1 Timothy 5:9-10 (NIV) 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.
On verses 9-10: It appears that Timothy’s church in Ephesus gave widows a special opportunity to get on “a list of widows” where they would receive financial or material support from the church in return for a pledge not to remarry but to spend their days serving in the church. Here Paul outlines the requirements that a widow must meet in order to be on this list. Since the widows chosen were leaders in the church in some way, it is no surprise that most of the requirements a widow must meet to be on the list have to do with the widow’s character. Thus Paul says that to qualify a widow must have been faithful to her late husband (v9) and be well known for her good deeds (v10).
What can we learn from this? Once again, leadership begins with character. It’s a running theme in 1 Timothy. Church leaders must have strong godly character as a prerequisite to leading.
1 Timothy 5:11-15 (NIV) 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.
On verses 11-15: While Timothy’s church in Ephesus was seemingly blessed with a number of older, humble, God-loving widows who served the church faithfully, some younger widows in the church were causing problems for the church. Apparently some younger widows had been put on the list of widows. They were getting financial support from the church in exchange for their pledge not to remarry but to focus on serving God the rest of their days, only later to go back on their pledge by remarrying, possibly even marrying a non-believer. In so doing these younger widows were bringing judgment on themselves because they were going back on their original pledge (v12).
Also these younger widows had become known for gossiping and being lazy, rather than serving God like they said they would (v13). Some of them would even stop being Christians entirely, which is what Paul means by saying “some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan” (v15).
Due to the poor behaviour of these younger widows, the reputation of the church was being put at risk. Paul could see Satan using this as an opportunity to get outsiders to slander the church (v14b). Earlier Paul had told Timothy to not let anyone look down on him because he is young but to set an example for other believers in speech, faith, love, love and purity (1 Timothy 4:12). But here we see the opposite happening: young people (young widows in particular) were setting a poor example of what a believer should be.
For this reason, Paul tells Timothy not to put any widow who is under 60 years old on the list of widows (v9). He encourages the younger widows to remarry, have kids and manage their homes (v14), rather than making a pledge that they would have difficulty keeping to never marry and to serve God full time. Paul also advises Timothy that the financial help from the church should be restricted to widows who really have no other family to take care of them, and that those widows who do have family should be taken care of by their family (v16).
What can we learn from all this?
Realize that everything you say or do in front of others impacts how people see not just you, but your God and your church.
Some younger widows were so into themselves that they were completely oblivious to how their words and actions were reflecting on their church and on Jesus. This kind of thing still happens today. Sometimes it amazes me how people who supposedly have been Christians for a long time can — in front of younger Christians and even non-believers — speak and act in ways that make Christianity so unattractive, whether it’s through their complaining, gossiping or other immature living. Don’t be dumb like that.
Especially when you’re with non-believers or with Christians who are younger in the faith than you are, be careful what kind of example you are setting with your words and actions. Don’t give Satan an opportunity to use your behaviour to bring your God and your church into disrepute. Like 1 Timothy 4:12 says, don’t let anyone look down on you, but set an example in your speech, faith, life, love and purity.
Heavenly Father, help me to be more aware of how my words and actions impact the way others see You and my church. May I set a great example of how a Christian should live, act and speak. I want to make faith in You as attractive as possible to those younger than me and to non-believers around me. Come fill me today, Holy Spirit, and live through me. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!