For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2000 James Melough

5:1.  “Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren;”

Rebuke is also rendered reprimand: censure: speak sharply or harshly to; and while elder may refer to an overseer, the reference here is to any older man.  It scarcely needs to be said that sometimes the patience of the believers is sorely tried by the activity of older brethren who are unaware that they can no longer edify God’s people, but they are to be dealt with gently and courteously, as we would deal with our own fathers.

The injunction, however, seems to go beyond dealing simply with the foibles of old age.  It may relate also to doctrine, deportment, unscriptural participation in worship, unprofitable disruptive discussion in the Bible study sessions, etc.  The need for gentleness and courtesy in dealing with such things doesn’t exclude the need for firmness in promoting the well-being of the assembly.  One can be firm without being discourteous or harsh.

Intreat means plead with: beseech.  Such elderly men are not to be scolded, or treated disrespectfully, but rather to be appealed to kindly.  Likewise younger men requiring correction are also to be dealt with lovingly and kindly as we would deal with one who was our brother.  A harsh angry approach never accomplishes any good, but on the contrary often does much harm.

5:2.  “The elder women as mothers; the younger sisters, with all purity.”

It may be necessary sometimes to rebuke a sister, and the same principle applies.  Older women are to be treated with the same gentleness and courtesy as are older men; and young women as are young men, with the added injunction relative to young women that every care must be taken to ensure that the need to administer rebuke doesn’t become an imagined opportunity for any impropriety.  A safeguard against this would be for the rebuke to be given in the presence of at least one other brother.

5:3.  “Honor widows that are widows indeed.”

Honor means to prize: value highly: revere: esteem; and in the present context “indeed” means without children or other family members to contribute to her support.  Also in the present context, “honor” suggests that the support was not to be given in the spirit that so often accompanies what is called “charity” today, i.e., it was not to take away the respect which was the widow’s due as a believer.  The love that is to bind believers together automatically excludes the disparagement which is normally associated with social differences.  Love excludes the very idea of contempt.

5:4.  “But if any widow have children or nephews (grandchildren), let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents; for that is good and acceptable before God.”

It is clear that the obligation to support widows devolves not only upon the widow’s children and grandchildren, but also upon any family members capable of helping with her support.

Piety means godliness, i.e., God-like conduct, and this implies that the injunction applies to saved family members only, for obviously the unconverted are incapable of godliness; in addition to which it seems that a believing widow’s acceptance of support from unsaved relatives would be in violation of the principle embodied in Ge 14:22-23 when Abraham refused to take anything from the king of Sodom.

“Requite” means to repay.  In other words, children have an obligation to repay the care given them by their parents.

“...good and” have little manuscript support, so the phrase is correctly “for that is acceptable before God,” meaning that God commends such conduct, that commendation translating into eternal reward at the Bema.

5:5.  “Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day.”

This is the description of one who is truly a widow: she is desolate, i.e., she is left all alone, so that all her trust (hope) must be in God, that trust being displayed in her continued supplications, i.e., the presentation of her needs to Him, and in her equally faithful prayers, i.e., her thanksgiving and worship not only for His past provision, but for what He is in Himself.  There is no hypocrisy designed to prompt the support of the assembly.  Her faith in God is genuine; and the words “night and day” mean simply that she was consistent: her prayer life wasn’t sporadic.

5:6.  “But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.”

“...liveth in pleasure” is translated as pleasure-loving: self-indulgent: dissipated: voluptuous (characterized by sensuous enjoyment): wanton (without regard for what is right).  Such a lifestyle indicates that the person isn’t a believer at all: she is spiritually dead.  The assembly is under no obligation to support such a widow.

5:7.  “And these things give in charge, that they may be blameless.”

Timothy was to give these orders or instructions, so that “they may be blameless.”  The “they” fails to make clear whether obedience will make the widows blameless, or those in the assembly who make the decision to give or withhold support.  It seems better therefore to apply it to both.  It would encourage godly widows to continue to trust in God; and it would direct the saints so that they would be good stewards of the things God had committed to their trust.

5:8.  “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”

“...his own ... of his own house” refers to his relatives, and especially those living with him in his house.  Such a man contradicts his own claim to be a believer, and has no right to expect people to regard him as one, for even an infidel (an unbeliever) wouldn’t be guilty of such conduct, i.e., of failing to provide for the needs of an indigent relative, especially one living in the house with him.

