1 Timothy 5:1-25

The community of believers is a spiritual family, and Paul instructed Timothy to treat the individual believers as he would beloved family members. The Greek word presbýteros can designate a man who functions as an elder in the congregation. In this context, however, the term apparently denotes an older man. In keeping with his age as a young man (possibly in his thirties), Timothy should appeal to older men as fathers, not denouncing them or expressing disapproval in a manner that would be disrespectful toward them as older persons. His bearing and expressions should reflect how he would speak to his own father. When exhorting younger men, Timothy was to treat them as brothers, not taking liberties with them. (5:1)

In his interactions with older women, Timothy should approach them as he would his own mother. With younger sisters, he should conduct himself chastely as he would with his own sisters. (5:2)

Widows “who are truly widows” would be women who were totally bereft, having no children or grandchildren who could look after them in their declining years. These widows would be “honored” by having provisions made for them to receive aid from the community of believers. (5:3)

In the case of a widow with living descendants, her children or grandchildren should “first learn godliness in their own household.” Their learning godliness would be by assuming the responsibility of caring for needy mothers or grandmothers, repaying them for having benefited from the help they received as young children. Their doing so is acceptable to God, for it harmonizes with his command to honor parents. (5:4)

A completely destitute widow, with no children or grandchildren to help her, relied fully on God. In her needy state, she rested her hope or full trust in God as her helper and sustainer. For her daily necessities, she persisted in praying and supplicating him with the intensity comparable to that of a needy beggar. Her continuing “in supplications and prayers night and day” is indicative of her doing so at every opportunity. Her appeals would not have been limited to requests for herself but would doubtless have included prayers for the whole community of fellow believers. In recognizing her full dependence on God and the provisions he would make for her through human agencies, such a widow manifested a spiritual outlook. She committed all her cares to him. (5:5)

Unlike such a godly widow, the one who indulges (spataláo) herself is dead though she is living. The Greek term (spataláo) is descriptive of living luxuriously, voluptuously, or in a highly indulgent manner. A widow whose life could be so described would be one who pampered herself and was primarily focused on satisfying her personal desires. She thus missed the whole purpose of living. The real life is distinguished by an enduring relationship with God and Christ and is lived for them. It is a life that honors God and his Son. A self-indulgent widow would be devoid of such a life and so, although alive physically, would be dead. (5:6)

The apostle’s next words (“and these [things] enjoin, that they may be irreproachable”) may be variously understood. They could relate to the directive for children and grandchildren to care for widows in their families. By discharging this duty, they would keep themselves free from rightfully being censured for neglecting their own mothers and grandmothers. Another possibility is that the commands to be given are the guidelines that follow regarding widows. A number of translations contain interpretive renderings that are more explicit than the Greek text. (5:7) “Add these instructions to the rest, so that the widows may be above reproach.” (REB) “You should therefore make the following rules for the widows, to avoid abuses:” (J. B. Phillips) “Tell the believers to do these things so that no one can criticize them.” (NCV) “Tell all of this to everyone, so they will do the right thing.” (CEV)

A refusal to care for needy ones in one’s own family or household would constitute a disowning of the faith and make one worse than a person without faith or than an unbeliever. Faith in God and Christ is more than an expression of belief. It is a way of life that harmonizes with the example and teaching of God’s Son. Shortly before he died, Jesus arranged that Mary (who must have been a widow by then) be cared for. (John 19:26, 27) The compassionate concern he exemplified during the course of his ministry on earth and the superlative expression of his love in surrendering his life revealed the kind of selfless love his disciples must have. Therefore, disregard for the needs of one’s own, especially members of one’s household (such as a widowed mother or grandmother), is very serious. This neglect would make professed believers worse than loveless unbelievers who have not been enlightened by the example and teaching of God’s Son. (5:8)

For widows who would be receiving aid from the community of believers, Paul set forth specific requirements. They should not be under sixty years of age, and so they were to be beyond an age where remarriage would have been likely. A woman’s having been the “wife of one husband” would indicate that she had been faithful to him and that his death had left her totally bereft. (5:9)

