully upright and transparent behavior. Unclean thoughts, words or deeds must be avoided. If this word was taken to heart by younger believers (and not only by them) then many tragedies that have occurred within the pastoral care in this area, would not have happened.

1 Timothy 5:3. The fifth category is that of the “widows”. Paul extensively pays attention to them. The word ‘widow’ implies ‘bereft, ‘having suffered loss’. A ‘real widow’ is somebody who is really left alone, ‘bereft’ of her husband. That caused her to be in need. She has no family either to whom she can appeal to.

The Holy Spirit accords much room for the widows (no fewer than fourteen verses), because they are being easily forgotten. That was already the case at the beginning of the church (Acts 6:1), when the believers shared everything together in those days. How much more then this appeal of James has to be heeded to “visit orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27).

Widows and their children are the objects of the special care of God (Psalms 68:6; Psalms 146:9). He who takes care of them can count on the blessing of God (Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 24:19). Considering this it should not be difficult to ‘honor’ or to respect and esteem them. This appropriate respect and esteem will be exposed in the financial support and in surrounding them with serving and caring love. Then the financial support will not have the side-thought of an act of charity to a poor.

In this care of the widow you can see an example of the functioning of the church in other forms of care. One of the aspects to which you can recognize a church according to God’s thoughts, is the care that is spent to those who need it. Is there care for those who have spiritual difficulties, for those who risk to give in to certain temptations, for believers who face difficulties in raising their children, for older people?

1 Timothy 5:4. There can be an inclination to withdraw yourself from caring while it clearly appears on your way. In the case of the widows there can be ‘children or grandchildren’. Paul points them to their obligations towards their mother or grandmother if she is a widow. They must “first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family”. In that way they show respect to God, they deal according to His will. They are not allowed to withdraw themselves from that responsibility by saying that it is a matter the government or the church should be taking care of. The Lord Jesus also condemns sharply the pious motives to withdraw from this obligation (Matthew 15:3-Joshua :).

He who supports his mother or grandmother who is a widow, doesn’t do that only because the Lord desires that. It also ought to happen out of gratitude for what the parents and grandparents have done to them. It is a recognition of the love and care that the parents and grandparents have spent on them. The word “repay” means to meet a responsibility. It has to do with repayment, to give something back. If you find yourself in such a situation you may know that by doing so you are “acceptable before God”. You please God by doing that. That’s a wonderful exhortation, isn’t it?

1 Timothy 5:5. Not every widow finds herself in the same circumstances. You have seen that there are widows who can rely on their children and grandchildren. But what happens when that’s not the case? If it has to be said of a widow that she “is a widow indeed and who has been left alone”? ‘Left alone’ emphasizes that this widow really has no one to rely on. She is permanently alone and left.

Then God remains her reliance. While she has no one to rely on, God remains her great refuge. She can put her trust and hope in Him. Constantly she may go to Him, incessantly draw near to Him and ask whatever she needs. In Anna you find a beautiful example of that (Luke 2:36-Zechariah :). She was not occupied with her own need. She was occupied with the need God’s people were in.

Don’t you think that such widows are a blessing to the church? They do not expect their help to come from the church, but from God. Right in the middle of their vulnerable condition of dependency they feel how much they need to have fellowship with God. “Night and day” doesn’t mean unceasingly, but without having anything between her and God. It shows that she has a continual fellowship with God.

1 Timothy 5:6. Such an attitude is in sharp contrast to that of her “who gives herself to wanton pleasure”. Then there is no mention of being focused on God and expecting all help from Him. That widow “is dead even while she lives”. Not every real widow is needy. There are those who are in a financially strong position and who use that to live “in wanton pleasure”. She who lives like that, lacks the blessing of dependency on God. The spiritual life of such a person is not visible. She lives indeed, but without involving God in her life. You may say that she is actually dead.

To live ‘in luxury and pleasure’ (James 5:5) indicates a wasteful way of life. There is no room for God. It is the mentality of “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32).

Now read 1 Timothy 5:1-6 again.

Reflection: How is your relation towards the different groups that are mentioned here? Do you see a particular category to which you may spend some care?

Verses 7-13

Several Groups of Widows

1 Timothy 5:7. Timothy had to pass on the previous instructions as a prescription to the church. He has to imprint that on their mind. By obeying this prescription the church will be “above reproach” in this aspect. Outsiders will then have no reason to raise any objection to the way of caring or something like that.

