1 Timothy 5:8
And whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was writing to his apprentice, Timothy, words that spoke to the specific situation in Ephesus.
At the same time, Paul, our mentor, is writing to us, his mentorees, words that speak in principle to how we are to function in the primary relationships of our lives. Paul gives three words of counsel.
Word of Counsel One: Treat each relationship with RESPECT.
Paul writes: “Do not speak harshly to an older man, but speak to him as a father, to younger men as brothers, to older women as mothers, to younger women as sisters – with absolute purity. Honor widows who are really widows” (
Can you be more specific and more practical? I don’t think so.
In his call to relational respect, Paul, in very practical terms, addresses three negative human tendencies.
First, he addresses the animosity of ageism.
He tells Timothy to not let anyone put him down because he is a young man. At the same time, as a leader in the church, he is going to have to address people older than him who might be quite set in their ways. He tells Timothy to be very careful to treat older persons with sensitivity, respect, in the way one would speak to one’s own father. Remember that in that culture, respect for one’s father and mother was of ultimate importance. We need to be reminded of that virtue for today.
A friend of mine, Jay Kesler, was leading a weekend retreat at The Cove, the Billy Graham Training Center in Asheville, North Carolina. The theme of the weekend was “Grandparenting.” During the question and answer period after his first presentation, it became apparent that the whole weekend was going to begin to go a different direction than he anticipated.
One person spoke up and told about how, at their church, they had a brand-new pastor. One of his first actions was to get rid of the choir, the organ and the traditional hymns of the faith. He replaced them with praise and with singers who were leading the congregation in contemporary praise choruses that they had never heard before.
Others began to speak up and tell how the same things were happening in their church. One family had just given a brand-new organ to the church, and the new pastor dismissed it as an irrelevant instrument, not to be used again in that church.
Another spoke up, saying that their new pastor had told them that they could no longer be greeters at the church door. They were “too old” and would turn away the younger people that the church wanted to attract.
And the litany of complaints continued.
How sad that it is either/or. How sad it is that a whole generation of the builders, who have sacrificially given of their tithes, talents and time, building a community of faith, suddenly and quickly are devalued and pushed to the side. Change is necessary but must be done in a kindly, gentle manner with sensitivity to those being disrupted.
William Barclay wrote: “It is one of the tragedies of life that youth is so often apt to find age a nuisance. To age there must always be given the respect and the affection which are due to those who have lived long and fared far upon the pathway of life and of experience.”
Cicero wrote: “It is, then, the duty of a young man to show deference to his elders, and to attach himself to the best and most approved of them as to receive the benefit of their counsel and influence.”
Youth requires the practical wisdom of age to strengthen and direct it.
Second, he addresses the overbearing use of power.
Paul is aware that the timid young man, Timothy, is a more powerful person than he realizes. The very position of leadership can be intimidating. Not only is he called to treat older men and women with sensitivity and respect, as he would his own parents, but he also is encouraged to treat younger women, in particular, as sisters, with absolute purity. Paul was as up-to-date as today in his understanding of how the intimacy of a pastoral relationship can quickly turn to a scandalous sexual affair. He understood boundaries, alerting Timothy that the best way to treat a woman younger was to see her as his own sister, to protect her from his own sexual instincts that could turn an attractive person into an object to be used instead of a human being to be cherished and respected as a sister in Jesus Christ.
N.T. Wright is the Bishop of Durham in the Church of England. He is a first-rate biblical scholar and in his commentary states that Paul’s use of the little phrase “with absolute purity” clearly “. . . indicates that Paul is aware of a potential problem when the intimacy of pastoral relationships generates sexual attraction. Pastors must be scrupulously careful at this point.”
How do you treat the opposite sex? How do you treat persons over whom you have power in the family? In the church? In business relationships? Do you use them for your own personal aggrandizement? I don’t mean just in sexual ways. You want to be seen with attractive people, and not seen with people who are not so attractive.
I have a friend who, several years ago, went through a tough first few months at a new job. Several of her co-workers put her down at every opportunity. The job was new to her, was quite complex, and many an evening was spent in tears, looking back over the previous day’s slights, put-downs, and even intentional obstacles designed to keep her from succeeding. Her persistence paid off. How was she, then, to treat those who once put her down? Some of them have left. A young woman has recently come on board who is going through some of the same problems she did. How can she help her succeed, sympathizing with her? Can she break the cycle of the put-down climate of competition? She will need to be an enabler. Or is she going to be a mistress of intrigue, a manipulator of power? How important it is to respect the less powerful.
Third, he addresses the way in which we make people invisible.
How important it is to have respect for those who are down in their luck. The Afro-American writer, Ralph Ellison, back in the late 1940s wrote his classic novel, The Invisible Man. In it, he described the way he and other blacks of his era moved through white society as invisible people. We know what he meant. “They all look the same, don’t they?” How easy it is to not see people as people, created in the very image of God.
In this case, Paul was addressing the matter of widows who somehow drop off the radar screen. How do we handle women who are now single, no longer married? The cause may be death; the cause may be divorce.
How often I have heard a woman say, “Now that I’m not married, I’ve been dropped off the invitation list. The couples we used to get together with socially don’t invite me anymore. It’s almost as if I don’t exist.”
Paul is telling us to be sensitive to others. Treat others with respect. The bottom line in all relationships is mutual respect.
Word of Counsel Two: Don’t cop out of your relational RESPONSIBILITIES.
This passage, in my estimation, has in it one of the most important verses in the entire Bible. Back in the early 1970s, I wrote a book titled Becoming a Whole Family. I recently wrote another book titled The Family You Want. The thematic verse for these two books is right here in this passage, 1 Timothy 5:8: “And whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
Now is a very dangerous moment for me in relationship to this message, when I have already acknowledged that I have written two books, each with several hundred pages, based on this one verse. I will declare a decisive “no” to the temptation to include some of that voluminous material in this message, except to remind us that Paul is emphatically calling us, as followers of Jesus, to set an example in the way that we provide materially, emotionally, spiritually for our relatives and especially for those of our own immediate family. He has a clever way of almost shaming us into paying attention to this as he says that to avoid providing for our own, we are actually denying the faith and living at a lower standard than many nonbelievers. In essence, he is saying, “Do you want the pagans in Ephesus, in the Newport Harbor area, to embarrass you by showing greater love and sense of responsibility in the way they provide for their own than you do, as one who claims to be a follower of Jesus?”
The case study Paul uses is that of the widow.
The early church had many widows. Some of them were widows because their husbands had died. Others were widows “for the sake of Christ,” because when they came to faith in Jesus Christ, their pagan or Jewish husbands had divorced them. Others, according to William Barclay, were widows because, when their husbands came to faith in Jesus Christ, they turned from polygamy to fidelity to one wife. That today continues to be a problem in Africa when a polygamist comes to trust in Jesus Christ. Just what are his responsibilities for his previous wives?
For whatever reason, there were many of these widows in the early church. The question was, what was to happen to them? There was no social security. Women were not easily employed. Many resorted to the only job they knew that paid money, and sometimes quite good money, prostitution.
Paul makes three observations about our relational responsibilities.
First, one must assume personal responsibility for one’s own life.
Paul talks about the widow who lives for pleasure instead of living a godly life. He encourages the widow to remarry, raise children, manage her household well and avoid idleness, gossip and self-indulgence.
Second, one must bear responsibility for destitute family members.
This is not the responsibility of the church. The church has limited resources that would quickly evaporate if it became the primary social agency. He writes, “If a widow has children or grandchildren, they should first learn their religious duty to their own family and make some repayment to their parents; for this is pleasing in God’s sight” (
Imagine what it would be like to live every day in fear of what might happen to you. This is why the whole matter of social security is such a big issue today. At least there is some kind of a safety net in our society, minimal as it is, to help persons survive.
How sad is the person whose children express no interest in them, give no support emotionally, spiritually or financially. That is why Paul emphasizes the fact that the person who does not provide for one’s own relatives has “denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
Plato, in The Laws, emphasized the debt that is owed to parents when he wrote: “Next comes the honor of loving parents, to whom, as is meet, we have to pay the first and greatest and oldest of debts, considering that all which a man has belongs to those who gave him birth and brought him up and that he must do all that he can to minister to them; first, in his property; second, in his person; and thirdly, in his soul; paying the debts due to them for their care and travail which they bestowed upon him of old in the days of his infancy, and which he is now able to pay back to them when they are old and in the extremity of their need.”
E.K. Simpson summarizes it with these words: “A religious profession which falls below the standard of duty recognized by the world is a wretched fraud.”
I think of how my dear father and mother took care of my mother’s mother in her elderly years. She lived to be in her early nineties. Most of those years she was bright and vital, but dementia began to settle in. I still have warm memories of my father being so gentle and kind, going out of his way to care lovingly for his mother-in-law, who would often, in her forgetfulness, look at him with a puzzled look, asking, “Who are you? What’s your name?”
Then I think of my mother so graciously providing for my father in the last years of his life, leading up to his death last May. Tenderly, yet firmly, she finally had to insist that he no longer drive. My sister, Miriam, and I had to support her in that decision. It took just everything in her to realize that she no longer could provide his round-the-clock care and she would have to surrender that to the care unit of their retirement home. But, every afternoon, she was there for two, three, four hours at his side – reading to him, praying for him, and even singing together, as the last to go was the long-term memory of the hymns of the faith and the words of The Lord’s Prayer.
Now for Mother, who has just turned 91 herself, how important it is that Miriam and I are there for her, to bring joy to her life, to encourage her autonomy in those areas in which she is able to be self-sufficient and, at the same time, to reassure her she is not alone if something goes wrong. This text is a reminder to me of my ongoing responsibilities. And it is a reminder to you.
Third, There are those extreme situations in which the church becomes the family.
Paul refers to a special category of women, then in the latter years of their life who had served the church with dignity, that the church make some charitable provision for them. Our circumstances are a bit different today, with social security, insurance and other economic supports.
Yet every church I have served has had some people for whom we have borne responsibility through the Deacon’s Fund and through other kinds of provision in which the church has literally been their family.
I could embarrass some people by name right now who have accepted God’s call to provide care for individual persons who are mentally ill or physically disabled. I could give specific examples of people who are helping a single mother deal with the ups and downs of the job market, helping that person with baby-sitting, the loan of a used car, or some cash that arrives anonymously to help spruce up the holiday season. How thrilled I have been to see the outpouring of so many of you who, in addition to your tithes to support the local and world-wide ministry of St. Andrew’s, give extra gifts to the Deacon’s Fund, which we try to steward wisely, providing just that bit of encouragement to help someone in a time of great need.
How important it is that we do not cop out of our relational responsibilities.
Word of Counsel Three: Face relational situations REALISTICALLY.
Paul concludes this great practical passage dealing with relationships with the straightforward statements I will simply make, and it is up to you to deal with as you feel led. These may very well be good topics to discuss in your covenant groups.
By now you have seen the progression of these three words I have chosen to summarize this passage: respect, responsibility, and realism. This is what I appreciate about the Old and New Testaments. God’s Word calls us to loving respect of God and each other. God’s Word calls us to a healthy sense of responsibility toward God and toward each other. At the same time, God’s Word deals realistically with life. It does not weigh us down with a lot of burdens that no one person can fully assume. And it addressees just about every kind of situation we will face. But the realization is that most situations in life are not neat, but are messy, and we need to keep certain principles in mind as we face the messiness of life.
Let me list some of these for you. It is then up to you to think about them, discuss them and act on them.
First, each person has responsibility for self. This theme winds its way all through this passage. Whether you are the seasoned veteran or the young person with creative new ideas, or the person disadvantaged somewhat, we all must bear responsibility for ourselves. This involves seeing ourselves in the larger picture of those around us, not selfish, egotistical, gossiping leaches on society.
The most impoverished in one area may be wealthy in another area. None of us are beyond the realm of taking some responsibility for ourselves and, in turn, for others.
Second, seasoned leadership deserves double honor.
Tuesday evening I was privileged to be with the college group. We met in a home. I sat on a stool, surrounded by some 40 bright young college students. It was one of the most exciting evenings in my life, as I received from them their appreciation for St. Andrew’s and the ministry we all are trying to have here. They expressed specifically their appreciation for my 40 years of ordained ministry and my willingness to share my 64 years of life experience with them.
Never minimize what encouragement your affirmation gives to someone who has been your mentor, your encourager throughout the years.
I thank God for people such as Richard C. Halverson, Bob Munger, Bryant Kirkland, Norman Vincent Peale and Billy Graham. These and other men and women deserve honor for the way they have mentored my generation. Right here, in the life of St. Andrew’s, I could list dozens of men and women who have served as elders and deacons through the years who are worthy of this kind of honor, and there is a whole new generation of those growing up who will, in the next decade, also be worthy of this commendation.
Third, pay church leaders adequately.
Fortunately, you here at St. Andrew’s do that. I can show you church after church in the United States that intentionally pays its pastor as little as it possibly can and then prides itself on the good deal it has. A careful reading of this text shows that the “double honor” can be translated “double compensation.” Paul writes: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching; for the scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves to be paid'” (
Some of you will someday go to other churches. Make sure that this is taken as seriously there as we endeavor to do here at St. Andrew’s.
Fourth, avoid false accusation.
Gossip can destroy people so quickly. Accusations can be devastating. How practical Paul is. He says, “Never accept any accusation against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses” (
Anyone can make an accusation. Make certain that accusation can stand the spotlight. Make sure that others, without a vested interest, have seen the same thing and are prepared to attest to it. Otherwise, it is simply hearsay and can be something of total fabrication. Satan would love to discredit persons who are faithful to the Lord with false accusation.
Fortunately, in our denomination, a person is considered innocent until proven guilty. There are checks and balances. I have seen careful investigatory committees work in total confidentiality for a year or two, until they had all of the facts, and then acted only when they had all of the facts. In some cases, persons were vindicated when allegations were proven false. In other cases, person have been removed from ministry because the allegations were proven to be true.
Fifth, rebuke persistent sinners.
“As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest also may stand in fear” (
Church discipline is very important. That’s why we say “hold us accountable to live according to God’s Word.” The church who has leadership that is slippery, either in faithfulness to the truth of God’s Word or in adhering to the moral standards of God’s Word, is a church that is in trouble. It needs to be a healing community. None of us is perfect. It is important that all of us be men and women of repentance who keep close accounts with the Lord.
Six, avoid partiality and prejudice.
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels, I warn you to keep these instructions without prejudice, doing nothing on the basis of partiality” (
There is always a danger in Christian leadership in that there is the “in crowd” and the “out crowd.” This does not mean that everyone can be in the identical same leadership position, but it does mean that there needs to be ministry that is not “cronyism.” Flattery should not get a person into a position of power. Trying to buy position and prestige within the church has a name. It is “Simony.” Read Acts 8 and you will see how malignant this can be.
Seven, don’t ordain anyone hastily.
It is stated in precisely the same words in
Eight, hold yourself to the same standards you have for others.
Paul writes, ” . . . and do not participate in the sins of others; keep yourself pure” (
A personal inventory is so important. We need to keep close accounts with the Lord ourselves in terms of our own lives. How easy it is for me to point out the sins and inconsistencies in another and be blind to that which is out of kilter in my own life.
What’s the bottom line from today’s passage? The bottom line is the three R’s: respect, responsibility and realism. Thank God for the privilege of such practical instruction from His Word!
John A Huffman, Jr. is Senior Pastor of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA.