Commentary by Walter Albritton


January 29, 2006


Life in God’s Family Calls for Honor, Justice and Mercy


1 Timothy 5


Key Verse: 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. – 1 Timothy 5:1-2


          Every Sunday our congregation sings together the delightful chorus, “I’m so glad I’m a part of the Family of God.” No one would call this chorus great music, but it serves a great purpose in our worship. It reminds us that we are a family, God’s family.

          For most of us family is a beautiful word. It has nothing to do with being rich or poor. It means that we belong. That satisfies one of our basic human needs – a sense of belonging.

          As a family we are connected. We have relationships that are usually quite strong. Our brothers and sisters are our “blood” kin. When one of us is threatened, all of us are likely to come to that person’s defense. You may hear one family member say defiantly, “Don’t mess with my family!”

          Our bonding may be even stronger as brothers and sisters in the family of God. Actually in it we are “blood” kin in a spiritual sense; God’s family owes its very existence to the shedding of the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

          Paul’s instruction to Timothy should remind us that all of us have a place in the life of the church family. The young bring enthusiasm and fresh ideas. But the older people offer wisdom born of degrees earned in the school of hard knocks. None should be treated with disrespect; each should have a place of honor and the opportunity to make a difference. We need each other for we are a family.

          Any church worthy of the name Christian will take care of its own people. A hundred times or more I have witnessed churches meeting the material needs of its poorest members. I have known many generous people who did not wait for a committee to take action; they simply met the needs of widows and orphans out of their own pocketbooks. Often real love cannot wait for a committee to meet, especially when people are hungry.

          Paul wants Timothy to teach the church not only to care for those in need but to treat people with dignity and respect. The meaning of our scripture passage may be clearer as offered in the New Living Bible:

          Never speak harshly to an older man, but appeal to him respectfully as though he were your own father. Talk to the younger men as you would to your own brothers. Treat the older women as you would your mother, and treat the younger women with all purity as your own sisters (5:1-2).

          Harsh words can hurt people deeply. This Paul knew from experience so he wants the younger Timothy to understand more people can be reached with honey than with vinegar. He knew that Timothy would meet resistance rather than cooperation unless he treated people, old and young, men and women, with kindness and respect.

          In the street, and often in business, disrespect and even vulgarity are commonplace. Even Christians are tempted to employ the raw language of those who are controlled not by the Spirit but by their sinful nature.  In the church both attitude and language should reflect the Spirit of the Christ simply because the church at its best is a caring family.

          When Paul says “Honor widows who are real widows,” he means more than to show them respect. He means that the church should meet their material needs. Again the New Living Bible clarifies Paul’s meaning:

          The church should care for any widow who has no one else to care for her. But if she has children or grandchildren, their first responsibility is to show godliness at home and repay their parents by taking care of them. This is something that pleases God very much (5:3-4).

          Paul has little use for people who refuse to provide for their own family members. His words offer a stinging rebuke to many in our day who discard their parents to nursing homes where they wither in misery and finally die in loneliness. No nursing home, no matter how good, can offer the emotional support and love that the elderly need from members of their own family. Here is what Paul said:

          But those who won’t care for their own relatives, especially those living in the same household, have denied what we believe. Such people are worse than unbelievers (5:8).

          Paul asks Timothy also to instruct the church to pay well the leaders who do their work well. This was sound advice then and remains that for the church today. Those who are faithful and effective in the ministry of teaching and preaching are worthy of reasonable wages. It goes without saying, however, that the best leaders are always those whose primary motive for service is not material gain.

          The church witnesses to the world in many ways. But our best witness will be nullified if we fail to treat one another within the church with respect, justice and mercy. Suffice it to say that we strongly validate our witness by the respect, love, and caring that we offer one another as brothers and sisters in the family of God.  

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