1 Timothy 5:8. It is damaging to the testimony of the church “if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household”. In this way Paul refers to what he said in 1 Timothy 5:4, but now in a negative sense. He who doesn’t care about his mother or grandmother, shows a lack of respect for God’s truth. Such a person underestimates what God has said in His Word and will not take notice of it. With an attitude like that “he has denied the faith”. Such a person may have a nice confession, but if the deeds show the opposite then one can speak of denial.

In that case the believer acts “worse than an unbeliever”. Unbelievers sometimes can sense better what is appropriate towards their parents and grandparents than believers do. It is a bad testimony when a believer neglects to practice the simplest and clearest principles of Christian mercy towards his closest fellow man.

1 Timothy 5:9. Now Paul is going to say something about the care of the church for the widows. Widows who are considered for support must be registered. To be registered it is necessary that certain requirements are met. First of all there is an age limit. A widow should be only registered “if she is not less than sixty years old”. The age of sixty was the age in the Roman empire that women were considered as being old and not to get married again.

The next conditions also have to do with the time that she was married. She has been “the wife of one man”, which proves her marital faithfulness.

1 Timothy 5:10. Beside the testimony of her marriage she must be well reported “for good works”. By doing these works she has glorified the Lord and has given a testimony in the world.

These good works have been expressed in several ways, for example “if she has brought up children”. We may not only consider her own children, but it may also refer to children in general sense, children of others who were entrusted to her care.

Another requirement is that “she has shown hospitality to strangers”. This is a particular feature of the woman. She makes efforts for those who come into her house. It also applies to men. It is mentioned as a qualification of the overseer (1 Timothy 3:2). It even has to characterize each believer (Hebrews 13:2; Romans 12:13). By expressing her hospitality she has shown that washing the saints’ feet was not something below her dignity. She has freshened the weary feet of her fellow believer. In this work she has been a faithful follower of the Lord Jesus (John 13:1-Esther :).

She also “has assisted those in distress”. In this way she showed pity and mercy to those who were standing under a certain pressure. That might be because of the circumstances (e.g. sickness or unemployment) or because of resistance of people (hostility because of faith). Many believers lost their possessions (Hebrews 10:34) and were in need of help. These widows have helped them.

Paul closes the list of good works with “devoted herself to every good work” as a summary of the rest of all work. The good work here is also to be described as benevolent. It is each work in which the desire to do good to others comes into expression. The commitment to do that indicates her mind and attitude. Although it is about widows, this is certainly a mind and conduct that we all may desire, in order to be of service in that way.

1 Timothy 5:11. When there is a good arrangement, like this one for the widows of sixty years and older, there is always the danger of misuse. In those days of Paul there were also widows who thought to be considered for support, but they had to be refused. It regards the “younger widows”.

Paul motivates his refusal. These widows are not personally refused, but only their request to be placed on the list mentioned, is. Financial independency can result that the young widows forget their dependence on God. That could lead them to adopt a conduct and attitude that are explained further.

In fact there is the danger that “they feel sensual desires in disregard of Christ” when they subscribe for support. This doesn’t apply in general, but a wrong spirit could possibly take control of them. They know what it is to be married; they know what it consisted of. They have the age to get remarried. By being independent there is a danger that they do not judge a potentially new marriage in God’s light, but to their own desire, including the impulses of sexual lust.

The desire to marry is not wrong. Further on Paul even says that he wants young widows to get married (1 Timothy 5:14). But here Paul speaks about wrong motives that may underlie that desire. God is speaking by taking away the husband. He has got something to say.

1 Timothy 5:12. He has a plan with all His dealings. Young widows can possibly forget that. Then “they want to get married [thus] incurring condemnation” because they heed to the desires of the flesh. By behaving like that they show that “they have set aside their previous pledge”. When they were still married and also at the beginning of them becoming widows, these women showed confidence in God. Now, however, they want to determine independently of God their own way.

1 Timothy 5:13. Another danger of financial independency is that they do not have to work and therefore have much leisure time. Who no longer lives in confidence in God, will spend her time in a wrong way. Instead of doing her duties in her own house she neglects it and stirs up some turmoil and calamity in other families. In that way she adopts a wrong conduct and becomes a ‘professional lazybones’.

And not only her presence causes turmoil, she also talks too much. Her talk is nonsense and has a slandering character. She meddles unasked in other people’s business, while it is none of her business (2 Thessalonians 3:11), and keeps other people from their work. A person who is occupied with others in such a way always neglects her own responsibilities. The world observes that and will mock such a person (1 Peter 4:15).

