The Character of a Godly Woman
Father, thank you for your word and for your church. Thank you that we are a people created by your word and sustained by your word, and this morning as we open your word together, we ask for your mercy. Show us your ways, in Jesus’s name, amen.
Last week Pastor Michael introduced this topic in verses 1–8, and as we get started this morning I want to back up a second and remind you about the context here.
Here’s what is going on: because we know God’s heart for widows, the church is called to care for widows, and that requires some type of systemization. Some type of organization and policy is needed, and that’s what Paul is getting to in verse 9. But the main goal is still stated as the command back in verse 3. Verse 3: “Honor widows who are truly widows.” That’s the whole point of the passage, and Paul comes back to it in verse 9, in verse 11, and then in verse 16. The big idea is about honoring and caring for “true widows” and that leads to the important question of, well, “What is a true widow?”
Paul actually answers that in verse 5. He says three things. A true widow is a woman who
1) has no family who could help her,
2) has set her hope on God, and
3) is vigilant in prayerfulness.
That’s verse 5. And then in verse 9 Paul continues that same train of thought by giving us more details. When he says the word “enrolled” he’s talking about a system, or a program, intended to prioritize and protect the care of widows, and there are qualifications necessary to be in the program. Those qualifications are in verses 9–16, our passage today. There are two parts here
Part One: A true widow exemplifies a certain character (verses 9–10);
Part Two: A true widow avoids certain sins (verses 11–15).
Those two parts are the sermon. Today we’re talking about what it means to be considered a true widow — and everybody’s thinking: I love how relevant the preaching is here! You probably didn’t expect to ever hear a “how-to sermon” on true widowhood. … especially on Mother’s Day. I realize that. The Mother’s Day thing is a complete coincidence.
But actually, there’s a lot going on in this passage. And here’s the deal: In these qualifications for true widowhood Paul is actually describing the kind of woman every woman should aspire to be. These are not just character guidelines for true widows; but Paul is giving us a vision for what it means to be a godly woman.
And that’s the application I want to make. True widowhood is actually godly womanhood, and so Part One goes like this.
Part One: A godly woman exemplifies a certain character (verses 9–10)
Now we see this in verses 9 and 10. Paul starts in verse 9 by giving three more qualifications to go with the qualifications in verse 5. To be a true widow enrolled into this care program:
you have to be at least 60 years old
you have to have been faithful to your husband
you have to have a reputation for good works
And notice the punctuation there in verse 10. If you have an English Standard Version there’s a colon. If you have an NIV there’s the word “such as.” It’s the same idea. After Paul mentions “reputation for good works” he follows it with five concrete examples of good works. In the original, each of these begin with “if.” So Paul says, “having a reputation for good works” — such as —
if she has brought up children,
if she has shown hospitality,
if she has washed the feet of the saints,
if she has cared for the afflicted,
if she has devoted herself to every good work.
So overall, when we count these there are eight qualifications here. I want us to briefly look at each one. These are eight character traits, and a godly woman should aspire to this kind of character. So my plan here is to name the character trait, unpack it a little, and then I’d like to exhort the ladies of our church in each character trait. That sound good?
Also, I want to say: I am so grateful for the godly women in our church; and I want you to know, it is my honor to preach this passage in 1 Timothy 5.
Okay, here we go. Character trait of a godly woman, #1 …
To be old (verse 9)
This is verse 9. Paul says a true widow is not less than 60 years old. And so for those of you who are less than 60, I hope you’re not offended that Paul says this. The point to takeaway here is the wonder of old age. The age of 60 is not very old today, but back then, it was. A lot of life can be lived over the span of 60 years, and that meant something. It meant something to be old and faithful. And this is really worth highlighting because we seldom think about growing old. A lot of us have dreams and goals for our lives, but how many of those dreams are just to be old? This is a new dream for me.
I was at a coffee shop a few months ago and there was this moment when I looked up from my work and noticed two elderly couples talking with one another. One couple had just arrived and they met the other couple and they were hugging and smiling, and they just had joy. They were manifestly old and happy — and I prayed, “God, I just want to be old and happy like that!” Really. That’s my goal in life these days. I want to be old and faithful and happy. I want that to be your goal too.
