“Care for Widows, Part 3: Protection” – 1 Timothy 5:11-16
“But refuse to put younger widows on the list, for when they feel sensual desires in disregard of Christ, they want to get married, thus incurring condemnation, because they have set aside their previous pledge. At the same time they also learn to be idle, as they go around from house to house; and not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention. Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach; for some have already turned aside to follow Satan. If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed.”
A major theme that runs throughout the entire letter to Timothy is the theme of protection. The chief reason Paul stationed Timothy in Ephesus in the first place was because the church was in need of protection against false teachers and false teaching (1:3). The mark of an overseer, along with his personal godliness and character, is his ability to protect his family (3:4-5). The logic there is simple: If he cannot fulfill his duties as a husband and father (i.e. to protect his family from physical and spiritual harm) then he has no business shepherding Christ’s church.
Much of the duties of a pastor/elder/overseer/shepherd is that of a protector. Much of Paul’s exhortations to Timothy on a personal level (chapter 4) are given with the church’s protection in mind. A good protector is proactive, not reactive. A good pastor proactively teaches and instructs the Bible to the people for their good, their repentance, their growth, and their protection.
As we have studied the beginning of chapter 5, we have seen Paul shifting into the care that is to be given in the church. But care, admonition, exhortation, and assistance does not primarily come as a result of an emotional response. We care for the church and her members because we love them (John 13:34-35), but also because we desire to protect the church and her members. As we’ve said many times, the church is built just like the family. The family needs protection.
With that in mind, we turn to the widows within the church. This is our third week studying 5:3-16 and Paul’s command for the church to care for the widows. The basic understanding that widows (women who are left without a husband) are to be cared for assumes something that our culture does not want to admit: women are designed to have a man to protect her.
A quick sidebar discussion: Feminism is not, nor has ever been, about equality. Feminist women do not want to be equal to men, they want to rule over men. There has never been a movement for women to be co-laborers alongside of men for the progression of society. How many female plumbers or landscapers do you know? The goal has always been to turn God’s very good creation on its head with woman as the head of man. This is satanic.
With that over with, let us return to the text. Please understand that if we accept the satanic view of the feminist movement, there is zero reason for anybody to give care for widows. They are not in need of care and protection because they can look after themselves as well as any man. If the modern feminist movement is even close to correct when they sing anything you can do I can do better, then these verses cease to have any meaning at all. Women are to be protected by their man. Families are to be protected by their father/husband. The church is to be protected by their male elders/overseers/pastors/shepherds. Therefore widows, women who no longer have the protection of a husband, are in desperate need of protection.
These verses interweave the protection necessary for widows and the church. There are three steps here that Paul gives Timothy to protect all widows and the church of Jesus Christ.
Protect the church from unqualified servants
“But refuse to put younger widows on the list, for when they feel sensual desires in disregard of Christ, they want to get married, thus incurring condemnation, because they have set aside their previous pledge. At the same time they also learn to be idle, as they go around from house to house; and not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention.”
Last week we discussed the nature of the list and defined it as a role of older and faithful widows who have now dedicated their lives to ministry. They are no longer devoted helpmates to a man and no longer have children to rear, so they are eligible and qualified to support the church much like they used to support their husband. But now we see a strong command for younger widows to be left off of this list.
But refuse to put younger widows on the list
The command refuse is the same term Paul used in 4:7 when he forbade Timothy from paying attention to worldly and old womanly fables. There is no room for discussion here. By no means is a younger widow ever to be allowed on this list of sister servants. But why?
For when they feel sensual desires in disregard of Christ, they want to get married
Is it wrong for a widow to desire to get remarried? Is that not what Paul actually commands just a few verses later in v. 14? What is going on here? There are a few observations we must make.
The word which the NASB translates sensual desires (καταστρηνάσωσιν) is not necessarily sexual, though it can indicate that very thing. Very basically it describes one who wants to do what they want to do. It has been used in other Greek writings of an ox that cannot be controlled. This paints the picture of self-indulgence. A woman who no longer has a head to direct her quickly feels the freedom of being her own head. But note where this self-indulgent attitude leads her in relation to Christ. Her desire to do what she wants to do is in direct opposition to Christ. She is against Christ. This is the context of her desire to remarry.
The verb want (θέλω) indicates an emotional desire. Any one who has been a Christian for a while should understand that decisions based on emotion are almost always wrong. What does the prophet say of the human heart? “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” – Jeremiah 17:9. Her desire to remarry is based on her attitude to do what she wants to do. It’s safe to assume that she is pursuing only her own pleasure and cares nothing for her obedience to Christ. Do not underestimate the seriousness of the situation.
Thus incurring condemnation, because they have set aside their previous pledge
Unfortunately, most modern translations do us a grave injustice. Pledge reflects the Greek πίστις or faith. The editors seem to prefer the interpretation that this verse speaks about the widow’s promise or pledge to remain single and serve the church. They would have us believe that the issue at stake is protecting young women from making, as Mary Poppins would say, a piecrust promise; easily made and easily broken.
While it is true that the term is able to convey a promise or pledge, this does not fit the context of the passage at all. Have you missed the seriousness of the tone? This younger woman is said to be against Christ. He actions have incurred condemnation. Some have already engaged in this sort of misconduct and in doing so have followed after Satan. The issue is not the breaking of a pledge but the rejection of her faith! How could this have happened?
This travesty is the natural result of placing this poor girl in a position that she never should have been to begin with. First, she’s unqualified. What experience does a young woman have to offer others? She was on the cusp of discovering her role when she was bereft of it. Secondly, she’s ill equipped for the duties of one on the list. She would be in and out of homes, seeing families, seeing husbands, seeing children. At some point she is going to yearn to have what she is surrounded by. God has made her to yearn for a man to lead and protect her and that desire may very well lead her to insert herself with a man she has no business being with. Many commentators suggest that the man she desires to marry is one who is outside the church, a pagan. Remember, she’s not concerned with following Christ so much as she’s driven by doing what she wants. The moment your own will begins steering the ship, it’s amazing how quickly your are dashed to pieces upon the rocks.
If only this were the extent of the problem.
At the same time they also learn to be idle, as they go around from house to house; and not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention.
The translation learn to be idle is rather kind. The word learn (μανθάνω) is the same root of the word disciple. A disciple is a learner, but the idea is more of an apprentice. The idea is that she is actively in training to be an idler. Much of a widow’s ministry would be going from house to house as they counsel other women, help out with chores, look after children, etc. She’s not interested in the work of ministry. She’s pursuing a degree in idleness. This idleness (literally without work) leads to gossip and meddlesomeness. A busy mouth reflects idle hands and idle hands create mischief. Her time is filled with fluff and nonsense. But what would we expect from a person who is driven by her self-indulgent desires?
The church must be protected from such a woman. But these young women need protecting as well. The first step is rather simple: don’t set these young women up for failure by placing them on a list that only older women are qualified for.
Protect young women through her God-given role
“Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach; for some have already turned aside to follow Satan”
Paul’s solution would cause a riot in most churches across America. Please don’t miss the simplicity of his statement here. In order to avoid the disaster we just mentioned, Paul wants young women who have lost their husbands to get married, have babies, and keep the home. It is that simple. This of course is not a command for every young widow in every situation. But it is a clear principal for a general problem. This solution reflects God’s grand design and is therefore pleasing to Him, and solves the problem of idleness.
This protection is not an attempt to oppress women through male chauvinism. Women are created to be a helper to a man and to bear children. That’s their purpose. This is nothing short of a plea for young women to please God by submitting to God’s design for their lives.
John Calvin writes of this verse, “Few men and women consider their calling. It is a rare event to find a man who willingly shoulders the responsibility of governing his wife, as this is such a difficult task. And as for women, so few of them are willing to submit to this.” He wrote that 500 years ago. If only he could see the church today.
In his commentary on 1 Timothy Lenski writes, “This is the domain and province of woman, in which no man can compete with her. Its greatness and its importance should ever be held up as woman’s divinely intended sphere, in which all her womanly qualities and gifts find full play and happiest gratification” (p. 676).
By encouraging women to marry godly men, raise godly families, and busy themselves with the work that pleases God, there will be no occasion for the enemy to slander the church. Yet, that occasion has already arisen.
For some have already turned aside to follow Satan
Perhaps if the Ephesian elders had been more proactive, Timothy would not have to now become reactive. This is the sober reality of recent history in the Ephesian church. The warning in vv. 11-13 is not idle speculation, but reflects what has already happened in some cases. Driven by their own passions, women have followed their heart’s desire and left the faith. In doing so, they have followed after Satan. The stakes could not be higher. These widows are in desperate need of protection. The church is in desperate need of protection.
Protect the church through obedience
“If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed.”
I cannot help but marvel at the similarity between this verse and v. 8. The weight of v. 8 lies on the man. If any man does not provide for his own, he denies the faith. Here we have a very similar construction and force, but it is aimed at the woman. This believing woman may be a widow herself, though certainly one who is not in need of financial support as she is caring for others. But she could also be any woman in the church with the ability to provide for a widow within her sphere. She may even be a believing woman with an unbelieving husband. Yet that is not the point.
The point is so very, very simple: All widows will be cared for. Every single person is responsible for caring for the widows within their sphere. And the church will care for all of those who fall in the gaps.
Women are not obliged to disobey the clear teaching of Scripture any more then men are. Every man and every woman is charged to care for and protect their widows. Every child and every grandchild is duty bound to care for their widows. The church was never supposed to take over the responsibilities of the family. But where there is no family (or there is a disobedient family), Christ has built His church.
I’ll go ahead and quote Calvin again: “All too often, people are all too pleased to shift their burdens onto the church. Paul specifically warns against this here. Paul tells believers that they should care for the widows in their own families.”
With care comes protection. Timothy is charged with the care and protection of all widows and all members of the church.
The church has been used too long as a crutch for families. Professing Christian men never sit down with an open Bible before their children. Not once does he study the Scriptures and pray with his wife. Why? Because the church will take care of that for him. Supposed Christian mothers never bother teaching her children the basic truths of the gospel. Not once does she teach her children to glory in God’s sovereignty and teach them to sing His praise. Why? Because the church will cover all of that.
This quickly bleeds over into all aspects of life. In many cases, the state has become the church and is all too happy take on that role. Don’t bother making a room for grandma, just ship her off to the local old folks home. The state will cover the bill. This is the mark of self-indulgent wickedness and bears no resemblance at all to Christ’s church.
The family must never shirk its duty. The church will be there, but not as a crutch. The church is here to guide, direct, instruct, and train in righteousness. Where there is no family, Christ has His church. But here the family remains, the church must call them to gird up their loins and get to work. Anything less is not love. Anything less is not caring. Anything less is less than protection.