Idle widows: Paul's advice for women

Idle Widows: Paul’s Advice for the Care of Widows

Last week we looked at Paul’s advice for women professing godliness. This week we continue with Paul’s teaching for widows, addressing not just the church’s responsibility for widows but advice for the widows themselves. Like last week’s passage, he is showing women how they can grow strong in the Lord and not be led astray.

Their Story

Paul brings up the subject of widows in 1 Timothy 5:3-16. He is instructing the church members on the importance of taking care of widows, but he differentiates between what he calls “true widows” who are alone and those who have family to take care of them. In verses 5-6 he explains, “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.  But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives.” (NIV)

He clarifies even more who should be cared for when he advises that they should not be taking care of widows under the age of sixty unless they’d been faithful to their husbands, respected in the community, and known for their good deeds.

He explains why they should not care for the younger widows. He says that young widows get caught up in their physical desires and lose sight of their faith. If they have nothing to do with themselves, they grow idle, going from house to house spreading gossip and interfering in other people’s business.

It is for this reason, he says, that young widows should remarry, so that they will keep busy and not fall into sin.

He closes his widow discussion by telling everyone that if they have a widow in their family, they need to be taking care of her so that the church’s resources can be used to help those who have no one.

The Rest of the Story

Wow! Paul really packs a lot into thirteen verses. Some of his instruction seems odd to us, but if we study it in context and try to understand the situation as he saw it and what he was trying to say, it does make sense.

So, first, why was he even having this conversation? We know that throughout time, widows were placed in a difficult situation. Women generally depended on their husbands to provide financially for them. If their husbands died, they were left with no way to care for themselves. If they had family, however, grown sons or married daughters, then their family would have to take care of them. Nevertheless, many women fell through the cracks and were left destitute upon the death of their husbands.

Jesus taught believers that they should take care of the poor, the widows, and the fatherless. The young churches were trying to do that, but it was taking its toll. There were so many, and it could be overwhelming. So Paul was helping them deal with the situation by narrowing it down to those who needed it most.

First, he says that if widows have family, then the family needs to be taking care of them, not the church. In verses 4 he says, “But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God.” (ESV)

He points out that this is a way for the children and grandchildren to show honor to their mother or grandmother, for this pleases the Lord.

I love what he says in verse 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.” We can take “widow” and replace it with “anyone”. Anyone who is really in need and alone learns to put their trust in God and pray night and day for God to help them.

We hate to go through difficult times when we feel all alone, but it’s during those times that we learn to truly put our faith in God. When we have no one else to depend on, we turn to Him in a way that we don’t do when life is going well.  

What a contrast we have from the widow who is completely dependent on God to the one who lives for pleasure. Paul point out that the widow who lives for pleasure is spiritually dead. Rather than turning to God in her time of sorrow, she chooses to live as if there’s no tomorrow with no consequences for her actions. Paul does not hold the church responsible for providing for widows who were living for themselves.

Then, he narrows the numbers down further by saying that the only widows under sixty who should  be provided for were those who had lived godly lives, caring for others. If women had lived for themselves, the church was not responsible for them.

Paul says in verse 11 to refuse the younger widows. This sounds harsh, but as we look at the verses that follow, he is just pointing out that younger women need to keep busy. If they have no responsibilities, they can get into trouble by hanging out, spreading gossip, and becoming busybodies. The church doesn’t want to encourage that behavior, so by refusing to take care of them, they’re forcing the younger widows to keep busy and find ways to support themselves.

Paul advises the younger widows to remarry. This is not because he feels it’s better to be married than single, but because he knows that if the young women get remarried, they will keep busy raising children, taking care of their household, and not having time to be led into unproductive behaviors.

Your Story

So how does all this relate to us today?

First, as a church, we need to be helping those who are unable to help themselves. Whether it’s widows or poor, we can show the love of God by providing for those in need.

On the other hand, Paul clarifies that we can’t take care of everyone, and we need to concentrate our efforts on those who truly need help rather than those who have family or means of support. We are not called to enable others who need to take responsibility for themselves and their family.

Then, as women, whether married or single, widowed, divorced, or never married, we need to spend our time caring for others rather than living for ourselves. It is not good to be idle or to waste away our days. We need to make every moment count, doing good and not evil all the days of our lives.

How are you spending your time? Are you using it for God’s glory or your own? Let’s make sure we’re always living for eternity and not for the moment.

Prayer

Lord God, thank You for the reminder to watch out for and care for those in need. Help us to honor our parents, caring for them in their old age just as they cared for us in our youth. Please give us insight to know who it is that needs our care. Help us to avoid enabling those who need to turn to You. Fill our days with worthwhile work. Grant us wisdom to know what it is You have us to do. Forgive us those times when we grow idle and engage in gossip and meddling. Help us to do better. We love You so much. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Tune in next week when we look at the Titus woman.

Idle widows Bible study

Bible Study

Scripture Background
Their Story: 1 Timothy 5:3-16

Bible Study Review

  1. Who does Paul consider a real widow?
  2. Which widows does Paul say the church should care for?
  3. Which widows does Paul say not to take care of?

Thoughts to Ponder

  1. Why was Paul concerned about widows?
  2. Why did he distinguish between widows?
  3. Why did he think younger widows should remarry?

Personal Reflection

  1. Are you faithful to your husband, respected in the community, and known for your good deeds?
  2. Do you turn to God in your time of need?
  3. Are you living for others or for yourself?

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