But we live in a culture intoxicated with youth. The anti-aging market — like creams and pills and stuff that make you look young — that market is set to grow to $271 billion by 2024. As a society, people are afraid to get old, and getting old is seen as a bad thing. And yet in the world of the Bible, getting old is a badge of honor. It’s a wonderful thing to be old. And so, here’s the exhortation: mothers, sisters, dream of being old.
Now the character trait is:
To be faithful to your husband (verse 9)
This is verse 9 again. The “wife of one husband” corresponds to the qualification of an elder to be the “husband of one wife” (see 1 Tim. 3:2). The meaning here is that if you are married, live marital fidelity. Just like godly men are faithful to their wives, godly women are faithful to their husbands, and at the most basic level, this means that you have a good marriage — it means, again, if you are married, that you do what you can to build a good marriage. And that requires faithfulness that extends beyond physical relations.
For example, there’s a way to maintain “fidelity” in one area and also to be miserable, or to be contentious or nagging or bitter or cynical. The faithfulness that Paul talks about between a husband and a wife is more comprehensive than just the bedroom. He’s talking about an all-around kind of faithfulness, and when godly women are married to godly men, it’s a wonderful thing. I’m talking about Christlike, Ephesians 5, lay-your-life-down kind of men. But when ungodly men are involved, it’s one of the hardest things in life, and I know that for some of you, that’s your story. I know it very personally in my extended family, and in fact, I deal with it all the time. So I am not amiss to the hurt that many women carry. We want godly men and godly women. We must have both. And here in 1 Timothy Chapter 5, verse 9: mothers, sisters, if you are married, be faithful to your husbands.
Character trait #3 is …
To have a reputation for good works (verse 10).
This is in verse 10, and I want to focus on the word “reputation” for a minute. It’s actually the word “witness” which is an important word in the New Testament. It also could be translated as “testimony,” or “to be well known.” And Paul says here that these true widows are to have a reputation for — they’re to be well known for — good works. This means that when the church thinks about these women, they think about the good they do. And isn’t that the kind of reputation we all want? We all want a good reputation. Nobody wants a bad reputation.
And yet, at the same time, does it really matter what other people think? There’s a tension here. You have Paul saying, on one hand, that only Jesus judges him, and the approval of others is hogwash (see 1 Cor. 4:1–5) and then you have him saying things like “elders should be well thought of by outsiders” (see 3:7) and “true widows should have a reputation for good works.” So which is it? Does it matter what others think or does it not matter?
And the answer is Yes. Ultimately, what God thinks is what matters most — amen, amen, amen — and at the same time, we live in a world of relationships and influence, and if we think about it, most of our influence is granted by relational trust. Which means, in the normal world, your influence will not exceed your reputation. In other words, you cannot be enduringly helpful to someone unless that person believes you to be helpful. And so for the sake of loving others, for the sake of your personal ministry: your reputation, your witness, what you are known for matters. And let it be for good works, which Paul says in Chapter 2, verse 10 is descriptive of all women who profess godliness.
And so mothers, sisters, have a reputation for doing good works.
Such as, character trait #4 …
To raise children (verse 10).
We see this in verse 10. The word “brought up” means to raise or care for. It’s the same word used in Ephesians 6:4 when Paul says to fathers, to “bring children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” So this is not only about women, but it includes women. A qualification to be a true widow — Paul’s vision for a godly woman — includes raising children. And I think this applies beyond literal motherhood — and we’re going to get there — but first we should see that literal motherhood is in view. And of the five good works mentioned in verse 10, raising children is absolutely the most time-consuming. I think that’s why Paul mentions it first.
Raising children can keep you from doing a lot of other good things, and unless you understand how meaningful it is to raise children then it will lead to frustration — you might even feel like it’s second-rate, like the real work, the high-impact work, happens when you’re not with your kids. But that’s just not the case. And so I want to underline this. I want you to know: raising children is considered by God to be a good work.
When we think of Christians and good works, there are all kinds of things that come to mind. We might think of acts of kindness and mercy, or courageous evangelism, or risk-taking faith for the kingdom — we have an image of what it looks like to do a good work, and Paul says that image should include raising your kids.
