Sermon preached on 1 Timothy 5:9-16 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 4/02/2017 in Novato, CA.
1 Timothy 5:9-16
“I Would Have the Younger Widows Marry”
We continue for our third week to think about widows. Today will be our last week on this passage. Next week we’ll move on to the next passage. Let me remind you the ground we’ve covered on this topic of widows. The first week we looked at verses 3-8 and thought in general about the church’s care for widows. Last week we looked at verses 9-16 and thought more specifically about this list of widows that Paul wrote about. We said that this list was likely more than just a list of who to support, but seemed to represent enrolling such widows into some official number of order in which they’d also be involved in some sort of ministry capacity within the church. And so, last week we discussed the nature of this list or number of widows. But then when we also looked at the qualifications required to be on this list. They involved qualifications concerning spiritual maturity, which made sense if this list of widows would involve some kind of ministry capacity in the church.
But the qualifications also included an age requirement. Only widows 60 years or older could be enrolled in this number. We talked a little bit the reasoning for that last week. But then today, I want us to continue to discuss these younger widows. Last week we talked about how the younger widows would be more inclined to remarry. Paul said that is why it wouldn’t make sense for them to be enrolled into some order of widows that was pledging to remain single in order to serve the Lord in their retirement years. But today, we’ll see the other concern Paul has for these young widows. He sees certain temptations that would come for them if they were on such a list in their younger years. Then we’ll look at what Paul instead desires for these younger widows to do. And so, stepping back then, this age requirement tells us something very important. To be on this list, is not really some full-time job. It’s really more of a retirement ministry. For those who are not at that point in life to retire, Paul calls them to be working; to be involved in an ordinary and typical vocation. That’s what we’ll be thinking about today.
So then, that brings us to our starting point for today. Let’s observe the temptations Paul says would come to a young widow if they were to enter this widows list with the older widows. He starts in verse 13 with the concern of idleness. He says that if these young able-bodied women are put on the honor roll list with the older widows, they could end up learning idleness. Let me explain about idleness. The word idle here means to be in a chronic state of not working. In general, idleness is a sin. For example, in 1 Thessalonians 5:14, Paul says we need to admonish the idle. In 2 Thessalonians 3, we see Paul going into much more detail about this – likely his first letter to the Thessalonians didn’t solve their problem of idleness. And so there in 2 Thessalonians 3, Paul reminded them about his example among them. Paul says that while he was there, he didn’t eat anyone’s bread without paying for it. Instead, Paul says that he worked night and day in order to provide for his needs while also doing his gospel ministry. Interestingly, Paul says there that as an apostle, he could have rightly received financial support from them as a gospel worker. But Paul chose not to take that benefit, so he could show them the value of hard work. And so, Paul gave them a rule in 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” Now of course, Paul’s not addressing here people who can’t work and earn their keep, like the young, or the elderly, or the disabled. But to those who can work, they ought to work. Again, this doesn’t mean you can’t take a vacation or have times of rest. But we are to in general be people who work. God gave us this pattern in the beginning: “Six days shall thou labor and do all thy work, but the seventh is the sabbath of the Lord thy God.” We are to work six days and rest a seventh. To be idle otherwise is wrong. The Proverbs repeatedly calls such a person a sluggard and speaks strongly against such a lifestyle. Being idle is not a godly trait.
And so, Paul is saying here that this retirement list of widows is no place for a younger widow. If she were go to on such a list, she likely would just become idle. And then Paul explains a practical problem that will come from such idleness. If this woman becomes idle, then she’ll likely start going house to house in all her free time. And if she starts doing that, then other temptations will come to her as well. Paul mentions two: gossip and being a busybody.
Let’s talk about this gossip temptation for a moment. The Greek word here is often translated and used to refer to gossip. Gossip, in other words, is sharing information that is not yours to share. It can be taking rumors or the personal or private affairs of others and spreading that information around. If you are going house to house in your idleness, you could see how this temptation would be there. Such gossip is a sin. That being said, interestingly this word translated as gossip is most literally the world for babbling. Again, the word gets often used in the gossip sense, and I think that is especially in view here. But to see the literal meaning of babble here, helps us understand more of the nuance in this verse. This babble talk is talk that is in vain. It is idle talk to go with their idleness. It certainly is not good language that will serve some positive purpose. It is talk that is vanity and worthless. Maybe you’ve been trying to get some work done and some idle person comes over and just won’t stop talking about essentially nothing of any value. You are probably looking at your watch and thinking that you need to get back to work. That’s part of the concern her with this young idle widow. It’s wrong for the widow to be idle and talking idly. And it’s also not a good thing to the people she’s come to visit in their homes who have their own work to get done.
Okay so let’s discuss being a busybody then. This refers to meddling in someone else’s business. This too is a sin. This is a reminder that there are boundaries we need to respect in life. Different people have different duties and responsibilities in front of them that are not ours to handle. Yes, there is a time and a place to give helpful advice. There are even times when you may need to lovingly confront someone over their sin. But you will need to in such situations to use wisdom and discernment to make sure you are not just being a busybody and trying to meddle in someone else’s circumstances. Here, Paul sees that a widow with too much time on their hands who is going house to house is going to be tempted with meddling. She’s going to be regularly seeing other people’s lives and issues and want to insert herself into those situations. Yet, in most of those situations she probably just needs to mind her own business. It is not commendable to be a busybody.
Paul finishes this description in verse 13 by noting that gossip and being a busybody are sins of the tongue. We end up saying things that we shouldn’t be saying. Oh, the dangers of the tongue! But I would point us back to the initial point that these problems all started in idleness. And so, my application for us at Trinity Presbyterian Church is to say that idleness is not a sin exclusive to young widows. May we all be aware of the temptation to idleness. Too much free time can be a problem! Let us look to be productive for the Lord in our daily callings. Vocation is a godly thing, idleness is not.
This then brings us to the second half of today’s sermon. Given the concerns Paul’s raised, he has a solution. Notice the end of 14. His solution is so that we won’t give opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully. Based on verse 15, this adversary he surely has in mind in the devil. He doesn’t want the situation of these young widows to be something Satan exploits to make them fall into idleness and the related sins of gossip and meddling. Paul sees spiritual warfare involved in this. And so, he has a solution. He tells Timothy what he wants the younger widows to be doing in verse 14. Basically, he wants them to be about the typical ordinary calling for a woman at that time. He points her back to the typical vocation for a woman. Verse 14, “Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully.”
We need an important clarification here. Paul was surely not giving a hard and fast rule that a widow under age 60 absolutely had to remarry. We know this because Scripture interprets Scripture. Over in 1 Corinthians 7:8 he explicitly says to both singles and widows that it is good for them to remain single. He goes on to say how singleness can be a great way for you to be able to serve the Lord more without distraction. Of course, that is different than saying a younger widow should take a pledge to commit to remain single in order to join this list of widows. Rather, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7, only those who are so gifted should even try the option of singleness. Paul acknowledges there that most people don’t have that gift, and so most should go ahead and get married. That seems very consistent with what Paul says here. Paul is acknowledging how most young widows are going to have desires for a husband, and so they should go ahead and get remarried. My point then is that Paul is not giving an absolute command here. Such younger widows shouldn’t be enrolled on this list of widows. But that doesn’t mean they absolutely have to get married. But certainly marriage would be a commendable option. What is clear is that he doesn’t want these young widows to be idle. And Paul is acknowledging then that the typical and ordinary calling for such women would be to get remarried, start a new family, and be busy working in the home. In other words, these woman are to pursue an ordinary vocation and be busy about it.
Let me say a few comments about this ordinary calling described here in verse 14 for women. First, it says to marry. We know that this was something God instituted from the beginning. He said it was not good for man to be alone. We even have a book in the Bible, the Song of Solomon, that illustrates the goodness of the love and union in marriage between a man and a woman. Marriage is a good thing. I love how in Titus 2, Paul says that the older women should be counseling the younger women about how to honor their husbands. That just further confirms that goodness of such marriage. And I might also point out that this passage tells us that it is perfectly acceptable for someone to get remarried after their spouse dies. Some Christians have incorrectly spoken against that, even going as far as to call it successive polygamy. But this passage speaks against that. The marriage bond is until death do you part, per Romans 7:2.
Next Paul speaks of such remarried widows bearing children. This too is a good thing. Again, I think back to the very beginning. There, God called humans to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Bearing children is living out that call to multiply and fill the earth. For Christians, this is all the more wonderful when you think of a passage like Malachi 2:15. It speaks there of marriage and saying that in that union he is seeking godly offspring. As Christians who are married, we have the joy and privilege in having kids to seek to raise them up in the knowledge and ways of the Lord! I would note a clarification here that again some couples are not able to have children. That is obviously heartbreaking, but not a failure of duty, obviously. But again, in the ordinary circumstances, this is reminding us that bearing and raising children is part of the ordinary work of a wife and mother. It is part of a woman’s typical calling and vocation.
Third, Paul speaks of such remarried widows managing their households. Interestingly, the Greek word for “manage” here is despotes which is where we derive the English word for “despot”. To clarify, English uses the word “despot” typically with an evil connotation – that a despot is some evil tyrant dictator who has usurped too much power. But the Greek word is more simply the word for master or ruler. And I think this is a nice thing to think about for this widow and frankly any woman in their home. She is the master of her home. Again, to clarify, this surely doesn’t mean she has authority over her husband in terms of the home. Clearly, that would be unbiblical. Scripture interprets Scripture and the Bible clearly states that the husband is the head of the wife, and that the husband is the head of his home (1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 3:5). And yet what this means is that under the oversight of her husband, the wife is the authority in her home. That’s pretty wonderful to think about. The children are to obey their mother and she is to be in charge of making sure that home runs in a godly and orderly fashion. Other Scriptures speak to the value and calling for a woman to manage her home and to manage it well. Proverbs 14:1 says, “The wise woman builds her house, But the foolish pulls it down with her hands.” Or Proverbs 31:27, “She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.” Scripture shows that a woman’s work at home is wonderful part of the typical vocation for a woman.
So, in summary, Paul is highlighting in all this the typical vocation and calling for a woman. I love how we see a lot of this summarized in Titus 2:4-5 which calls for the younger women in the church to do things like love their husband and children, submit to their husbands, and be busy about their work at home. So, in terms of applying this to all of us, I would remind us that all humans are made to work. Having a calling and vocation is not something just for widows under age 60. Our work that we do in this life is part of how we obey and honor God. You don’t have to have some explicitly religious calling in order to serve God in your daily calling. Again, during this 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I again point you to another reformation era theme. The reformers sought to recover a biblical view of vocation. Known as the Protestant work ethic, the reformers said that both religious labor and secular labor were callings from God and good. Whether your work is religious or mundane in nature, you should do it unto God. This is good and pleasing to God!
To conclude all of this today, I remind us of the spiritual warfare that is referenced in this passage. To be reminded of Satan in this passage, situates today’s topic in the context of spiritual warfare. Satan and the rest of the demons are opposed to God and his holy people. And with that context in mind, I remind you that Christ Jesus came to overcome the devil. This is my gospel reminder today. On the one hand, Scripture describes how the devil continues to prowl around like a roaring lion looking to devour us. We read again today that Satan wants to take every opportunity to accuse us and slander us. The devil wants to turn people in the church away from God and to himself. And yet Revelation 12:12 encourages us that the devil’s time is short. Already, when Jesus came to this earth he bound that strong man so that he could plunder from him (Mark 3:27). Already, Jesus dealt a definitive blow against Satan at the cross. 1 John 3:8 says that this was the purpose of God coming in the flesh: to destroy the works of the devil. Victory is ultimately the Lords. Be encouraged again today when we are reminded of this spiritual battle, that Christ is the victor. And if Christ is the victor, then in Christ we too are victors. Look to be in Christ to have confidence in our victory over Satan! Flee from Satan to the Lord! Be encouraged in this victory which is a very reason Jesus came!
And so how wonderful this is to know that in the middle of such a spiritual battle, God points us back to our earthly callings. Yes, yes, as we fight in this battle against the enemy, we want to be concerned with things like prayer, and proclaiming God’s Word. Yes, we look to be faithful to worship God together each week. We do many “religious” things because we are in this spiritual battle, and we should! But isn’t this both amazing and even refreshing that one of the things we are to do amidst this spiritual warfare is to be busy in our daily callings. In the context of spiritual warfare, being about our ordinary daily callings is part of how we contend against the enemy. That’s a major application that comes from this passage. That’s true not just for widows but for all of us. Yes, let us attend to things like prayer and the sound doctrine and Bible preaching and teaching. That is certainly important and good. But let us also see the value in the day by day service unto God in our daily employments and labors. Be productive. We were created to work, and as we do, it keeps us out of trouble, and keeps us glorifying God who created us for such work. Be encouraged again today as you head back out to work tomorrow. Serve God in your daily labors. Look to do so with joy and in honor to Him. May he richly supply us the grace needed to be good workers for his glory. Six days of work, and one to rest, each week. May we be about this pattern until the day of Christ’s return. Amen.
Copyright © 2017 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.