Caring for the Widows of the Church

1 Timothy 5 returns to instructions about certain groups in the church, specifically widows and elders. The church is to be a family of families, meaning that we should relate to each other as fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters (1 Timothy 5:1-16). Like one would take care of an aging grandparent, Paul said that the congregation is responsible for widows in their church family, but only under certain conditions. First, if the widow has family still living, they are responsible for her, not the church. Second, only older widows are to be included in this care program. Paul specified “sixty years old” (1 Timothy 5:9), but this could be considered descriptive rather than prescriptive, due to cultural life expectancies.[1] Third, she was to be “the wife of one husband” (1 Timothy 5:9). This phrase is the exact opposite of an elder’s “husband of one wife” character trait (see chapter three), meaning that she was “characterized by being a one-man type of woman.” Fourth, she was to be an example of godliness.

Paul specifically commanded that younger widows were not to be accepted “on the list” (1 Timothy 5:11-15). Rather, he said they should remarry and fulfill their roles as described in 1 Timothy 2:9-15. In a statement that could have been written today, Paul noted that younger women with no responsibilities and full financial provision “learn to be lazy, and . . . also gossips and busybodies.” Although this may seem harsh or unfair, every civilization can verify its accuracy.

Another reason Paul wanted younger widows to remarry had to do with a “former pledge.” It seems that the church’s provision for older widows was a kind of remuneration for devoted service to the congregation. Because these women had no families and were characteristically godly servants, it is possible that they pledged themselves to their congregation. Early church history shows that this is where the Catholic practice of nuns derived. However, it also may refer to the “women” in 1 Timothy 3:11. If so, this group of widows probably served alongside the elders and deacons, probably in ministry toward women.[2]

Supporting the Elders of the Church

In 1 Timothy 5:17-25 Paul gave additional instruction about the elders, this time concerning the congregation’s financial support for them. Many people believe that elders should not be paid by the church, but this passage clearly disputes that notion. First, Paul quoted from both Deuteronomy 25:4 (Moses) and Luke 10:7 (Jesus) to prove that the one who works should receive payment for his work. Even animals get that much. Second, Paul used the same Greek word (τιμή, timē) to describe how the congregation treated both widows (1 Timothy 5:3) and elders (1 Timothy 5:17). Because this word means both “honor” (non-financial) and “compensation” (financial), some argue that elders should only be honored but not paid. However, since the word obviously means compensation for widows, and the immediate context is payment for work done, it must mean compensation for elders as well. Elders should be taken care of by those they serve, especially those “who work hard in speaking and teaching,” because it does not allow as much time for another form of work to provide for his family.[3]

However, lest anyone think that this elevates elders to a level of “untouchable” clergy, Paul told Timothy that elders were still subject to discipline for sin, just like any other congregation member, and that their discipline should be public within the congregation, “as a warning to the rest” of the seriousness of sin. Thus, elders will be examples, either for good or bad. For this reason, elders should be appointed carefully and slowly. Paul’s mention of Timothy’s stomach ailments at this point (with no other medical context) may indicate that Timothy’s role in choosing and appointing elders was a stressful and difficult process for him.


[1] For instance, if a culture had a life expectancy rate for women of 55 years old, waiting to help widows until they turned 60 would drastically cut down on a church’s benevolence expenses, but it would probably violate the spirit of what Paul taught here.

[2] In the churches that had a role of deaconess, some of their tasks were to help prepare women for baptism, childbirth, etc.

[3] This distinction that some elders will “work hard in speaking and teaching” reveals that within a team of elders in a local church, different men will have different responsibilities. Some will teach more than others, and they should receive a higher wage than the others. This also implies that all elders should receive at least some compensation for their ministry.

Each Thursday DPH runs a Chapter-by-Chapter blog by Daniel Goepfrich, progressing readers chapter-by-chapter through the New Testament. This series is taken from New Testament Chapter-by-Chapter, published by Trust House Publishers, a division of DPH. Daniel serves as Pastor of Oak Tree Community Church in South Bend, Indiana, and blogs at

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