Caring for Each Other in the Body of Christ

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1 Timothy 5:1-16

INTRODUCTION: Please take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of 1 Timothy 5:1-16. We are continuing in our message series on doing church together, and today we come to the theme of caring for each other in the body of Christ.

1 Timothy 5:1-16 – 1 Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.
3 Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. 4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. 5 The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. 6 But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. 7 Give the people these instructions, too, so that no one may be open to blame. 8 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.
9 No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, 10 and is well known for her 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.
11 As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. 12 Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. 13 Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to. 14 So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. 15 Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.
16 If any woman who is a believer has widows in her family, she should help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need. (NIV)

The church is called to do many things, but if the church does not take care of its own people, it is not functioning as the church of Jesus Christ. The church is the body of Christ, and the members of the body must care for each other. That doesn’t mean that the church should ignore needs outside of the body. The church should reach out to all people with the love of Christ, but if the church does not take care of its own, it has ceased to function as the church.

In this passage from 1 Timothy, Paul was especially concerned with the widows at Timothy’s church, and so a lot of Paul’s specific instructions have to do with widows. But there are some general principles that we can draw from Paul’s instructions that will help us learn how we may better care for each other in the body of Christ.

I. Treat each other in the church as family (verses 1-2)

And the first principle is this. We should treat each other in the church as family. Look at verses 1-2 with me: “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.” The church is not only the body of Christ. The church is also a family, and we should treat each other as family. And so Paul lays out instructions for Timothy, and for us, on how we should treat others in the church according to their age and their gender.

First of all, we should treat older men as fathers. Timothy was the designated leader in the church at Ephesus, and yet Paul told him he should still respect those who were older than him. Therefore, if an older man stepped out of line, Timothy was not to rebuke him harshly, but rather exhort him as a father. The word translated “exhort” here means to encourage or to make an appeal to. Timothy should appeal to an older man when he erred rather than sharply rebuke him.

We should treat older men in the church as fathers, and older women as mothers. In other words, we should respect those who are older in the church, just as we respect those who are older in the home. This is a biblical principle that stretches all the way back to the Old Testament. We read in Leviticus 19:32: “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD.” Notice that respecting the elderly is one of the ways that we revere and respect God. This is one of the reasons why Paul will give a much extended treatment on how the church should treat widows later in this passage.

What about the younger men and women? God says we should treat younger men as brothers and younger women as sisters. Early documents outside of the Bible said that younger men should be treated as sons. But the Bible says you should treat younger men as brothers. In the church, no matter what your age, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, because we all share one heavenly Father. Some of you are my little brothers and sisters in Christ, but no matter the age difference, we are still brothers and sisters.

There is a wonderful solidarity in the body of Christ where we are all equals before God, and treating each other as brothers and sisters helps to emphasize that. In some church cultures people even take to calling each other “Brother Ray” or “Sister Rose.” It is just one cultural way of applying the principle that Paul teaches here. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

Paul makes one additional application to Timothy concerning the younger women in the church. He says, “Treat … younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.” The church is a family of brothers and sisters, and therefore in the church body there should not be even a hint of sexual impurity or inappropriate relationships. Men and young men in the church, you should treat every woman in this church in your actions and in your thoughts as if they were your mother or your sister. Women and young women in the church, you should treat every man in this church in your actions and in your thoughts as if they were your father or your brother. The church is a family, and we should treat each other as family.

II. Take care of those who are older and in need (verses 3-16)

The next principle we can draw from Paul’s instructions to Timothy is this: We should take care of those who are older and in need. Verse 3 lays out the general principle here. Paul writes, “Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need.”

The phrase “give proper recognition to” is a single word in the Greek meaning first of all “to honor” and secondly “to provide support.” The word “honor” is meant to remind us here of the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and mother.” Remember, we are to treat the older women in the church as mothers, and therefore we should honor them, and that includes providing for their physical needs.

Paul speaks specifically about caring for widows in this passage. The Bible has a lot to say about caring for widows, because widows often had no other means of support and were very vulnerable in society. Here Paul distinguishes between widows in general and “widows who are really in need.” Although any woman who lost her husband was obviously a widow, Paul defined “a widow who was really in need” as meeting the following criteria.

A widow who was really in need:

1) had no relatives to care for her (4)
2) was prayerfully dependent on God (5)
3) lived for God rather than for pleasure (6)
4) was over sixty (9a)
5) had been faithful in marriage (9b)
6) was well known for her good deeds (10)

These were Paul’s specific instructions to Timothy. Once again, the principle we can draw from these instructions is that we should take care of those who are older and in need. Paul then breaks this one main principle down into three smaller principles that we should observe in the church.

1) Children should provide for their elderly parents,
2) Those that are able should provide for themselves, and
3) The church can then help those who are really in need.

    A. Children should provide for their elderly parents (4-8)

First of all, children should provide for their elderly parents. Look at verse 4: “If a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.” Children have a responsibility to look after their parents and grandparents in their old age. In fact, the Bible views this as a debt that should be repaid. It should be a priority. It is something that children should “first learn,” that is, learn the importance of this over other things. It is also an act of worship to God. The phrase “put their religion into practice” is a word meaning to act reverently or to worship. Caring for your parents out of reverence for God is an act of worship that is pleasing to God.

Jesus taught that honoring your parents includes taking care of their physical needs. Jesus said to the Pharisees in Matthew 15: “God said, ‘Honor your father and mother …but you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ he is not to ‘honor his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites!” (Matthew 15:4-7) Children should provide for their elderly parents.

