Today we are going to look at a couple different relationships in the church. I want you to think about some interactions you have had with other members here at Cities Church in the past few weeks. Think about the discussions you've had, or the correspondence, the chit-chat, the texting, or the tensions that may have existed.
These interactions are exactly what is being addressed by Paul in this passage.
I have a question for you: when two people in the church interact — talk — have a discussion, who in that interaction is God? Who in the discussion knows all the angles to the topic, all the knowledge of what the other person has been through, and the energy to have the fullest compassion? Who is God in that interaction? The answer is no one; neither person is God! This may seem obvious when I ask it like this, but every one of us has the natural flesh reaction to think we know it all when coming into a discussion. Every one of us tends to think we are good on some level. This is our fundamental problem as humans in our sin is that we want to take God's place. We think we know the full story of the other person, and we think we are being compassionate.
Let me make it clearer: you are not God! You don’t have it all figured out. So stop acting as if you do.
And this is good news for us! We can be set free from this inner bondage to make everything about ourselves.
Jesus is God, not you. And Jesus has died on the cross, and rose again, to save us from ourselves. Jesus died to pay the penalty for this sin of arrogance so that we may be softened and changed and transformed by repenting, and through this breaking of our pride and our arrogance, with the Holy Spirit in us and our identity fixed on Christ where he is enough for us, and we don't have to be right all the time, then we can come to a conversation with humility and compassion, not needing to be right, not craving the attention, not having to be with the in-crowd, not having to name drop or virtue signal to raise social status, and not having to win every discussion, and not having to spin every angle so that we are always put in the best light possible. In effect, you don't have to win, because Jesus has won.
I mean, you've been in those discussions, right? It can sometimes feel like a competition or feel like you have to be careful what you say.
For example, when you come into a conversation with someone, do you sometimes feel like you have to defend yourself? Or, do you feel like you have to be right? Or, do you feel like you need to make your point and you have to get it out? Or, do you feel the need to get a dig in there? Or, do you feel the need to talk instead of listen? Or, do you come into a conversation with an agenda to get what you want? Or, do you feel this desire to make sure you and your name look great in whatever context is being discussed, making sure at every point in the conversation it is all about you saving face or looking like the hero?
Jesus is the hero! When Jesus is enough for you because he finished it all for you on the cross, then by faith you can look away from yourself being god and start to look at others and start to actually listen to them and hear them out and have compassion for them.
With the gospel, you can be set free to truly "seek first to understand, then to be understood."
For example, are you content enough in the love of Christ that you are at peace to ask questions and listen, instead of talking? Are you caring enough to consider other's life circumstances? Are you respectful to not push or pry when it isn't appropriate? Are you respectful and considerate of the other persons time and space when you approach them?
Is Jesus enough for you that you can be free from the need to have the conversation be about you?
Here is the point that is so foundational to the verses we are about to dig into: we need Jesus to be our identity and by faith receive righteousness from him which then will produce in our lives a more real humility that flows from the love of Christ when we interact with others.
A great few verses that sum this up well is Philippians 2:3–4, "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others."
It is with humility in mind that we now turn to our passage 1 Timothy 5:1–8. There are three parts to the passage:
How to relate to those of a different generation
How to relate to those of the opposite sex
How to relate to widows
1 Timothy 5:1–2 says, "Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity."
Paul lays out four groups of people — older men, younger men, older women, and younger women. Except for kids, we all fall into one of these categories.
A foundational principle that we have learned so far in this letter is that the church is a family. The church is God's household. Chapter 3, verse 15 says that Paul wrote this letter to teach us "how one ought to behave in the household of God which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth."
Paul comes back to using this concept of God's household here in chapter 5. For those who are "younger men," like Timothy (in our 20s and 30s), we are to think of older men in the church as fathers and other younger men as brothers. We are to think of older women in the church as mothers and younger women as sisters.
We see in our passage that there are two particular scenarios where the conditions are more susceptible to misunderstanding or potential conflict or hurt feelings, and thus we need a spirit of humility when interacting with others. The two scenarios where this can happen especially is when we interact and talk with those of a different generation, and when we interact with those of the opposite sex.
Part 1: How To Relate To Those of a Different Generation (1 Timothy 5:1–2)
Let's take the interactions between those of a different generation first.
The scenario often occurs where a younger person wants to tell an older person who's right and who is wrong; how one idea is better than the other.
