She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth
A true widow
The death of Christian Charity
When is a Christian worse than an infidel?
1 Timothy 5:1-10
27th Monday after Pentecost
Today’s selection from First Timothy is interesting on a historical, sociological and moral level.
The Christian church has declined over the centuries, and government has increased to take on roles (POORLY!) that Christians routinely accomplished in the early centuries. We should read this exhortation of St Paul to his son (in the faith) Timothy with great sadness, because we do not live in the same world anymore.
Of course, the moral exhortation still applies, but we live in a darker world, with more physical wealth and also more decadence and spiritual poverty. Especially in the so called “developed” world, we depend on our secular governments to do charitable work, and they routinely do it poorly, because they are a hireling, and not the shepherd .
We cannot change the structure of our society immediately (and I think, not in a significant way, ever, till the Lord comes), and we should not read St Paul’s words as a call to arms to somehow evangelically spread the Christian way of thinking to the world. This is the modern, media savvy Protestant way, but we Orthodox instead look to ourselves and see what is wrong, and with God’s help, try to fix it. My words will be offensive to some, but I believe firmly that much of what passes for Christian politics today is actually myopic pride, and will not be blessed by God because the interior man is not changing.
Let us read these words and take then as a personal exhortation, and also a rebuke of our society, which has fallen so far from true Christianity.
These exhortations are to Timothy about his own ministry, and also things that Timothy should teach the widows.
We so not have “widows” in the church now – in ancient times, this was a distinct group, almost a monastic office, which existed because of the financial and spiritual realities of the times. In ancient times, a widow was truly at risk, because if she did not receive private assistance, she would likely be homeless, hungry and sick. There was no financial “safety net”. Therefore the church, living according to the sentiment St Paul expresses in this passage:
“But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 Timothy 5:8),
took care of its widows. As this selection shows, this was not merely “welfare”, as we know it today, which is given to the deserving and undeserving, but it was part of a relationship the church had with its widows, who were treasured as a repository of wisdom for the younger women (especially), and were valued for their “supplications and prayers night and day.” (1 Tim 5:5)
What a concept! That women (and men), when they get older should devote more of their time, even “night and day”, to spiritual things. In our day, the older ones rely on their IRAs and retirement funds, so that they can live in houses too large to be useful, and travel and generally act as foolish as young people, albeit, with more money and less responsibility.
Our churches should be filled with older Christians, who show by their words and deeds what it means to be a Christian!
5:1 Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; 2 The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity.
These are instructions to Timothy, the young bishop, and protégé and spiritual son of St Paul. As instructions from an archpastor to another (arch) pastor, they apply to any pastor. They describe how we are to think. The operative words implied here, that must be present in any pastoral work for it to be successful, are respect, sensitivity and humility. If you disrespect anyone, then do not expect them to listen to you! All this stuff is really “common sense”, but we live in a world today where there is little “common sense” or any kind of spiritual sense.
3 Honour widows that are widows indeed.
This introduces the “office” of widow, which was common in the early church. Although we are give respect to everyone according to their status (elder man, younger man, elder women, etc), there is another level of honor that is not obligatory, but must be earned. This is the honor the Apostle is talking about.
He goes on to describe what a “widow indeed” is. We may extend his thought easily to all “offices” in life – to honor “bishops that are bishops indeed” (modern news shows that there are too many that do not deserve this higher level of honor), “priests that are priests indeed”, “fathers that are fathers indeed” etc.
4 But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God. 5 Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day.
One may argue that St Paul is giving a “legal” definition of a widow – that is, a woman “desolate” – without children or grandchildren or any family that will care for them. This definition certainly applies, but St Paul is also showing that a true widow will be a spiritual person, who prays a great deal, and is of exemplary character (see vs 10). As is always the case in Scripture, the spiritual meaning is far more important than the legal one.
6 But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.
A person can be dead before they die! The true Christian will apply these words to everything in his life.
7 And these things give in charge, that they may be blameless. 8 But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. 9 Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man. 10 Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints' feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work.
We live in an age where children do not take care of their parents. Heed these words.
The reference to washing the saints feet refers to the custom of washing the feet of guests in the home. This is a reference to hospitality.
Priest Seraphim Holland 2010. St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
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