9 Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, 10 and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. 11 But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry 12 and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. 13 Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. 14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander.
For whatever reason, we don’t get such a great comparison of two ways of life like this in much of the New Testament. Paul is instructing Timothy about the way the early church should function. This bit isn’t about faith or salvation, but the day-to-day efforts of living for Jesus.
So in a way, Paul is putting forth two pictures. One is the satisfied-in-Christ life, and the other is a life that needs a little more work. I can’t say it enough these are not salvation issues. Paul is not talking about who is a Christian and who isn’t, but about stages of life. Like the criteria for elders and leaders, this is about the criteria for women that will be cared for and supported by the church.
The way of life he describes would be a noble goal for all of us:
- Reputation for good works
- Brought up children (a trustworthy teacher and caregiver)
- Shown hospitality
- Washed the feet of the saints (humble)
- Cared for the afflicted (compassionate)
- Devoted to every good work (active and not grumbling)
Look at what that is contrasted with:
- Idlers (passive and uninvolved in the affairs of the world)
- Going from house to house (unsettled and uncommitted, no staying power)
- Gossips (cutting down with words instead of building people up)
- Busybodies (looking busy but not actually doing good works)
So never mind turning this into a list of who is worthy of being on a registry for handouts or care in their old age. Make this a list of how the Holy Spirit shows up in our lives. We have the choice, thousands of times a day, for our words to be caring and instructive or slanderous. We can easily grumble about someone else’s problem or we can jump out of our chairs and put effort into meeting their needs.
I know I would want to be around a bunch of people on that first list! The best way to do that is to do it myself, and then I’ll probably find myself surrounded by others doing the same. That is how Paul and Timothy built churches and it is still the best way today.
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