Summary: Should the congregation have an "Order of Widows" to serve within the assembly?

“Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. For some have already strayed after Satan. If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.” [1]

Counted among the members of most of the churches of our Lord lies an untapped source of power. This power of which I speak is resident in each church, though it is ignored in most. This power is present in our own congregation; and if utilised at all, it is underutilised. Should that power be unleashed, it would have an impact far out of proportion to the source. The power of which I am speaking is the power of godly women—widowed and with a desire to focus on God’s glory.

The issue which Paul addresses is poorly understood, especially in the modern context. In part, this is the result of a transition over time from an order of widows to an order of virgins, especially among many liturgical churches. The order of widows that is presented in outline form in our text was at one time referred to as “the altar of God,” [2] a term that appears to have first been used by Polycarp, the disciple of the Apostle John. The term, when applied to the widows, was an indication of the high respect accorded these godly women. [3] The rationale behind this particular designation was that the widows received support from the churches, just as funds were brought to the altar, and because they blessed the people through prayer and fasting on behalf of the congregations. It is a statement of the high regard of the labour of prayer and fasting on behalf of the congregation, a regard that is muted among too many of our churches in this day.

The order of widows was responsible among the churches in which they ministered to pray and to minister to sick women. These were not deaconesses; they were assuredly widows. It was expected that these widows would conduct these ministries primarily from their homes, not wasting time running from house to house, spreading gossip or stirring up quarrels. They were to be models of godliness and decorum.

There appears to be a story to tell here—one that is almost forgotten in the mist of time. Give me your attention as I endeavour to unravel some of the historical context in order to open some exciting possibilities for our own congregation.

THE ORDER OF WIDOWS — “Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age… Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.” The Apostle has been focused on moving to action any family with a connection to those in need. The general principle is that each family is responsible before God to care for its own members. Whether a family counts among its numbers a widow or a widower, an orphaned child, someone who is physically or mentally incapacitated or even an individual who is unable to work for a period, the family is responsible to ensure that family members are provided for.

It should be an axiom among the churches that families provide for their own members. It should not be assumed that those who did not have family were neglected; the account provided in ACTS 6:1-6 makes it clear that all widows represented in the assembly were cared for. Though the discussion concerns widows, it should be obvious from previous studies that the Apostle’s instruction enjoins involvement of the congregation for any who are vulnerable. My personal conviction is that no member of the assembly who is truly incapable of providing for himself or herself should ever be compelled to appeal to government for assistance. It is significant that one ancient account speaks of over fifteen hundred widows and persons in distress in one particular congregation. [4]

In effect, we witness two orders—one order, informal and supported by their own family; the other, formally established by the elders and supported by gifts from the church. It is apparent that Timothy was to supervise the ministry of widows including regular monitoring of the approved list, finances and responsibilities. It is this latter group of widows—widows monitored by the elders and supplied from the gifts of the congregation—that will occupy attention in the remainder of the message this day.

It is apparent that at least some widows in the New Testament congregations were enrolled into some sort of order. I use the term “enrolled” advisedly. That there was among the early churches an order of widows appears to be generally accepted among scholars. [5] These widows were not clergy—they performed none of the ordinances nor served in any form of clerical role, neither did they function as deacons—they were a distinct order with prescribed responsibilities among the saints. The basis for appointment to the order of widows is provided in our text. Ignatius greets “the order of widows” in Philippi. [6] Likewise, an ancient writer presenting himself as Clement, a companion of Peter, notes the institution of the “order of widows.” [7] This order of widows among the churches appears to have continued for at least three to four hundred years after the establishment of such an order. Only gradually did the order cease to exist, having been transformed into something quite different from what Paul instituted.

