Instruction for the Care of Widows

1 Timothy 5:3-10

Last week we considered how we ought to treat one another in the church. We examined how Paul instructed Timothy in the treatment of older and younger men and women. Today we will be considering the instruction to Timothy concerning the care of a very specific group of women — widows. All through the Old and New Testaments widows are viewed as especially worthy of God’s mercy. Let’s take a look at 1 Timothy 5:3-10.

3 Honor widows who are really widows.
4 But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God.
5 Now she who is really a widow, and left alone, trusts in God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day.
6 But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives.
7 And these things command, that they may be blameless.
8 But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
9 Do not let a widow under sixty years old be taken into the number, and not unless she has been the wife of one man,
10 well reported for good works: if she has brought up children, if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work.

What is Paul talking about when he says honor widows who are really widows in verse 3?

Paul is addressing the financial support of widows. He qualifies the widows that are to be supported by saying that honor is to be given to those who are really in need. John Gill says of this verse:

“…honour, here, is what is to be given to all that are really widows; and therefore rather regards some external honour and respect to be shown them, by words and actions; and especially it designs an honourable provision for them, and maintenance of them; …

So giving gifts to the poor, or providing for their maintenance, is doing them honour; and that this is the sense here, appears by what follows in the context.”

Let’s look again at verse 4, to see a case where a widow would not qualify as being in need.

4 But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God.

Note that a widow with children or grandchildren, should be cared for by her family. I think it is rather interesting in our current political climate that there is always much discussion about government subsidized health coverage for the elderly and needy and social security is always a hot topic. Just yesterday congressional leaders came to a tentative agreement over new prescription drug benefits for senior citizens in the U.S., which is reported to be the largest expansion in Medicare’s history.

We live in a society where the government has taken the responsibility for providing for our older citizens. There wasn’t this type of safety net in the society in which Timothy was living. A widow who no longer had a husband to provide for her and had no living children to look after her was truly a widow in need. That is why Paul makes a point of explaining how to care for widows in need.

And this is why what comes next is hard for us to accept because in our society we are so used to taking all we can get from the government.

Notice that Paul mentions in verse 4 that children and grandchildren should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family. James 1:27 notes that,

Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble….

God is concerned about orphans and widows. And if our faith is genuine, we will be concerned about them as well.

Back in 1 Tim. 5:4, I think it is very clear that as children and grandchildren we have a responsibility to care for our parents in their old age. We live in a culture that doesn’t always esteem our parents and grandparents, as we should. I think what Ray Stedman says about this is very good,

No family action more fully reveals the glory of Christian grace than to see children lovingly supplying the needs of their older parents — visiting them, making them feel comfortable, loved and wanted if they have to be supported outside the home, or opening their homes and allowing them to be a central part of their life. I am grateful that my wife’s mother lived with us for twenty-seven years in our home, and was loved and enjoyed as part of our family during all that time. Now, because of her failing health, it is necessary for her to be in a nursing home, but we visit her very often, we never let her feel lonely and unwanted.

I have been in rest homes that were horror pits, where older people were abandoned by their families — some of them Christian families. Month after month went by and no one went to visit these older people; they drifted off into senility. These homes, where people simply exist, are like animal cages. 1

We have probably seen older people who have been sent to a nursing home and neglected by their families. That is tragic. We have a responsibility to look out for our own. Now I realize there are cases where the physical care becomes too difficult to manage at home, and children are left with no other option but to place parents in a nursing facility, but our parents are still deserving of our care and concern. We need to look after them and see to it that they are given proper care. This is what 1 Timothy 5:4 is saying — this is a good and acceptable thing before God — this is what pleases Him — this is honoring God, to care for our elderly parents and grand parents. James 1:27 says that real religion is this — to care for widows and orphans in need.

Now look again at 1 Timothy 5:5

5 Now she who is really a widow, and left alone, trusts in God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day.

We see in verse 5, that a widow who is in need can still have a very effective ministry, one of the most effective. She continues in supplications and prayers night and day. We have an example in the Bible of a widowed woman who did this. Let’s look at Luke 2:36-37,

36 Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity;
37 and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.

Here’s a lady who had been widowed at a fairly young age and had been alone for many years as a widow. We find Anna is committed to fasting and praying, to worshipping night and day. What a tremendous ministry opportunity for those who are older. Maybe physically, one is unable to be as active as they’d like, but having a ministry of prayer can be very important.

How about this piece from the November 1998 Daily Bread; it shares the story of an elderly lady named Margaret.

“More than 90 years of memories and faith are Margaret’s legacy, but she’s not ready to surrender. Her life is full of the physical pain that often accompanies old age, and even though she’s too weak to walk anymore, Margaret is not done with her ministry.

Despite her increasing feebleness, and despite her near deafness and inability to move around, Margaret has a ministry that reaches far beyond the walls of the nursing home where she lives. Every day–often for hours at a time–she sits in her chair with a stack of prayer cards and prays diligently for missionaries. And sometimes, when she can push her frail body to do so, she kneels beside her bed on creaky knees to talk with God.

Margaret doesn’t have much more than prayer to offer her Lord. She is the essence of the answer to the question in Psalm 116:12, “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me?” Verse 13 answers, “I will . . . call upon the name of the Lord.”

A lifetime of being sustained by God’s love, grace, and mercy is just about over for Margaret. In the face of mounting physical weakness, she is staying spiritually strong to the end. O to have her courage and dedication–at any age!” 2

Paul is qualifying which widows should be cared for. In verse 6 gives an example of one in great contrast to the Godly widow.

Look at the contrast in verse 6,

6 But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives.

There’s a big difference between this widow and the widow mentioned in verse 5. A widow living for pleasure is dead even while she lives. Let’s say a widow is living for empty selfish pursuits; maybe she’s looking for happiness in gambling or alcohol or she abuses prescription drugs. These kinds of sinful choices that people are enslaved by, lead to emptiness – they live like one who is dead. Paul is saying that a widow that lives like this should not be supported.

It seems clear in this passage that there is to be accountability and an examination of the widows who are supported. Are they living a Godly life; are they serving others or living for self? Ray Stedman’s insight on this verse is very good…

“This indicates that widows who were to be supported by the church were to give themselves to a spiritual ministry. They were to keep busy during these declining years of their life. They were not to utilize the time to entertain themselves, but they were to have a spiritual ministry.

In the letter to Titus, the apostle urges Titus to help the older women learn to teach the younger women. In our congregation there are a lot of younger women who would love to know older women whom they could call up to ask for advice, to pour out their hearts to them and share their struggles and problems with them. This is the kind of ministry the Word of God encourages older women, especially widows, to have — to be available to the younger women of the congregation for prayer, for support, for teaching, for understanding.

This is a great ministry. I always feel hurt when I see a widow who has been left a considerable amount of money spending her days traveling around the world, going to bridge parties, and entertaining herself. The apostle implies that such a woman might as well be dead. She is not using her life as God intended. Her life is all focused on herself instead of others. As a result she is missing out on a wonderful ministry. Paul urges Timothy to make this clear so that widows may be without reproach, that they may use the years left to them in ways that are filled with blessing and ministry for others.” 3

That’s the instruction Paul gives Timothy in verse 7…

7 And these things command, that they may be blameless.

Paul was giving the instructions for widows to Timothy and he wanted to be certain that Timothy passed this on to the church. They needed to understand how to care for the widows among them and act in an honorable way in this regard. This can make or break the testimony of a church. It’s critical that we understand these truths and obey them. Verse 8 shows what happens when we fail to care for widows in need.

8 But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Stedman says…

“That is a hard word. Such a man is not living like a Christian at all. The secular writings of this 1st century show that in the Roman, the Greek and the Jewish world, families were always expected to take care of their older parents. In fact, in Athens a statesman was not allowed to speak in public if he had any blot on his record in this regard; if he was not taking care of his older parents he was not allowed to perform as a politician or a statesman. It was widely accepted throughout the whole Roman world that it was a shocking and disgraceful thing to not meet the emotional needs of parents, and the financial needs, too, if necessary. So again we are reminded that this is the responsibility of the family, not the church. ” 4

As Christians we have a responsibility to care for our own families. When we fail to do so we are worse than unbelievers. We bring shame to the name of Christ when we fail to care for qualified widows in need. Warren Wiersbe tells of a woman who took seriously this charge to provide for her own.

“A missionary friend of mine, now with the Lord, came home from the field to care for her sick and elderly parents. She was severely criticized by some of her associates (“We should love God more than father and mother!”), but she remained faithful to the end. Then she returned to the field for years of fruitful service, knowing she had obeyed God. After all, we love God by loving His people; and He has a special concern for the elderly, the widows, and the orphans.”

I want you to see a contrast to what this Godly missionary woman practiced from scripture. Remember the pharisees in Matthew 15:3-6,

3 He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?

4 “For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’
5 “But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”;
6 ‘then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.

The pharisees instead of caring for their parents were “devoting money to God” while neglecting their families. Jesus was not impressed. He made it very clear that we are to honor our parents which may at times include providing for them financially.

