IV. The Hard but Essential Work of Ministry (1 Timothy 4:1–6:2)

4:1-2 The Spirit revealed to Paul that there would be those who would depart from the faith—false teachers who would listen to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons (4:1). He thus describes these propagators of heresy as liars whose consciences are seared (4:2). The conscience, rightly trained, helps us to know right from wrong. But these false teachers had burned theirs to the point that they were numb; they could no longer discern goodness from wickedness.

5:1-2 Through Jesus Christ we have been adopted as sons and daughters of God. So the church is the family of God. Thus, Timothy was not to sharply rebuke an older man, but to exhort him as a father (5:1). Likewise, he was to treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters (5:1-2). Such a family mindset transforms how we think about and respond to fellow believers.

5:3-8 The church is to support widows who are genuinely in need (5:3). The care of widows and orphans is a priority for the people of God (Jas 1:27). The church should recognize and support a widow who is truly in need, has no family support, and who serves God and his people with prayers and a life that is above reproach (1 Tim 3:5-7).

But those widows who have adult children and grandchildren should receive care from them. Children have an obligation to practice godliness toward their parents for the investment they made in their lives (5:4). No widow should be in want who has believing children. Importantly, if anyone will not provide for his own family members, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (5:8). God calls parents, and especially husbands, to provide for their families. Men are to reflect the fatherhood of God. A man who will not take care of his wife and children lies about what God is like. Believing men should also care for widows in their families because God is “a champion of widows” (Ps 68:5). Believing men and women with widows in their families share this responsibility (1 Tim 5:16).

5:9-10 A widow without family assistance is eligible for support from the church if she is at least sixty years old and was the wife of one husband (5:9). She should also be well known for good works—that is, deeds that glorify God and benefit other people. This would include raising children and helping those in need, such as through offering hospitality, serving the saints, and caring for the afflicted (5:10). A widow who has demonstrated faithful service to the church deserves the faithful support of the church.

5:11-16 Younger widows, however, should not be enrolled. They might make a pledge to remain a widow, but they’ll likely be drawn away and desire to get married again (5:11). Thus, they’ll incur condemnation for renouncing their original pledge (5:12). Moreover, young women with nothing to do will be tempted to be idle, to act as gossips and busybodies (5:13). So, instead, Paul says the younger women should marry, have children, manage their households. Through this kind of noble service and productivity, they will give the adversary no opportunity to accuse the church of promoting sin (5:14).

Notice that Paul does not give cultural reasons for this directive. Rather, he provides a theological and spiritual reason. By devoting her primary focus to her home, a kingdom woman protects herself and her family from Satan (5:15).

5:17-18 In 5:17-25 Paul discusses the church’s ministry to elders. The church is to be governed by elders (i.e., overseers; see 3:1-7), males designated as the spiritual leadership and final human authority of the church. They are to be considered worthy of double honor. Elders engaged in pastoral work, preaching and teaching, should not be expected to work without generous financial support (5:17). As Scripture says, if an ox is provided with food for his work (see Deut 25:4), how much more is a hard-working minister of the gospel worthy of his wages (5:18)?

5:19-21 An accusation of wrongdoing against an elder is serious business. It should not be easy for a disgruntled church member to falsely accuse an elder. Therefore, all accusations must be confirmed by two or three witnesses (5:19). If an elder is found guilty of unrepentantly continuing in sin, he must be rebuked publicly, so that the rest of the elders (and the congregation) will fear the consequences of sin (5:20). Paul delivers a solemn charge to Timothy that he carry out any cases of disciplines without prejudice or favoritism (5:21). God’s people see that their leaders are held to the same standards as they are—and to an even higher level.

5:22 Churches should not be too quick to appoint someone as an elder. We don’t want to unintentionally share in the sins of others because we fail to do the proper vetting of a candidate. We also do not want to fail to take the appropriate time to observe a man’s life and spiritual condition, as outlined in 3:1-7.

5:23 Paul encourages Timothy to drink a little wine for his stomach and frequent illnesses. In a day before modern medicine, a moderate amount of wine provided medicinal benefits to those who needed them.

5:24-25 Paul reminds Timothy that, most of the time, sins and good works are obvious. Over time, then, he’ll be able to evaluate candidates for leadership in the local church by observing their lifestyles. But even those who commit sin or good works unnoticed will not be able to keep them hidden forever. What we do—whether good or bad—will come to light.

6:1-2 On slavery in the Bible, see commentary on Ephesians 6:5-9. Slaves were to show respect for their masters and not, through ungodly behavior, cause God’s name and teaching to be blasphemed (6:1). They were to protect the integrity of God’s Word and character through their service. Those with believing masters were to serve them as brothers, since both slave and master are sons of God and one in Christ (Gal 3:26, 28). Their masters were dearly loved by God, so they should honor them (6:2). These principles apply to employer-employee relationships today.

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