Paul sets as a standard that the widow must truly be a widow [1 TIMOTHY 5:5]. The criterion for establishing her qualification was that she had to be at least sixty years of age and well known for good deeds. Several examples of the deeds that would qualify are spelled out. She was to have been known for her commitment to her husband; and she was to be recognised as bringing up children—her own, of course, but possibly orphans as well. She was to be known as hospitable [literally, “welcoming strangers”] and for refreshing the saints. She was to care for those who were afflicted and to have devoted herself to good work. In that environment where Christians were often persecuted and despised, she would have ample opportunity to care for those in trouble and to show hospitality. We will consider these standards in greater detail later in the message.

Enrollment, to be blunt, was tantamount to being put on the payroll of the congregation. [8] Literature from the Second and Third Centuries indicates that these widows received a pension from the churches, permitting them to dedicate themselves to prayer day and night. These widows were charged to be examples of Christian behaviour in the community, to visit the sick and to pray with them. The “Canons of the Church of Alexandria” states that widows were to pray and fast for the ministries of the church. [9] They were to pray for the labours of the elders and for the needy represented within the congregation. This work of prayer is emphasised in another ancient writing which dictates that those in the order of widows were specifically to pray for those who supplied their needs. [10] In other words, the widows were to pray for the church.

This latter writing goes into considerable detail concerning the selection and appointment to the order of widows. It also addresses the work the widows were to perform. However, it is apparent that by this time (almost 300 years after the Resurrection of our Lord), a change was taking place. Widows were not proscribed from remarriage. Paul specifically states his preference that younger widows should marry [1 TIMOTHY 5:14]. However, in the fourth century literate cited, widows appear to have taken a vow of chastity which precluded marriage. [11]

In other words, what began as a ministry with definite qualifications was being transformed into something it was never meant to be. The order of widows was being transmogrified into an order of virgins. That the apostolic appointment has been changed does not imply that the Apostle’s purpose has been somehow invalidated. Those who are truly widows have a powerful role to play among the churches of our Lord. Though it may not be necessary to enroll those who are truly widows in order to provide for them, it may be a wise step for the churches to again organise widows to give themselves to prayer and to ministries to those in need.

We have several examples of women who acted informally to fulfil the model for those who would be appointed to the order of widows. One such individual is a woman known as Dorcas. Dorcas is not specifically said to have been a widow, but she appears to have organised the widows in Joppa, perhaps indicating that she herself was widowed. The account is found in Doctor Luke’s record of Peter’s ministry in the Acts.

“There was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord” [ACTS 9:36-43].

Another commendable example of a godly widow that preceded the account in our text is a woman named Anna, the aged widow who encountered the holy family in the Temple. Again, Doctor Luke provides the account of the intersection of her life with that of the Master. “There was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” [LUKE 2:36-38]. Note that this dear woman was denoted as worshipping through fasting and prayer night and day. Only eternity will tell what power was unleashed through her prayers. It seemed sufficiently important that the Holy Spirit included the account of her ministry.

Peter’s mother-in-law appears to have lived with his family [e.g. MATTHEW 8:14, 15]. It would be reasonable to speculate that she was a widow who now lived with her daughter, Peter’s wife. As soon as she was healed, she arose and served the Master. That is consistent with the attitude found in that ancient world. Mary, the mother of John Mark, also appears to have been a widow invested in the service of the early church [see ACTS 12:12 ff.]. Again, since no husband is named, it is reasonable to assume that she was a widow.

Similarly, Mary, the mother of our Lord, was commended into the care of John the Apostle. You will recall the account provided in John’s Gospel. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” [JOHN 19:26, .27]. It seems apparent that Mary was widowed by this point. It is likely that Jesus committed her care to John not because her other sons were unwilling or incapable of caring for her, but rather because they did not share her faith.

Gathered in the Upper Room were one hundred twenty disciples. Among these disciples were an undefined number of women. Luke writes, “They returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” [ACTS 1:12-14]. Throughout His ministry and afterwards, there were women counted among the devoted followers of the Master. Some of these women, perhaps most of them, may well have been widows; there appears to be little reason to believe otherwise. What I would have you see is that they were present, participating in prayers and supporting the advance of the Faith.

