Among Paul's readers were those who were believing children or grandchildren of a widow. For them, making provision for the widow was an essential expression of genuine faith. In fact, that key word in the Pastorals, godliness (NIV put their religion into practice), occurs here in such a way that the home is envisioned as the initial "test tube" of faith.
What is actually at stake here is obedience to the fifth commandment: "Honor your father and your mother" (Ex 20:12; Eph 6:2). Not only is care for the widowed mother or grandmother a logical recompense for her faithful service to children and grandchildren, but in the obedience to God's will that it reflects, this care is pleasing to God. Disobedience amounts to rejection of the faith; the judgment that such a one is worse than an unbeliever (v. 8) is harsh, because that one has consciously broken God's law.
Paul's vivid language suggests that actual instances of neglect needed to be corrected. Furthermore, it is very possible that the heretical movement, which took a dim view of marriage (4:3), was also undermining traditional family values (compare 2 Tim 3:6; Tit 1:11); Paul's description in verse 8 matches his description of the false teachers (those who had denied the faith; 1:6; 4:1; 6:21; 2 Tim 2:18; 3:5; Tit 1:16).
But there was another danger. Just as surely as the loose-living widow of verse 6 (see vv. 11-15) would attract criticism, failure to provide for the financial support of the widow would leave the family and, by association, the church open to criticism (v. 7). The whole passage is under the category of conduct that affects witness. The reference to blame (literally, "blameless," as in 3:2 in the case of the overseer) is an allusion to the observant outsider. Additionally, the sentiment of verse 8 would have been shared by the respectable unbeliever, whose civil structure included laws providing for the protection of the widow.
For both the widow and the family of the widow, these instructions express the need to keep one's confession of the faith and one's conduct in harmony. In contrast to the false teaching that had been circulating, spirituality was to have practical, respectable and observable results.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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