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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
1 Timothy 5



Verse 1-2

‘Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, the younger men as brothers, the elder women as mothers, the younger as sisters, in all purity.’

Timothy is to see the whole church as one family and behave accordingly. While he is to exhort them, he is not to behave arrogantly and berate them but is to act with graciousness towards them, treating the older man as his father, younger men as his brothers, older women as his mothers, and younger women as his sisters. (Thus he is to honour them). The early church had a great consciousness of being the family of God (1 Timothy 3:15; Matthew 12:49-50; Galatians 6:10; Ephesians 2:19; Ephesians 3:6; Ephesians 3:18, and see also Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 4:5-7) but without breaking up the individual sense of family among believers.

And this is to be done in all purity. Such relationships are not to be treated as a means of unseemly behaviour. Paul was aware, and wanted Timothy to be aware, of the dangers of close contact with the opposite sex, and in a world rampant with practising homosexual behaviour, of the danger of over-friendliness towards his own sex.

Note the emphasis on the fact that the church is one big family. It is this concept that leads on to the question of looking after widows who have no family.

Verses 1-8

Christians Form The Household of God And Should Treat One Another With Respect And As Family. They Should Therefore See To The Needs Of Their Ageing Parents While The Church As Family Must See To Widows Who Have No Children And Who Reveal Their Family Oneness By Regular Attendance At Prayer (1 Timothy 5:1-8).

Here the church is seen as a household, compare 1 Timothy 3:15. It is seen as the family of God (compare Matthew 12:49-50), and should reveal reciprocal love. Thus Timothy, in dealings with the church members must treat them as family. Older men were to be treated with respect, even when being gently admonished, younger men were to be treated as beloved brothers, and so on. A great problem, however, in the ancient world was the needs of widows who had no relatives to care for them both emotionally and financially. Care for older relatives was seen as the responsibility of the children, and was even sometimes legislated for, but the elder widow who had no family had no one to care for her. Paul declares here that such widows are to be cared for by the church because they are part of the church’s family, and this includes both emotional and financial care. While today the state may make physical provision, there is still a responsibility on the part of the church to see that that provision is sufficient, and also to show the love and concern towards such people that the family would normally show.

The impression we may get from what Paul says is that people were using the church’s charitable arrangements so as to avoid their own responsibilities. Paul therefore gives clear instruction concerning this. It is in fact very relevant to us today for the same basic problems still arise around the world.


a Do not rebuke an older person (or ‘elder), but exhort him as a father, the younger men as brothers (1 Timothy 5:1).

b The elder women as mothers, the younger as sisters, in all purity (1 Timothy 5:2).

c Honour widows who are indeed widows (1 Timothy 5:3).

d But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them learn first to show piety towards their own family, and to pay back their parents, for this is acceptable in the sight of God (1 Timothy 5:4).

c Now she who is indeed a widow, and desolate, has her hope set on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who gives herself to pleasure is dead while she lives (1 Timothy 5:5-6).

b These things also command, that they may be without reproach (1 Timothy 5:7).

a But if any does not provide for his own, and especially his own household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8).

Note that in ‘a’ reference is made to exhorting men, and in the parallel these men are to provide for their own. In ‘b’ the women are to be exhorted in all purity, and in the parallel ‘they’ are to be without reproach. In ‘c’ widows who are ‘indeed widows’ are to be ‘honoured’, while in the parallel ‘indeed widows’ suitable widows are defined. Central in ‘d’ is the attitude of Christians towards their ageing parents.

Verse 3

‘Honour widows who are indeed widows.’

‘Honouring’ here signifies taking care of from a family point of view, both emotionally and financially, with the church acting in lieu of children who were to ‘honour’ their parents (Exodus 20:12). In the same way the church family is to ‘honour’ (show love to and provide for) widows. For providing for widows compare Acts 6:1. The Jews were very strong on providing charitable help to the needy, and especially to the old, and for that purpose the synagogues would take up regular local collections from all Jews. In that regard at least they on the whole followed the requirements of the Law (Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 10:18; Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 16:11; Deuteronomy 16:14; Deuteronomy 24:17-21; Deuteronomy 26:12-13; Deuteronomy 27:19; Job 22:9; Job 24:3; Psalms 68:5; Psalms 94:6; Psalms 146:9; Isaiah 1:17; Isaiah 1:23; Isaiah 10:2; Jeremiah 7:6; Jeremiah 22:3; Ezekiel 22:7; Zechariah 7:10; Malachi 3:5).. The Christian church rightly aligned themselves with the practise, and made provision for their own in the same way. Widows with no remaining relatives and with no resources were in a parlous state in the ancient world, for they had no means of support. And so the church became their family and were to ‘honour’ them in the place of the children that they did not have. And ‘honouring’ included loving as well as providing

‘Who are indeed widows.’ That is who are widows who have no family to care for them. This may have included some who had been widowed when a polygamous husband became a Christian, although we would assume that in those cases he would still be seen as having a responsibility of care towards them.

