Concern for the underprivileged and vulnerable has always mattered to God. Three such categories in every society in every generation are immigrants (strangers), orphans, and widows. This study pertains to the third group.

Under Old Testament Law, if you wanted to get on God’s bad side, then mistreat a widow (Deuteronomy 10:18; 14:29; 24:17; Psalm 94:6; Isaiah 1:17; Malachi 3:5). He saw Himself as the judge and supporter of widows (Psalm 68:5; 146:9; Proverbs 15:25). In the New Testament, concern for widows was an emphasis of the early church (Acts 6:1–6; 9:36–43). It is essential for pure religion (James 1:27; Galatians 6:10).

In writing to Timothy, Paul considers the question of who should receive support from church funds (1 Timothy 5:3–16). (To “honor” widows meant to assist them financially.[1]) A key principle is “do not let the church be burdened” (5:16). Paul gives three filters for the church to use before “enrolling” widows in an ongoing support program (cf. Acts 6:1–6). (“Taken into the number” is important in understanding 1 Timothy 5. It means “to be enrolled and put on the list.”[2]) These would not necessarily be filters for other benevolent situations (Galatians 6:10; James 1:27).

First Filter: Family (1 Timothy 5:4, 8, 16).

Does the widow have family to take care of her needs? God’s rule was a widow should not get help from the church if she can get help from her family. It is a duty of children to take care of their parents in their old age. If she had no living (or loving) children, then grandchildren[3] were to step in (5:4). Widows had every right to expect this, for this is God’s plan. “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:1–3), includes benevolent responsibilities. If anyone refuses to provide for his own extended family, especially his household (spouse, children, parents), he “is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).

How does this principle apply? Ancient societies did not have retirement pensions, Social Security, or nursing/assisted living homes. Today these make it less likely that families will have to step in, but it does not relieve the obligation when there is a need. We must honor parents and grandparents by providing for their needs. Paul did not specify how families should relieve widows.

  • Some may simply give money to the widow.
  • Some children may take the widow into their home. Yet not every Christian family is able to take in another person, and not every widow wants to live with her children.
  • Some choose to move into the widow’s home temporarily or take turns with other siblings in staying with her.
  • Where there is sickness or a handicap, children may need to pay for professional care either in the widow’s home or in a nursing facility.

The golden rule helps in making such choices (Matthew 7:12).

Second Filter: Age (1 Timothy 5:9, cf. 5:6, 11–15).

Has she reached sixty years of age? The dangers of travel, the ravages of disease, war, and dangerous jobs could rob a young wife of her husband. Since younger widows might be inclined to seek male companionship in view of a future marriage, Paul excluded them from support. He presupposed (instructed) that younger women could marry or support themselves. Making it to sixty years old was rare in the first century. A woman who did reach sixty was not likely to remarry, though many marry after sixty today since lifespans are much longer. This restriction limited the number the church helped.

Paul’s commandment is that the younger widows marry, raise godly families, stay at home, and be careful not to give Satan opportunity for accusation. “Younger widows” in this context would technically be any woman under sixty, but no doubt Paul’s instruction to marry was geared more toward the twenty-nine-year-olds than the fifty-nine-year-olds. (A woman in her fifties would not “bear children” if she remarried, 5:14).

Paul lists reasons for refusing to support younger widows financially (5:11–14). Because of their age, they were naturally attracted to men and would want to marry again. Paul seems to imply (5:12) that each of the widows enrolled pledged herself to remain a widow and serve the Lord in the church.

Further, Paul implies that that generally, younger widows, if cared for by the church, would have time on their hands and get involved in sinful activities (5:13). They were likely to become self-indulgent (5:6). The term “pleasure” (spatalosa) means “to indulge oneself beyond the bounds of propriety, live luxuriously” (cf. James 5:5). Idleness leads to such sins as gadding about from house to house, gossip, and being busybodies.

Moving from the negative, Paul listed positive things he wanted younger widows to do to be approved (1 Timothy 5:14–16). Paul’s point seems to be that we should not give aid to those who waste it. His solution was for widows of a marrying age to remarry and have families if possible. While not every person has to get married, marriage is natural for most people. Why remain lonely if there was yet opportunity for a husband and a family? Of course, all of this would have to be “in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39).

“Be fruitful and multiply” was God’s mandate to the first humans (Genesis 1:28). The normal result of marriage is a family. Those today who refuse to have children because of the sinfulness of the world should consider how difficult the times were in Paul’s day. If Christians do not have children and raise them to live for God, who will?


[1] The word “honor” in 1 Timothy 5:3 means “to fix the value,” as in our word “honorarium,” an amount paid to a speaker for services.

[2] For example, it was used of the enrollment of soldiers.

[3] Nephews (kjv).

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