LIFE TOGETHER 1 Timothy 4–5
“I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism” (1 Tim. 5:21).What we do for God, we do to others.
Paul warned Timothy again against false teachers (4:1–8), and exhorted him to minister confidently (vv. 9–16). He stated general principles for relating to others (5:1–2), and gave specific advice concerning widows (vv. 3–16), elders (vv. 17–20), and other matters (vv. 21–25).
Understanding the Text
“Things taught by demons” 1 Tim. 4:1–5.
Paul described one of Satan’s most persistent avenues of attack on Christians. He illustrated two forms—an appeal to asceticism that rejects marriage, or forbids eating “certain foods.” Underlying such regulations is the notion that the Christian life is advanced by some legalistic discipline. In fact, the Christian life is to be lived as an expression of personal relationship with Jesus: a relationship that rests on faith, and is expressed by a faith response to His Spirit’s promptings. Anything less is a doctrine of demons. “Train yourselves to be godly” 1 Tim. 4:6–8. Rejection of demon-inspired demands for rigid self-discipline does not mean that the Christian is to live an undisciplined life. Paul drew a sports analogy: people work out to develop themselves physically. Christians are to “work out” to develop spiritually. What is the difference between this and the devil’s counterfeits? We “work out” at being godly. A weight lifter develops his ability to lift weights by lifting them. A Christian develops his ability to live a godly life by making godly choices. What you eat, and whether or not you abstain from marriage, have nothing to do with godliness, and so discipline in these areas is irrelevant to spiritual growth. If you want to grow spiritually, concentrate on those acts which show your love for God and for others. “And especially of those who believe” 1 Tim. 4:9–10. Jesus has offered Himself as Saviour to all men. But He in fact saves only those who respond to His offer and believe. Again we’re reminded of the freedom we have to share salvation with others. Christ did die for all. Not one person has been excluded by God. The only one who can keep a person out of heaven—is the person himself! “Because you are young” 1 Tim. 4:11–14. In the ancient world, age was respected and equated with wisdom. The older individual was thought to have gained insight with his years. Thus it was sometimes difficult for Timothy, who lacked the wrinkles and white hair associated with authority, to assert himself. Every society has such cues. In our culture, the tall person tends to get ahead more rapidly than the short one. The person with that magic piece of paper, the “college degree,” gets the promotion, while the high school graduate who may be better qualified gets passed over. And the woman who holds down a responsible job is almost sure to be paid less than a man in the same position. What Paul was saying was, don’t let society’s expectations cramp your style as a Christian. Look confident, act confident, be confident! Spiritual significance does not depend on one’s height, education, or sex. If you want to be used by God, “set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” Anyone who sets such an example will be used mightily by the Lord. “Watch your life and doctrine” 1 Tim. 4:15–16. Again we see twin themes that Paul linked in the Pastoral Epistles (cf. 1 Tim. 1:5; 2 Tim. 1:13; 3:10; Titus 2) as in his other letters (cf. Phil. 4:9). Doctrine is to find expression in life, and life is to be conformed to doctrine. Christian faith and life are woven so tightly together that neither can stand alone. But what did Paul mean when he told Timothy that if he “persevere[s]” in Christian doctrine and life he will “save both yourself and your hearers”? Most likely Paul was thinking of “present tense” salvation. We were saved from the guilt of sin when we believed, we will be saved from the very presence of sin when Jesus returns. And, until then, we are being saved from the grip of sin on our lives. If you want to free yourself from sin’s grip—and be influential in the salvation of others—persevere in Christian life and doctrine. “Father . . . brothers . . . mothers . . . sisters” 1 Tim. 5:1–2. Here as in 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul resorted to the image of the family to describe relationships in the church. But here there is a special emphasis: Paul was telling Timothy, a young leader, how to relate to those for whom he was responsible. Earlier Paul told Timothy to “command and teach” truths Paul had just outlined. Here he helps us see that “command” in the Christian context is not the “demand” of the secular world. The authority behind the command comes from God. The Christian leader does not seek a relationship “over” others—but a relationship of intimacy among them. How clearly this comes through in Paul’s guidelines. The leader treats older men with the respect due their own fathers, and older women with the respect due their mothers. The younger men are treated as brothers, and the younger women as sisters. Respect and affection shape the attitude of the Christian leader toward others, and there is no hint of