1 Timothy 5:9-16 NCC Sermon

David Burchard Exposition 4 Comments

This sermon was preached at Niddrie Community Church on May 6, 2018.

You can listen to it here (30 min.), or read the manuscript below.


8 years ago I was sitting in a room in Punjab, India, talking to my pal, Ty. At the time we were in university. Ty was actually playing in the same league that Joe played in, out in Missouri, Rick and Sarah’s home State. We were sitting there on the other side of the world, riding out a 45-degree day. Graduation was ahead and we were thinking about what we’d do with our lives. I was obsessed with the question. I thought of life as a wet rag, and I wanted to squeeze every drop out for the glory of God. Ty is still the more level-headed of the two of us. And he too was obsessed. But his focus wasn’t on what we’d do with our lives. Rather, he was always drilling what kind of men we’d be.

Tonight’s passage, 1 Timothy 5:9-16, takes up that obsession on behalf of the women in this church. What are you going to do with your life? What will you do when deep suffering and loss comes your way? What kind of woman will you be?

This passage is specifically about widows in the local church, how they should be cared for, and how they should live. But, in these verses, we find a broader truth. All the women of this church should live in womanly godliness. They shouldn’t chase the ideals presented to them by our culture. They should chase the ideals presented to us by Paul here in this paragraph.

Make sure your Bibles are open so you can see this. There are four main questions Paul answers. What we’ll learn is just as relevant for us as everything else Paul has written in this letter.

1. First Question: How should this church honor widows who are widows indeed?

2. Second Question: Should we do the same for younger widows? 

3. Third Question: What should younger widows do instead?

4. Fourth Question: What should women who have widowed relatives do?

Let’s walk through the text and understand God’s answers to these questions.

First Question: How should this church honor widows who are widows indeed?

Answer: Widows who are older and who are marked by womanly godliness are to be officially enrolled as servants in the local church.

Look at verse 9 with me.

“A widow is to be put on the list…”

This is the same widow who is a widow indeed in verse 3. Why do I think that?

Well, verse three talks about honoring widows who are widows indeed. 

Now look at verse 17. We are to honor elders who rule well. 

And look at chapter 6, verse 1. Christian slave masters are to be honored. 

There are three clear sections about honor in this part of the letter. I’m not convinced there’s enough information for us to think that the verse 9 widows are different than the ones already mentioned in verse 3.

As a church, we are to financially support widows who are widows indeed. Verse 9 is about getting verse 3 done. These true widows are to be put on an official list. The church is to commit to them and they are to commit to the church with a pledge to full-time service, which we see in verse 12. 

This is an official widow order. In history, we see this order helping deacons where it particularly helps to have that old woman’s touch. Think nuns, without all the stupidity added on by Catholics. 

How is a widow a widow indeed? What are the qualifications for this order? 

In verses 9-10, we see that it isn’t need-based. It’s merit-based. She has to be old. And she has to have persevered through the suffering of losing a husband as a beautiful, godly woman.

She has to be old.

She has to be at least 60. 

As a 60-year-old widow, she’s done with the responsibilities of childbearing. And she’s past marriageable years. That leaves her free to pledge herself to this order without being tempted to break that pledge and return to family life. 

As a 60-year-old widow, she also has a lifetime of womanly godliness with which to bless us. 

She must have been the wife of one man. 

This is the same requirement Paul gives to elders and deacons, just flipped. They must be one-woman men; she must have been a one-man woman. This means she was a faithful wife, faithful to her marriage vows taken before God. She loved her husband well and was subject to him. She was faithful. She’s a success.

She must have the reputation for good works. 

She must have mothered children, raising them in the fear and instruction of the Lord. 

She must be hospitable to strangers. What does “hospitality to strangers mean”? 

Next time we have a Weekender or vision trip, look at the ladies showing hospitality to the pastors who’ve come in. Next time 20schemes hires some weird Americans as missionaries, look at how long it takes for Claire Beattie to fill them up with well-cooked food and lattes. 

She must have washed the saints’ feet. 

This means that she is a woman who makes herself low. She’s humble in her service to members of the church, doing even the dirty work with gladness. She’s like an old Daphne, cleaning the disability toilet after Capability Scotland has used our building.

She must be a woman who assisted those in distress. 

If she is to be in this order, she can’t be selfish. She must be practiced in giving herself for the good of those in need.

She must be a woman who through her life has been devoted to every good work.

This is a woman worthy of all our respect. She is a woman of splendid, long-term, well-aged, deep-wrinkled, gray-haired, womanly godliness. And she is a model for all the women in this church.

Ladies, y’all are hit with lies about success from all sides all the time. Look to this woman and see what a successful Christian woman looks like. She has gray hair. She’s made it through suffering. She’s excelled as a homemaker. She’s been saved through childbearing. 

