This chapter of 1 Timothy teaches us about honour in God’s household. The reason is that we’re to grasp the thought that the local church is God’s household, so that we will honour one another truly.
One of the many pandemic observations about churches is that lots of people who go to a local church don’t regard the church as Jesus does. It’s not a new thing, but the pandemic has amplified it. There are some who “attend” church, and there are some who “are” church. 1 Timothy 5 puts us all back on track.
Care for the vulnerable within (1-16)
There’s one controlling thought that runs through this chapter (and v1-2 of the next): We are God’s household. In 1 Timothy 3:14-15 we read, “…the household of God. This is the church of the living God…”
So now in 1 Timothy 5:1-2, Paul refers to different people in that household. Read 1 Timothy 5:1-2. (Remember that Timothy himself was a younger man.)
So what comes next are three specific situations dealing with relationships within the church. The ESV translation spells out for us how they’re connected: We’re to honour widows, honour elders, and Christian slaves are to honour Christian masters (6:1-2).
He begins with care for widows in 1 Timothy 5:3-16. Why?
- In the ancient world, a widow had a particular vulnerability in society. She’d typically have no income in a world dominated by men.
- But we must also note the repeated Bible emphasis of God’s care for the vulnerable: Over and over there are specific laws given to protect the orphan, the foreigner, and the widow. God cares. Read 1 Timothy 5:6.
And since God cares for such women, his church must too. And by “honouring” them, or “caring for” them, Paul here means supporting them financially. In a world where a widow has no money, the church is to support her. But not without limits.
In the first place, the church might not be the only option. Read 1 Timothy 5:4.
- We looked at godliness last time. How it’s something for you to grow in and train for.
- Godliness is active, and here’s an example.
- Specifically, a godly son or daughter will care for their parents in old age. “Honour your father and mother.”
- It also means that the resources of the church can be applied to those widows who really need it.
And the church was to have a list of women they supported regularly. The church, as the household of God, is the widow’s family when there are no blood relatives to provide for her. These aren’t general instructions to care for the poor. They are about how we relate and care for each other as family.
So who goes on the list? Read 1 Timothy 5:9-10. Does she have to earn her place? No. The church is being taught to provide for its own, so look for evidence that the widow is actually a Christian, a child of God. Faith leads to works.
Equally, the church isn’t going to fund (or be seen to fund) women who aren’t above reproach: Read 1 Timothy 5:6.
Not all the same
In 1 Timothy 5:11-15, Paul says that younger widows shouldn’t be put on the list – they’d be better off marrying. V15 makes it plain that some women in Ephesus have already gone off the rails. There’s no suggestion that all women would be like this, but it does look like it was a real problem in Ephesus.
The principle is clear though: The financial support isn’t a free ride for a godless life.
The whole thing is summarised again: Read 1 Timothy 5:16.
But we’re not in first-century Ephesus.
Here in the UK, we don’t have the same financial vulnerability. That’s not to diminish the hardship of trying to meet the cost of living on a thin pension, but we do need to admit even that is better than what goes on elsewhere today.
Even so, it should be clear that the church is still to care for those God cares for. Even the most well-off widow might be starved of company. There’s always emotional and spiritual vulnerability, and loneliness. Perhaps, the most lonely.
As adults, we still go to visit our parents (where we have them):
- And the church, as the household of God, is the widow’s family when there are no blood relatives to provide for her.
- So we see our godliness (or lack of it) expressed in our care of all who are vulnerable, or lonely, or in need.
- As you visit family, also visit your church family. Phone up. Drop off flowers. Do a bit of shopping. Do anything.
Not just widows
But this thought of practical care for those vulnerable in God’s household isn’t limited to widows – that was just the most pressing need in Ephesus.
- It applies to orphans, asylum seekers, the unemployed, immigrants, anyone who has any need in this church.
- Because if you’re a Christian, you don’t just “attend” church – you are church with everyone else. Family.
- And if church feels like home to you, make sure it feels that way to others: Welcome them into your home.
Truth leads to godliness, and godliness proves the truth. So if you think this stuff is true, it must work out in your life. Paul now switches to another member of the church family deserving honour – “double honour” even:
Double-honour to paid elders (17-25)
Read 1 Timothy 5:17-18. The phrase “should be respected and paid well” is literally “are worthy of double honour”.
If you’d like to double my wages, I won’t stop you – though that’s not what he means. But there are two elements to appropriate honour for a paid elder / pastor.
Firstly, he should be paid an appropriate wage. How much is that?
- Well, we typically want our pastors to be trained in Bible college or university.