It was incumbent on Jewish husbands to make provision for their wives in case of their deaths, regularly by means of jewellery and personal ornaments, at the time of their marriage, but in many cases such provision would necessarily be inadequate. The same pattern would continue, at least among Jewish Christians.

Verse 4

‘But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them learn first to show piety towards their own family, and to pay back their parents, for this is acceptable in the sight of God.’

However, where widows had children or grandchildren it was they who were to ‘honour’ their ageing parent, fulfilling their religious responsibility towards them and paying them back for all the care and love that they had bestowed on them. For this was what was acceptable in the sight of God.

It should be noted here that the Christian had a responsibility towards ageing parents, not only to provide for them but to cherish them. The same responsibility applies today. Our parents have cared for us and looked after us for many years, and if we are Christians we will reciprocate when the time comes, for that is what God expects of us. Compare Mark 7:10-12; Ephesians 6:2)

‘To show piety.’ This is the parallel verb to the noun for godliness. It indicates ‘to fulfil responsibility’, in this case to parents. The same construction as here is found on the lips of Paul in Acts 17:23 where Paul has in mind the fulfilling of man’s responsibility towards God.

Verse 5

‘Now she who is indeed a widow, and desolate, has her hope set on God, and continues in supplications and prayers night and day.’

This obligation to ‘honour’ widows applied to widows whose way of life demonstrated that they were genuine Christians (that does not mean that all others were ignored, only that they did not come under these strict provisions). This was tested by considering her life. The genuine Christian widow who was without resources or children, would, in her need and desolation call on God, and would attend at the local prayer groups, as Anna did in the Temple (Luke 2:37). She too had continued in ‘supplications night and day’. The reference to continuing in supplication night and day probably refers to attendance at regular daily meetings for prayer held by the local Christian groups, in the same way as the Jews had ‘hours of prayer’. Some of these meetings would have to be held at night (after dusk) so that slaves and others could attend, who were taken up with their duties all day. Thus the widows who demonstrated by this that they were true members of the church family were to be treated as family. They were not to be allowed to creep in and creep out unnoticed. It is a sad indication of where our priorities lie that such daily and nightly regular local meetings for prayer, which lonely Christians can attend, no longer exist, although in many cases they have been partly replaced by daily ‘quiet times’ and ‘family prayers’ in the Christian home. This is, of course, a fairly satisfactory substitute for some, but not for others. It leaves out those who have no family.

Verse 6

‘But she who gives herself to pleasure is dead while she lives.’

As this is in contrast with the widow who regular attends daily prayer, ‘giving herself to pleasure’ probably indicates a lack of willingness to join the church in prayer, which could only indicate that she was busy with seeking other kinds of pleasure elsewhere. Such revealed that they were spiritually dead (compare James 2:17). It does not necessarily refer to what we would call ‘illicit pleasure’. The point was rather that she did not exhibit signs of spiritual life by regularly meeting up with the church. The early church had high standards (se Acts 2:46). For the idea of being dead while still alive compare Romans 7:10; Romans 7:24.

Verse 7

‘These things also command, that they may be without reproach.’

This probably refers to the children who are responsible for their parents. They are to be without reproach by caring for their ageing parents. It may, however, refer to those who are ‘indeed widows’. Or his point may be that all are to be without reproach, each fulfilling their particular responsibility. Certainly that was his intention.

Verse 8

‘But if any does not provide for his own, and especially his own household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.’

Meanwhile the menfolk mentioned in 1 Timothy 5:1 are to ensure that they play their full part in caring for their own relatives, and especially those nearest and dearest to them. Not to do so would be to deny the faith, for under the faith this is their responsibility. ‘The faith’ is the whole body of Christian belief, although not necessarily in credal form. It signifies ‘what we believe’. It would be to deny the very traditions of the church based on the teaching of Jesus. Indeed they would be worse than unbelievers, for in the ancient world care for ageing parents was seen as obligatory by all.