Apart from its application to the care of widowed relatives, the overall lesson is that if profession isn’t confirmed by conduct, dishonor will be brought on the name of Christ.

5:9.  “Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man,”

A widow was not to be included in the list of those to be supported by the church, unless she was at least sixty years old.  It seems that widows under sixty should be considered capable of earning their own support.  The requirement that she have been the wife of one man may mean that she was to have been married only once, or perhaps that she was not to have been a divorcee who had married while the divorced husband still lived.  Obviously each case would have to be dealt with on its own merits, but the principle is that we are to be careful stewards of that with which God has entrusted us.  Money is not to be given indiscriminately to everyone who asks for it.

5:10.  “Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work.”

She was to have a reputation for doing good deeds; and relative to her having brought up children, some translations indicate that she was to have reared them well.  Some translators limit the lodging of strangers to the lodging of only those who were believers.  As for the washing of the believers’ feet, while it may have been literal, it is more generally taken to mean the rendering of service, especially menial service, to other believers, and certainly we may not dismiss the thought of her having used the “water of the Word” i.e., the Scriptures, to encourage others in their Christian walk.

The relief of the afflicted is generally taken to refer to the giving of help and comfort to those in any kind of trouble, sickness or distress; while the diligence in every good work seems to be a broad term that applied to one whose whole way of life was marked by the doing of good.

5:11.  “But the younger widows refuse: for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry;”

Widows younger than sixty were to be excluded from the list of those to be supported, because it was considered likely that their desire to be married would lead them to disregard the claims of Christ, and marry unbelieving husbands, this being implied in the light of the fact that in verse 14 such widows are encouraged to remarry, but obviously not unbelieving husbands.

5:12.  “Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith.”

Such a marriage to an unbeliever would result in their incurring judgment or censure (rather than damnation), because it would indicate violation of their first promise (implied) to live in obedience to Christ, for clearly such a promise is implicit in the decision to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.  He must be given control of the life He has redeemed with His precious blood shed at Calvary, as it is written, “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?  For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s,” 1 Cor 6:19-20.  We would do well to remember that this is true of all of us, and not just of young widows, and we have the same obligation as they to give Him control of our lives.

The damnation (judgment) mentioned here does not imply loss of the soul, but rather chastisement, and loss of reward at the Bema.  There is nothing to indicate that these younger widows were anything but genuine believers.

The particular evil of entering into an unequal yoke is emphasized in 2 Cor 6:14-16, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

5:13.  “And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.”

If supported by the assembly these younger widows, thus rendered financially independent, would have no incentive to work, and so would tend to become lazy, spending their time visiting different houses, gossiping and interfering in other people’s affairs.

“Speaking things which they ought not,” may possibly refer to the trouble-making practice of discussing with everybody, private matters they may have become aware of in the course of their idle visits.

Again the practical application isn’t limited to young widows.  We all need to be careful that our own visiting and conversation don’t fall into the same bad pattern.  Much harm attends the indiscriminate revelation of things we may have learned in the course of a visit to someone’s home, or in the course of what was understood to be a private conversation.

5:14.  “I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.”

“Younger women” here is literally “younger widows.”  The life of a godly wife and mother leaves no time for the evils denounced in the preceding verse, so that the divinely appointed safeguard against such things is for younger widows to remarry, but to marry “in the Lord,” 1 Cor 7:39, i.e., to marry only believers.

Thus fully occupied with legitimate things, the young widows will afford Satan no opportunity to accuse the believers of wrongdoing.

5:15.  “For some are already turned aside after Satan.”

This shows that Paul’s commands weren’t prompted by mere speculation.  He was speaking from experience.  Some young widows had already become involved in the very evils he warned against and sought to prevent.  This doesn’t mean that they had willingly placed themselves at Satan’s disposal, but that their unwise conduct had made them his unwitting agents by affording him opportunity to level charges against believers, to the Lord’s dishonor.  It is believed by some that the specific sin involved their having contracted marriages with unbelievers.

5:16.  “If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed.”

It was the responsibility of believers, men and women, to help widowed relatives, so that the assembly would be the better able to supply the needs of indigent widows who had no such relatives.

While social programs have rendered adherence to these instructions unnecessary in many countries today, it is to be remembered that there are still places where they are as applicable as in the day when Paul wrote; nor do social programs render obsolete the spirit of loving care commanded here.  Our selfish modern world still affords many opportunities to display that love in areas other than the temporal.

