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Bible: What Does 1 Timothy 4-5 Teach Us About False Teachers, Godliness, and the Treatment of Widows and Overseers?

Updated on September 15, 2016

The Apostle Paul

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Doctrines of Demons

Might these false doctrines “connect” with the Roman Catholic Church and or New Age practices?

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Warning Against False Teachers

Through the Spirit’s inspiration—apparently He either “spoke” to Paul’s mind or communicated verbally with him, and the apostle (or his amanuensis) recorded His words without error—, Paul warns Timothy about an apostasy that would come in the “latter times.”

[“Latter times” is a technical term referring to the “days” at the end of the Church Age before Christ’s return.]

In that day, demons will influence false teachers in such a way that the latter will not only pay attention to Satan’s heretical doctrines, but they will also suffer the searing of their consciences as a result of believing these lies.

[“Searing” renders this internal "voice of God" incapable of sensing the difference between truth and error, right and wrong.]

Consequently, the apostates will foist these devilish commandments upon underlings without intending to keep them themselves (vv. 1-2).

Paul relates two of those teachings: forced celibacy and mandatory abstention from certain foods (v. 3a).

He expands upon the perverseness of this latter doctrine, commenting that God made meat (“every creature of God”) for human beings to eat and enjoy.

Believers should receive these foods, “setting them apart” with thanksgiving and prayer (vv. 3b-5).

The apostle asserts that Timothy will prove himself a “good minister of Jesus Christ” if he corrects the false teaching in current circulation, and feeds the brethren with the healthy doctrine he espouses and that nourishes him (v. 6).

He urges him to repudiate legends and other stories that only old women believe, and concentrate his efforts on developing godliness (v. 7).

Godliness and Salvation

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The Link Between Godliness and Scripture

While Paul does not denigrate keeping one’s body in good physical condition, since a strong constitution will indeed benefit Timothy in some respects, he stresses the importance of living a godly lifestyle.

Godliness will not only help his protégé persevere in this present life, but it will also redound to his eternal glory (v. 8).

This last statement qualifies as “a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance”— the third time in this epistle Paul designates a certain teaching as such (v. 9; cf. 1:15; 3:1).

Paul understands godliness as the state of being toward which he aims with all his work and suffering; he labors toward this goal because he trusts in “the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe” (v. 10).

[Those who trust the God who has saved them desire to be like Him; therefore, they expend every effort and suffer every insult with that end in mind.

While God “saves” all people in the sense that Jesus’ death was sufficient to pay the penalty for their sins, He redeems only those who place saving faith in the merits of Christ’s substitutionary atonement.]

Paul urges Timothy to continue to “command and teach” these truths (v. 11).

The Word of God

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The Scripture's Role

According to the apostle, Timothy should focus his attention upon developing his spiritual life and ministry.

First, Paul exhorts him not to permit elders to disrespect him because he is a young man; instead, he should demonstrate godly character to them and thus serve as a model of Christian behavior (v. 12).

Second, Paul instructs him to dedicate himself to listening to the public reading, preaching, and teaching of the Scriptures (v. 13).

Third, Paul urges his son in the faith to exercise his “gift”; apparently, a group of elders had conferred Timothy’s gift upon him after a prophet revealed this information to everyone (v. 14; cf. 1:18 for a note about other prophecies about Timothy).

[Does Paul mean that God actually used these men as conduits to transfer a spiritual gift to Timothy?]

Paul wants him to think deeply upon what he hears, and consecrate his life to his ministry; by so doing, Timothy will show others that he is a mature believer who is continuing to grow up into Christ.

His continual performance of these duties and service will greatly help his audience and keep himself persevering on the right track (v. 15).

Widows Indeed

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How the Church Should Treat Widows

1 Timothy 5

Regarding how Timothy should treat other church members, Paul instructs the young man not to rebuke older men; the apostle apparently believed that the latter are worthy of greater respect because of their physical age (v. 1a).

Timothy should show familial courtesy to all believers, regardless of their age or sex (vv. 1b-2).