Widows who would be listed to receive aid from the congregation were to have a reputation for commendable works. This would have eliminated any doubts about the rightness of the congregation’s assuming the care of an aged widow. Fellow believers would have felt good about compassionately looking after a woman who had formerly attended to the needs of others. Her praiseworthy deeds (to which others could testify) would have included caring well for children, welcoming strangers into her home, washing their feet and providing meals for them. The washing of the feet of “holy ones” (fellow believers) would have been a kind gesture of hospitality. When traveling, bare feet in sandals became dusty, and it would have been refreshing to have one’s feet washed after having done extensive walking. (5:10)

Regarding a widow who would be put on the congregation’s list, Paul continued with the requirements, “if she assisted the afflicted, if she devoted herself to every good work.” While in a position to do so, she would have responded to the needs of others, doing what she could to relieve their distress. Every good work would have included everything associated with caring well for the family, extending hospitality, and generously giving of her time and effort in helping those in need. (5:10; compare Acts 9:36, 39.)

Exemplary older women who were on the congregation’s list to receive assistance would also have been rendering service for fellow believers. Their prayers for the community of believers were valuable in the eyes of God. (Compare Luke 2:36, 37.) The service of these older widows doubtless included teaching younger women how to conduct themselves as mothers and wives in a manner that would bring praise and honor to God and Christ. (Compare Titus 2:3-5.)

That a widow’s being on the list included both assistance from and service to the community of believers is evident from what Paul next said about younger widows. The younger widows were not to be enrolled, as their strong desire for marriage and family life could seriously affect their relationship to Christ, resulting in their disregarding their “first faith.” In this context, the “first faith” appears to designate the initial promise to serve the congregation and thus to make themselves more serviceable to Christ. When failing to follow through, the young widows would come under adverse judgment (either divine disapproval or human censure). (5:11, 12; see the Notes section.)

Distracted by their personal desires and not being fully devoted to advancing Christ’s cause, younger widows became accustomed to being idle. With too much time at their disposal, they would go about from one house to another as gossipers and busybodies, talking about things that should not have been mentioned. (5:13)

In view of the problems that certain young widows had caused because of having become idle, Paul recommended that they get married, have children, and keep busy in caring for a household. As exemplary wives and mothers attending to family affairs, they would not give the “adversary” occasion for reviling them for disreputable behavior. Likely the adversary would be anyone who opposed Christ’s disciples and resorted to any means possible to malign them. (5:14; see the Notes section for another explanation.)

Paul already knew about some young widows who had turned aside from a divinely approved course to follow Satan. By their words and actions, they must have brought great reproach on the community of believers. In thus also dishonoring God and Christ, they would have come to be on Satan’s side. (5:15)

A believing woman might have relatives who were widows. It would be her responsibility to care for their needs. The congregation would then not be burdened with this obligation but could give full attention to assist widows who were “truly widows” (those with no relatives to assist them). (5:16; see the Notes section.)

Elders who ministered well to fellow believers deserved “double honor.” In being designated as “double,” this honor includes more than the honor or respect accorded to everyone in the community of believers. As in the case of aged widows, honor would include their receiving the congregation’s assistance in caring for their physical needs. Especially the elders who labored “in word and teaching” would have appropriately been the recipients of aid. The time and effort required to speak to and to teach fellow believers meant that these elders had less time and energy for devoting themselves to working for life’s necessities. (5:17)

With a quotation from Deuteronomy 25:4 (LXX), Paul backed up his admonition to honor elders by assisting them to meet their physical needs. “You must not muzzle a threshing bovine.” When threshing, the animal would be able to benefit from its labor. It would not be tormented by being prevented from partaking of the threshed grain. Additionally, the apostle drew on Jesus’ words (Luke 10:7), “The worker deserves his wages.” (Compare 1 Corinthians 9:6-14.) Accordingly, when laboring for fellow believers, elders would be treated honorably by being compensated materially. (5:18)

In view of their labors in the congregation and the resultant visibility, elders came under closer scrutiny than did other believers. This also meant that a greater likelihood existed that someone would find fault with something an elder said or did. In order that elders might not be subjected to frivolous or unfounded accusations, Paul advised that Timothy only consider accusations that two or three witnesses could confirm, basing this on the words of Deuteronomy 19:15 (LXX). If an elder would then be found guilty of wrongdoing, he should be reproved before everyone present. This served to instill a wholesome fear in all who heard the reproof, causing them to reflect on their own course of life and to strive to live in a manner that honored God and Christ. (5:19, 20; compare Paul’s reproof of Peter [Galatians 2:11-14].)