In some manuscripts “man” is omitted from this verse so that it reads, “If any woman, etc.,” leading to speculation that the specific instruction here is to women who may be widows themselves or married to unbelieving husbands, but who are relatively well off.  If this translation is correct, then such women are being instructed that they too are responsible to render aid to destitute widowed relatives.

5:17.  “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine.”

This implies that some will be better shepherds than others, and it may be well to consider some factors that might contribute to the differences.  Obviously experience enters into the picture, for naturally one who has exercised his gift of shepherding over many years will have more experience than a younger man who has also the gift of shepherding, but who has had less experience in exercising his gift.

It has to be recognized also that God in His sovereignty gives different measures of gift.  As has been noted already, Billy Graham, for example, has been given the gift of evangelism in fuller measure than most other evangelists.  The degree of gift, however, is given by God in the measure suited to the sphere of service in which He desires that man to exercise his gift; and if each believer recognizes this, there will be no envy or jealousy among the servants, nor will there be partiality for one servant over another by those amongst whom the gift is exercised.  An example of just such carnal discrimination is recorded in 1 Cor 1:12.

There are, unfortunately, other factors involved in the differing abilities between servants having the same spiritual gift.  As has also been noted already, spiritual gift is not to be neglected, 1 Tim 4:14, but rather stirred up, 2 Tim 1:6, and the condition of many assemblies testifies loudly to the sad truth that both of these commands have been ignored by many who take the place of elders.  It is a blessing of inestimable worth to be a member of a church ruled by elders who give themselves wholeheartedly to the exercise of their spiritual gift for the glory of God, and the well-being of those whom He has entrusted to their care.

Such elders are indeed “worthy of double honor,” and verse 18 leaves no doubt that one token of that honor is to recompense the man financially for whatever need he may experience due to his having given to the care of God’s people time that he might have legitimately used to provide adequately for his own temporal needs.  The elders who are willing to forego financial gain for the sake of God’s sheep, however, are few and far between.

“...they who labor in the word and doctrine” means simply “they who work hard in preaching and teaching,” and it shouldn’t be forgotten that such work involves the devotion of much time to prayer and the study of Scripture, besides the actual preaching and teaching.

It is to be noted, however, that in our western culture  financial remuneration of elders is seldom necessary today, due to the fact that the average work week leaves adequate available time.  The problem lies in the fact that too many elders fill up that available time with activities which will win them no commendation at the Bema.

5:18.  “For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn.  And, The Laborer is worthy of his reward.”

The first quotation is from Dt 25:4; and the second is from Lk 10:7, the first reminding us that God has woven into much of the language of the OT a spiritual meaning which transcends the literal, and which ignored, robs the Word of much of its meaning; and the reader of much profitable instruction.  The clear teaching here is that he who is gifted as an evangelist, elder, or teacher, and whose labors in preaching and teaching deprive him of the time to provide for his own and his family’s needs, is to be supported by the Lord’s people.  In 1 Cor 9:1-14 Paul deals with this subject in detail, concluding with the words, “Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? And they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.”  It is the responsibility of those who are ministered unto spiritually by those whom God has gifted for that work, to reciprocate by ministering to the temporal needs of their benefactors.

5:19.  “Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.”

Unlike verse 1 of this chapter where “elder” means an aged or an older man, here it refers to an elder, i.e., an overseer, and the need for care in heeding accusations against an elder is probably due to the fact that the very nature of the elders’ work in preserving God’s order in the assembly, tends to bring them into disfavor with those who chafe under some of the restraints imposed, not by the elders themselves, but by God’s Word.  A favorite ploy of the libertine to justify his unscriptural conduct is to try to cast in the role of tyrant those who simply seek to maintain God’s order in the local church.  Nor should it be forgotten that Satan is always on the alert for opportunity to harm those who are jealous of God’s honor.

The requirement that every charge be substantiated by at least two or three witnesses, is one of God’s ways of protecting faithful elders from unjustified accusations.

5:20.  “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.”

In the present context “them” clearly relates to, but isn’t confined to, sinning elders; anyone who sins is to be rebuked in front of the whole assembly, the fear of such public censure being a strong deterrent against sin.

Some understand the “them” to refer to those who falsely  accuse elders, but there is little reason to limit it to such.

5:21.  “I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality.”