Verse 9

‘Let none be enrolled (or ‘reckoned’) as a widow under sixty years old, having been the wife of one man,’

The first question we must ask is whether this only refers to the widows who are ‘widows indeed’ of the previous passage. It seems unlikely. Paul could hardly be suggesting that only those of such widows who were over sixty could qualify for support. Any over fifty would be unlikely to marry again and have children, and they would be equally desolate.

Let us consider the possibilities:

· This ‘enrolment’ (although it may only mean ‘reckoning’) may refer to a list of widow’s without families as above, whom the church were supporting and who were over sixty years old. Certainly they might be seen as very suitable, being free from all other obligations (but that would also apply to those over fifty).

· It may refer to a list of all widows in the church over sixty who wished to be enrolled in active service for the church in ministering to the people of God physically (compare Romans 16:2), for he has previously been speaking about all widows and how they were to be catered for. They would be widows who had demonstrated their spirituality in the way about to be described and wished to serve Christ in the church, although if they had families many of these would also have obligations to their own families.

The list was clearly so that they could fulfil certain responsibilities, such as praying, teaching the younger women in practical matters (Titus 2:4), caring for the sick, and so on. Such women are often the backbone of the church. The restriction to ‘the wife of one man’ probably means not having been divorced or not having had liaisons with other men. It might mean only having had one husband and not having married again after he died, but it must be considered doubtful if marrying a second husband, when the first one had died, excluded someone. The idea behind it would seem to be that the woman has demonstrated her fidelity and trustworthiness.

Verses 9-16

A Contrasting Approach Towards Older and Younger Widows. (1 Timothy 5:9-16).

This responsibility of the church towards widows was not, however, to become a licence for all widows to become too dependent on the church. It was mainly to benefit older widows, indeed those who were over sixty years old who had clearly demonstrated the genuineness of their faith, and it required full dedication by those who had no other responsibilities to serving Christ through the church as best they could. Paul was well aware that this requirement could prove a trial for younger women who may come to regret having so fully dedicated themselves, bringing themselves into condemnation by withdrawing from their pledge when they sought to marry again. The early church took their pledges seriously (Psalms 15:4 b). Furthermore he was afraid that with such freedom from care, and the visitation requirements, they may also become merely idle tittle-tattlers and busybodies. Rather they are therefore to fulfil the responsibility of all women in the church of child-producing age, by producing a Christian family (compare 1 Timothy 2:15).


a Let none be enrolled (or ‘reckoned’) as a widow under sixty years old, having been the wife of one man (1 Timothy 5:9).

b Well reported of for good works; if she has brought up children, if she has used hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work (1 Timothy 5:10).

c But younger widows refuse, for when they have become lax against Christ, they desire to marry, having condemnation, because they have rejected their first pledge (1 Timothy 5:11-12).

d And together with this they learn also to be idle, going about from house to house (1 Timothy 5:13 a).

c And not only idle, but tittle-tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not (1 Timothy 5:13 b).

b I desire therefore that the younger widows marry, bear children, rule the household, give no occasion to the adversary for reviling, for already some are turned aside after Satan (1 Timothy 5:14-15).

a If any woman who believes has widows, let her relieve them, and let not the church be burdened, that it may relieve them that are indeed widows (1 Timothy 5:16).

Note that in ‘a’ the qualification for enrolment as a widow are given, and in the parallel those who are not to be enrolled are described. In ‘b’ the acceptable behaviour of a widow is described, and in the parallel the acceptable behaviour of a younger widow. In ‘c’ we have a description of what a younger women’s positive failures can be, and in the parallel further indications of the same. Centrally in ‘d’ is a description of a younger widow’s negative failing, becoming idle and frivolous.

Verse 10

‘Well reported of for good works; if she has brought up children, if she has used hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work.’

