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Yesterday and today: 1 Tim 5

In reading the scriptures, it is sometimes difficult to determine what applies to us and what doesn't. Take a look with me at 1 Timothy 5 and Paul's words to Timothy.

Widows: instructions strictly for the first century

Several verses in this passage refer strictly to Paul’s time, such as the widows’ list. In verses 9-10, Paul cites the criteria for receiving support. The restriction regarding younger widows would be strictly for that time as well. Verse 15 addresses the local situation of younger widows that have left the faith.


The instruction to drink wine for his stomach (verse 23), was specifically for Timothy. Though possessing healthful properties, Paul was not prescribing wine for all stomach problems.

“Whenever we share comparable particulars (i.e., similar specific life situations) with the first-century hearers, God’s Word to us is the same as his Word to them.”[1]On this basis, the following verses apply to us today. Verses one and two are good church order. These guidelines apply to today. “Exhort” can be translated “encourage.”[2] The virtue of encouragement is borne throughout scripture. “Absolute purity” (1 Tm 5:2b) in relating to members of the opposite sex is crucial especially in our day of clergy misconduct.

Widows: applicable to the twenty-first century

The principles of love for one another and caring for those in need transcend the centuries.

Each church should … see that no widow in its congregation is left destitute. Christian love demands this … all believers are one in Christ, fellow members of the family of God. We should care for each other.[3]

“… lives for pleasure” (1 Tim 5:6) means “to live luxuriously or self-indulgently,”[4] truly symptomatic of our age. Paul wanted these people to know how to conduct their lives, an appropriate warning to our age.

Paul’s language in verse 8 is appropriate in this day of putting the sick and elderly in nursing homes and equally applicable to “dead beat dads.”

Verses 13-14 concerning younger widows for all. Other passages issue warnings against gossip and idleness (Rom 1:29; 2 Cor 12:20; 3 Jn 1:10; 2 Thes 3:6). Remarriage is advised considering single parenthood. Verse 16, as verse 8 speaks to providing for one’s family.

Elders 5:17-25

Verses 17-21 apply to today. “… The worker deserves his wages” (1 Tm 5:18) is taught by Jesus (Luke 10:7), and is still relevant. Verse 19, unfounded accusations are gossip, which is universal. Verse 20 concerning guilty leaders is apropos. The admonition against partiality or favoritism (verse 21) characterized Jesus’ ministry and should characterize ours (James 2:5-7).

“Laying on of hands” (1 Tm 5:22) likely referred to ordaining leadership in the churches per early church “exegetes such as Chrysostom and Theophylact.”[5] Character and maturity in the faith are crucial. Purity and holiness is a pervasive theme throughout scripture for God’s people (verses 22, 24, 25).

Care of elderly and widows is abominable. My church is becoming more intentional in this. The responsible committee folded due to lack of people with this vision. Several were concerned and acted, now organizing visitation and communion for our shut-ins. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

[1] Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 75.

[2] Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 11 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 376.

[3] Ibid., 377.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 381.

The Bible. New International Version.


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