Paul’s letter to Timothy, a young pastor, contains valuable encouragement for both the widow and those who care for her. 1 Timothy 5:9-10 is as important to the relationship between the church and the widow as Ephesians 5 is for the husband and his wife.
“Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.” -1 Timothy 5:9-10
Without understanding that the background of this scripture is given for widow leaders in the church, this list can, and often is, mistaken for criteria a widow in need must meet in order to receive help from the church body, this is not the intent of this passage.
When assisting others, it is tempting to have a “check-off-the-box” mentality, everyone loves a list of do’s and don’ts! However, it is important to be careful not to become like the scribes and Pharisees who often times loved following the rules more than doing the hard work to actually loving others.
This is not the Gospel. Loving others to check off a box, isn’t love, and salvation is of grace not works. Sadly, even today, the same do-it-yourself spirit of the religious leaders can misguide us to believe that we only have to help those who help themselves. This is not at all the Spirit of Jesus Christ and definitely does not line up with God’s provision of care for the widow and fatherless throughout scripture.
Clear guidelines, rewards, and consequences are to be considered with the most important command in James which defines pure religion as caring for the widow.
Before we look closely at “the list” pertaining to widows in Timothy, we must understand that back in the day, churches had an unofficial “office” of widows. This leadership position was held by a widow for the purpose of assisting other widows. In return, she received some financial assistance for this responsibility of care. Many commentators believe this list found in 1 Timothy refers to qualifications to be met by those widows who took this leadership position in the church. Many of the same or similar standards are also listed for the other leaders in the church.
It is important to note the similarities in these lists for leaders. God hold leaders to a higher standard of godliness with qualifications to consider:
“The list” of qualifications for a widow in leadership vs caring for the widow in need:
A widow is to be put in a position of widow leadership in the church only if she meets the following requirements according to 1 Timothy 5:9-10:
- Is not less than 60 – The widow in leadership must be at least 60. This ensures she has time, maturity, character, reputation, and compassion to serve without thought of marriage. In fact, Paul uses strong language here in advising to refuse to put younger widows on the list (1 Timothy 5:11).
For a widow in need: Of course, this is not suggesting that we do not care for widows in need under this age. My goodness – that would go against the heart of God to put an age limit on those we care for.
- Has been the wife of one man – The widow in leadership was faithful the man she was married to – not that she could only have one husband in life.
For a widow in need: He is not saying don’t help a widow in need who experienced a broken marriage. That would completely rule out Jesus’ offering living water to the woman at the well.
- Has a reputation for good works – the widow leader should display fruit by their works.
For the widow in need: We are never to judge others and offer conditional care for the widows in need.
- Brought up children – the widow leader nourished and cared for her children to adulthood.
For the widow in need: If this were the criteria for helping a widow in need, young widows with or without children would be neglected.
- Shown hospitality to strangers – the widow in leadership opened her home to those she did not know – perhaps those outside of the faith.
For the widow in need: The widow in need should be the recipient of this hospitality not demanded to meet this as a guideline for care.
- Washed the saints’ feet – the widow leader serves those in the faith.
For the widow in need: If this were a requirement for widows in need, many widows would not receive help because many are not in the faith themselves. One of the goals of meeting the needs of a widow is to lead them to faith in Jesus.
- Assisted those in distress – the widow leader spent her life focusing on others.
For the widow in need: The widow in need is suffering and often unable to think beyond herself. Requiring the widow in need to assist others refutes other examples in the Bible where helping the widow is clearly outlined.
- Devoted herself to every good work – the widow leader is available to the call of God on her life and is sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit for the work He has for her.
For the widow in need: The widow in need is doing well to put one foot in front of another. It is important that we come alongside when the weight of natural grief is heavy rather than adding to her burden.
The most important message widow leaders must share as they assist other widows is to fix her hope on God,
“Now she who is a widow indeed and who has been left alone, has fixed her hope on God and continues in entreaties and prayers night and day” (1 Timothy 5:5).