And that means even the mundane parts like changing diapers and washing the crayon off the walls and reaching under the van seats to clean out the old french fries that were dropped and cooking the Mac-and-Cheese and then sweeping up the Mac-and-Cheese and changing more diapers and enduring through a tantrum and helping out with math homework and then a hundred other things that can feel so insignificant, and yet the apostle Paul says: it’s a good work. Mom, take heart! In those moments when you are with your children you are doing a good work in the sight of God.
And this applies more broadly to women. It’s not just literal motherhood, but there is a character trait here that extends to disciple-making, what we can call spiritual motherhood — and I see this in so many of the single women in our church. Most basically, spiritual motherhood means the giving of yourself to invest in others. Paul would say that your investing — you giving your time and attention and energy to the soul of someone else — that is a mark of a godly woman. So mothers, sisters, raise children; invest in others.
Character trait #5 …
To show hospitality.
Hospitality in the New Testament is the idea of welcoming the outsider. It’s a qualification for a true widow here (and it’s also a qualification for an elder; see 1 Tim. 3:2). In ancient cultures, especially eastern cultures to this day, hospitality is a big deal. The way you welcome someone, receive someone, give attention to someone in your home reflects either honor or shame. It is a significant thing to have guests visit you, and it requires a different orientation. And a godly woman gets it.
We’ve talked before about male headship and female heartship, and this is one of those cases where it makes sense. Heartship is this idea of filling a room, of bringing life, of infusing a space with the spirit of welcome. That includes hospitality. So mothers, sisters, show hospitality.
The next character trait of a godly woman is …
To serve the church.
This is in verse 10, “if she has washed the feet of the saints.” Washing feet correlates to serving. That’s what it means. We see this in the Gospels, in John 13, Jesus, knowing his authority and position, arose from supper, laid aside his outer garments, wrapped a towel around his waist, and washed his disciples’ feet (see John 13:1–5) — and then he says, “I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (13:15). And he means not only washing feet, but that kind of service and humility. Jesus wants us, like him, to serve one another.
And when Paul says here “saints” he’s talking about the church. If hospitality was about serving outsiders, this is about serving the church. We in the church should serve one another, and that is characteristic of a godly woman. So mothers, sisters, serve the church.
To care for the afflicted.
The afflicted here is referring to anyone who is in a tough spot. This is someone who is in trouble, or who is vulnerable and in need. And true widows are those who see these people and care for them. It’s characteristic of a godly woman, and more natural to women in general. It is part of the nurturing dynamic in the feminine nature. It’s why ancient nursing was a female-dominated field, and it’s why to this day, hospice care is mainly women. You, mothers and sisters, are uniquely wired by God for care for hurting people, whatever that hurt might be. And godly women, in Paul’s mind, do that. True widows, godly women, care for the afflicted, and so, mothers and sisters, care for the afflicted.
Okay, here’s the last one. The last character trait of a godly woman is …
To be devoted to every good work.
And this at the end of verse 10 is a bookend to these qualifications. Paul has been describing concrete examples of good works, and what it means to have a reputation for good works, and he ends it here with “and every good work.” Which means, Paul’s list is practical, but not exhaustive. There are all kinds of other good works like these that godly women do and should be devoted to. And that means, these are not things that these women merely squeeze in; they are not random things done out of convenience, but there’s a devotion here. These are things you are striving to do. That is characteristic of a godly woman, and so, mothers and sisters, be devoted to every good work, to all kinds of good.
And that’s all eight. These are eight character traits of a godly woman — eight character traits of the kind of woman that is worthy of every woman’s aspiration.
Here’s Part Two.
Part Two: A godly woman avoids certain sins (verses 11–15)
Look at verse 11. After Paul gives these qualifications for true widows, and says “But refuse to enroll younger widows” — and then he gives the rationale.
Why not add younger widows to this care program?
The first answer seems a little odd. Paul says, “for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry 12 and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith.”
It can sound like Paul is against marriage, but we know for sure he’s not because in verse 14 he encourages marriage. So what’s he talking about here? Well, he’s talking about marriage after the widows have made some kind of pledge to their widowhood. That’s what “abandoning their former faith” is about. A better translation here for faith is “pledge.” Being part of this aid program for widows involved these women making a pledge to remain a widow, but the problem is that younger women, after a while, because of their passions, end up forsaking the pledge. So Paul is saying not to put them in that situation.