I have never established an order of widows in any of the churches I have served, but I have been blessed through numerous widows who committed themselves to pray for me and for the service I provided before the Lord. I have spoken in past messages of two such widows—Sally Martin and Sue Dollin, both of whom served among the saints in San Francisco. Each was a godly woman known for her good works who committed herself to prayer and fasting.

When I met Sue Dollin, she was already well advanced in years. However, she was faithful to the congregation, praying faithfully and fervently for the pastor and for all who laboured in that congregation. I recall one occasion when she spoke with me, bemoaning her loss of opportunity for service that accompanied her advancing years. She could no longer do all she had once done as a member of the assembly, but she was still such a blessing and such a source of hope and power for the people of God.

Mrs. Dollin was bemoaning her inability to teach as she had done in earlier years. “I once worked with the children,” she stated, “but I must wear this hearing aid now, and I can’t understand the little children when they speak. Their shrill voices are just noise in my ears. I can’t do anything but pray.”

Dear me, she could do nothing but pray! Would to God that the congregation had been blessed with a dozen like Sue Dollin! What power was in her prayers. She was a woman of faith, and her prayers were mighty before the Lord. The pastor was blessed through her prayers. I was blessed to have such a godly and powerful woman mentioning my name before the throne of God. All who knew this gracious widow benefited from the gift of faith that God had bestowed upon her. Heaven alone will reveal the souls ushered into the presence of the Son of God as result of the prayers of Mrs. Dollin.

Sally Martin was known to our children as “Grandma Martin.” As had been out custom from earliest days in the Faith, we adopted her as a grandmother. She was a mother in Israel. Faithful to the assembly, Sally Martin committed herself to pray for the meetings, to pray for the pastor and to pray for all who served within the church. I testify that I personally benefitted greatly from the prayers and fasting of this blessed saint. She told Lynda and me of how she gave herself to pray for all the members each week, praying through the roll of those united as members of the assembly. I have no doubt that much of the success of that ministry resulted through the prayers of dear saints like Sally Martin. Quietly and consistently, Mrs. Martin encouraged younger women and visited the sick. In the truest sense of the work she fulfilled what would be expected of one who should have been enrolled in an order of widows.

ENROLLED AS “A WIDOW” — “Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.”

There are standards for enrollment into an order of widows. This isn’t surprising, as there are standards for every other facet of labour within the assembly of the Lord. Elders must meet strict standards in order to receive appointment to holy office. Deacons are required to meet strict standards before they receive appointment to the service to the members of the Body. Likewise, those widows appointed to serve in the order of widows were required to meet specific standards. The standards provided actually are only three, though examples of what the third standard means is then provided. Widows were to be at least sixty years of age, committed to their husbands and known for good works. Good works that would qualify a widow for appointment to the order are then listed.

It is important to keep in mind that family responsibilities to provide for its own members are always in view of what the Apostle says. The order of widows was designed to provide a stipend, a pension, a means of support for those widows who had no family to care for them. The responsibility of the family to provide for its own members, especially for widows, was explored in a previous message. [12] This responsibility lies behind the Apostle’s instruction given in these verses. So, whatever may be said concerning qualifications for appointment to the order of widows assumes that no family support is available for this woman. The church is assuming responsibility for her care. What qualifications are given?

Sixty was the minimum age for enrollment. It is interesting to note that “Plato, in his plan for the ideal state, held that sixty was the right age for men and women to become priests and priestesses.” [13] In that ancient culture, sixty appears to have been the age at which people retired from their work to a life of contemplation. [14] From a practical standpoint, older widows would have the time, maturity, character, reputation and compassion to serve both the Master and the congregation. Moreover, enrollment in the order of widows appears to have required a pledge not to remarry [cf. 1 TIMOTHY 5:12].

No one should take this to mean that younger widows who were in need would be denied help in the early churches. The believers were moved with compassion to provide for all who were truly in need. However, so long as there were family to provide, the emphasis would be for the family to care for its own members. The idea is not to codify an arbitrary age in order to cut down on liability, but to impose structure on a ministry which was just beginning at this time.