If you’re not already, you will definitely be an old woman soon, unless you interrupt aging with death. Being old and wrinkled and bent is inescapable for you. Will you also be godly? Look to the true widows of verses 9-10 and copy them. Live so as to have the same godliness as the women of this order.

Second Question: Should we do the same for younger widows? Should they also be enrolled on the support list?

Answer: No. Younger widows are not to be accepted in this order. 

Look at verse 11. Paul is clear that a widow who is younger than 60 is too young.  

Why? Paul gives three reasons.

First reason, in verse 11. When younger widows feel the heat of sexual desires “in disregard of Christ, they want to get married, thus incurring condemnation, because they have set aside their previous pledge.”

For a woman to enter into this service, she has to pledge to remain unmarried until death. Her devotion can’t be split between family life and church work.

Paul makes clear that God does not want young nuns. The Catholics are wrong. Widows under 60 will desire what they’ve directly promised not to enjoy. 

Because this pledge is publicly made to Christ and his church, the desire for marriage would be against Christ. If a younger widow joins this order, but then breaks her pledge in order to remarry, she would be breaking her promise and therefore “incur condemnation”, as Paul says in verse 12. Breaking this vow is no small thing. It requires church discipline.

Second reason, in verse 13. Younger widows fully supported by the church and working in this order will become idle and lazy. 

Being a godly wife and mother is more difficult and time-consuming than being in this order of widows. That’s a blessing from God to women. He calls women to the difficult work of being a housewife, and that kills the temptation to be idle. Temptations want to kill us. God helps us kill them. Satan loves lazy hands. He can always think of something wicked and foolish to do with them. This is one of the biggest problems in our neighborhood. Men and women, and especially the men, are too lazy. The lazy folks who hear that will be upset. And all the hard workers will know I’m right.

Nobody can be godly and idle. Paul knows that widows older than 60 won’t be as tempted to abuse their role and just use it for lazy house visits.

Third reason, in verse 13. Younger widows fully supported by the church and working in this order will become “gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention.” 

This position supporting the work of the deacons puts these widows into many homes. That’s a dangerous set up for younger widows. It has the potential to fuel a gossipy mouth. It can easily feed an imagination that wants to call being up in people’s business “ministry”. Do you have a gossipy mouth? Do you know that your mouth is supposed to be used to build up the church? But if you’ve been going to the monthly James Bible studies, you’ll know that your gossipy mouth is only good for burning a church down. A gossipy mouth is fit for a hen. It’s not fit for a beautiful woman of God.

Third Question: What should younger widows do instead?

Answer: Younger widows are to be housewives. They are to pursue 1 Timothy 2:15 lives.

The home is a woman’s highest calling in life. It’s where we best see womanly godliness. Not on the battlefield. Not in business. Not in church leadership. 

So look at Paul’s instructions in verse 14.

Younger widows should get remarried, coming alongside a man as his helper. 

They should bear children. Nurture them and raise them in the fear and instruction of the Lord. 

The home should be their domain. They should use the resources brought in by their husbands to make a warm and inviting house, a home like a miniature garden of Eden.

Because of 1 Timothy 2:15, we know that this is the practical pursuit of godliness for all younger women, even those who are unable to ever get married. 

The Bible expects fathers to provide for their daughters until they get married. We also see women like Lydia bringing in resources through business. For a woman, these provisions are to serve her ministry in the home. This is exactly what Susanna is doing with her painting work.

Sisters, your goal shouldn’t be to build your career. If you have a career, it’s to serve your homemaking ministry. 

And, unmarried or barren, younger women can and should give themselves to the work of motherhood. Motherhood is the child nurturing ministry of all godly women. This can play out in some obvious ways, like babysitting and nursery work on Sunday mornings. But let me tell you, it isn’t an accident that Christian women throughout history are the best in the field of orphan care, which is true religion. Godly, Christian women mother orphans best.

Now, men, today you will be celebrated by many as pro-women if you cheer women on to sacrifice homemaking for the sake of a career. You’ll avoid charges of sexism. If you’re a single guy, and you want more options with honeys in the dating world? Just use lines like, “I just want you to be happy, babe. I’m here to support you.” But if you want to actually love women well, celebrate the women who are doing the things we see in this paragraph. Work your tail off so that ladies can work their tails off in the home. For women to be able to do the things we’re looking at here, they need you to not be a loser.

All of this is about Christ’s name being honored in our church. Look at verse 14.

Younger widows are not to give the enemy any cause for reproach. We have enemies. Satan and those who follow him hate us. If younger widows, or anyone in this church, lives in an ungodly way, they’ll bring reproach on themselves and on us. They’ll give the opportunity for folks to speak badly of Jesus and his bride. 

Our enemies are going to slander us anyway. Shame on us if we give them good reason to do so.

As Christians, we bear the name of Jesus. If we walk in sin, we dishonor our King. Our reputations are cheap and will soon be forgotten. History will not remember you. But Christ is worthy of all honor. His reputation matters. 

How we live matters because his honor is on the line.

In verse 15, it looks like some widows younger than 60 had been put on this list in the past. They broke their pledge and then didn’t stop there. 

Their sin wasn’t cut off by repentance. They ran with it, and went so far as to fall away from the faith and follow Satan. Played with sin always becomes out of control sin. These women didn’t listen to the church. They didn’t listen to the Bible. They didn’t listen to the Holy Spirit. They chose sin. They chose the devil and damnation.

Everyone, if you are in the habit of choosing sin, know where it wants to take you. You can fool us for a time, but you can’t fool Jesus. You can’t fool Satan. You can’t fool your flesh. If you keep choosing sin over Jesus, it will lead you away from the faith. It wants you to be a traitor. Every temptation is beckoning you to go to hell, one sweet kiss with sin at a time.

Flee sin. Run to Christ. Stay in his Word. Stay on prayerful knees.

Fourth Question: What should women who have widowed relatives do?

Answer: They should own the responsibility of caring for them.

If you are a woman in the church and are related to a widow, it’s your personal duty before God to care for her. Paul’s already told us that a man who fails to provide for his family is scum, up in verse 8. Here he focuses on the woman’s duty to care for widowed relatives because he’s focusing on practical womanly godliness.

Paul is all about personal responsibility and hard work. He’s not interested in you pawning off responsibility for your own family to the church or to a government.

If you have widows in your family, you care for them. You love them. Be like Rosalind and Serene. Don’t just leave it for someone else to sort out. 

That’s tempting to do here because government care is available from cradle to grave. But know this: A government will never love our widows. Governments starve babies in hospitals and pay for euthanasia.

Some will tempted to take advantage of a church’s generosity. But a church will always be limited in its resources. It can’t cover the physical needs of every widow. And it isn’t expected to. 

Our duty is to support widows who are widows indeed, the Phoebes of the church. 

Verses 8 and 16 make it clear that it’s your individual job to care for your widowed relatives. If you don’t, you sin against the church by burdening us beyond our ability.

Christians do not take from others when they can work hard and provide for themselves and their family. Christians don’t steal.

That’s our passage tonight. And it is a sweet and timely gift for us. Today, there is plenty of confusion about what godly womanhood looks like. There are so many lies that we’re hit with. There are so many ways for us to go wrong when it comes to caring for folks in the church.

Here Paul has given us practical, straightforward direction. 

1. First Question: How should this church honor widows who are widows indeed?

Answer: Widows who are older and who are marked by womanly godliness are to be officially enrolled as servants in the local church.

2. Second Question: Should we do the same for younger widows? 

Answer: No. Younger widows are not to be accepted in this order. 

3. Third Question: What should younger widows do instead?

Answer: Younger widows are to be housewives. They are to pursue 1 Timothy 2:15 lives.

4. Fourth Question: What should women who have widowed relatives do?

Answer: They should own the responsibility of caring for them.

This is how God wants us to care for widows in our church. And this is how women are to pursue godly lives. Fundamentally, this passage reveals to us the kind of women we should want our women to be. 

If you’re a woman in this church, don’t look to the world for models. Don’t look for the world’s wisdom about what it means for you to be empowered and successful. Look to God’s Word. It is a lamp for your feet. 

If you’re a member of this church, know that all the practicals in how we organize our life together matter because Jesus died for our sins and rose from the grave. He is the groom, and the church is his blood-bought bride. That is good reason for us to take his instructions for us and put them into practice.

If you’re here tonight and you don’t trust Christ as your Savior and your King, this passage is just one of many passages in the Bible that show God’s special care for his people. God loves his people. He cares for us well into old age, and then carries us safely through death to heaven. You are currently his enemy. He will not care for you in this way. He will crush you. But if you turn away from living for yourself and you turn to Jesus to save you and lead you, God will gladly take you as his own. He will gladly call you one of his. He will perfectly care for you, in this life and the next. Jesus died for all the sin of all who would trust in him. He rose from the grave. Repent and believe the gospel. 

Amen.

Comments 4

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      Author

      Yes, it is. I preached through 1 Timothy last winter. I’d probably go back and preach one of the early sermons in the series differently, but this is one I’d preach the same way again.

      If I were to change anything, it would just be a matter of going into more detail.

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      Author

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