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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
1 Timothy 5

 

 

Verses 1-25

In this section we are faced with more detailed, practical responsibilities in reference to the various relationships in which one may be found. This is wholesome, sobering instruction. First, a young man must have a proper respect for an elder. It is certainly not necessarily an official elder of which the apostle speaks, for this would leave us with no true application of the instruction for today, there being no authority left us at all for the official appointment of elders. But any older brother is entitled to such respect, that, if he should be wrong, he is to be exhorted in kindness, not sharply rebuked. With the same respect that is due a father, so any elder brother should be treated. While the relationship with the younger men is not precisely the same, yet there is to be similar consideration. With these, however, on certain occasions, a rebuke may be more necessary than with the elder, but always this should be brotherly, not censorious.

Similarly, the elder women were to be treated as mothers, the younger as sisters, with the necessary addition here, "with all purity." The assembly is seen here to be, as regards its order, patterned after proper family life, not as a business, nor as an army, either of which may be eminently efficient in a cold, impersonal way, but could never represent the interest in the individual that is characteristic of the love of our God and Father.

Not every widow was to be given the same honor, but if she were "a widow indeed" she was entitled to particular attention and respect. She is one who, while feeling the sorrow of her widowhood, nevertheless puts her confidence in the Living God, and manifests her dependence upon His love and grace, by prayer and supplication consistently. If she were in any need, this "honor" would certainly involve the alleviation of those needs by temporal support. Yet, if she had children or descendents, these were certainly responsible for her care, and they should learn to show piety at home by relieving her need, in some measure returning the care of the mother or parents in former years. God expects and accepts this. It is, of course, evident that if this were callously ignored by descendents not in the assembly, then the assembly would be responsible. But if the widow lives in self-indulgence, she is dead while she lives, and in such a state she could certainly claim no support from the assembly. Indeed, their supporting her in such a case would be an unseemly encouraging of her irresponsible ways.

It was necessary that these things should be solemnly charged upon the saints in order to preserve them from the blame that wrongdoing brings: they must not be ignorant of these serious matters. Verse 8 of course refers to one whom we have seen to have responsibility for his close relatives, including widows. He should provide, at least if he is at all able, for his own near relatives who require care, but, of course, specially for those of his own house. If by irresponsible neglect he does not do this, in practice he denies the wholesome truth of Christianity; and his practice being in opposition to his profession (for this refers to one claiming to be a saint), he is worse than an unbeliever; it is virtual hypocrisy.

Taken into the number would mean being made a regular dependent of the assembly. This was not to be the case if she were under sixty years of age, for she could support herself by working. Of course, this is not a rigid law, for there would naturally be exceptions in cases of disease or accident having caused permanent incapacitation. On the other hand, it may be necessary on occasion that relief should be given to a younger widow who is manifestly in need, even though the assembly ought not to support her regularly.

Again, one could not expect to be "taken into the number" if she had not in previous life manifested some measure of godliness. Fidelity is of course the point in view in her having been the wife of one man. If after her first husband's death, she had remarried and been widowed a second time, this would not invalidate her (1 Corinthians 7:39), but cases of bigamy or of divorce and remarriage are evidently in view here.

But the past record of a widow should show some evidence of hospitality, and of having "washed the saints' feet," that is, having in measure at least sought to apply the Word of God in kindness for the welfare of the saints of God; also that she had relieved in temporal ways those in affliction, and had followed diligently every good work. These were marks to look for, in some no doubt evident in large measure, in others in lesser.

Verse 11. For the assembly to support younger widows is here shown to be likely harmful to the state of their own souls. It may not always be the case, but it is the general tendency. To grow wanton against Christ is just the opposite of the subject, subdued spirit that ought to characterize a widow: it is bold, brazen, self-willed. Desiring to marry while in such a state is certainly dangerous - not that desiring to marry is in itself wrong, for this is almost immediately recommended (v. 14). But if the widow does not have wholesome occupation to maintain her own support, her attitude may become one of casting off her first faith, forsaking her previous confidence in the God who had blessed her with a husband, and in wisdom had taken her husband away again. If faith is to remain constant and steady, it requires the teaching of God by means of the wise government of His hand; and well-meant efforts of others to relieve temporal needs may actually defeat this working of God. It may encourage idleness, and too many unprofitable visits to the houses of others, with its attendant gossip and meddling in other people's matters.

The apostle has written elsewhere that "the wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 7:39). In the same chapter, however, he gives advice which may seem to be in conflict with that which he gives here in 1 Timothy 5:14. For he writes, "But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God" (v. 40). He makes it very clear that he is expressing a strictly personal opinion here, in contrast to what is the commandment of the Lord. He himself remained unmarried in order to more fully and undividedly serve the Lord, and if such motives influence the younger women in remaining unmarried, who can question that it is the happier path for them? Yet, it must be faced that this is not the general attitude among women, or men either; and 1 Timothy no doubt expresses that which is generally most appropriate while 1 Corinthians 7:1-40 makes allowance for the exception.