Paul was concerned that younger widows would not be suitable to make the commitment required of those underwritten by the congregation. I hope to address this at length in a later message; however, it is obvious that his concern was that the church must receive a return for the investment it was making. This expectation is reasonable. If elders are to be supported by the assembly—and they are, as we shall see when we consider 1 TIMOTHY 5:17-20, then it is reasonable to anticipate that the order of widows will likewise give a return for the investment. In other words, this is not merely a programme for welfare; it is a means of providing opportunity for godly women to enter into the labours of the congregation in a meaningful way. The first congregation did care for the needy and the vulnerable through distributing immediate assistance [cf. ACTS 6:1-6]. The programme Paul is setting in place goes beyond the distribution of immediate aid to integrating qualified individuals into the labour of the congregation.

Paul states that those appointed to this order were to have “been the wife of one husband.” The term use is “one man woman”; it is a concept that we have encountered before. Overseers (elders) are to be “the husband of one wife” [1 TIMOTHY 3:2; TITUS 1:6], or a “one woman man.” The same qualification is imposed on deacons [1 TIMOTHY 3:12]. As was true in the case of overseers and deacons, the restriction is not that the widow must have been married, but that she was committed to her husband. The restriction was not an attempt to address polyandry, as such would have already been excluded from other portions of the Word of God. What is clearly in view is that this widow must have been attested as one who was committed to marriage, committed to her husband and without a wandering eye.

If she would be modelling godliness for younger women, it would be important for her to have avoided being coquettish, flirtatious or known for being coy around men. It would be vital that she have been known as one who loved her husband and her family. An example of what Paul likely had in mind is provided in his instruction to Titus. “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” [TITUS 2:3-5].

The third condition for enrollment in the order of widows is that the woman must be recognised for her good works. This is not significantly different from the requirement that an elder must be “above reproach” [1 TIMOTHY 3:2; TITUS 1:6] or the requirement that a deacon be “dignified” [1 TIMOTHY 3:8]. The Apostle expands on this concept of good works with five conditional sentences—“If she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.” Each of these good works that are named is a first class conditional—that is, they each assume the reality of what is presented. It will be helpful for us to examine these examples in some detail, always bearing in mind that these are suggestive of the good works that would be in view rather than understanding them to be an exhaustive list of good work.

The preliminary good work mentioned may well be the primary good work of any mother. The verb Paul uses is a hapax legomenon (eteknotróphēse), a word that occurs only here in the New Testament. It should be obvious that Paul has in view, not the woman’s ability to conceive and bear children, but her ability to raise her children responsibly.

This should not be seen as a setting a condition to exclude the barren; rather this is focusing on her responsibility as a parent. It is always possible that she has taken in orphans, raising them as her own children—in itself, a good work. Again, this example is comparable to the requirement for an elder to “manage his own household well” and to have children who are believers [1 TIMOTHY 3:4; TITUS 1:6]. If the widow is to be considered for appointment to this critical position, questions concerning her family need to be asked, “Where are her children? Why do her children not accept responsibility to provide for their mother?”

The second example of a good work is that she “has shown hospitality.” The verb used here is also a hapax legomenon (exenodóchēsen). Hospitality is important in our day; but it was essential in the days of the New Testament. Perhaps it should again be essential. The New Testament made hospitality a major component of the ministry of the congregation. Consider several of the examples calling for hospitality that are found in the pages of the Word.

“Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” [ROMANS 12:13]. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” [HEBREWS 13:2]. “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” [1 PETER 4:9]. Overseers were to be denoted for hospitality [1 TIMOTHY 3:2; TITUS 1:8].

Jesus commanded His disciples, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town” [MATTHEW 10:8-14].

