A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man, having a reputation for good works; if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in affliction, if she has devoted herself to every good work. (1 Timothy 5:9-10)
We know from the early church that they had elders, deacons, and deaconesses. They’re all mentioned in 1 Timothy 3. But apparently here, they also had another group of servants in the church — special servants who were godly widows.
Apparently they were put on a list, as verse 9 says, as official servants in the church. They were older women, at least 60 years of age, and they would have a primary responsibility of serving and mentoring the younger women.
And as there are qualifications for elders, deacons, and deaconesses, so there are qualifications for these older women who are to be put on the official servant list for the mentoring of young women. The fact that there are qualifications given here supports the idea that they were serving in some kind of an official capacity.
Their areas of service likely included visiting the church’s younger women to provide teaching and counseling, as well as perhaps visiting the sick and the afflicted and providing hospitality to travelers, such as itinerant preachers and evangelists. They probably had a ministry to children, as well, grandmothering on an extensive basis.
In those days children were often left in the marketplace because their parents didn’t want them. Abandoned boys were often trained to become gladiators. Abandoned girls were taken to brothels and raised to be prostitutes. And it is very likely that widows found such abandoned children and placed them in good homes so they could receive proper care.
By the way, if today’s church recognized this and had a group of godly widows with the same preoccupation, its younger women would greatly benefit. God wants that kind of widow to be active in the church, not to be retired from it.
Spiritual enrichment had to pass from one generation to the next, and this is the perfect group of folks to do that.
In ancient times the age of 60 marked a period of time when one would begin to retire from activity and engage in philosophical contemplation. Why? Because for the most part child raising was done. If you are having children in your 40’s, you’re going to have them until you’re 60. But after that the parenting process is ended.
That’s when you’re now ready, having done your work as a mother, to pass on to the next generation proper instruction. It’s unlikely also that women at that age would feel compelled to remarry, and so they could give themselves totally to the responsibility of raising a generation of godly young women.
Now, the only women who could go on to that list are here defined for us. They had to have been the wife of one man. That is, they were faithful to their husbands. They were pure and chaste. The qualifications there are very, very clear.
That doesn’t necessarily refer to a woman who only had one husband, because in this very passage women who were widowed when they were young were told to remarry. It was not uncommon for men to die in that time of history, and a woman might have a number of situations where her husband died and she would be free to remarry. So, it’s not talking about someone who only had one husband, but rather one who demonstrated complete fidelity to her husband, and her marriage relationship had no blemish. She is known as a virtuous and chaste wife.
Then, in verse 10, she is to have had a reputation for good works. This is to be a woman of great virtue who is put on the official list and made a teacher in the church. And there are five specifics there that are very much like what we read in Proverbs 31.
First, she is to have been a godly mother. Being a mother is one of the greatest privileges a woman can have, because her influence greatly affects her children’s character.
That does not mean that a woman without children is less valuable to God. His plan and design for her is equally important. And in fact, in 1 Corinthians 7 a single person is exalted because he or she can be solely devoted to the Lord. But bringing up children is the norm for most women. And the mother who lives in faith and love and holiness with sobriety, as 1 Timothy 2:15 says, is a model that other women should follow. And she raises a generation of children with those same virtues.
Secondly, she is to be hospitable. She is to have lodged strangers and housed missionaries, itinerant evangelists, preachers, and other Christians who were moving from place to place. She is to have an open life, an open home, and an open heart.
And she is to be known thirdly, verse 10 says, for having washed the saints’ feet. She is to be humble. All the roads were dirty in those days. People had to have their feet washed, and she would stoop and do the lowliest service of all.
Fourthly, she is to have been unselfish, demonstrated by the fact she assisted those in distress. She is to be one who is committed to spending her time on others and not herself, and is devoted to every good work.
Now, the woman who lives these virtues becomes the teacher of good things. This is the kind of woman who can teach the young women.
So, women are considered young when under 60. They’re young when they’re still raising children. The older women are given the responsibility to instruct those younger women and to teach them what is absolutely essential.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 1996, titled “God’s Pattern for Wives, Part 2.” In addition to serving as the pastor of Grace Community Church and the voice of Grace to You, Dr. MacArthur is the chancellor of The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, Calif. You can learn more about TMU at www.masters.edu.
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