1 Timothy 5:1-16: ‘Honour’
Earlier in 1 Timothy, Paul addressed individual groups of Christians (and Timothy himself) about how the Gospel should shape their lives and ministries. Now in chapter 5, Paul returns to this task, focussing on widows, elders and masters.
The theme of “Honour” connects them all in verses 9 (“Honour widows”), 17 (“Let the elders who rule be considered worthy of double honour”) and 6:1 (“Let all who are under a yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honour…”), and the call increases from “Honour”, to “double honour”, and then to “all honour”.
Providing for widows was an important role for the church from its earliest days (see Acts 6). The concern here is to identify which widows should be provided for by the church. The key indicators are not having a family (v.4), godliness (v.5 and v.10), being over 60 (v.9), having been the wife of one husband (i.e. faithful in marriage) (v.9), and devoted to good work (i.e. who put faith into practice) (v.10) . The passage also draws out our need to provide for our families, especially parents (v.4). This builds on the command to honour our parents (Ex. 20:12), and if we fail to act upon it, Paul says that we are worse than unbelievers (v.8). “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20).
What does this mean for us today? With social security and pensions, is Paul’s teaching still relevant? I would argue a resounding ‘yes’! We may not need to support our parents financially (although we might do in coming years as the pensions crisis comes to a head), but this is not all of what it means to ‘Honour’ our mother and father and look after widows. Honour (Greek ‘timao’) is about valuing people and God. Just as we must honour (‘timao’) the Son in order to honour the Father (John 5:23), we must honour parents, widows, elders and masters. Do we truly value our parents?
Honour goes beyond financial considerations to encompass respect, esteem, reverence, and holding in high regard those who have brought us up. It’s a message we must persist in remembering, and one that may mean different things to us at different stages of our lives. As children and teenagers, it might be about respecting our parents’ advice, boundaries and care for us. As young adults, it might be a consideration when we think about where we might live and how we keep in touch when we start to chart our own life paths. When we have families of our own, it might mean not taking our parents for granted and just using them as free babysitters, but honouring, giving thanks and celebrating them for who they are. As older adults, it might impact us when we think about how we best care for infirm or elderly parents.
Our faith must affect how we live, and like charity, it starts at home.