However, as well as being over sixty and the wife of one man, there were also other important requirements, although for a committed Christian woman they were not really ones which were unusual. They would indeed be the expected norm for any Christian woman. Thus she must have a reputation for good works, some of which are then described in detail. The kind described would have been fairly commonplace. Most widows would have brought up children, and no doubt the elders would take into consideration how well her children had developed. Hospitality to strangers was common in those days in view of the fact that inns were unpleasant, expensive and even immoral. Most Christian families would thus have given hospitality to strangers at one time or another, most on a fairly regular basis. Washing the feet of visitors from afar who came to a house church would be another fairly common action of godly women, as the visitors came into a house church after travelling some distance in their sandals on dusty roads. Relieving those who were afflicted (affliction might hint at some forms of spasmodic persecution, although it may simply have such things as sickness and bereavement in mind) would be another common occurrence. Furthermore we must not read too much into the use of the term ‘enrolled’. It simply means that a list had been made. Consider how we regularly speak of Sunday School teachers and even children being enrolled. Or alternatively that they had simply been brought into the reckoning of the elders.

So these women would simply have done what many dedicated Christian women had done. They were not super-saints. They had simply demonstrated a true Christian commitment, and their genuine love and concern for others. But they had done it with a smile and without grumbling (‘diligently following every good work’) and were recognised as the kind of women who were willing to do anything reasonable, and even go beyond that. Their age would make them suitable in that they were likely to have few other distractions, if any, would probably be known as very sober, and would not be so frowned on in having to deal with men. For although much of their work would be among women, they would tend to have more contact with men than the ordinary women in the church. And when involved with helping males they would not be a temptation to any males whom they assisted or who visited the church, as they would be seen by them as motherly figures. On top of that they would be very conscious in those days that their time was short before they had to go and meet their Master.

In churches where travellers constantly passed through, where slaves might come who were ill-treated, where there would be many sick and where young women would need guidance, such women would have been worth their weight in gold. There is no suggestion that they should be paid. All that was required was that they take a pledge that they would genuinely devote themselves to the work for the remainder of their lives (like any good old time Methodist). Note how at a time when many would think that these women should slacken off, Paul expects them to buckle down and become even more active. The hearer they got to the finishing tape, the harder they should run. ,

Verse 11-12

‘But younger widows refuse, for when they have become lax against Christ, they desire to marry, having condemnation, because they have rejected their initial dedication of faith.’

But younger widows were to be refused. They were not, of course, refused the opportunity of doing good works. What was refused was their dedicating themselves to a ‘permanent full-time commitment’, and that was because understandably they might wish eventually to marry again, at which point they would then be unable to maintain their full-time commitment to the work of the church to which they were irrevocably committed. As bearing children was also very much in the purpose of God for women (1 Timothy 2:15) it must not be hindered by having made a commitment which would then have to be broken. For Paul recognised that if they subsequently began to feel an urge to fulfil their calling to produce children (1 Timothy 2:15) they might then break their commitment and marry, and thus come under the charge that they had failed in their dedication In Paul’s words, ‘they would have become lax against Christ’. Thus it is clear that the commitment once given was seen as binding them permanently in a world where people were used to being ‘bound’ by their obligations. If we took our commitments as seriously as Paul did these women’s commitment, the church today would make a much greater impact on the world. But today we think we can treat God as though He must fit into our plans.

There is no suggestion here that marrying and having children was in any way second best. Indeed that was God’s requirement for women of suitable age (1 Timothy 2:15). It was simply a recognition that once a person had made a firm commitment to a particular Christian service it was seen as permanently binding, as something that God had called them into.

Verse 13

‘And together with this they learn also to be idle, going about from house to house; and not only idle, but tittle-tattlers and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.’

Another reason why they were unsuitable is that at the same time as they are beginning to think in terms of marrying again, when they spend their time visiting houses, they will begin to tittle tattle and become busybodies, because they do not have the perspective and seriousness of the older women Their younger energies and outlook, combined with their new freedom from other responsibilities, would cause them to go astray. They may give away secrets that should be confidential, or talk about ‘the latest thing’ being taught by some in the churches (the old wives’ fables previously mentioned), or go in for prying instead of praying, prying into things that do not concern them, rather than simply getting down to the task in hand. Even their tongues may run away with them so that they may say foolish things, because they are less restrained and therefore more likely to be untrustworthy in this respect. (We must remember that Paul is not theorising. He is speaking from experience as someone who had seen it all happen. He was an expert on human nature).

Verse 14-15

‘I desire therefore that the younger widows marry, bear children, rule the household, give no occasion to the adversary for reviling, for already some are turned aside after Satan.

He does not disagree with their intention to have children. Indeed he fully agrees that it would be the best thing for them. For if they marry, produce children, and run the household, thus fulfilling God’s will (1 Timothy 2:15), they will have no time for idleness and will not as a result give any opponent of the church (or, less likely, ‘the Adversary himself’) any opportunity to revile them. And he knows what he is talking about, for he knows how foolish some younger marriageable women of his acquaintance have been in the past. They may well even have helped to spread the old wives’ tales, which is probably what he means by their ‘turning aside after Satan’, although the alternative possibility is immorality. Older women would not have been so vulnerable. They were more single-minded without having so many other possibilities of life to distract them. Seemingly the church was now in the happy position of being able to pick and choose so that it was not a problem of finding people. It was rather a problem of ensuring that they chose the most suitable.

The word ‘occasion’ is another military metaphor signifying ‘a base of operations’. See its use in Romans 7:8; Romans 7:11; 2 Corinthians 5:12; 2 Corinthians 11:12; Galatians 5:13.

Verse 16

‘If any woman who believes has widows, let her relieve them, and let not the church be burdened, that it may relieve them that are indeed widows.’

And while he is speaking about women he brings home the fact that the responsibility mentioned in 1 Timothy 5:8 does not only apply to men. Women too should recognise their responsibility for caring for older related widows (mothers or mothers-in-law) so that the burden does not fall on the church, in order that the church may concentrate on those who are ‘widows indeed’, that is, those who are devoid of relatives.

Verse 17

‘Let the elders who run things well be counted worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in the word and in teaching.’

In view of the parallel with 1 Timothy 5:1 ‘the elders’ means ‘the older men’. Thus it then has to be defined as Paul wishes to refer to the church elders. There is possibly a play on the word. The older men who run their families well are worthy of double honour because as Christians they are not only physical fathers to their families but also spiritual ones, while especially to be honoured are the church elders, for they teach and minister the word and are the same to the whole church. If they run the church well they also are to be counted worthy of double honour. ‘Proistemi’ means ‘be over’ (1 Thessalonians 5:12); ‘be in authority’ (over the household and over children - 1 Timothy 3:4-5; 1 Timothy 3:12); ‘maintain, engage in’ (good works - Titus 3:8). For these are the men who labour in the word and in teaching.

The reference to ‘honour’ looks back to the honouring of widows who have no relations, which had in mind the command to honour father and mother. Here then the double honouring is because they are fathers in two ways, either, in the case of the older men, over their households both physically and spiritually, or, in the case of the elders, over their households and the church. Alternatively it may mean ‘being treated generously’ or be connected with the ideas of the double portion received by the eldest son (Deuteronomy 21:17).

Verses 17-21

Timothy’s And the Church’s Responsibility Towards the Elders (1 Timothy 5:17-21).

Having spoken in depth about the women Paul now turns his attention to the men. He has reversed the order in 1 Timothy 5:1 in chiastic fashion. 1 Timothy 5:1 spoke of the men and then the women. From 1 Timothy 5:2 onwards he has mainly dealt with the women, now he turns his attention to the men. On that basis the word elders here signifies all elder males, so that it then has to be defined because Paul especially has in mind the church elders. If the widows are worthy to be honoured by being treated as part of the family and as mothers in God, the old men and elders are to be so even more. For they should be honoured both for twofold reason, first for being physical heads of their households and then for being spiritual ‘fathers’ to them, and this is especially true of the church elders for they run the church well and labour in the teaching of the word. They too then should be able to benefit from the church’s provision. Nor must any charge be accepted against them unless well witnessed, although if a charge of sin is proved against them then they must be admonished in front of the whole church.


a Let the elders (or ‘older men’) who run things well be counted worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in the word and in teaching (1 Timothy 5:17).

b For the scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox when he treads out the corn.” And, “The labourer is worthy of his hire” (1 Timothy 5:18).

c Do not receive an accusation against an elder, except at the mouth of two or three witnesses (1 Timothy 5:19).

b Those who are sinning reprove in the sight of all, that the rest also may be in fear (1 Timothy 5:20).

aI charge you in the sight of God, and Christ Jesus, and the elect angels, that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing by partiality (1 Timothy 5:21).

Note that in ‘a’ the elders who lead well are to be honoured, and in the parallel the treatment of them is to be carried out as in the sight of God, Christ and the angels. In ‘b’ the worthy are to be provide for, and in the parallel the unworthy are to be rebuked. Centrally in ‘c’ no accusation must be accepted against an elder on a single testimony.