The widow who is really in need is one who does not have children to take care of her. Look at verse 5: “The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help.” Notice she is left all alone. Not only has she lost her husband, but she has no family to take care of her either. Therefore she is prayerfully dependent on God and puts all her hope in him. Anna, the prophetess, is a good example of this. We read about her in Luke 2. Luke tells us: “[Anna] was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.” (Luke 2:37) A widow who was really in need had no family to take care of her and so put her hope fully in God.

There were other widows who might claim that they were in need, but their lives showed different. Look at verse 6: “But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives.” The widow who lives for pleasure or luxury is not really in need. A modern illustration of this would be when you give money to a hungry person on the street and they spend it on cigarettes. Yes, they may have been hungry, but if they were really hungry, they would have spent it on food. The widow who lives for pleasure rather than for God is not really in need. If she were really in need, she would be turning to God for help. Paul says the widow who lives for pleasure or luxury is dead even while she lives. She may think she is living it up, but in truth she is spiritually dead.

Paul tells Timothy in verses 7-8: “Give the people these instructions, too, so that no one may be open to blame. 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.”

Here Paul’s words are even stronger. Before, he just said that children should put their religion into practice by caring for their elderly parents and grandparents. Now he says that those who fail to do so have denied the Christian faith. The Christian faith includes honoring your parents and taking care of your family. If you don’t do this, you are denying the faith you claim to hold. Paul also says that you are worse than an unbeliever, because even unbelievers take care of their families. Plus the believer has God’s word to guide him and therefore has no excuse.

One of the most difficult decisions for adult children nowadays often has to do with caring for their elderly parents. When our parents are still able to live independently, we should certainly visit and make sure that things are okay. We should make sure that they have food and electricity and proper health care and the necessities of life. When they can no longer live independently, we need to make difficult decisions concerning long-term care. Sometimes the right decision is to care for our parents within our own homes. Sometimes supervised care within a nursing home may be required.

Whatever the decision, we should pray about it and seek God’s will and make sure that we are seeking what is best for our parents rather than just what is most convenient for us. Our parents gave us life and raised us. We have a debt to repay them. That is the biblical principle God gives us here. Children should provide for their elderly parents.

    B. Those that are able should provide for themselves (9-15)

Another principle is this: Those that are able should provide for themselves. In verses 9-10 Paul speaks about a list of widows that the church would take care of. “No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her 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.”

First of all, there was an age requirement. The Jews considered that someone became old at age sixty. Those over sixty were unlikely to remarry and were getting too old to support themselves. Notice a widow would not automatically go on the list at age sixty. Some had children who could take care of them. Others were still able to take care of themselves.

Those who went on the list were also required to live godly lives. The widow must have been faithful to her husband when he was still alive and have a reputation for good deeds. Paul lists examples of those good deeds as including bringing up children, showing hospitality to others, caring for the needs of other believers, and helping others in distress. Perhaps the widow was too old to do all these things now, but when she was able, she was helping others.

The church always has limited resources and can never help every person in need. So where do you start? How do you decide who you are going to help? You start by helping godly believers in the church body who have genuine needs that neither they nor their family can meet. Those that are able should provide for themselves.

That’s why Paul goes on in verses 11-15 to tell Timothy not to put younger widows on the list. “As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to. So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.”

Younger widows had greater resources to take care of themselves than the older widows. They had better health and strength, plus they had a better chance of remarrying and having children. So Paul said do not put younger widows on the widow list.

In verse 12 he speaks about them remarrying and breaking “their first pledge.” Some have interpreted that pledge as their initial wedding vow to their husband who was now dead. But I don’t believe that is what is meant here. First of all, the Bible clearly allows remarriage after the death of a spouse. Secondly, Paul even encourages remarriage here. You are not breaking your wedding vows when you remarry after your spouse has died, although elsewhere the Bible encourages you to pray about this decision and suggests that sometimes you may be happier to stay as you are.

This “first pledge” seems to be some type of vow that widows made when they were put on the widow list. It seems the pledge would have at least included a vow of remaining single, and could possibly have included vows of service and prayer within the church as well. A vow is a serious thing, and Paul wanted the younger widows to remain free to remarry should God lead them in that direction.

Another reason younger widows should not be put on the list is that they could become non-productive. If the church was providing for all their needs, these young widows might get into the habit of just going about from house to house, gossiping about this and that, instead of working to provide for their own needs and the needs of others. This in turn could bring slander upon them and the church. Paul says that some women in this situation had already fallen away from the faith and turned to follow the ways of Satan rather than God.

Once again, the principle here is that those that are able should provide for themselves.

    C. The church can then help those who are really in need (3,16)

Which leads us to our final principle: The church can then help those who are really in need. That is where we started in this section in verse 3: “Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need.” Now Paul closes of this section with verse 16: “If any woman who is a believer has widows in her family, she should help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.”

When people provide for their families, and those that are able provide for themselves, then the church can help those who are really in need. Once again, the church has limited resources and must choose wisely how to meet various needs within the church body. Paul gave Timothy instructions on how to do that in his church, and we can draw important principles for that for our churches today. We should treat each other in the church as family. And the church should take care especially of those who are older and in need.

CONLCUSION: One of the things that has impressed me about Agawam Church of the Bible from the start is how this church really cares for each other. Whenever there has been a need in this church family, I have seen the church body respond again and again. Whether it was providing meals, or painting somebody’s apartment, or helping a family out during a time of illness, or chopping up a fallen tree, praise God, Agawam Church understands that we are a family, and that families look out for their own.

I pray that we will never lose that, and I encourage you to view each other as family, to love each other as family, and to care for each other as family in the body of Christ.

© Ray Fowler

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