- We want them to be able to teach and able to lead – so they need a bit of life experience, and spiritual giftedness.
- We expect them to be available to us in time of personal crisis, any time of day or night.
- They’re to be sacrificial, devoted to the work.
- In no other sphere would we expect someone of that calibre to work for less than could be earned as a school teacher or tradesman. So we shouldn’t do it here either.
What if a church can’t afford an appropriate wage?
- They could offer a lower wage, but that doesn’t really fit what we’re reading here.
- Many churches have part-time pastors who have other jobs (Jim Waterworth did that for years at Irby).
- Perhaps there’s an element of faith in future grace here.
Why is Paul speaking about paid elders / pastors here anyway?
- Because the paid elder / pastor is in the same position as the widow of 1 Timothy 5:5 [read].
- How come? Quite simply, he’s appointed by Jesus.
- He took me out of the financial “security” of a well-paid job to be his pastor here. So I’m trusting him to put food on my table.
- For me, that is an act of faith and obedience.
- For you, your giving and paying me an appropriate wage is also about your faith and obedience.
Giving Protection and Holding Accountable
But fair pay is only part of the “double-honour” to be given. In 1 Timothy 5:19-21, Paul warns Timothy neither to appoint nor remove an elder/pastor lightly.
- You’re not hiring and firing a consultant, or a handyman.
- He is the undershepherd of Christ over Christ’s people.
- He is to be protected from spurious charges against him – the devil will try to bring him down for any reason.
- But he’s also to be held accountable for his sin publicly – sin is sin, no matter who does it. He’s not to bring the gospel, or grace, or Christ’s holiness into disrepute.
- This second part of the double-honour is about providing protection and accountability.
The stakes are too high. People all around us are sleepwalking into hell every day.
You and I need to be pillars of truth: The truth that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and that God wants everyone to be saved.
1 Timothy 5:23 is an odd personal aside to Timothy. While we’re all to be above reproach, and never drunk, the Bible never prohibits alcohol. Still, it’s unusual to see it actually recommended! Could it be that someone had seen Timothy drinking wine, and there might be a spurious slur against him? He is worthy of the honour of common sense, and the church’s protection as well as its accountability.
Because for all leaders, sooner or later, both their good and their evil become obvious. Read 1 Timothy 5:24-25.
Outdo one another (6:1-2)
We’re God’s household. We’re family. We care for and provide for those in our family where we have obligation – widows and other vulnerable people, and our Christ-appointed elders / pastors (all who depend solely on the Lord for income).
This last example of honouring one another is a lovely example of how being a Christian changes your perspective. Read 1 Timothy 6:1-2.
- He’s not saying slavery is good; he’s just saying how to conduct yourself when that’s the system you’re in.
- As a Christian slave, don’t bring the gospel into disrepute by poor workmanship.
- As a Christian slave with a Christian master, can the slave maybe slacken off a bit, and treat the master as a brother?
- No: It’s an amazing opportunity to glorify Christ.
- By serving a Christian master (or boss) you are helping them, honouring them, benefiting them.
- The master is usually the looks after the slave, but by serving with enthusiasm the Christian slave takes a lead in being the benefactor!
In Romans 12:10, Paul tells the church even to outdo one another in honouring each other! There’s no room for one-upmanship, or competing in anything else except this: Try to be the best at honouring God’s people.
Reorientation to church as family
So what have we got with these three sections on honouring one another (widows, elders, slaves / masters)?
A reorientation of your understanding of what church is, and what it means.
- A Christian isn’t someone who just attends church, or does lots of good and helpful things.
- A Christian is a forgiven sinner. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – and that is what you are.
- As you turn from your sin, and ask God for forgiveness, he will forgive you. He promised so.
- Then you become a child of God. He is your Father in heaven. Jesus is your brother. You share the same Father.
- So a local church like this isn’t just “like a family” – it is a family, with the same heavenly father.
- That is an astonishing blessing. It means that going to church is as natural as visiting your family – because it is.
And, as you care for your own family, your Father expects you to care for your church family – his other adopted children.
- You are family to the single person, to the widow or widower. You’re family to the one who will never marry.
- You’re family to the rich and the skint, to the happy and the brokenhearted. Let’s eat together. Stay for coffee!
- Be ready to give practical help. Be ready to ask for it too.
- Families aren’t perfect, and churches won’t be either.
- But your heavenly Father is.
As you and I do the best we can to be the kind of family our Father delights in, people will see the truth of Christ being worked out in our practical godliness.
Be church, be family. Our collective witness to Christ rides on it.
People are drifting into hell. The stakes couldn’t be higher.