If a young widow's tendency were to learn to be idle, etc., then to be married is more preferable than this. Guiding the house, bearing children could be spiritually rewarding; a

wholesome guard too against the danger of Satan's accusa­tions and reproach. For some had already turned aside after Satan, succumbing to the temptations of idleness and self­indulgence, which Satan will use to the full.

But if a widow did require support, then her own relatives were primarily responsible for this, that the assembly might be left the more capable of relieving those who were widows indeed, desolate and of godly character.

Verse 17. Clearly, an elder may be thoroughly reliable in qualities of leadership, even though he may not be a capable teacher of the Word of God; and if so, he is entitled to double honor, but specially if he labors in the giving of the Word, and teaching. True spiritual qualifications should earn the respect of saints: a mere formal appointment would not do this. The ox not to be muzzled would teach us that a laborer is entitled to partake of the fruits of his labor; and in this case, if one devotes such time to the work of the Lord that other regular employment is not sufficient to support him, then the saints of God are to consider themselves responsible for this: "The laborer is worthy of his reward."

Accusations against anyone must certainly be thoroughly substantiated, or refused. But this was all the more imperative if against an elder; for it is evident that Satan would particularly attack them with such things, since they were in a place of prominence and rule, or leadership. Two or three witnesses must be present to hear the accusation. Let this rule never be forgotten. A case of evil must be clearly proven before action is taken.

On the other hand, if there should be a case of public sin manifest, it must not be ignored. To rebuke before all them that sin, would be most solemn treatment. Nor does this refer to every case of failure in a saint. The chapter does make plain what is involved in this: it must be a case of sin publicly known and persisted in. One living boldly in self-indulgence (v. 6), one utterly careless as to providing for his own house (v. S), one wandering about from house to house in idleness and gossip (v. 13), are cases such as would require a public rebuke, if after personal remonstrance they continued their sinful course. Even then, a rebuke must not be merely angry criticism, but solemn, humble, gentle, firm reproof that carries conviction.

In verse 21 is it not peculiarly solemn to note the urgency of this charge to Timothy? These were matters he must not ignore, however painful the responsibility of facing them might be. And favoritism must be most carefully avoided: the same measure must be used for all. Indeed, in any Christian's life, partiality is to have no place whatever: we must be constantly on our guard against this. The glory of God, the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, the dignity of the elect angels should have deep effect upon us in the consideration of such matters. It is far too easy to allow strong feelings to influence us in any matter. Indeed, the godly qualities of a saint might so attach us to that one as to favor him though he may be wrong in a certain case. Or, if I should have a disagreement with one in a certain matter, I may be easily predisposed to hold him in disfavor without perfectly fair reason. How subtle is the flesh in every one of us! Of course, there are obvious excuses besides these for partiality, but we must be unsparing in our self-judgment as to all of these.

This same spirit of impartiality is a preservative from the dangers of identifying ourselves with any man with due knowledge and consideration. For the laying on of hands signfies willing identification in fellowship. If I do not know the individual either personally or reputation I may find myself identified with sins I did not suspect. To accept him in fellowship in the work of the Lord or in the worship of the Lord would make me a participator in that which he practices. This is a more serious matter than even saints of God generally think. If the man should be guilty of evil practice or evil doctrine, and I have associated myself with him, I make myself impure. Let us be watchful against such mixtures.

It may seem strange that at this point verse 23 is inserted. Timothy is told to drink no longer only water, but use a little wine for his stomach's sake. But the connection is important. No doubt Timothy's true desire was to maintain purity, and his sensitive conscience needed to be enlightened to the fact that in using a little wine for his stomach's sake, he would not be courting grave danger such as he would in laying hands suddenly on one he did not know. Too frequently Christians have these things completely in reverse. They feel it impure to drink wine at all, even for their health's sake; and think nothing of the danger of associating themselves with a stranger.

In both of these cases, of course, the believer is responsible to use godly caution and good judgment. It is only "a little wine" Timothy is told to use; nor is it to be taken simply for pleasure's sake, but for his health. One who is frequently affected by bodily infirmity can well sympathize with Timothy, as well as to take encouragement by the fact of this spiritually-minded young man being tried by such afflictions.

But verse 24 returns to the direct consideration of associations. Some men's sins are open beforehand: their character is that of an open book, and is very easily discerned: we may judge of their sins without difficulty. It is not God's judgment of which the apostle speaks, but that which others may easily and rightly form with very little acquaintance.

But some men they follow after: these may be proficient at concealing their true character if you do not know them: it will only be later that their sins are laid bare for proper judgment. It is simply a warning that we do not know every man's character on first acquaintance, and must be on our guard not to be deceived.

There is, of course, the other side to this also: the good works of some are manifest beforehand. These may actually indicate a good character, but are not sufficient proof before further knowledge; for what may at first appear good may yet have hidden motives of evil behind it. The good of another may not be seen until he is well known, and others may be surprised at how much goodness there is present when it did not first appear. Personalities are completely different, and only time will actually prove one's character. But works that are otherwise than "good" cannot be hid: it does not take too long before one may be known by his works: if they are evil, how can he hide them indefinitely?

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 5:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/1-timothy-5.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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