The early Christians were scattered by persecution. In such a hostile environment, hospitality was a vital component for the spread of the Gospel. Thus, a widow who was to be appointed to the order of widows was to have excelled in the ministry of hospitality. Perhaps Phoebe was such an individual marked out as hospitable; Paul commends her in his Letter to the Roman Christians: “[Phoebe] has been a great help to many, including me” [ROMANS 16:2]. [15] Though the widow would have been denoted throughout her life as hospitable, her hospitality would have continued after widowhood through opening her home to those in need of shelter and of good. This gives evidence that the order of widows was not restricted to those who were destitute. Women would not have been able to open their homes or to assist through providing hospitality if they were destitute.

Third, the congregation must consider whether she “has washed the feet of the saints.” This would undoubtedly have been fulfilled literally and symbolically. The emphasis, however, is upon humility in serving the needs of others, especially fellow believers. When guests were welcomed into a home, the host was responsible to provide water and a towel for washing the feet. In this instance, the implication is that this woman was known as refreshing her guests through not only providing water and a towel, but through bowing low to wash the feet of those entering into her home. Such an action would be a symbol of acceptance and welcome, in addition to refreshing the visitor. The act is practical, reflecting the humility revealed by Jesus when He washed the feet of His disciples [see JOHN 13:1-17]. Therefore, what is sought is evidence that the widow to be appointed to the order of widows expresses a servant’s heart.

Though it should not need to be said, because of confusion it must be stated that when Paul uses the term “saints,” he is applying a familiar title to all who believe in the Son of God and not to a particular class of Christians [e.g. ROMANS 1:7; 1 CORINTHIANS 1:2]. Christians are identified as saints, holy ones or those who are set apart in the New Testament. If you are born from above and into the Kingdom of God, you are a saint. Candidly, all the world is divided into two categories—saints and aint’s. Therefore, the focus is on humble service among the faithful.

A fourth good work is identified as caring for the afflicted. The verb that is translated “cared for” (èpērkesev) is a rare word in the New Testament. Other than in this tenth verse, the word occurs only two other times [1 TIMOTHY 5:16, “If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows”]. This compound word originally meant “to avail” or “to be strong enough for.” [16] In time, the word came to mean “to ward off” some evil from another before finally conveying the meaning “to come to the aid or to the relief of another.” [17]

When Paul states that the widow was to be known as having cared for “the afflicted,” he used a word that would have been understood to speak of an ongoing state of life. The picture is that of one who is pressed between a rock and a hard place by outside forces beyond control. Therefore, the widow was to be known as one who willingly took up the plight of those who were overwhelmed and pressed down by the circumstances of life, or who were oppressed by others. The question that would be asked is, “How has she responded to those who were in distress?”

We don’t always realise the persecution, oppression and opposition experienced by these first Christians. The situation for early Christians is graphically described in these words, “Recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” [HEBREWS 10:32-34].

Paul would acknowledge the affliction of believers when he wrote the Thessalonians. “You [Thessalonians] became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit” [1 THESSALONIANS 1:6]. Again, in his second letter to these suffering saints, Paul wrote, “We ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring” [2 THESSALONIANS 1:4]. Such affliction is but verification of the words of the Master. “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” [JOHN 16:33].

The affliction of Christians is becoming too well recognised in some regions of the world such as Syria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Viet Nam and India as fellow Christians are persecuted and oppressed in this day. The need boldly to show hospitality to those undergoing persecution may well become necessary for Christians in North America before my life is complete. Cardinal Francis George of the Archdiocese of Chicago is quoted as saying in 2010, “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.” In fairness to the Cardinal, he completed the statement by speaking hopefully of what lies beyond that dark time. “His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.” [18] I’m less hopeful than the Archbishop; the timeline may be quite a bit shorter than he imagines and the events that follow may be quite different as I look for the return of the Master. There are now opportunities to care for the afflicted, and the opportunities are quite likely to increase in future days.

Finally, the widow to be added to the order of widows must has “devoted herself to every good work.” In other words, the list Paul has just provided is suggestive rather than exhaustive. The life of this godly woman is to be marked by energetic investment in advancing the cause of Christ. Her work began with her family, progressed to addressing the needs of the saints before reaching out to the strangers and the destitute. Though she may have been destitute herself, she has shown herself to be a true follower of the Master, filled with the Holy Spirit through a life demonstrating compassion and concern.

Can we suggest applications for the churches of this day? The answer to this question is, “Yes, we can discover applications for the churches.” Implementing policies for a congregation such as these that have been outlined requires that we teach a view of wealth that is at odds with the prevailing wisdom. Money is not a commodity to be hoarded; it is a tool to be used to glorify God. Wealth is given by our gracious God; it is not given solely for our comfort—it is to be used to honour God who gives strength and the ability to gather wealth. [19]

In great measure because the view of wealth aligned with that which I’ve just outlined, the early churches appear to have instituted an order of widows. As we have seen in previous messages, widows were loosely organised in the Jerusalem congregation to permit care for them [see ACTS 6:1 ff.]. However, within a few decades, as evident from our text, the churches were encouraged to organise “enrollment” for those who were truly widows. This appears to have been a feature in churches with an established congregation; it would not have been found as one of the first ministries or orders instituted in a congregation. Though Ephesus, under the leadership of Timothy appears to have had such an order of widows, we do not see Titus receiving instruction for such an order. The churches with which Titus was dealing were younger churches and not yet able to provide such services. [20]

The advice regarding needy widows is brilliant. The number of widows receiving church support was reduced to those who qualified financially and spiritually. Additionally, some Christian families accepted their sacred responsibilities to care for their own parents. The Ephesian Christians provided a beautiful testimony before the pagan world. Many of those godly widows were provided with an avenue of service, which could only benefit the cause of Christ. Such widows would receive not only what was needed, but they were now able to give according to their ability. Thus, the order of widows would confer dignity and position on those deserving of such recognition. Finally, the younger widows were encouraged to embrace life lived to the glory of God.

The qualities Paul gives illustrate God’s design for women. They are a woman’s highest priorities. By following them, she can make a profound impact on the world. That truth is illustrated in a story told by the Scottish preacher Ian MacClaren of a woman in his church.

As they were talking, she began to wipe her eyes with the corner of her apron, so Dr. MacClaren said, “What’s disturbing you?”

“Oh,” she said, “Sometimes I feel I have done so little and when I think about it it makes my heart heavy, because really I’ve done so little for Jesus.”

“When I was a wee girl the Lord spoke to my heart and I surrendered to Him. And I wanted to live for Him, oh so much. But I feel I haven’t done anything.”

“What have you done with your life?” he asked.

“Oh nothing,” she said, “just nothing. I’ve washed dishes, cooked three meals a day, taken care of my children, mopped the floor, mended the clothes, you know, everything a mother does, that’s all I’ve done.”

MacClaren sat back in his chair and asked, “Where are your boys?”

“Oh, she spoke, “You know I named them all for the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. You know them all and you know where Mark is. You ordained him. He went to China. He’s learned the language and now he is able to minister to the people in the name of the Lord.”

“Where’s Luke?” MacClaren said.

“You know well enough where he is because you sent him out and I had a letter from him the other day. He is in Africa and says a revival has broken out at his mission station.”

“And Matthew?” he queried.

“He’s with his brother in China and they are working together. And John, who’s nineteen, came to me last night to say God has laid Africa on his heart. He said, ‘I’m going to Africa, but don’t worry about it, Mother, because the Lord has shown me that I am to stay with you until you go home to glory, and then I’ll go. Until then I have to take care of you.”

MacClaren looked at that elderly saint and said, “Your life has been wasted, you say?”

“Yes, it has been wasted.”

“You have been cooking and mopping and washing—but I would like to see the reward when you are called home!” [21]

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers, 2001. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[2] Pope Clement I et al., The Apostolic Fathers, vol. 1, The Loeb Classical Library (Heinemann; Macmillan, New York 1912-1913) 287-9

[3] Cf. H. Wayne House, “A Biblical View of Women in the Ministry, Part 5: Distinctive Roles for Women in the Second and Third Centuries,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 146, no. 581 (1989): 43-49

[4] Kirsopp Lake, “Preface,” in Eusebius, The Ecclesiastical History, Vols. 1 and 2: English Translation, T. E. Page, E. Capps, W. H. D. Rouse, L. A. Post and E. H. Warmington, Translated by Kirsopp Lake and J. E. L. Oulton, (The Loeb Classical Library, London; New York, Cambridge, MA; William Heinemann; G. P. Putnam’s Sons; Harvard University Press 1926-32) 119-21

[5] E. g., Paul F. Bradshaw, Maxwell E. Johnson, and L. Edward Phillips, The Apostolic Tradition: a Commentary, cited by Harold W. Attridge (ed.), Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN 2002) 71

[6] Pseudo-Ignatius of Antioch, “The Epistle of Ignatius to the Philippians,” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, in Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and A. Cleveland Coxe (ed.), vol. 1 (Christian Literature Company, Buffalo, NY 1885) 119

[7] Pseudo-Clement of Rome, “Recognitions of Clement,” in Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and A. Cleveland Coxe (ed.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: The Twelve Patriarchs, Excerpts and Epistles, the Clementina, Apocrypha, Decretals, Memoirs of Edessa and Syriac Documents, Remains of the First Ages, M. B. Riddle (trans), vol. 8 (Christian Literature Company, Buffalo, NY 1886) 156

[8] House, op. cit., 45

[9] E.g. Pseudo-Hippolytus of Rome, “Canons of the Church of Alexandria,” in Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and A. Cleveland Coxe (ed.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Novatian, Appendix (Christian Literature Company, Buffalo, NY 1886) 258

[10] “Constitutions of the Holy Apostles,” in Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and A. Cleveland Coxe (ed.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Fathers of the Third Century: Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, Homily, and Liturgies, James Donaldson (trans.), Vol. 7 (Christian Literature Company, Buffalo, NY 1886) 430

[11] Op. cit., 426

[12] Michael Stark, “1 Timothy 5:1-8: Who is Responsible for the Needy?”,, 9 February 2014

[13] William Barclay (ed.), The Daily Study Bible: The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (Westminster John Knox Press, Philadelphia, PA 1975) 109

[14] John F. MacArthur Jr., 1 Timothy, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Moody Press, Chicago, IL 1995) 206

[15] NET Bible, First Edition

[16] Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti (Harper & Brothers, New York 1889) 229

[17] Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI 2000) 159

[18] Tim Drake, “The Myth and the Reality of ‘I’ll Die in My Bed,’” National Catholic Register, October 24, 2012,, accessed 8 March 2013

[19] “Constitutions of the Holy Apostles,” in Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and A. Cleveland Coxe (ed.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Fathers of the Third Century: Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, Homily, and Liturgies, James Donaldson (trans.), Vol. 7 (Christian Literature Company, Buffalo, NY 1886) 426-7; Pseudo-Ignatius of Antioch, “The Epistle of Ignatius to the Philippians,” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, in Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and A. Cleveland Coxe (ed.), vol. 1 (Christian Literature Company, Buffalo, NY 1885) 119; Pseudo-Clement of Rome, “Recognitions of Clement,” in Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and A. Cleveland Coxe (ed.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: The Twelve Patriarchs, Excerpts and Epistles, the Clementina, Apocrypha, Decretals, Memoirs of Edessa and Syriac Documents, Remains of the First Ages, M. B. Riddle (trans), vol. 8 (Christian Literature Company, Buffalo, NY 1886) 135, 156

[20] See Benjamin L. Merkle, “Hierarchy in the Church? Instruction from the Pastoral Epistles Concerning Elders and Overseers,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, Vol. 7, no. 3 (2003) 35

[21] MacArthur, op. cit., 208-9