Handling situations involving accusations would have been an especially weighty responsibility for Timothy, and Paul charged him to judge impartially, saying, “I adjure you before God and Christ Jesus and the chosen angels to observe these [instructions] without prejudgment, doing nothing according to an inclination [of partiality].” In this solemn manner, Paul reminded Timothy that God, Christ, and the angels who look after the interests of the community of believers would be fully aware of how he followed through on his instructions when handling matters in the congregation. Timothy’s judgments were to be impartial and unbiased, based on careful examination and evaluation of the facts. (5:21)

When appointing a man to serve fellow believers, laying his hands upon him, Timothy needed to avoid acting hastily or prematurely. An unqualified man could do great harm to the community of believers. The sins such an unfit man might commit would, in part, be attributable to Timothy’s having acted hastily or without sufficient care in evaluating the individual’s qualifications. He would then become a sharer in that one’s sins. Only exemplary men were to serve in the community of believers, and Timothy had to keep himself chaste or blameless in caring for this and other matters. (5:22)

Possibly the stress from the weighty responsibilities that rested on Timothy contributed to health problems. Additionally, the water to which he had access would not always have been fit to drink. Therefore, the apostle advised him not to drink water but to drink a little wine for the sake of his stomach and his frequent bouts with sickness. (5:23)

Again focusing on the matter of choosing men to serve fellow believers, Paul added a caution about the need for sufficient time for making evaluations. In the case of some men, their “sins,” wrongs, or serious flaws are evident to everyone even before a judgment is rendered. Other men’s sins or faults are not readily apparent but become manifest later. Likewise the good works of certain men may be evident to everyone, their exemplary life being acknowledged and undisputed. While this may not always be the case, eventually good works do come to light. They cannot be kept hidden, and so the passage of time would reveal which men would be qualified to serve. (5:24, 25)


The Greek text of verses 11 and 12 is less specific than the renderings of modern translations. A literal translation would be, “But reject younger widows; for whenever they become sensuous of [away from] Christ, they want to marry, having a judgment because they disregarded the first faith.” The Greek verb that conveys the thought of becoming sensuous is katastreniáo, and here appears to designate being impelled by a strong physical desire for the security of a home and family. This desire overrides devotion to Christ and leads to failure to follow through on the “first faith.”

Translations vary in representing what happens to younger widows in relation to Christ and the nature of their “first faith.” “But do not put younger widows on that list. After they give themselves to Christ, they are pulled away from him by their physical needs, and then they want to marry again. They will be judged for not doing what they first promised to do.” (NCV) “Don’t put young widows on the list. They may later have a strong desire to get married. Then they will turn away from Christ and become guilty of breaking their promise to him.” (CEV) “Do not accept young widows because if their natural desires distract them from Christ, they want to marry again, and then people condemn them for being unfaithful to their original promise.” (NJB) “Do not admit younger widows to the roll; for if they let their passions distract them from Christ’s service they will want to marry again, and so be guilty of breaking their earlier vow to him.” (REB) “Don’t put the younger widows on your list. My experience is that when their natural desires grow stronger than their spiritual devotion to Christ they want to marry again, thus proving themselves unfaithful to their first loyalty.” (J. B. Phillips) “But exclude younger widows, for when their sensuality estranges them from Christ, they want to marry and will incur condemnation for breaking their first pledge.” (NAB)

Paul’s directive regarding young widows does not mean that no help would have been given to those who were in real need. The apostle’s letter related to a specific situation. Young widows would not have been enrolled as women who would be receiving aid and serving the community of believers.

In verse 14, the adversary may be Satan. His reviling could then be understood as taking place through humans as his instruments.

According to another manuscript reading of verse 16, the reference is to a believing man or a believing woman who has widows as relatives.