Verse 18

‘For the scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox when he treads out the corn.” And, “The labourer is worthy of his hire.” ’

He then cites Scripture to demonstrate how they should be honoured. The first quotation is from Deuteronomy 25:4 where it literally means that the ox should not be muzzled but should be allowed to partake of the grain while it threshes it. Notice that he does not apply the illustration, he expects Timothy to understand it. It is cited in 1 Corinthians 9:9 where it refers to the right of those who minister the Gospel to be provided for and Paul there claims that its primary intention is to indicate that we should be generous to those who work on our behalf. He makes clear in 1 Corinthians that his point is that while God may be concerned for the welfare of animals, He is even more concerned for the welfare of human beings. But in Timothy’s case he expects him to have the discernment to understand this without spelling it out. This idea fits well with the next citation which is from Luke 10:7, where the idea is that the messenger of the Gospel deserves to be properly fed. Note how the words of Jesus are now included as Scripture. (Paul would never have combined the two like this unless that was what he meant. He had too high a view of Scripture). The citation may have been taken from a source which Luke also called on, or directly from Luke’s draft, for Paul would no doubt be familiar with Luke’s work in producing a Gospel. It does not necessarily indicate that the work was yet complete.

‘For the Scripture says.’ A typical Pauline way of expressing the idea. Compare Romans 4:3; Romans 9:17; Romans 11:2; Galatians 4:30; etc. It was indicating that both these sayings had the authority of God behind them because they came from God’s inspired word.

Verse 19

‘Do not receive an accusation against an elder, except at the mouth of two or three witnesses.’

Paul is aware how vulnerable these elders will be to accusations and charges made by different disgruntled members of the church he has good reason to be aware that even Christians can become disgruntled), and so he points out that accusations made by just one person against elders, which cannot be substantiated by at least one other independent person, should not be accepted. The elders are to have the same protection as would be available in a Jewish court of law (Deuteronomy 9:15). It may be that the protection applies to all older men, for they would all have responsibilities over their wider families and might similarly be open to abuse.

Verse 20

‘Those who are sinning reprove in the sight of all, that the rest also may be in fear.’

On the other hand where an elder is found to have sinned on the testimony of two or three reliable witnesses, he must be reproved in the sight of all. Public recognition must result in public chastening and repentance. By being in such a privileged position what they do reflects on the whole church. ‘All’ probably means before the whole church as in Matthew 18:16, but may mean the whole body of elders. Clearly this would depend on the importance of the sin and what kind it was. The principles of Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1 would be called to mind. But it draws out the fact that the elder who sins openly is doing so as the representative of the church, and so has offended the whole church.

Note that Paul is using the present tense. This may be intended to suggest a reference to some elders who were presently sinning, and refusing to acknowledge their sin and repent. Primarily in view therefore may be the sins of the false teachers such as Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Timothy 1:20), and Philetus (2 Timothy 2:17). This included their actual teaching which was causing so many problems (1 Timothy 1:3; 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 1 Timothy 6:3). But it would also include the resulting strife, dissension and disunity which were the result of their activities (1 Timothy 1:4-5; 1 Timothy 6:4-5). There is no question, however, about the fact that it is to refer more generally to any and all who become involved with continual open sinning. It should also be noted that the aim of such public rebuke is in order to produce repentance in the sinning elder (2 Timothy 2:25), and as a warning to the remainder of the elders, and indeed as a warning to the whole church of the gravity of sin and its consequences.

This did not, of course, mean that the elders could not differ on secondary matters. The problem with the false teachers here was that they were wrong on the basic doctrines of the person of Jesus, and the historical significance of the cross and the resurrection. They had moved away from the ‘rooting in history’ of Christian doctrine, and were denying the equivalent of the Apostles’ Creed. It is on such central teachings that unity must be maintained, while disagreement on secondary matters must not be allowed to become an issue. It is the truth about Jesus Christ that matters, not our disagreements on the details of interpretations of future history and ritual.

Verse 21

‘I charge you in the sight of God, and Christ Jesus, and the elect angels, that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing by partiality.’

