Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
One of the things that makes Christian community difficult, is that issues always seem to arise. Whenever two of three gather in Jesus name, Jesus is present, but so are issues.
Of the 27 books in the New Testament, 21 are letters. And most of those letters are written in response to issues that arose in the early church.
When Paul heard that the Church in Corinth was deeply divided, he wrote them a letter. When Paul heard that the Church in Galatia was at risk of clouding the gospel with the law, he wrote them a letter—a scathing one at that.
21 different letters, 21 different issues.
Sometimes we think that things were different in bible times.
In Acts ch. 2 and 4, we get glowing pictures of the early church. Luke tells us that the early Christians gathered everyday to pray, to study the apostles teachings and to break bread together. There wasn’t a needy one among them. For whenever anyone was in need, someone would step up to meet that need.
How many times have we read those verses and thought to ourselves: “Man, We have to get back to that.”
Many a new Church was build on the hope that things could be better. But then, inevitably, whenever two or three gather, issues arise.
I’ve come to see that the burden of Christian leadership is not to stop conflict from appearing. It is, rather, to learn how to engage and persevere through issues in a godly, Christ-centred, restorative way.
Timothy was sent by Paul to Ephesus to be a Christian leader. The Church there was a mess. Bad elders were distorting the simple gospel with myths, genealogies, and inappropriate uses of the law. And what’s worse, these elders had gained an audience with some of the younger widows.
Timothy’s job, therefore, was to teach sound doctrine and to encourage godly, living.
Given what we know about the context, it shouldn’t surprise us that Paul spends much of 1 Timothy talking about leadership in the Church and widows.
Chapter 5 is where Paul’s instruction gets really practical.
Paul begins by encouraging Timothy to treat the congregation like they’re his own Family.
Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters… 1 Timothy 5:1-2
Family is one of Paul’s favourite metaphors to describe the Church. When he addresses Christians, he calls them brothers and sisters. He even refers to Timothy as his Spiritual son.
For Paul, the community of God is not a strata council, bound together by government regulation and a shared concern for property value. Nor is it an advocacy group which rallies around a cause and then disbands when the protest is over.
The Church is God’s family.
You don’t get to choose your family. Your born into one. And you have to work with what your given. Families prize relationship over forward motion. Reconciliation over being right.
Families always seek to make room for the weaker brother or sister, even when that’s inconvenient.
Timothy couldn’t just waltz into Ephesus and start barking orders. As one sent by Paul, Timothy had authority. But he was supposed to wield that authority as a brother in Christ.
Treat older men like Fathers, older women like Mothers. And treat everyone else like they are your brother or your sister.
Here at VCRC, we say again and again: “Blessed by heritage and grace, we are a family….” Sometimes I wonder what would happen if we really let that reality sink in.
A year or so ago, I had a conversation with one of VCRC’s elders. He had some disagreements with the direction we were taking. At the end of our conversation he said something that will always stick with me.
He said: “You know what David, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what I think about this. What matters most is that our relationships stay strong. Because we have to be able to worship together on Sunday.
Wise words from a wise elder.
Treat older men like Fathers, older women like Mothers. And treat everyone else like they are your brother or your sister.
After this important reminder, Paul instructs Timothy on how to best care for widows.
Give proper recognition [i.e. proper care] to those widows who are really in need. 1 Timothy 5:3
Though it doesn’t sound like it, Paul really is concerned about the wellbeing of widows. Widows made up a sizeable section of the early Church.
Paul’s concern here is that the community’s resources go to the right kind of widows. Widows who are really in need. Not widows who are lazy or manipulative or have have other means of support.
And so, Paul lays out some guild lines that will help Timothy in this matter.
For a widow to receive the support of the Church, she must be
3: 60 +
1: Alone. For Paul, the household is the first line of defence in the fight against poverty.
People ought to take care of their relatives.
Paul puts it rather bluntly in vs. 8: “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).
This makes good sense on a number of levels. Not only does this protect the Church from a potential flood of needy persons, but this policy also encourages widows become embedded in households.
You know, the Church can offer a lot. Money, prayer, accountability, the gospel. But it can’t provide for all of ones relational needs.
We call ourselves a family. Which is true. But if you were to come to VCRC on a Thursday night looking for family, all you’d find is a cold empty building. On Sunday morning we exist as one, but during the week, we are spread across the city. Wouldn’t it be better for a widow to become embedded in a family that meets together Monday through Saturday, and not just for an hour on Sunday morning?
In Hamilton, I met a wonderful young couple who had renovated their basement in order to welcome two adults with disabilities into their household. This family had two young children of their own. But they had more love to give and they felt God calling them to invite Bob and John to come live with them.
Before moving in with this family, Bob and John lived at a government sponsored group home.
Now, the Church could have cared for Bob and John’s physical needs. They could have sent money to the group home, bought Bob and John new clothes, etc… etc… That would have been good.
But how much better for them to actually belong to a real family. To have a seat at the table.
If you care about social justice—about widows, orphans, the poor—one of the best things that you can do is to adopt a vulnerable person into your family. Don’t just give financial aid, give someone—especially your own relatives—them a place to belong.
Later on in Chapter 5, Paul encourages older women, who have adopted widows into their household, to continue caring for those widows. Better for them to be cared for in a household, than to be cared for by the church.
