Directions are here given concerning the taking of widows into the number of those who were employed by the church and had maintenance from the church: Honour widows that are widows indeed. Honour them, that is, maintain them, admit them into office. There was in those times an office in the church in which widows were employed, and that was to tend the sick and the aged, to look to them by the direction of the deacons. We read of the care taken of widows immediately upon the first forming of the Christian church (Acts 6:1), where the Grecians thought their widows were neglected in the daily ministration and provision made for poor widows. The general rule is to honour widows that are widows indeed, to maintain them, to relieve them with respect and tenderness.
I. It is appointed that those widows only should be relieved by the charity of the church who were pious and devout, and not wanton widows that lived in pleasure, 1 Tim. 5:5, 6. She is to be reckoned a widow indeed, and it to be maintained at the church’s charge, who, being desolate, trusteth in God. Observe, It is the duty and comfort of those who are desolate to trust in God. Therefore God sometimes brings his people into such straits that they have nothing else to trust to, that they may with more confidence trust in him. Widowhood is a desolate estate; but let the widows trust in me (Jer. 49:11), and rejoice that they have a God to trust to. Again, Those who trust in God must continue in prayer. If by faith we confide in God, by prayer we must give glory to God and commit ourselves to his guidance. Anna was a widow indeed, who departed not from the temple (Luke 2:37), but served God with fasting and prayer night and day. But she is not a widow indeed that lives in pleasure (1 Tim. 5:6), or who lives licentiously. A jovial widow is not a widow indeed, not fit to be taken under the care of the church. She that lives in pleasure is dead while she lives, is no living member of the church, but as a carcase in it, or a mortified member. We may apply it more generally; those who live in pleasure are dead while they live, spiritually dead, dead in trespasses and sins; they are in the world to no purpose, buried alive as to the great ends of living.
II. Another rule he gives is that the church should not be charged with the maintenance of those widows who had relations of their own that were able to maintain them. This is mentioned several times (1 Tim. 5:4): If any widow have children or nephews, that is grandchildren or near relations, let them maintain them, and let not the church be burdened. So 1 Tim. 5:16. This is called showing piety at home (1 Tim. 5:4), or showing piety towards their own families. Observe, The respect of children to their parents, with their care of them, is fitly called piety. This is requiting their parents. Children can never sufficiently requite their parents for the care they have taken of them, and the pains they have taken with them; but they must endeavour to do it. It is the indispensable duty of children, if their parents be in necessity, and they in ability to relieve them, to do it to the utmost of their power, for this is good and acceptable before God. The Pharisees taught that a gift to the altar was more acceptable to God than relieving a poor parent, Matt. 15:5. But here we are told that this is better than all burnt-offerings and sacrifices; this is good and acceptable, etc. He speaks of this again (1 Tim. 5:8), If any provide not for his own, etc. If any men or women do not maintain their own poor relations who belong to them, they do in effect deny the faith; for the design of Christ was to confirm the law of Moses, and particularly the law of the fifth commandment, which is, Honour thy father and mother; so that those deny the faith who disobey that law, much more if they provide not for their wives and children, who are parts of themselves; if they spend that upon their lusts which should maintain their families, they have denied the faith and are worse than infidels. One reason why this care must be taken that those who are rich should maintain their poor relations, and not burden the church with them is (1 Tim. 5:16) that it may relieve those who are widows indeed. Observe, Charity misplaced is a great hindrance to true charity; there should be prudence in the choice of the objects of charity, that it may not be thrown away upon those who are not properly so, that there may be the more for those who are real objects of charity.
III. He gives directions concerning the characters of the widows that were to be taken into the number to receive the church’s charity: not under sixty years old, nor any who have divorced their husbands or been divorced from them and have married again; she must have been the wife of one man, such as had been a housekeeper, had a good name for hospitality and charity, well reported of for good works. Observe, Particular care ought to be taken to relieve those, when they fall into decay, who, when they had wherewithal, were ready to every good work. Here are instances of such good works as are proper to be done by good wives: If she have brought up children: he does not say, If she have borne children (children are a heritage of the Lord), that depends on the will of God; but, if she had not children of her own, yet if she had brought up children. If she have lodged strangers, and washed the saints’ feet; if she have been ready to give entertainment to good Christians and good ministers, when they were in their travels for the spreading of the gospel. Washing of the feet o their friends was a part of their entertainments. If she have relieved the afflicted when she had ability, let her be relieved now. Observe, Those who would find mercy when they are in distress must show mercy when they are in prosperity.
IV. He cautions them to take heed of admitting into the number those who are likely to be no credit to them (1 Tim. 5:11): The younger widows refuse: they will be weary of their employments in the church, and of living by rule, as they must do; so they will marry, and cast off their first faith. You read of a first love (Rev. 2:4), and here of a first faith, that is, the engagements they gave to the church to behave well, and as became the trust reposed in them: it does not appear that by their first faith is meant their vow not to marry, for the scripture is very silent on that head; besides the apostle here advises the younger widows to marry (1 Tim. 5:14), which he would not if hereby they must have broken their vows. Dr. Whitby well observes, “If this faith referred to a promise made to the church not to marry, it could not be called their first faith.” Withal they learn to be idle, and not only idle, but tattlers, etc., 1 Tim. 5:13. Observe, It is seldom that those who are idle are idle only, they learn to be tattlers and busy-bodies, and to make mischief among neighbours, and sow discord among brethren. Those who had not attained to such a gravity of mind as was fit for the deaconesses (or the widows who were taken among the church’s poor), let them marry, bear children, etc., 1 Tim. 5:14. Observe, If housekeepers do not mind their business, but are tattlers, they give occasion to the adversaries of Christianity to reproach the Christian name, which, it seems, there were some instances of, 1 Tim. 5:15. We learn hence, 1. In the primitive church there was care taken of poor widows, and provision made for them; and the churches of Christ in these days should follow so good an example, as far as they are able. 2. In the distribution of the church’s charity, or alms, great care is to be taken that those share in the public bounty who most want it and best deserve it. A widow was not to be taken into the primitive church that had relations who were able to maintain her, or who was not well reported of for good works, but lived in pleasure: But the younger widows refuse, for, when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry. 3. The credit of religion, and the reputation of Christian churches, are very much concerned in the character and behaviour of those that are taken into any employment in the church, though of a lower nature (such as the business of deaconesses), or that receive alms of the church; if they do not behave well, but are tatlers and busy-bodies, they will give occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully. 4. Christianity obliges its professors to relieve their indigent friends, particularly poor widows, that the church may not be charged with them, that it may relieve those that are widows indeed: rich people should be ashamed to burden the church with their poor relations, when it is with difficulty that those are supplied who have no children or nephews, that is, grand-children, who are in a capacity to relieve them.