To charge is to command, and “before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ” means simply that the Father and the Son were witnesses of his having given the command, reminding Timothy that he was responsible before Them to obey.  Most manuscripts render “before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ” as “before God, and Christ Jesus.”

The “elect angels” would also be observing the manner in which Timothy carried out these commands, as in fact, they are observers of all we do.  As to their identity, they are obviously  the holy as distinct from the fallen angels; but it is clear that there are different ranks among the holy angels, and that God assigns them different tasks, so that the reference here may be to His having chosen (the meaning of “elect”) certain of them to be responsible for seeing that the orders given Timothy were carried out.  This doesn’t imply God’s distrust of Timothy, but may rather indicate that since Satan and his demons would be opposing the young man, God was assigning these chosen angels to protect him against Satan’s activity.  That there is such angelic activity on behalf of those who belong to God is made clear in such passages as Da 10; Ps 91:11-12; Mt 4:6, and Heb 1:14.

“... observe... without preferring one before another” is literally “carry out impartially,” i.e., ensure that these principles are applied to everyone.  There was, and still is, the danger of being prejudiced against someone for no valid reason, and also of being disposed to favor someone, e.g., a friend, or a man of wealth and influence.  There was to be no relaxation of the principles in favor of special friends.  The same principle holds good today also relative to maintaining God’s order in the assembly.

5:22.  “Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure.”

While “lay hands suddenly on no man” is sometimes taken as a warning to avoid haste in accusing or in judging another, the command seems to have reference to the need of avoiding haste in approving or recognizing a man as an evangelist, elder, or teacher, such recognition being given in the early apostolic age by the placing of the elders’ hands on him as they publicly commended him to some sphere of service.  (The laying on of hands was a Jewish custom having validity only until the dissolution of Jewish autonomy in AD 70.  It is not for today).

In the present context, the words “neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure” are understood as referring to the need of guarding against joining others in such hasty commendation as that cited above, the passage of time proving the commendation to have been an error.  Many an assembly has languished as a result of just such erroneous commendations which have left men ensconsed in positions for which it is apparent they have no qualification.  This interpretation, however, doesn’t exclude the need to avoid joining others in what is sinful; while the injunction relative to purity reminds us that purity begins in the mind.

5:23.  “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.”

It seems that Timothy drank only water, abstaining from wine perhaps so as to avoid any possibility of being accused of indulgence to the point of drunkenness.  Paul, however, advised him to drink some wine for his health’s sake, i.e., because of his weak stomach and what appears to have been poor health in general.

It is instructive to note that Paul, who had the gift of healing, didn’t heal his young friend, the clear implication being that as it wasn’t God’s will to heal Paul of his eye problem, 2 Cor 12:8-9, neither was it His will to heal Timothy.

From this we learn the lesson that when we pray for healing, either for ourselves or others, we should always add, “If it be thy will.”

5:24.  “Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after.”

Having parenthetically interjected advice relative to Timothy’s poor health, Paul now appears to revert to the need of caution in evaluating a man’s character without sufficient evidence, particularly in regard to those whose outward lives might indicate that they may perhaps have the gift of oversight.  Nothing will be lost, and much gained, by allowing time to reveal more of a man’s true character before arriving at a conclusion which may later have to be reversed. 

The first part of this verse means that some men make no attempt to hide their sins: they are there for all to see, and leave no doubt that judgment awaits those men; while the second part means that though the individual may succeed in hiding his sins, time will eventually make them evident.  The actual sin in a believer’s life may not become known, but spiritual believers very quickly discern when another believer isn’t right with God.  His worship will become a mechanical thing lacking the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s leading, as will his participation at the assembly prayer meeting.  Spiritual believers quickly recognize the difference between what is of the Holy Spirit and what is of the flesh.

5:25.  “Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot be hid.”

Having mentioned sinful works in the preceding verse, Paul now refers to good works, declaring that in the case of some their good works quickly become evident, while in the case of others their sterling character becomes evident only after we know them better.

“...they that are otherwise cannot be hid” refers not to bad works, but is simply saying that the good works or good character which are not at first evident will eventually become known as we become better acquainted with the individual.  Paul, it seems, is continuing to assure Timothy that more is to be gained by waiting than by impatience in determining whether a man has the gift of oversight.  His advice holds true today also.  Many an assembly is suffering the consequences of having acted hastily in deciding that a man had the qualities of oversight, when in fact, time has revealed their judgment to have been premature.

[1 Timothy 6]



     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough