Summary: Shepherding the flock involves dealing appropriately with elders, women, widows, young men, Not harshly but with love.
Over the last couple of weeks we've looked at the criteria for choosing elders and deacons, we've read Paul's instructions to Timothy to guard his inner life, to train himself in holiness, and now we come to more instructions, this time to do with how he's to relate to others in the congregation and how to arrange the ordering of ministries in the congregation.
First we find an instruction about how to deal with older men. The context is one where Timothy might need to rebuke someone, to pull them into line. In such a case he's to be careful not to speak harshly to such a man but rather to exhort him as a father.
Now notice first of all that Timothy, as the elder appointed by Paul to lead the church, has a responsibility to keep order in the church. This has been a constant theme throughout the letter: he's to correct and admonish those who might lead the congregation astray. So despite the difficulty he might feel in rebuking an older man, he has to do it. In fact he's to do it at whatever level the person is in terms of seniority.
But he's not to do it in an arrogant or harsh manner. Christian Leaders should never consider themselves to be authorities in themselves. No we're always leaders under authority. We're accountable to Jesus Christ our overseer and chief shepherd of the sheep. So he's to treat older men with the respect that's due to them. He's to exhort them as if they were his father. This respect for our elders is something we've largely lost with our egalitarian culture in Australia, but there's a lot to be said for giving those who've gone before us, often pioneering the work in the place where we are now, the respect that they deserve.
Similarly he's to treat older women as mothers and those of a similar age to himself as brothers, or sisters. And notice the added warning: “with absolute purity.” The temptation to use a position of power and authority to attract someone of the opposite sex appears to have been just as great in the first century as it has been more recently. So Paul creates an absolute boundary on the behaviour of Christian leaders - absolute purity. That means purity of mind as much as purity of action. Treat women you minister to as though they were your own sisters. The church would be in a lot less difficulty if ministers had always followed that rule, wouldn't it?
Before we move on let me just comment that the sort of behaviour he describes here is really the sort of meekness in leadership that Jesus called for. It's not weakness. In fact it's the opposite. It's leadership that has sufficient strength not to need to force people to behave, because their gentle persuasion is so effective.
Paul then moves on to focus on 3 other groupings: widows, elders and, in the next chapter, slaves, and the church's responsibility towards them. And notice that in this chapter, ministry to the congregation and support by the congregation go together.
Widows - the principal and the practice
Widows were in a difficult situation in Biblical times. Women had no right to own land. It was assumed that they'd be married and be looked after by their husband. So if the husband died they were left destitute, entirely dependent on other family members to care for them. Under Old Testament laws God had provided for widows to marry their husband's brother or nearest relative so they were looked after, but for Christian women in the first century their husband's family may well have disowned them when they became Christians. So this first section deals with these widows and in particular the principle that widows should be honoured.
So what does it mean to honour a widow? Well first of all it means to give them respect and emotional support. As we'll see in the next section the assumption is that widows have spent their lives up to this point in service and so deserve the community's respect and care. But in fact in biblical thought honouring is more material than that. Honouring your father and mother included supporting them in their old age.
That's why Paul qualifies his instruction by saying that if a widow has children or grandchildren, they're the ones who should be supporting her. And notice that he gives two good reasons why this is so: First because it's a way of repaying them for all the support and care they've provided throughout their life; but secondly, because “this is pleasing in God's sight.” How often in scripture is God referred to as the one who cares for the widow and the orphan?
But if there are widows who are really in need, who are all alone, they should be cared for by the community who are their spiritual family. Notice though that this support comes with a condition. The real widow will be someone who's devoted herself to service, particularly to prayer, here, but in the next section to good works, hospitality, helping the afflicted, etc.