And then in verse 13 he says more. Verse 13 starts with a neat little phrase “Besides that.” A literal translation is “At the same time.” At the same time of forsaking their pledge to widowhood, these younger widows are susceptible to two certain sins: first is becoming idlers and second is gossip and busybody-ness.
And just like these sins would disqualify a women from being a true widow, these are sins that every godly woman should avoid. Godly women should avoid every sin, of course, but Paul mentions these sins in particular. There are two. Let’s look at them:
Firstly, avoid the sin of idleness.
Apparently, there were younger widows in the church of Ephesus who had a lot of free time, and they spent that time not doing anything productive, but instead “going about from house to house.” One English translation uses the word “gadding about.” It’s the idea of gallivanting. These women would meet together here and there as idlers, and then that led to the package sin of gossip and busybody-ness.
Secondly, avoid the sin of gossip and busybody-ness.
These two sins are linked together because they are both explained by the phrase “saying what they should not.” To gossip is to talk nonsense or foolishness. That’s the literal meaning here. The word for “busybody” means to meddle in the affairs of others. Both have to do with conversation, with what’s being said, and so if we take it altogether, here was the situation: there were women who were idle, with nothing productive to do, and they used their time to have meetings throughout the church community wherein they gossiped and meddled. And godly women should avoid these things.
Paul says that the younger widows should disallow this temptation by, verse 15, getting married, bearing children, and managing their households. In other words, Paul simply means: be productive. He means you can avoid this entire temptation to sin by giving yourself to good works. Or by being like the godly woman described in verses 9–10.
Women Have Influence
So there you go. Parts One and Two.
Part One — a godly woman exemplifies a certain character; Part Two — a godly woman avoids certain sins.
And there’s a really important implication beneath all of this that I want to make clear.
We can see the high standard of character Paul has for these widows. These are godly women. And we can see that there were other women in this church, some younger widows, who were causing trouble. And well, what’s implied behind both of these is that women have influence.
Women have influence in the local church — that’s why the apostle Paul wrote this chapter. If women did not have influence — if women did not matter — then Paul would not be addressing them. But because women do have an important influence in the church, the issue has to do with how they use that influence. The issue is whether women will use their influence for good works or not.
That is the option put before every woman of every church throughout every moment of history. Will they be women worthy of true widowhood, or will they not? Will they be godly women or not?
I think I’ve told you about my mema before. …That’s what I call my dad’s mom. So I’m talking about my grandmothr, my mema, who is actually a church planter. She has been at the same church almost her entire life. When she was a little girl in the early 1940’s there was a tent revival that came through out in the country where she lived, and that tent revival led to a little movement in that area that became a local church. My mema would have been around 6 or 7 at that time, and she was a charter member. So she helped plant the church, and she’s been there for 75 years. And it’s good church. God has blessed the church, and the church is doing great today, but as the story goes, back in the 1970s the church fell on hard times. Several men in the church fell away. Other men abandoned their calling to lead, and the church would have shut down, but my mema and other godly women did not let that happen. So they organized Sunday School program and taught all the classes; and they made sure they had a solid pastor behind the pulpit; and they started a Vacation Bible School, and and they mobilized the church for outreach in what was called the Women’s Missionary Union.
They didn’t do anything that would subvert God’s design, but they just used their influence for good works, and looking back, it’s impossible to quantify the kind of impact those women have had. It would have been better if it were godly men and women together, but it’s because of those godly women that the church is still there today. They were the kind of women like who Paul describes in 1 Timothy 5, the kind of women like so many of the mothers and sisters in this church. And I want you to know, we need you. We need your influence. We need your godliness.
And not just our church, but our cities. Our neighborhoods. All the people you know. Paul’s vision for a healthy church requires godly women because that’s the church Jesus died to create. The church is a community of men and women together transformed by the gospel, and that’s what we remember at this Table.
Here’s the thing: all these character traits mentioned in Chapter 5, these are not things that get you into the family. Only the blood of Jesus gets you into family. Jesus saves us by his own mercy and grace. We don’t deserve. We could never earn it. He saves us by his grace, and he saves us to himself. He saves unto becoming more like him, as godly men and godly women. Christlike men and Christlike women. And most fundamentally, it’s his work. It’s his work, not ours, and at this Table, we give him thanks.
So if you’re here this morning and you trust in Jesus, we invite you to eat and drink with us.