This desire can be rooted in an arrogant heart that assumes I am right and they are wrong. Paul tells us that it is not a good idea to rebuke an older man, not in the same way you might rebuke a peer. Why? Perhaps because the younger person can be prone to speaking first and not listening. Or he or she is speaking too quickly of things they may not fully understand. Often the older person has wisdom, or at least the hard knocks of experience, that the younger person does not know of. In the context of our letter, it may be that Timothy feels the impulse to rebuke an older man for bad doctrine, or false teaching through which they are influencing others. Paul is encouraging Timothy to appeal to the older man and speak to him as he would to his father.
The command that Paul gives Timothy is not to rebuke an older man harshly or sharply. This would be disrespectful. Instead with humility, Timothy should appeal to him. And this is all the more remarkable because Timothy is not a typical pastor. He is a specially commissioned representative of the apostle Paul. And even then, Paul still would have Timothy exercise humility and gentleness and a measure of deference — even with Paul at his back.
And to older women, young men should show respect as we would to our own mother. The gospel is so important here because, for this to go well, both parties need their identity in Christ and not in the matter at hand, meaning that both have an attitude of humility. They both need to acknowledge that they will not be right 100% of the time. Both need to own that they will have some blind spots in their life. Such humility is only possible with the gospel.
We would do well to ask good questions and truly want to hear from the older or younger person to gain an understanding of what they think. We will be regularly surprised by what we learn and how we grow from understanding the other person's perspective.
Part 2: How To Relate To Those of the Opposite Sex (1 Timothy 5:1–2)
Again, humility is so critical to have here. Let's look back at 1 Timothy 5:1–2, which says "Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity."
In the church, women, and men, as co-heirs in Christ, should interact, talk, have discussions. This is good and necessary. It is important for brothers and sisters in the family of Christ to talk. Yet, Paul puts in an important safeguard — he says, do so in all purity.
In the Bible there are only a few basic categories for men and women – for women, there are categories of daughters, mothers, sisters, and then a wife. The Bible doesn't speak of girlfriends, for example. The Bible does mention engagement, such as "betrothed to be married." Unless the lady is your wife, you should be interacting with them as if they were your sister or your mother.
A critical interrelationship aspect here is that men are to treat women with all purity and vice versa. There is no room in our church family for infidelity. I mean, it should be obvious that you would never be impure with your sister, or your mother. Likewise, in the church there is only one category of relationship for "being one flesh," and that is with your wife or husband.
This command from Paul for purity is a safeguard, meaning, with humility we consider that this temptation may exist and we need to know it may exist and be prepared for that temptation. But this does not mean brothers and sisters in the household of God shouldn't talk. It is immature and unloving, for example, for Christian men to view sisters in Christ as merely a potential source of temptation and therefore be cold to them, and not talk to them, or avoid them. Such men are missing out on the full blessing of fellowship in the body of Christ, and they are depriving their sisters in Christ of the same by so doing.
Brothers and sisters in the church should be looking to serve one another, in all purity. This purity is not a legalistic matter of mere do's and don'ts. Rather it is a matter of the heart. When you talk with someone is your aim humility and wanting to serve, or is your mind and heart selfish and impure at that moment.
Yes, temptation between men and women can exist, because God made men to be attracted to women, and women to men. But God also gives us his Spirit and produces in us self-control. Some of the strongest relationships or bonds between two people on earth are the bond between a brother and a sister. Let's not miss what God is offering us in the church by settling into our own immaturity and lack of self-control.
We want men and women in this church, in a humble and pure and respectful manner, to talk and interact and be there for each other, looking to outdo one another in showing honor.
Paul is encouraging us in the church to treat each other like we would family — older men as fathers, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters.
Part 3: How To Relate To Widows (1 Timothy 5:3–8)
And now, Part 3, relating to widows.
Paul in this letter to Timothy addresses various congregational matters. And now we begin a section on ministering to widows. We will continue on with this topic next week as well, but for now, let's look at verses three to eight:
Honor widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them (the "them" being the children and grandchildren) 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. She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his (own) household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
In this lengthy section on widows which is verses three to sixteen, one way to make sense of it is to see that Paul is emphasizing two different thing. One, he describes who is truly a widow, "Honor widows who are truly widows." And secondly, this principle of "own household," or "own family first," meaning your primary family.
Here is a quick overview of how Paul oscillates between these two principles: The command in verse three is to support real widows. The principle in verse four is that children should care for their parents. Verses five to seven describe the real widow. And in verse eight Paul emphasizes more clearly the importance of taking care of your own family.
