Last Sunday our study of the Pastoral Epistles continued with a discussion of 1 Timothy 5, in which Paul talks about our responsibilities to our own families and our church family at large. Some of his instructions are general, while much of the chapter deals with how the church should care for some of their neediest members (widows) and the proper support of Pastors.
The chapter begins with a difficult topic – how to rebuke fellow Christians when they persist in sin. Paul says
Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. 1 Timothy 5:1-2
Timothy, as a pastor, has a special responsibility to correct his church members when they persist in sin, for God will hold him to account for those he shepherds, as in Ezekiel 3:17-21. Even as their pastor, though, he is to be gentle and respectful, with the goal of bringing them back into right fellowship with the rest of the believers. How much more so should the rest of us be careful to be humble and loving when dealing with conflict among our church family! For Jesus reminds us that we are often blind to our own part in conflicts, and must first take the log out of our own eye.
Paul then turns to the topic of how the church should support widows, who in those times were often forced to turn to prostitution or begging to avoid starvation. He divides them into three groups – widows under age 60, older widows with some family, and “true widows” – those who are older and have no relatives to care for them. He advises that younger widows should marry, those with families should be taken in by their family, and the church can support those who are older and alone, as long as they are true to the faith and doing good works as they are able. Interestingly, in all three cases, his solutions provide a way for the widow to be a productive member of the community.
Paul admonishes all believers to put their religion into practice and care for their own relatives who are in need:
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. 1 Timothy 5:7
In this passage he appeals to men as the providers for their families, but the duty of providing for relatives is so important that he also admonishes women specifically to care for widows in their families in verse 16. If each person takes a small part in caring for the needy, and the needy themselves are encouraged to be productive in whatever ways they are able, the church is able to care for those who are still in need.
Paul then turns his attention to the other group of people the church supports – those who work to direct church affairs, preach, and teach – that is, pastors. They are worthy of “double honor” and the church should support them in a way that shows that we honor their work for us. Paul warns
Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning. 1 Timothy 5:19-20
The need for two or three witnesses is standard Biblical practice, and serves to guard against unfounded gossip or slander. But if a pastor is sinning, his rebuke is to be a public warning to others. As pastors are held up as an example to their flock, so when they sin the rebuke is public. This leads directly to Paul’s admonition in verse 22
Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.
Since pastors are held up as examples, great care must be taken in their selection. If you call a pastor (lay on hands) hastily, the church may end up sharing in his sins. Pastors are only human and rely on the grace of God like the rest of us, but the pastoral call is not one to be extended or accepted lightly. Finally, Paul reminds us that all deeds are known to God, whether good or bad, and will be revealed on the day of judgment.
The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not cannot be hidden. 1 Timothy 5:24-25
Fortunately for believers, our sins have been washed away by the blood of Christ and will not be counted against us at the final judgment. If it were by our deeds that we were counted righteous, we would all end up with the goats on the left side of Christ in Matthew 25. Knowing we are forgiven, we are free to minister to others around us without guilt, seeing in them the image of Christ who gave himself for us.
Please join us next Sunday as we continue our study with a discussion of 1 Timothy 6. To review our recent Pastoral Epistles studies, please use the links below.