Now read 1 Timothy 5:7-13 again.

Reflection: Explore which instructions that in the first place apply to widows, could also apply to you.

Verses 14-19

Younger Widows and Elders

1 Timothy 5:14. After his remarks about refusing young widows Paul offers an alternative: “I want younger [widows] to get married.” This alternative way is not only being allowed, but it is also recommended. See also 1 Corinthians 7 (1 Corinthians 7:1-1 Samuel :; 1 Corinthians 7:25-Hosea :), where it is written amongst other things that most people are not given to be alone, like Paul. Therefore the younger widow is at liberty to whom she marries, only in the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:39).

To remarry also means the acceptance of the normal consequence of a marriage and that is “bear children”. Another consequence is that the remarried younger widow “keep house” instead of wandering about from house to house. Especially when she has children she will have enough things to do at home. For the ruling of the house of course the father is primarily responsible, but the practical implementation surely is in the hands of the mother. Here the Word of God gives an example of the significant position that the wives have received through the gospel: not a slave of the husband, but equipollent.

If she is faithful to her own house then the adversary will have no clue to speak reproachfully about the house of God. The word “occasion” is used in the army to indicate a basis from where the enemy attacks. Unfortunately the adversary often succeeds to create such a basis in Christian marriages and families.

1 Timothy 5:15. Paul seems to be familiar with the circumstances and the individuals of the church at Ephesus. He had to conclude that some have already deviated from the way of faith and have turned aside after satan. For those his advice is too late, but hopefully for others it is on time.

1 Timothy 5:16. He once more returns to the issue that the church only in exceptional cases must take care of widows. The duty of care not only lies on the children and grandchildren (1 Timothy 5:4), but also on other family members, for example a sister of the widow. With the clear order “she must assist them”, Paul points at the responsibility of close family members.

It appears to be necessary, also for us, to point this out, because there is always the inclination to pass on the responsibility to others. But faith never releases a person from his personal responsibility. When others are able to provide with ‘first aid’ “the church must not be burdened” with it. The church only has to come into action in cases where there are no other, primarily responsible, persons. Then the church will be free to relieve “those who are widows indeed”.

1 Timothy 5:17. After these extensive instructions to Timothy how to deal with widows in the church, Paul yet has some more instructions regarding the elders (or overseers, see the explanation of 1 Timothy 3:2). Elders rule the local churches (1 Timothy 3:5), they shepherd the flock of God and guard the doctrine (1 Peter 5:2; Acts 20:28-Obadiah :).

Believers must respect their work (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:13; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Corinthians 16:16). Timothy has to point out to the church that elders should be counted worthy of double honor. That has to do with the particular responsibility that accompanies their work. The fact that this exhortation is necessary, seems to indicate that also in those days people didn’t take much notice of the elders.

Each elder must have that much knowledge of the Scripture that he is able to exhort and to correct somebody with it (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:9). That doesn’t mean that each elder also has to perform that work. His first duty is: to rule, to maintain the order in God’s house.

Actually, there are also elders who preach and teach God’s Word. It does not come automatically. Preaching and teaching mean preparative work. The work in itself demands continuous dependence on the Lord. Also the after-care that goes together with such work, demands commitment. Therefore there is mention of “work hard”, which means to achieve heavy work, to the edge of exhaustion. Spiritual activities can be that heavy. The honor that “especially” those who work hard like that are supposed to get, may be expressed in the financial support of the church.

1 Timothy 5:18. To empower this recommendation Paul quotes two announcements of the Scripture. By saying “for the Scripture says” he underlines that the speaking of God and of the Scripture have the same authority.

The first quote is from Deuteronomy 25 (Deuteronomy 25:4). Paul already quoted this verse earlier in 1 Corinthians 9 (1 Corinthians 9:9-2 Samuel :; cf. Galatians 6:6). God has ordained: “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” That speaks of God’s care for the oxen. A threshing ox is allowed to eat of the grain while he is threshing. Still, God has not given this prescription for the oxen in the first place, but for His servants. This application of a verse from the Old Testament is fully permitted, as it also appears from 1 Corinthians 10 (1 Corinthians 10:11) and Romans 15 (Romans 15:4).

