Summary: What is the appropriate response to bad leadership, or people that you have to correct that are older or younger than you? Find out - along with how Paul told Timothy to treat widows on the church payroll.
Paul gives Timothy some pastoral advice on how to treat various groups in the body of Christ: older and younger men, older and younger women, widows - and then elders. Finally he gives Timothy some very personal advice.
It’s possible that these two groups - widows and elders - were the focus of problems in that church: widows had been drawn away by elders who became teachers of false doctrine. So Paul’s instructions are then to help curb the underlying problem: providing support for widows that actually contributed to them falling into false teaching - and having leaders who were not really leadership material.
In this first section (1-16) address some principals for treating each other and providing for each other. To summarize:
1. There are appropriate ways to treat others of different sex or age (5:1-2).
2. In the absence of other resources, the church should meet the needs of those who are destitute (5:3,5,16).
3. Families must carry the primary responsibility for their own needs (5:4,8,16).
If at all possible, those being helped should help others even while they themselves are in need (5:10).
4. Churches should not encourage overdependence from those who can still make significant contributions (5:11-15). (this has been adapted from the Life Application Commentary)
1 Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.
Timothy was a young man - giving an older man a "verbal pounding" (what the word rebuke means) would have been inappropriate and would have hurt his credibility rather than helped it.
The same way with younger people - not as strangers or underlings - but as family. Treat people with gentleness and respect, even if you have to correct them.
And for the women, Timothy was to act in "absolute purity" which refers to moral purity - pastors especially need to be extra careful to avoid any hint of impropriety when it comes to dealing with women - too many pastors have fallen prey to this either out of their own weakness or the weakness of the woman.
So now Paul gives some very specific instructions on how to treat a special group within the body:
3 Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. 4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. 5 The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. 6 But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. 7 Give the people these instructions, too, so that no one may be open to blame. 8 If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
9 No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, 10 and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.
There were some interesting things going on in the world in which this situation occurred. Ancient writers often reminded women of those who stayed faithful to their husbands even after they had died. The concept was called univira. At the same time, Emperor Caesar Augustus required that every woman between 20 and fifty remarry. His reasons were that he didn’t want childless aristocrats threatening the families in power. If they didn’t the women would lose inheritance and other rights. They were to remarry and have kids.
Paul takes a different reason for the age and faithfulness requirements for widows. Before age sixty there was a great likelihood that they could remarry - not to have kids, but to have a companion!
Here, faithfulness to husband meant that she didn’t sleep around but was a dedicated Christian who showed it by her actions. This would avoid the really bad example of the church supporting someone and the world seeing that and saying "look what they can get away with - I guess sin, repentance, and salvation must not be that important."
11 As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. 12 Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. 13 Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to. 14 So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. 15 Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.