But if there are widows who don’t have family, and who have no other means of support, then by all means, the church should support them.
2: The second qualification in Paul’s list is that widows be godly. They ought to have a history of faith and good deeds.
No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she… has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds. 1 Timothy 5:9-10
This is a tough one. Moral perfection, of course, is not a prerequisite for receiving Church support.
And yet, there is a difference between needy widows who are seeking to serve the Lord and needy Widows who are exploiting the system for their own purposes.
Every now and then, I get phone calls from needy people in Victoria. Some of them are in genuine need of help and don’t know where else to turn. But others are exploiting the system. They’ve mastered their story and you just know that they’ve called every other church in the city.
As Christians, we ought to be generous, but we need to to careful to not enable someone else’s self-serving lifestyle.
“A widow who lives for pleasure,” says Paul, “is dead, even while she lives.” What a self-serving widow needs more than money, is repentance and renewal. How depressing would it be to waste your whole life trying to work the system? We do not help such people when we give them aid.
Discerning the difference between godly widows and self-serving widows is not always easy, but it is important. This is a good reminder to pray for VCRC’s deacons. They are on the front lines.
3: The 3rd qualification in Paul’s list describing the kind of widows that the Church should support is that Widows be over 60.
This appears to be a little arbitrary. After all, neediness is not age specific. What if a widow is 55? Do they really have to wait till their 60 to receive support?
The key to understanding what Paul is saying here, has to do with his discussion on younger widows in verses 11-15.
Older widows need support because they are old. But younger widows are still young. And so, they should be encouraged to put themselves to good use.
Recall for a moment, the context that Paul is speaking into. Bad elders were leading the Church astray. And, there is evidence that their teaching had found a home among some of the younger widows in the community.
Now imagine those younger widows, wasting away each day, gossiping their way around the community, spreading false teaching. On the churches dime. This is not a good.
And so, Paul encourages Timothy to challenge these younger widows. Instead of being idle, they should put themselves to good use. If they can’t serve Christ with their whole heart, then they should get married and have kids. Its awfully hard to be destructive when you are busy changing poop-y diapers and trying to keep hungry mouths fed.
Now, personally, I wish that Paul had a little more brotherly love in his approach the younger widows. Clearly, he doesn’t think very highly of them.
But let’s not forget about the context here. These widows, with the bad elders, were leading people astray. So the situation is quite serious.
And Paul is concerned that the resources of the Church go to people who are really in need.
Older widows need the support of the church, but younger widows should be encouraged to be productive.
Does this mean that the deacons shouldn’t help people who are under 60. No. We shouldn’t make too much of that number. But we should encourage younger woman— and men for that matter—to do what they can to live productive lives.
To conclude this section on Widows: The church ought to be a place where people who are really in need can find support. The Apostle James says that true religion consists in caring for orphans and widows in their distress and in keeping oneself un-polluted by the world.
This isn’t just the responsibility of the deacons. Although they have an important role to play. What can your household do. Remember, the poor need much more than financial aid, they also need a place to belong. Is there room for widows, the poor, the disabled at your table?
After dealing with the widow Crisis, Paul gives advice to Timothy concerning elders.
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.
This is the point where I pat myself on the back and remind you that I’m worthy of double honour.
After this, Paul let’s us know that people like me should be compensated for their work.
You know, all kidding aside, there is a place for paid workers in the Church. In the Old Testament, the priests were supported by the people of Israel. And in the New Testament, the apostles were supported by the generosity of the Church.
In our tradition, we’ve discerned that preaching and teaching is important enough that someone should be educated to do it and be able to dedicate themselves to it. And we believe that the community should support them to this end.
We are also in a place where we can afford that, however. In many places around the world, preachers are forced to find other work, because their community can’t afford to pay them a salary.
For the record, I would still preach even if I wasn’t paid. Its a calling, not a job. And one day, I might not be so blessed as to get paid to preach. But for now, Brittney and I are thankful for the support we receive from this community and consider it a great privilege to do what we do.
Now, if you think elders have it easy, think again. While our work makes us worthy of double honor, we are also to be held to a higher standard.
“Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.”
Leaders need to be held accountable. The congregation in Ephesus needed to see the bad elders held responsible for leading the Church astray.
This kind of discipline is not easy to do well.
In 80’s a Christian Reformed Minister in Chicago confessed to his church that he was an alcoholic. That he had been drinking on the job. And instead of kicking him out, the Church stood by him through rehab, forgave him his sins, and welcomed him back to the community after he had recovered. After a period of discernment, they discerned that he was still fit to be their teaching and preacher.
Not all stories end that way. But that’s one way that church discipline can be done well.
Paul finishes up this section on elders by warning Timothy to not be too hasty in the laying on of hands. By that Paul means that the church shouldn’t rush to ordain people as elders or deacons.
Church leadership is not about Its not about getting the right number of warm buts in the council room. We need to pray, discern and elect the people best suited for the task.
This is important, because, as Timothy saw first hand in Ephesus, it doesn’t take much for a Church to lose balance and stumble into false teaching. Leaders need to have a solid core and a solid commitment to the truth.
Leaders also need to wise. For when issues arise—as they always do—wise people need to be present to sort them in godly, Christ-centred, and restorative ways.