Paul quotes this verse by addressing the Corinthians to clarify his entitlement on their support. He doesn’t do that to make use of it by himself. He himself relinquishes this entitlement, because he doesn’t want to connect his work regarding the gospel in any way with money. In that way it is even more remarkable and also beautiful to see here how he applies this verse to others. This is quite a lesson for us. The things you relinquish, you don’t begrudge someone else.

The second quote is a word of the Lord Jesus. When He sent out the seventy He said to them not to accept what they received as a charity, but as wages for their labor, “for the laborer is worthy of his wages” (Luke 10:7). They were supposed to wholeheartedly entrust themselves to the Messiah and receive everything they were offered. As true laborers of the Lord they were entitled to do that on His behalf.

Besides it becomes clear by the words “the Scripture says”, followed by the quote from the gospel according to Luke, that this gospel must already have existed. It also must have been accepted by the believers as a part of the Holy Scripture. You also see that the one quote comes from the Old Testament and the other quote comes from the New Testament. That proves the unity of both Testaments as both being perfectly inspired by God’s Spirit (cf. 2 Peter 3:16).

1 Timothy 5:19. An elder can also fail. The consequences of a failure of a supervising brother are extremely serious. Such a person takes the most vulnerable place in the church, because of his prominent position. The enemy is especially out for him. When an accusation is being expressed against him, then it must be rejected, “except on the basis of two or three witnesses”.

When an elder is being accused of a certain sin, then that accusation must properly be investigated (Deuteronomy 13:14) and be dealt with extreme caution. There ought to be at least two and preferably three witnesses in a case of a possible sin, committed by an elder (Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1). The church must not rely on rumors. The church doesn’t deal with a rumor, but with a concrete and specific sin.

This instruction is important. The danger is realistic that a person who has been admonished by an elder, but doesn’t want to obey, will want to put the elder in a bad light. You may here remark like ‘a wrong approach’ and ‘an insensitive behavior’. Also suggestive statements are made as if the elder himself also secretly cherishes a certain sin. All of such slandering talk about leading servants has been a tested means of satan. It goes around very quickly and it causes enormous damage. It is important to stay far away from that.

The way believers should be dealing with an elder who sins, will be paid attention to in the next section.

Now read 1 Timothy 5:14-19 again.

Reflection: In which way could you participate in relieving widows and how could you honor elders?

Verses 20-25

Sins, Sickness and Infirmities

1 Timothy 5:20. When it has become evident that an elder has sinned, then he must be rebuked publicly. An example of this is what Paul does with Peter (Galatians 2:11). ‘To rebuke’ here means that the sin should be exposed and in that way evidently proved. In that way any objection will not be possible.

The bad example of a leader could have the consequence that others are tempted not to deal too seriously with sin. Therefore the rebuke must take place in the presence of all in this case. The result is that “the rest also will be fearful [of sinning]” (cf. 2 Peter 2:6). Such a public rebuke has a preventive effect on ‘the rest’.

It is not really clear whom are meant with “the rest”. Does that mean only the fellow elders or does that mean all members who form the local church? I tend to think that it implies the whole local church. It seems to me that a rebuke ‘in front of all’ implies that this happens in presence of the whole church. It doesn’t seem logical to me to speak of a rebuke ‘in front of all’ if that only happens in the circle of elders.

1 Timothy 5:21. By using the words “I solemnly charge” Paul places great emphasis on his words. He also underlines it by involving three witnesses in this case. They are, although invisible, always present with everything that happens in and through the church. The church is the house of “God”, “Christ Jesus” is the center there and “[His] chosen angels” are spectators of us as members of the church (1 Corinthians 11:10; Ephesians 3:10).

The Divine Citizens of heaven – God and Christ Jesus – and also creatures that were saved from rebelling against God – the chosen angels –, continuously see how you behave in God’s house. In the world God’s rights are in no way taken into consideration. But that ought to happen in God’s house. Therefore, when sin happens there which is demonstrable, then it ought to be dealt with and be judged by the church in accordance with God’s holiness.

Paul warns of two dangers to which the church is exposed at the exertion of this necessary discipline. Those dangers are also very today. The one danger is “bias”, the other one is “partiality”. There is the temptation to overlook the evil of elders if people could possibly experience disadvantage when they rebuke them. If you have gained the favor of an influential leader, you might not want to lose it. To lose favor may absolutely have no role in the determination of sin.

Also the preference that someone may have towards an elder can cause a hindrance to name the sin of the elder. Then there is no mention anymore of impartiality. If somebody means a lot to you, it is difficult “doing nothing in a [spirit of] partiality”. Then your preference determines your judgment too much. Remember that God ‘shows no partiality’ (Deuteronomy 10:17) and deals without favoritism (Galatians 2:6; Colossians 3:25).

1 Timothy 5:22. Therefore when a sin has been proved the whole local church is involved. But it is not always the case that a sin is that clearly present and demonstrable. It can happen that a person appears to achieve a service for the Lord, while he allows sins in his life that are not openly recognizable. Paul points out to Timothy that he ought to consider that. By the warning “do not lay hands upon anyone [too] hastily”, he exhorts him to be cautious.

The laying on of hands means to identify yourself with another person. With the offering service of Israel the laying on of hands has an important role. When the one who offers, lays his hand on the burnt offering (Leviticus 1:4), the whole value the burnt offering has to God, as it were, transfers to him. Through that burnt offering he is made pleasing to God. With bringing the sin offering it is the other way around. By laying his hand on the sin offering (Leviticus 4:4) his sin transfers, as it were, to the sin offering that is being slaughtered in his stead. God judges the offering and the sinner can go out free.

Before Timothy identifies himself with the service of another person through the laying on of hands, he should be convinced that this person has really received that service from the Lord. According to Acts 13:3 it is good to precede the laying on of hands with a period of praying and fasting (see also Acts 6:6).

By a too quick recognition of a person to achieve a service for the Lord, Timothy runs the risk to identify himself with sins. That is the case when it appears that a person is doing his own will and is serving the Lord only by name. By laying hands on such a person this person is being stimulated in a wrong way and he who lays hands on him follows him on that way. In that way he has fellowship with his sins.

Here it becomes clear that direct connection with evil defiles a person. By being careful with identifying himself with another person Timothy keeps himself in purity. The call “keep yourself free from sin” also applies in general sense (2 Corinthians 7:1). You can only stay pure if you fear God. Then He will show you His will in all cases you doubt if you should connect yourself to them or whether you are to cooperate with them (Psalms 25:14).

1 Timothy 5:23. As you know Timothy is a shy, even a timid person. He is someone who is very meticulous and strait-laced. Paul’s exhortation to be careful with the laying on of hands must have surely connected to his cautious way of living. I think that we should place the advice of Paul in this context with regard to the health of Timothy.

Timothy must have done everything to prevent that God’s work would be hindered by him. He wanted to avoid everything that could possibly be a stumbling block to others (Romans 14:21). Therefore he must have refused any drop of wine. And God’s Word often warns us for misusing this stimulant, doesn’t it? Still wine is not a prohibited beverage. The reason for using it, is of importance. Timothy then had a stomach problem and still other physical weaknesses. With a view to that Paul stimulates him to use a little wine.

Paul does not use his gift of healing (Acts 28:8-1 Samuel :) here, but stimulates him to use a little wine as medicine. There is no mention of a demon that hits the stomach of Timothy. You see that sickness and physical weakness do not have to be caused by a demon of sickness that ought to be exorcised. Here you also see that the use of medicine is not a sign of unbelief.

Still it is important to note that it is about “a little wine”. Excessive use is out of the question. As it is said, the use of wine is permitted (John 2:1-1 Kings :; 1 Corinthians 10:16). It is the symbol of joy (Psalms 104:15). Therefore you are allowed to use a little wine only if you do not use it to forget all the misery for a moment like the world does (cf. Proverbs 31:7).

1 Timothy 5:24. Here Paul continues the subject he was dealing with in 1 Timothy 5:22, after the phrase concerning the health of Timothy and the advice what he should do. He points out that “the sins of some men are quite evident”. Before the life of such people becomes revealed before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10), it is already revealed on earth that they have lived in sin. Their sins are “going before them to judgment”. In those cases the sins are totally clear and it will not be difficult to deal with it.

There are also men of whom it is not directly clear that they live in sin. Still there comes a moment, after their life wherein they had hidden their sin, that everything will be revealed before the judgment seat.

1 Timothy 5:25. What applies to the sins “likewise” applies to “deeds that are good”. Also those will not remain hidden. There are good works which we already recognize as such on earth (Matthew 5:16), like we see with Dorcas (Acts 9:36; Acts 9:39). There are also good works that were unnoticed for men. Those will be as much visible and will appropriately be rewarded.

Now read 1 Timothy 5:20-25 again.

Reflection: Which indications in this section can you take to heart?

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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 1 Timothy 5". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/1-timothy-5.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniƫl', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.