domination over them. You and I, whether leaders or not, need to nurture just such relationships with other believers. Respect and affection create the context in which we can have a beneficial impact on each other’s lives. “Those widows who are really in need” 1 Tim. 5:3–16.While the early church showed a consistent concern for needy members (cf. also Acts 6:1–6), it also showed a great respect for them. Christian widows were not just pensioned off. They were organized for ministry! “Charity” can be so demeaning. And, whatever else it may have done, the early church was not into demeaning anyone. Instead all were expected to participate as they were able in enriching the life of the body of Christ (see DEVOTIONAL). “Do not muzzle the ox” 1 Tim. 5:17–20. Paul warned against taking advantage of leaders in two distinct ways. First, those in full-time ministry deserve to be supported financially—and not grudgingly so. And second, unsubstantiated rumors and accusations against leaders are to be ignored. Leaders are particularly vulnerable to rumor and to false accusation. Paul’s next saying, “Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly,” has a double reference. A leader who sins must not be allowed to hide behind his or her position. And a person who brings a false accusation must also be publicly rebuked. Only by such absolute fairness can the purity of the church be maintained. “The sins of some men are obvious” 1 Tim. 5:22–25. It’s a big mistake to quickly set up a new convert, or a newcomer to the local congregation, as a leader. Paul made the reason very clear. Some folk’s sins are obvious, but the sins of others “trail behind them.” We don’t recognize their flaws until they’ve been around awhile. In the same way, the good deeds of some are obvious—but many outstanding qualities of others are only recognized after long acquaintance. Paul’s principle can be applied in any relationship where some sort of commitment is involved. For instance, don’t go into partnership with someone you don’t know very well. And, don’t get married in a hurry. The flaws in that guy or gal who looks so good now may trail so far after him it will take time for them to catch up. And given time, you may find that some pleasant but unspectacular person has just the qualities you want in a spouse.
Retire—or Inspire?(1 Tim. 5:3–16)
It’s fascinating to read between the lines of Paul’s instructions to Timothy about widows. Several things are obvious. The early church cared about its widows and, if there were no family to help them, it made sure they had food and lodging. It’s also clear that widows were valued members of the congregation. They didn’t just fold Sunday bulletins, or fill Communion cups. They were kept busy and active and, according to the Letter to Titus, were involved in training “the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the Word of God” (Titus 2:4–5). Reading between the lines, we sense that the first-century widows Paul commended had reached a third stage in their Christian experience, and had made a definite choice. The first stage was that of new convert and learner of the faith. The second stage, represented in 1 Timothy 5:9–10, was that of personal maturity: the commended widow “has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for 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.” And, now that her family was gone, and her personal responsibilities had been fulfilled, she had reached the third stage. She was ready to become a servant and trainer of the next generation of Christian adults. Out of her rich fund of personal experience with Christ, she shared now with others. Paul suggested that this was not her only choice. Some widows “live for pleasure.” These women thought, as many do today, that they’ve done their share. They taught Sunday School, led the circles, and served on the committees. Now they choose to start looking out for number one, and looking for personal pleasure. They’ve earned a rest—and they are going to take it. As a church, we today fail to use the vast resource of wisdom and maturity that exists in Christian brothers and sisters who have retired. We tend to put them in an old folks class, send them on bus trips, and make sure they have an activity day together once a week or so. We so seldom realize these are third-stage Christians—Christians with vital gifts to give other believers. But then too, all too many retirees look at the 60s and 70s as a time to sit back, or travel, or just relax after years of carrying too much of the load. I suspect that only when we show that we value the retired Christian will most retirees realize that their later years may be the most spiritually significant years of all.
Retire—to inspiring others to live more committed lives.
“What great things some men have done in the later years of their life. Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel lying on his back on a scaffold when almost 90; Paderewski at 79 played the piano superbly; at 88 John Wesley preached every day; Tennyson, when 88, wrote ‘Crossing the Bar.’ Booth Tarkington wrote sixteen novels after 60, some of them when he was almost totally blind.”—Walter B. Knight