In a rather lengthy section, the apostle now tackles the issue of the support of true widows (vv. 3-16).

He enjoins that individuals who qualify as such should receive due respect (v. 3), but that they must first pass a multi-faceted test.

The initial criterion stipulates that they must truly be alone (v. 5a); having children and grandchildren disqualifies them.

God regards as a good practice that relatives learn to take care of the widows (“learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents”) [v. 4].

Second, true widows must devote themselves to prayer as well as evidence true faith (v. 5b); those who indulge themselves in pleasures show their unregenerate status and thus do not pass the test (v. 6).

Paul instructs Timothy to teach these standards to both widows and relatives, so that they would all be above reproach (v. 7).

Relatives who shirk their responsibility to support their mother in her time of need reject what Christ teaches and behave worse than those without faith in Jesus (v. 8).

Third, in order to be placed on “the official relief roll,” true widows must have passed age sixty, been married only once, and shown a record of serving others well (vv. 9-10a; Ryrie, New Testament Study Bible, 382).

Paul lists several possible types of good works that these women must have done in the past, including child-rearing, hospitality, and nursing (v. 10b).

Widows under sixty Paul commands should not receive financial support from the church (v. 11a).

Probably recording this standard as a rule--perhaps having in mind certain examples--, he considers such younger women as not serious enough about serving Christ to refrain from marrying a second time (vv. 11b-12).

Paul proceeds to expand upon other harmful activities in which these particular women participate: being idle, and becoming gossips and/or busybodies (v. 13).

[It would be difficult to believe that Paul regarded all widows under sixty in this manner.

If he were such a man, one can see why people sometimes question (if not altogether repudiate) his advice.]

The apostle expresses his desire (not his command) that these younger widows marry again, rear children, take care of the household, and live blamelessly; he has in mind some who have not taken his instruction seriously and have compromised themselves (vv. 14-15).

Paul summarizes his teaching on this issue by commanding believing relatives to support their widowed mother rather than pawn them off on the church; he wants the church to care only for those who are “widows indeed” (v. 16).

[Does Paul's "desire" carry the weight of divine prescription?]

The Financial Support of Elders/Overseers

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How the Church Should Treat Elders (Overseers)

Now the apostle returns to the subject of elders to cover two specific aspects of their relationship to the church.

First, he charges Timothy to encourage the “laity” to demonstrate how much they esteem their godly elders who teach them the Scriptures by showing them respect and remunerating them for their spiritual labor (v. 17).

Paul supports this point with two OT Scriptures that teach that those who work, whether animal or hired man, should receive wages (v. 18; cf. Deut. 25:4; Lev. 19:13).

[The apostle applies a principle of social justice from the Law to this situation in the church.

S. Lewis Johnson wrote an enlightening chapter in his paperback The Old Testament in the New: An Argument for Biblical Inspiration that discusses this idea in detail (39-51)].

Second, Paul instructs his associate not to allow one person alone to accuse an elder of wrongdoing; again, the apostle relies upon the OT legal principle that requires two or three witnesses to a sin as the basis for his judgment (v. 19; cf. Deut. 19:15).

Paul tells Timothy to rebuke guilty elders publicly, so that “the rest” (all the people?) would fear (v. 20).

He formally and strongly commands the young apostolic representative to execute these instructions impartially (v. 21).

[Paul shows Timothy how serious the latter’s responsibility is in these matters by calling upon the Godhead and the elect angels to bear witness to his judgments.]

Where the Church Meets

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Rules for Restoration to Fellowship

Besides giving Timothy practical advice about how he can alleviate his stomach problems (v. 23)—a parenthetical statement if ever there was one—the apostle shares insight into the process of receiving people back into local church membership.

Wanting Timothy to maintain moral purity in this matter, Paul warns his son in the faith to avoid potential problems by observing the outward behavior of those desiring reinstatement.

If they should continue to evidence a sinful lifestyle, he should not accept such men, for they will probably experience future divine chastening (vv. 22, 24).

On the other hand, he should not hesitate to welcome back those who give evidence of good works (v. 25).

© 2014 glynch1

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