This solemn injunction which follows demonstrates how important he sees these instructions to be. He wants all to be aware that these are they who watch over the church from Heaven, as the elders watch over it on earth. This explains why he brings in here the elect angels, who are the equivalent in Heaven to the elders on earth (appointed servants of God). ‘God, Christ Jesus and the elect angels’ thus parallels in Heaven the idea of ‘God, Christ Jesus and the elders’ on earth. By ‘the elect angels’ he may have in mind here those special angels who care for and represent the church before the throne, those whom John in vision calls ‘the twenty four elders’ (Revelation 4:4; Revelation 4:10-11; Revelation 5:8-10). For such a ministry of angels see Hebrews 1:14, and compare 1 Corinthians 11:10; Revelation 1:20; Psalms 91:11-12; Matthew 4:6-7. Paul’s injunction here may, however, be seen as also referring to the whole letter. Compare his reference to a ‘charge’ to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:18. Compare 1 Timothy 6:13.

This awareness of the presence of God and Christ Jesus among the believing community was to be a strong inducement to obedient Christian living (1 Timothy 5:4; 1 Timothy 6:13; 2 Timothy 2:14; 2 Timothy 4:1; Matthew 18:18-20). It was precisely this awareness of the Lord God walking in the camp which was, in similar circumstances, to motivate the newborn community of Israel to assurance and full obedience (Leviticus 26:16-17; Deuteronomy 23:14). Compare also "the Lord your God, who is among you is a God Who is jealous over you" (Deuteronomy 6:15).

While it certainly refers to what immediately precedes, Paul’s injunction may here, however, be seen as also referring to the whole letter. Compare his reference to a ‘charge’ to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:18, and compare 1 Timothy 6:13.

Timothy is therefore firmly exhorted to ensure that he entertains no prejudice against any, and that he shows no partiality. He must be openly fair in his dealings with all and must ensure that he acts for the good of the whole without having any bias towards one against another, precisely because he does it before God, Christ Jesus and the heavenly eldership. For similar calls to impartiality see Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 1:17; 2 Chronicles 19:7; Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25; James 2:1; 1 Peter 1:17.

Paul Gives Some Personal Injunctions To Timothy About His Own Behaviour, And His Responsibility To Use Discernment Especially With Regard To Appointing Men To God’s Service By The Laying On Of Hands (1 Timothy 5:22-25).

Timothy is now warned against making rash appointments, or appointments without due care, for he is to remember that the laying on of hands represents an identification with the person on whom hands are laid. To lay hands on someone is therefore to take responsibility for that man’s ministry. It is important to look below the surface and ensure the reliability and integrity of the person involved. Similarly he must also keep himself pure, and learn how to look below the surface and use discernment in everything, in the same way as Ephesian water should be mixed with wine before being drunk because of its impurities, so as to avoid its most unpleasant effects. The illustration is an apt one. Natural man is very much like Ephesian water and needs the wine of the new age (John 2:1-10; Isaiah 55:1-3) and the wine of the Spirit in order to make him palatable. It is in fact like some sins and some good works. Sometimes its effects are obvious immediately, at others it takes time to work through, and the after effects may be delayed. In the same way some sins are immediately obvious, while others may only become apparent later. All this must be taken into account, both in making appointments of responsible officials (including widows) and in dealing with people.


a Lay hands hastily on no man, neither be a partaker of other men’s sins (1 Timothy 5:22 a).

b Keep yourself pure (1 Timothy 5:22 b).

c Do not be a drinker of water any longer, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities (1 Timothy 5:23).

b Some men’s sins are evident, going before to judgment, and some men also they follow after (1 Timothy 5:24).

a In the same way also there are good works which are evident, and such as are otherwise cannot be hid (1 Timothy 5:25).

Note that in ‘a’ discernment in selection of church servants is to be exercised, and in the parallel those who do good works may not be apparent immediately but will be eventually. In ‘b’ Timothy is to keep himself pure, and in the parallel this is in contrast with the fact that some men’s sins are obvious and others take time to discern. Centrally in ‘c’ Timothy has to learn to look below the surface and use discernment, not only personally but with regard to his responsibilities in Ephesus.

Verse 22

‘Keep yourself pure.’

This may be seen as a separate injunction to also ensure that he keeps himself pure, but it surely includes what has just been said. By being careful and prayerful in making appointments he will consequently keep himself pure from their sins. Both ideas apply, for he has had hands laid on him by others, and must ensure that he is loyal to the purpose for which they set him aside, in the same way as he will expect the same from those on whom he lays his hands. Purity, positive goodness and an avoidance of all sin, is an essential qualification for a servant of God, and Timothy must maintain it at all times both actually and potentially.

Verse 23

‘Do not be a drinker of water any longer, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities.’

What appears here to be an abrupt change of subject is in fact probably the use of a vivid illustration comparable to that concerning the ox and the threshingfloor (1 Timothy 5:18), which he also did not feel that he needed to explain. (We might see Paul as saying, ‘Think about it. Do you really think that God is too concerned about the yips?’, in the same way as he said a similar thing about God not being over-concerned about oxen (1 Corinthians 9:9). It is not to say that God is not concerned about the oxen or the yips. It is because there are some things that are even more important). So he is saying, ‘remember your own experience with the water at Ephesus and recognise that you need also to drink of God-given wine when you make your decisions’. Both would be familiar with how Jesus had turned water into wine (John 2:1-10), indicating the new age of the Spirit.

So just as he had to learn to use discernment when drinking the impure Ephesian water, and to mix it with wine so as to prevent its harmful and unpleasant effects, so should he by the Spirit have regard to the impurities within men and cater for them in the best ways possible (which was why younger widows should be prevented from being ‘enrolled’). He may thus well be saying, in a way that he knew that Timothy would understand, ‘be careful what you are doing when you appoint people to God’s service, lest you finish up with the equivalent of a pain in your gut’. Or to put it another way, don’t just ‘drink water’ in an unthinking way when you make appointments, take steps to ensure that the worst will not happen by ‘drinking wine’ and only appointing worthy men. (It is hardly likely that the elders at Ephesus would not have already given similar advice to Timothy about the use of wine when they saw that he was suffering from the effects of the drinking water. Perhaps, however, he had asked Paul’s advice about it in which case Paul now gives it while also using it as a vivid illustration).

This is not to deny that Timothy might genuinely have had irritable bowel syndrome. But it is to suggest that Paul, in reminding him of the remedy for it in this case, humorously uses it to get over his main point. Discernment must be used, both in drinking water and in appointing people to the service of God, and that discernment comes through the Spirit. For at the back of the illustration may well have been what would be the well known story of Jesus turning water into wine (John 2:1-10), indicating the coming of the new age of the Spirit, combined with Isaiah 55:1-3, ‘come to the waters, --- buy wine and milk without money and without price’, which essentially pointed to the same.

The quality of the water is why wine is drunk in so many countries, not only as a pleasure, but out of necessity. It is because the water is almost undrinkable. It would have been much worse in Paul’s day, although stomach’s would have been more used to it. Ephesian water, however, appears to have been worse than most. But this suggestion that it is also intended to be an illustration is backed up by the examples that follow, for which the illustration is very apt.

Verse 24

‘Some men’s sins are evident, going before to judgment, and some men also they follow after.’

The illustration continues. Just as Ephesian water causes some to throw up immediately, and with others only has a much slower effect which is not at first visible, so is it with men. With some their sin is immediately obvious. With others it takes time for their sin to work through. With appointments to Christian service it is the second kind of sin that needs to be most guarded against, the kind that only becomes apparent later. Few would appoint an openly sinful man (or so one would think), but how easily, if care is not taken, can a man be appointed who will go on to be a disaster. Thus in making the selection wine is needed as well as water.

All will, however, be revealed at the Judgment, even if not before, for then the activities of servants of God will be tried in the fire to see of what kind they are. Then the sins which follow after will also be taken into account (1 Corinthians 3:10-16).

Verse 25

‘In the same way also there are good works which are evident, and such as are otherwise cannot be hid.’

And the same applies to a man’s ‘good works’. In some they are apparent immediately, in others they will be revealed, but only later, for in the nature of things they cannot finally not come to light. It is often the case that the person who seems (because possibly of diffidence) to have few talents, turns out to be the brightest star. Many a great speaker is also basically shy. The principle is clear, a man cannot always be judged by what he is at present. Careful discernment needs to be made, with the help of prayer, so as to detect what he might become in the future, both as regards sin and as regards quality.

Thus in the light of all this how important it is to use discerning judgment in all appointments, and especially when appointing elders. Lack of discernment could not only bring later disappointment and heartache, it could also result in hidden spiritual talents not being discerned. It is a reminder of how much prayer should go into such decisions, and how necessary it is to discern what lies underneath.


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 5:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, June 4th, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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