Online Bible Commentary
A True Widow
1 Timothy 5:3 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. (NIV)
Paul continues his special instructions for church leaders in his letter to Timothy. Timothy is currently helping the church at Ephesus. In this passage, Paul addresses the widows in the church. Some of the widows have been involved in the spread of false teaching in the church. With that in mind, Paul sets out to define which widows for which the church is to care.
Church widows should be recognized as those “really in need” (v.3). The literal Greek for this verse is “widows Honor, those being true widows.” A widow who has children or grandchildren is not a “true widow” for the purpose of being entitled to church care. Their children or grandchildren should practice their “religion”, literal Greek “to be Godly”, and care for the widow (v.4). If the widow does not have children or grandchildren, she would still be a “true widow”. This is the first qualifier.
The second qualifier to be a “true widow” is that the widow must be a Godly woman. She should be continuously in prayer, not seeking worldly pleasures (vv. 5-6a). In other words, she has put all of her hope and trust in the Lord. Her faith did not die, with her husband (v.6b). Paul instructs Timothy to preach this message to the church so that all will understand how a “true widow” should act (v. 7). He especially wants those widows involved in the false teaching to hear this instruction.
At this point, Paul returns to addressing the children and grandchildren (v.8). This is not an instruction to husbands, as they are addressed elsewhere in scripture. The context of this passage involves widows. They do not have husbands. The context requires that this be instruction to the children and grandchildren regarding care of their mother or grandmother. Just as he pronounced judgment on disobedient widows in verse six, Paul now pronounces judgment on disobedient children and grandchildren in verse eight. He writes that they are not being “Godly”, that they are denying their faith, if they do not provide this care.
Paul now returns to his list of qualifiers for “true widows”. The third qualifier is that she must be over sixty years old (v. 9a). This reflects the cultural norm for old age, and, perhaps, the age beyond which remarriage would be unlikely. The fourth qualifier is that she had “been faithful to her husband” (v. 9b). The literal Greek for v. 9b is “having become of one husband wife.” This is the same Greek construction for the qualification previously placed on overseers and deacons. The meaning is that they have not been involved in polygamy, which was present in the culture.
The fifth, and final, qualifier to be a “true widow” in the church is that she has a reputation for “devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds” (v.10). Paul then gives a representative sample of good deeds to which she may have devoted herself. The list is not intended to be required, nor exhaustive. For example, if she did not have children to take care of her, she would not have been able to be devoted to “bringing up children” (v. 10b). Each example begins with the word “if” in the literal Greek, to allow for the possibility that the “good deed” may have not been available to her.
Paul has defined what a “true widow” is, for the purpose of the church providing care. This care is not required to be financial, but it could be. More likely, it is a care of checking up on the widows, making sure they are eating well and have the necessities. It might mean doing chores that they are unable to do, transportation, or just general companionship. Not every widow is entitled to care by the church, only those qualified herein. However, all widows, like all brothers and sisters in Christ, should be helped by those in the church when in need. That is the Godly thing to do.