This is a 1 Timothy 5:9, 10 Paul gives some specific instructions as to which widows may be put on the list — these are in addition to the qualifications he makes in verses 5 and 6:

9 Do not let a widow under sixty years old be taken into the number, and not unless she has been the wife of one man, 10 well reported for good works: if she has brought up children, if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work.

Here’s a portrait of a Godly woman. She will have been faithful to her husband. Marriage is important in the eyes of God. A Godly woman makes her husband her first priority after God.

A Godly widow is also known for her good deeds. Note that first on the list is raising children, then hospitality, washing the feet of the saints — which is essentially any selfless act of service — then there’s helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds. The feminist movement of today tells us these are not the true measure of a successful woman. It a good thing God’s Word is the standard for true life.

I want to share a quote with you from the book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by David J. Ayers…

It was late in the day. Just as I was preparing to go home, a single woman who was a staff member at our college walked into my office. A part-time editor for a major Christian publishing house, she had a “technical” question regarding a book manuscript that had been assigned to her.

Apparently, the hapless minister’s wife who had submitted this piece had asserted that innate differences between the sexes existed and should be respected if marital harmony were to be obtained. A feminist professor in our psychology department had assured this editor that “no evidence whatsoever” existed for this claim of biological differentiation. Sexual differences, universal as they are, are all caused by culture and socialization and thus are malleable and subject to redefinition. So she claimed. Based on this, the editor had quietly removed the offensive section from the manuscript. Now, she’d had second thoughts and was seeking another opinion.

I presented to her what I thought was an impressive set of documentation to the contrary, including anthropological evidences for the universality of many sex role differences, diagrams of male/female brain differences, and photographs comparing male and female nerve cells. While alternative arguments existed, I pointed out, there was extensive and reputable evidence in favor of what the minister’s wife had written. In fact, historically, it was the psychologist’s view that was novel, and it was difficult to sustain logically and empirically as well. The editor might personally disagree with this viewpoint, but to dismiss it uninspected and even censor it as if it really were pseudo-scientific and poorly documented would be unfair and unwarranted.

The editor listened intently and asked appropriate questions. Then, she startled me with her decision—the debated passages would remain deleted! 6

I don’t know about you but I often shake my head at some of the silliness in our culture regarding the roles of men and women.

We notice very clearly in our passage today a widow who has performed some very humble, yet worthwhile activities. We live in a society that has devalued the worth of a Godly woman who chooses to make her husband and children a priority.

Our society esteems more highly a woman with a high-powered career than a woman staying home and tending to her family.

But the truth of God’s Word tells us He created us male and female. He created two distinct genders and assigned to each different roles. No matter how strongly feminists want to deny the differences that exist, truth wins out and there is no denying that men and women are different. We are going to be happiest when we gladly accept our God given roles as men and women.

Paul makes it clear that a widow who has been faithful to her husband, has raised children and served others is worthy of honor.

We have examined this passage today concerning widows and we could ask ourselves, so what? How does this apply to us today? We don’t see too many destitute widows in our society what with insurance provisions, retirement income and social security benefits. We have provisions in place that the early church did not enjoy in their society. But there are some very practical applications that we can take from this passage today.

The first is that as children and grandchildren we are reminded that we are responsible to seeing to it that our parents and grandparents are cared for in their older years.

Second, as a church, when a widow is without children and grandchildren to care for her, we are to help those widows who are in need and are living Godly lives. We should be honoring our widows. We need to take time to visit with them and look after them and show a Godly concern for them, as her family should if she has any.

Thirdly, we can learn from today’s passage that even an older woman who has been widowed can and should still be busy serving the Lord. Even a ministry of prayer is a vital and important ministry for those physically incapable of serving in a physical capacity.

Finally, note this, this is important — how we as a church care for widows in need is another way we present Christ to those who are watching us to see if we will practice what we preach.


1 Timothy 5:3-10
Higgins Lake Baptist Church
Kevin A. Pierpont
11-16-03
See also: Instruction for the Care Of Widows, Part 2


1 THE CARE AND FEEDING OF WIDOWS by Ray C. Stedman (http://www.pbc.org/dp/stedman/timothy/3777.html)

2 Our Daily Bread – Nov.11, 1998

3 THE CARE AND FEEDING OF WIDOWS by Ray C. Stedman (http://www.pbc.org/dp/stedman/timothy/3777.html)

4 Ibid

5 Warren Wiersbe, Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol. 2 pg. 229

6 David J. Ayers (From Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem)