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Our apostle here directs Timothy how to manage rightly that great and important duty of ministerial reproof: if aged persons, elders in age, do transgress, they must be rebuked, not magisterially, but fraternally, with humility and gentleness, according to their years; not with austerity and roughness. The elder men as fathers, the elder women as mothers, both with just deference and due respect: the younger also must not be treated with contempt, but with gentleness; The younger men as brethern, the younger women as sisters, both without pride and fierceness: and with all purity, shunning all levity and wantonness, and eschewing all that savoureth of immodesty or unchastity in thought, speech, look, or behaviour.
Learn hence, That although the ministers of God must not flatter or favour any persons, to the prejudice either of truth or holiness, yet must they put a difference between persons in their reproof; they must not deal with the aged as they deal with the younger, (when we speak reproof, we must also speak respect to the ancient spiritual fathers,) no more that natural children must behave themselves proudly against the ancient, and basely against the honourable.
Our apostle proceeds to give Timothy directions concerning widows, particularly those who were to be maintained by the church's charity, and to live upon it.
Note, 1. The persons who were to be relieved and supported by the church's charity: widows indeed; that is, such widows as were desolate, being deprived both of husband and maintenance at once; and having neither children, nor grand-children, nor near relations, in a capacity to relieve them; and they were also such as were resolved to continue in widowhood: these he required should be honoured, that is, have respect shown them, maintenance allowed them, employment provided for them, to visit the sick and poor, and give notice of their wants to the church, and to spend their time in the exercise of devotion, trusting in God: Continue in supplication and prayer night and day.
Note, 2. That such widows as had children and near relations, were to be taken care for, by them, and not by the church; Let them learn to shew piety at home, that is, relieve their own relations before they show kindness to strangers, or before the church be burdened with them; where the original word is very emphatical and significative. Let them exercise religion and godliness towards their own house; implying, that to extend our charity to our nearest relations is a duty in the first place, and to perform it with cheerfulness is an act of religion and godliness, and that it is in vain to pretend to religion, if we see a relation in want, and are able, but unwilling, to relieve them.
Note, 3. The character which St. Paul gave of some widows in his time: they lived in pleasure; with the censure which he passed upon them, namely, that they were dead whilst they lived; she that liveth in pleasure, that is, licentiously, sportingly, wantonly, profusely, to the dishonour of her husband's memory, and her own personal disgrace, she is dead in sin, dead to Christ and his holy religion, whilst she lives in the world; and so is not to be looked upon by the church as a vital member of it, much less to be maintained by the church's charity. This is what St. Paul thought needful to give Timothy in charge concerning widows, that so they might be found blameless, and without scandal to religion.
That is, "If any professing Christianity, and having ability, provides not for his own kindred, but especially for those of his own house, as parents or children, he liveth so contrary to the Christian faith, that in effect he denies it, and is worse than an infidel, who ordinarily take care of their parents, and make provision for their poor relations." The old heathens had this amongst them as an universal principle of nature, to honour the gods, and provide for their parents; affirming, that no man can do any thing more acceptable to the gods than by heaping favours upon their parents; and that nothing can be a greater evidence of atheism and impiety, than to neglect and despise them.
Learn hence, That it is most unnatural to be hardened against those to whom we stand engaged by near relation or natural bonds; the light of nature teaches infidels much better.
Our apostle had given directions concerning such widows as were to be maintained by the church's charity in the preceding verses; he speaks now of such widows as were to be admitted into the church's service, under the name of deaconesses, whose office it was to take care of the aged and impotent, to be stayed monitors of the younger women, to attend poor women in labour, and to assist at the baptism of the female sex.
St. Paul advises, that none be admitted under threescore years of age, and none that was divorced from one husband, and married another: Let not a widow be taken into the number, that is, of church widows or deaconesses, under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man only.
Next, St. Paul lays down the general and particular qualifications of such widows as should be elected into the church's service; the general qualification is fruitfulness in good works: If she have diligently followed every good work.
Where note, It is not her age alone, nor her poverty alone, but her Christian behaviour before all, that gave her a right to the church's service and maintenance.
The particular qualifications follow: if she has brought up children religiously, if she hath lodged strangers or christian travellers hospitably, if she has condescended to the meanest offices, not disdaining to wash the very feet of poor Christians in their journeyings; if according to her ability she has done all the good she possibly could, though much short of what she desired.
Note here, That in those hot countries persons travelled on foot, and without shoes, wearing only sandals, and having few or no inns for entertainment, or but little money to defray travelling charges, it was a very great work of pious charity to entertain Christian strangers, to receive and lodge them in their houses, to wash and cool, refresh and cleanse their feet, and to administer to their necessities; such widows as are thus qualified he directs may be taken into the church's service, and partake of her maintenance.
Next he tells him what sort of widows he would have him refuse and reject, and by no means admit into the number of deaconesses, or the church's servants; namely, the younger widows, who were not past child-bearing; and therefore waxing wanton against Christ, would marry; that is, growing weary of the church's service, and despairing of marriage in the church, would revolt from the faith, and marry some infidel out of the church.
Having damnation; that is, committing a sin worthy of damnation, and bringing themselves into a damnable condition. Because they renounced their first faith, which they made profession of when they were baptized, turning apostates to please their infidel husbands, which the apostle calls a turning after Satan, 1 Timothy 5:15, to the great scandal of Christianity.
Observe next, Our apostle shows that such young widows are usually idle, wandering about from house to house, prying into and tattling about other folks' matters; to avoid all which he advises the young women, and particularly the younger widows, to marry and serve God in a conjugal relation, bearing and bringing up their children, guiding their families, and giving no occasion to the enemies of religion to reproach either it or themselves.
From all which we may note, That celibacy, or a single life, is no such state of holiness and perfection as the church of Rome would persuade us: we see here it has its temptations and snares, and those not a few nor small; and that our apostle in some cases, and to some persons, recommends a married life before it.
Observe lastly, For a close of his discourse concerning widows, he advises, that if any Christian have any helpless widow of his own family, or amongst his relations, that he relieve and maintain her, if he be able, and not cast her upon the charity of the church, lest there be not a sufficiency to supply the wants of such as are widows indeed, aged and helpless; for any to eat the poor's bread, who are not poor, and to whom it does not belong, is robbery.
Our apostle proceeds next to give Timothy directions concerning elders; not old men in years, but elders in office, such as were employed in the governing of the church, and over and above that service, laboured even unto weariness in preaching of the word, and expounding the Christian doctrine, requiring that double honour be given unto such.
Note here, 1. The elders' work and duty declared; to rule well: wisely to preside over, and discreetly to govern, the church of Christ; also to labour in the word and doctrine; to take pains in preaching the gospel upon all occasions: those that are advanced to the highest eminency in the church will not think themselves above this part of their duty.
Note, 2. The honour and respect challenged on their behalf: double honour is their due, namely, an honour of reverence, and an honour of maintenance, and a double measure of either; some think it an allusion to the first born, who was the priest of the family, and had a double portion amongst his brethren; the Levites succeeded them, and the ministers of the gospel these; who, when laborious in governing and teaching the church of Christ, deserve more honour and better maintenence than the unkind world is willing to confer upon them; who, instead of double honour, sometimes deny them civil respect.
Note, 3. In that the apostle styles the ministers' maintenance is not to be esteemed in the nature of alms, but of a tribute paid by an inferior to a superior; neither is our maintenance mercenary wages, but such as ought to be given as a testimony of honour, as well as in the nature of a reward. As then they are worthy of, let them never fail to receive, double honour, who rule well, and also labour in the word and doctrine.
These words evidently show, that by honour, in the former verse, is to be understood maintenance; a place is here cited where the law of Moses forbade the muzzling of the ox that treadeth out the corn, Deuteronomy 25:4 but allowed him feeding all the time of working, in like manner, the labour of the church's guides gives them a right to the church's maintenance and honour; but such as do not labour have a right to neither.
Here our apostle directs Timothy how to proceed in church censures against open offenders: which plainly shows, that there was a right of judging and censuring offenders in Timothy, by virtue of his office.
First then he begins to acquaint him with his duty in censuring an elder, and advises him never to admit an accusation against such, without the attestation of two or three witnesses: because,
1. It is the interest of the church of Christ, that the reputation of its ministers be supported.
2. Because prejudiced persons will be ready to accuse without reason.
Conscientious ministers shall never want accusers, if false accusers can but find judges that are willing to believe them: therefore against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses:
Next he advises him, when there is a just and sufficient cause for censuring an elder, to do it publicly. Then that sin, that is, such elders as sin, and are convicted of it, and so become scandalous by it, rebuke before all the church, before all the clergy as in a synod, putting them to public shame, that others may fear to sin, seeing thee to punish so publicly and impartially.
Lastly, he concludes his advice with a very solemn charge to Timothy, before God and Christ and the glorious angels, to observe these rules of justice in ecclesiastical judicature, without preferring one man before another, doing nothing by a partial respect of persons.
Learn hence, That so heinous is the sin of unjust and unrighteous judging, especially in ecclesiastical persons, and of such fatal mischief to the church, that all imaginable care and caution ought to be taken to prevent both the sin and the danger of it. I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, that thou observe these things.
A twofold sense and interpretation is given of these words.
1. With reference to ordination, and so they are a caution to the governors of the church to admit none into the sacred function hastily, rashly, without due examination and sufficient trial; to which are added words of great terror, Neither be partaker of other men's sins; which ought to make a mighty impression on the minds of those in whom the power of ordinations is lodged, since the words do plainly import, that such as do ordain any rashly, entitle themselves to all the scandal they give, and are partakers of their guilt.
Note here, 1. The nature of the office the ministers of Christ are ordained to: to rule and labour in the word and doctrine.
Note, 2. An authority in Timothy to admit persons into this office, by laying on of hands.
Note, 3. The great care and caution, the heedfulness and circumspection, necessary in admitting persons to this holy function. Lay hands suddenly on no man. The welfare of the church, the honour of religion, the salvation of men's souls, depend much, very much upon those who are admitted into holy orders.
The second interpretation given of these words is, that Timothy is here directed how to carry himself in censuring and absolving of penitents: as if St. Paul had said, "When thou hast justly censured an offender, be not too hasty in absolving of him, (for this also was done by imposition of hands,) until some trial be made of his reformation, lest by so doing thou becomest guilty of his future faults: but keep thyself pure from all sin, whose office it is to censure and reprove sin in others." In both these senses have these words been understood, Lay hands suddenly on no man; keep thyself pure.
Note here, 1. There is a lawful use of wine to support nature, not to clog it; to cure infirmities, not to cause them: drink it Timothy might medically, and no doubt for cheerfulness and alacrity, that the body might be more fit and expedite for duty: Use a little wine for thy stomach's sake.
Note, 2. That our meat and drink should be fitted for the preservation of health, rather than for the gratification of our appetite; the former is Christian duty, the latter is brutish sensuality.
Note, 3. That the apostles, who had the gift of healing, could not make use of it when and upon whom they pleased; no, not upon themselves, but must help their own infirmities, in and by the use of ordinary means. Thus Timothy here, drink no longer water alone, but use a little wine with it for thy stomach's sake, and thine often infirmities thence proceeding.
St. Paul had just before exhorted Timothy to keep himself pure from other men's sins, whether candidates or penitents: here comes in subsequent advice, in order thereunto: as if our apostle had said, "Timothy, if thou beest diligent to observe, and not over hasty either in ordaining candidates, or absolving penitents, thou mayest in some measure perceive who are worthy, and who are unworthy. If thou layest thine hands upon those who are actually faulty, thou partakest with them, by being an occasion of their sinning; but if thou canst not discover their faultiness beforehand, though they afterwards prove wicked, it is not thy fault; God will at length detect them, yea, they will discover themselves; and when their faults are manifest, deal with them according to the discipline of the church."
Learn hence, 1. That how much soever sinners attempt the hiding, yet they cnnot actually hide themselves, or their sinnings, from God's sight and knowledge. They cannot be hid, says St. Paul, though men labour much to hide them.
Oh! sinner, there is no way to hide thyself from God: thou mayest by repentance hide thyself in God, in the love, in the favour, in the mercy of God, but from God thou canst not be hid. As the saints' good works are open and manifest in the sight and to the view of God, so they that are otherwise cannot be hid from him who is every where? Or what thing can be our covering from him, in whose sight all things are open? Lord! what will it avail to hide ourselves from men, when we lie open and manifest to the eye of God? They that are otherwise cannot be hid.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 5". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29