The Biblical Office of Widow – 1 Timothy 5:1-16
Today, St. Paul teaches us about a little known “office” in the early church: that of widow. Paul’s extended commandments concerning widows are astonishing in two ways. The first thing that astonishes me is how seriously the early church took its vocation to provide for widows (see also James 1:27.) The second is how high the standards are for this little “office.”
As I read this passage, I can’t help but think that it’s not just the church leaders who God has called to high standard of holiness and devotion to Him: it’s all of us. Paul’s advice for the care of widows is for us nothing less than an ideal of a Christian life for us to follow.
It’s wise to Begin with the End in Mind. This is never more true than in the Christian life.
So what is the end goal for the life of a widow and for us?
Paul commands first that the widow should teach the children and grandchildren to show piety at home. This appears to mean especially respect or reverence in the household, both for God and for the elders in the household. It is not just bishops or deacons who are to have orderly and respectful households, but all Christians. This “piety” is especially to be a piety or reverence for God.
In English, we used to use this word “piety” to mean not only a general reverence but also a life of worship and devotion. “Family piety” used to mean family worship, and it was customary until the 20th century for the Christian family to have a time of family worship each day. This family worship varied, of course, but usually included Bible reading, instruction in the Word, and prayer. For those of us who are Anglicans, maybe we should think about using the service for Family Prayer or a modified form of Evening Prayer each day. That has been my goal (having the end in mind) for my own family.
The second qualification for the widow (and for us) is that she trusts in God and continues in supplications night and day. There’s not really much to say about this one, is there? We each know if we are leading a life of prayer or not. Could it be said of us that we supplicate the Lord night and day?
Now in the context of the requirements for widows and piety in the household, Paul adds another intriguing teaching on the household. Watch out! This is St. Paul speaking, and it’s not for the faint of heart! What Paul actually dares to say is that if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially those of his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (verse 8)! Now try and tell me that Paul teaches that we are so much under grace that how we live doesn’t make a difference to our souls!
There are many ways of not providing for one’s household, but Paul probably means a more severe kind in which family members (including extended family) are left without means of support so that the church would have to take care of them. And yet there are many ways of not providing for one’s household. One thing is clear from St. Paul’s writings: how we actually live in our households has everything to do with our faith and our salvation. I wonder what Paul, or Jesus for that matter, might have to say about those who call themselves Christians in our culture who think nothing of: divorce, adultery, abandonment, abdication of responsibility, expecting the government or someone else to take care of them, dropping off parents at nursing homes and never seeing them, and the like.
The widow (remembering she represents us) is to be hospitable to strangers, to wash the saints’ feet (which I take to mean providing for the physical needs of church members), and to have relieved the afflicted (verse 10.) In short, she is to (once again!) to have been diligent in every good work.
What’s wrong with this woman? Doesn’t she have a life? Who has time to do all of the things on this list? That would mean less time for myself and the things I want to do. That would mean being a radical!
I think I’ve met this woman before. Didn’t I just read about her in Proverbs 31? Such a woman is a veritable one-woman Church (though of course such a thing is impossible.) Can you imagine what life would be like if we worshiped and prayed and worked and played in a church filled with people like Paul’s widow?
Some may think I’m dreaming, and maybe I am. But that is still the kind of church I want to be a part of. And this widow is still the kind of person I aspire to be.
The goal of Paul’s teaching is not to paralyze you or discourage you but to encourage and animate you. This is the end of your life that you should have in mind at all times, beginning wherever you are today. This is the goal that God has for your life.
How are you doing? What kind of person do you want God to make you? What will you do, beginning now?
Honest answers to these questions will help you begin to live for the chief end of man which is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, I give thanks to You that you have provided for the widows in this life and for all who turn to You in need through their families and through Your Church. So inspire me by Your Holy Spirit that I aspire to be holy as the widow St. Paul described is holy. Take from me all selfishness and refusal to serve others. Give me instead Your heavenly love that seeks out the good of others for Your sake. Amen.
Points for Meditation:
- Examine the ways in which you are providing for your household, as well as the ways in which you may not be.
- Meditate on one practical way in which you could “wash the feet of the saints.”
- Write down the characteristics you think God wants in His saints (you could use the things Paul mentioned today.) Take this list with you throughout the day and look at it as many times as you can.
Resolution: I resolve to evaluate my life in terms of the qualifications for being a church widow.