But first, why is Paul highlighting widows in this letter at all? What is the context? In the Greco-Roman world in Paul's day, a woman whose husband passed away would be in a financially dire situation, typically. The widow may have brought a dowry to the marriage, meaning she had brought money or an estate to the marriage that she could get back. Otherwise, when the husband died, the estate and finances got turned over to the son. So, the widow at this point was very dependent on having a son that would take care of her. This is why Paul brings into focus how the gospel and Christian living would point a son to do the right thing, and care for his mom. For example, verse 4 says that the children and grandchildren should learn to show godliness to their own household and make some return to their parents, meaning they should care for their mom. And this is pleasing to God.
The context is that widows in this time would often be in financial stress.
James 1:27 says it like this "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction." So, to be a widow often was an intense test of affliction.
In Acts 6:1 we see that the apostles appointed seven men to serve and help the widows specifically.
In the context of this letter, often in Paul's day, widows would be preyed upon for financial gain, meaning if they did have money others around them would try to get at their money. Paul wants Timothy to have a category for how to help and how to protect widows.
Jesus addressed this also when he was denouncing the scribes of his day, who in Jesus' terms, these scribes "devoured widows' houses." Just a few verses later, Jesus watched how a widow placed a few coins into the offering box, and this was all that she had to live on. She gave it to the offering while in poverty. In one sense, the scribes and leaders were not protecting the widow at that moment. Yes, she was praised for her faith, but yet the leaders were clearly not coming alongside her to help her if they were allowing her to give all she had and take it.
In the Gospels, it is clear that Jesus cared for the widows, and so should his followers. And on the principle level, what we are talking about is caring for those who are in need. In Paul's day it was widows. In our day it includes those among us who are in need. There are some guidelines that Paul offers us on how to help.
From our passage, Paul has in mind someone who is a "true widow." What does he mean by "true widow"? Either they are a widow, or they aren't.
First, a true widow doesn't have any earthly family. They have no children or grandchildren, at least none taking care of them. If they did have children or grandchildren, they should be taking care of her. This is a great way for the kids to put their faith into action. Love Jesus and go help your parents. We are commanded in the ten commandments to honor your father and mother. Caring for your parents by supporting them is one practical way to do this. It's easy to turn over care to the church and others for your family members in hard times, but the church funds are to be used for the neediest who lack any source of means.
Paul goes on to describe the true widow as one who has put her hope in God. She prays night and day. She uses her time to serve God.
Next, a true widow is not self-indulgent. Evidently, Paul was seeing some widows live out a self-indulgent lifestyle. Paul refers to these widows as being spiritually dead. Paul says that a true widow is not living a self-indulgent lifestyle. This disqualification of self-indulgence should be considered by the leaders when looking to support those in need.
Now let's look at verse 7 where Paul is expecting Timothy to pass this on to his congregation. "Command these things" implies that the congregation should be thinking this way. For this to work, we the congregation need to humbly consider others interests above our own. With a quiet trust and faith that Jesus brings us our deepest joy that no one can touch, we can humbly look to serve others, not being self-consumed, but rather being ready to help.
On the principle level, for our context, we can use this passage as a guideline for helping others. First, we can look to help those who are in need. But we can also look at the practical guidelines that Paul gives Timothy on how to help those in need in the church family. Even with some of these possible guidelines from Paul that we just went over, at the end of the day let's be a church family that is ready to help those among us in need.
A real practical way we are doing this structurally at Cities Church is through the Helping Hand fund. We allocate church funds to help those among us who are in need. And this Helping Hand fund is active and is being used, and we are happy it is.
To summarize this first section on widows, Paul is emphasizing and oscillating between two main points: who is truly a widow that is in need and qualify for assistance, and secondly the importance of taking care of your own family.
To close, let's go back to looking at Jesus. Jesus was the most humble person to ever exist on earth. He displayed this by going to the cross. Philippians 2:6-8 says it best:
Although Jesus was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but he emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
And that brings us to the table, where we come each week to be reminded of Jesus' humble death. Partaking of the bread and wine every Sunday points us to the center of our faith, that Jesus went to the cross to finish something on our behalf. He completed everything that we think we need to be satisfied. When we believe that we are completed and righteous because of Jesus's work on the cross, we are then set free not to have to prove our greatness, because it is great. This change of heart dramatically impacts our interactions between those of a different generation, those of the opposite sex, and how we interact with those who are in need.
This table shows us humility, led by Jesus.