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God’s High Calling for Women
1 Timothy 5:9-16
Thanks for your prayers for the TC trip last week. It was a great time away, hearing sermons on the role of the Spirit and talking with the men about how God has made them. We were in Minneapolis, in a cold snap, so it averaged about 3°, and then would drop below 0° Kelvin at night. It was freezing, such that we couldn’t even make snowballs—but a great time away.
Coming home, I read the story of Priscilla Chan. Do you know who she is? She’s 32-years-old, having grown up outside Boston. Her parents are Chinese refugees who fled Vietnam by boat to escape oppression there. In 2003, she graduated top of her class and entered Harvard. She was the first college grad in her family.
She then taught science for a year, before deciding to return to school to become a doctor. She graduated and became a pediatrician in 2012, getting married the same year. Three years later and three miscarriages later, she gave birth to a daughter. Last year, they had their second daughter.
She still practices pediatrics and in 2016 helped open a school for high-needs kids. Oh, and her husband is Mark Zuckerburg, founder of Facebook. They met at Harvard. Pretty amazing story–second generation immigrant who worked hard, got an education, married well, is a doctor now, helps with education and is well off.
Could she be your role model? Is that what women should aspire to? Ladies, who is your role model? Who do you look to as an example of where you want to go? Men, what do you want your wife to spend her energy on?
In Genesis 1, we learn that God designed woman uniquely and distinctly from man. God had a special purpose in creating you. And I don’t just mean Eve. God had a special purpose in creating you.
In Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve fell into sin, all of the world was plunged into darkness. God’s good design was slowly, progressively, increasingly twisted. The world, the flesh and the devil are now all arrayed, fighting against God’s good purposes for you. And if you look around the world, you see God’s purpose for women being severely distorted.
In Uganda, there is a hookup culture, and once married, women function as servants to their husbands, working to provide, and rearing the kids, while the husband smokes, drinks and plays around.
In Russia, women have a long history of helping provide income for a family, children are left with grandparents when young, and the state is responsible for their education as they grow.
In Saudi Arabia, Muslim women are required by law to wear a hijab and all women must wear a long outer cloak. For women to travel or get a job, a male guardian must provide approval. Up until this last year, their male guardian also had to approve a woman gaining education or having surgery. Banks, restaurants and even homes have separate entrances for men and women.
In America, there is a cultural retreat from marriage and women are staying single longer and raising children as single moms. Within marriage, men and women are expected to split responsibilities 50/50. Family is one aspect of a woman, but our nation will not let it define her.
All of these countries take something good in God’s design and twist, exaggerate and distort it into a grotesque representation of His desire. And we hear these distortions so often that they slowly etch their way into our assumptions and beliefs.
Today, I want you to see God’s high calling for women and better appreciate how He uniquely and wonderfully made each woman here. We have been working our way through 1 Timothy and in chapter 5, Paul has begun to focus on family responsibilities in the household of God.
Last week, Paul asked how you treat your family–nurture your spiritual family, honor your earthly family. In 5:9 to 16, he continues describing our responsibilities within the household of God and focuses in on women and widows. He has already described their care and now he focuses on their ministry. Let me tell you what was happening.
In the New Testament era, men were culturally restricted from ministering to women, so men discipled men and women discipled women–which is healthy and still what we do here at FBC. Because of persecution and life in that era, there were a number of widows within the church. And because their husbands were gone, they had time to begin to minister to other women on behalf of the church. Some were also cared for by the church.
Historically, as the Early Church developed, this widow’s ministry became formalized in various churches over time. They counseled young women, prayed and fasted for the church family, visited the sick, prepared women for baptism, gave guidance to orphans,
shepherded the widows being cared for by the church–that was their ministry.
But the focus of 1 Timothy 5 is not on what they do–the focus is on who is qualified to minister. Do you remember what’s in 1 Timothy 3? It’s all the qualifications for elders and deacons. In 1 Timothy 3, Paul gives those character qualifications for elders and deacons without saying a lick about what they actually do in ministry.
That same thing is happening right here in 1 Timothy 5. Paul starts giving qualifications for the widows’ ministry, but he doesn’t describe what they do. He only wants Timothy and the Ephesian church to know that these are the sort of older widows qualified to minister to others. These are his descriptions of a godly older woman.
For men, the elder qualifications are a great target, regardless of if you’re called to be an elder. They show a solid picture of what a godly man looks like and acts like. For women, this list of qualifications for women is similar.
In the context of setting up qualifications for the ministry of widows in Ephesus, Paul shines light onto God’s intended design for women. It serves as a target, regardless of if you’re a widow now. It shows hallmarks of godliness in women and reveals what women should aspire towards.
At my house, everything is fine if I’m sick with the flu. But we are in trouble when Beth is down. Your house is like that too, right? That is not just true in homes. Churches are not healthy when women are held back, restrained or kept from the high calling of God’s design. As a church, we should esteem the role of women.
That’s what this passage does. It elevates God’s design and esteems women’s special design. As Paul sets up the qualifications for the ministry of widows in Ephesus, he reveals three challenges for women as they consider God’s High Calling in their life.
1. Aspire to Minister to Others Verses 9 to 10
Look at 1 Timothy 5:9 and 10, “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.”
That statement about age may not make immediate sense, but it will later, so I’m going to loop back around to it. So skipping the 60+ part, here is what women should aspire to . . .
“The wife of one husband”–not a statement against remarriage, but a statement about faithfulness. It parallels “one-woman man” in 1 Timothy 3:2.
“Having a reputation for good works”–this is the summary of the woman and her life similar to “above reproach” for an elder as a summary verbal parallel to 3:7, “good reputation with those outside the church.” But it’s not just that people think nicely of her. Those good works are evidenced by . . .
“She has brought up children”–there is no pronoun, could be hers or others’. In order for an older woman to train younger women in raising godly kids, she needs to have some hands-on experience doing it.
Paul is not limiting women who are unable to have children, as orphan care by Christians was common then. In Romans times, abortion was practiced, but often they exposed the children they did not want. What this means is that they would abandon unwanted infants in certain locations within a city or town. If the family was poor and felt that another mouth to feed would make life too hard, they would expose the baby.
If the baby had birth defects or was judged to be too weak, since there was no modern medicine, the parents would expose their child. If the parentage was questionable and thought to be illegitimate, the father would order the child abandoned. And at times, even if the gender was not desired, they would abandon the child.
It was sadly common and there were known places that infants should be left. Some died, but many others were picked up and raised to be slaves or prostitutes. This is why James 1:27 calls orphan care such a pure and undefiled act of worship. Families unable to have children and Christians full of compassion would go and rescue the babies. So even if infertile, Paul says that a godly older woman would have some experience raising children and getting them through to adulthood.
“Has shown hospitality”–this is focused on lodging and caring for traveling Christians. There was no AirBnB or chain of Marriotts available. Inns were dirty and dangerous and so was camping outside for those travelling alone. Christian families within a church would take in traveling believers for the night. Just as elders are to be hospitable, so it’s expected that a godly older woman would be.
“Has washed the feet of the saints”–the roads were usually dusty or muddy, depending on the time of year. Upon entering a house, it was typical for sandals to be removed and feet to be washed. Foot washing was often the job of a servant.
John 13:3 to 9, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’ 7 Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.’ 8 Peter said to him, ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.’ 9 Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’”
Peter understood that foot washing was the job of a servant. It is possible that the godly woman did this job herself, but the bigger principle is that her service to others is marked by humility. A godly widow was qualified for the widows’ ministry if she was known for humbly serving other Christians, not thinking much of herself.
“Has cared for the afflicted” (assisted those in distress)–in a time when Christians were persecuted and life was hard to begin with, the godly woman shows a heart of compassion. The word “assisted” is used in verse 16 to describe financial support. She cares for those who are suffering and under pressure–physical pressure, mental pressure, emotional pressure. She cares for them spiritually, financially, physically.
Now I don’t know if you noticed it, but the entire list of qualifications is “others” oriented. The qualities described are all about ministry to others. And they are not things she did while widowed, but ways she ministered while married. This godly 60+ year-old woman had a reputation for devoting herself to others in her earlier married years.
This is what’s meant when Paul says at the end, “devoted herself to every good work,” which when I first read, I felt like, wow! Really Paul? How about also requiring the power of invisibility? Who is going to make it? But he is describing a lifestyle–saying that an occasional good deed is inadequate.
He uses “every good work” to say that service to others is the reputation of a godly woman. He doesn’t define it. He leaves some ambiguity in what they look like, because women are made differently. God has different purposes and gifts for each woman. Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
When we talk about God’s high calling for women, a strong aspect of that is ministry to others. The same way 1 Timothy 3 is aspirational, so is 1 Timothy 5 for women. Paul is not saying that every woman should be showing hospitality and caring for the suffering today. He is not saying that every Christian woman should say “yes” to every good work right now. This is presented as aspirational. It’s a goal, a target for women pursuing godliness.
These are the qualities required of a woman who would be added to the widows’ list. Paul recognizes that not every woman will make it. But this is the target you’re aspiring for. You are focused on others. You love your husband. You cared for your family. You cared for visitors. You humbly served others. You had compassion on the hurting. You lived for others.
The first sign we see of God’s high calling for women is that they should aspire to serve others. Men, do you expect that your wife’s day was spent serving you? This can happen by setting unrealistic expectations for what she does at home. Or you could have her working outside the home to satisfy your desired standard of living. Do you recognize that your wife was made for more than that? She has a gifting and purpose by God that is larger than you.
Now my wife makes amazing cookies–chocolate chip, molasses, snickerdoodle. They’re all incredibly good. And if one of our kids gets a cookie and we ask them to share, what do they do? They say “yes” and then pinch off the smallest little bit–mere crumbs. And they pass it to their brother/sister and call that sharing.
Men, are you like that with your wife? You give her the slimmest opportunities and feel absolved. Women, do you even aspire to do more? Right now, with whatever bits of down time you have, do you serve yourself or others? Do you spend your alone time binge-watching? Do you gab endlessly on the phone? Or surf the internet coveting what others post? Do you spend so much time on your home that the Getty Museum seems a mess in comparison?
Are you content to do just a little for others and call it a day? As you grow and mature, you should aspire to minister to others.
2. Watch Out for Losing Your Purpose Verses 11 to 13
Again, Paul is giving counsel for who is qualified to join the widows’ ministry. In verse 9, he had said that she must be “not less than sixty.” Here’s why . . .
Life spans in New Testament times weren’t that different than ours. There was a super high mortality rate for infants and children, but once you made it to 10 or so, your odds of living a long life were quite high. Women usually outlived the men and often lived into their 60, 70s and 80s.
In Roman culture, you weren’t considered old until you hit 60. And in fact, most people who lost a spouse got remarried soon thereafter. It wasn’t until you hit 60 that people stopped remarrying. In fact, at that time, Roman law penalized a woman under age 50 who didn’t remarry within three years of becoming a widow. So now, Paul looks at those younger than 60, the “younger widows” and gives instructions to them.
Look at 1 Timothy 5:11 to 13, “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.”
Instructions to Timothy and the Church–don’t let widows under 60 pledge their lives to this ministry. Why? Because younger widows are prone to losing their purpose and forget their pledge. In the ESV, at the end of verse 12 it is translated, “they abandoned their former faith.” The NASB is much clearer here, with “their previous pledge.”
The widows’ ministry required a pledge of the ladies serving, that the church would become the family they serve. Rather than serving their husband and focusing on their homes, they would devote their time to visiting the sick, praying for people and ministering to other women.
But what happened was that some ladies would make a hasty vow, feeling like they could never love anyone else, and begin to serve the church with their lives. But as time would go by, they would realize that they longed for companionship again. As Paul says, “their passions drawing them away.” They didn’t feel done with marriage after all.
And for them to break that vow was to sin before God. Numbers 30:9, “(But any vow of a widow or of a divorced woman, anything by which she has bound herself, shall stand against her.)” Ecclesiastes 5:5 to 6, “It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. 6 Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands?”
Now think about this–Paul’s prohibition is actually a positive thing. Paul is affirming that their feelings are right and that marriage is good. First Corinthians 7:32 describes how an unmarried woman can singularly focus on serving the Lord. And here he is affirming that a woman who is clearly not called to singleness is right and good for wanting to be married again, even after the loss of her husband.
So what is the purpose Paul is affirming to these women? Marriage! He says, “Refuse to enroll them”–don’t let them vow against marriage yet. Let them get married! Women and men–a primary purpose of God in your life is marriage. We’ll talk about why later.
So he encourages widows under 60 to marry, and he warns against the danger of too much free time.
Besides abandoning their pledge to serve the church alone, verse 12, “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.” Paul had seen that younger widows would engage in visiting the sick and ministry to other women, but would grow distracted from their purpose. They would spend ministry time being social.
Have you ever gone to a Bible study where there is so much chatting and sharing that a planned prayer time gets cut short or eliminated? This was that problem–on steroids! Rather than creating health, they were creating trouble within the church. Not just visiting and chatting, but actually gossiping and getting into areas they shouldn’t.
My sweet boy, LJ–he tries to help. I might be digging out a plant in the yard, so he grabs a hand shovel and joins in. Suddenly, there is dirt everywhere. Other plants are being dug up that didn’t need to be moved. You know the kind of help you receive that really just creates work? That’s what was happening!
When you are not doing what God made you to do, it goes from bad to worse. Rather than fulfilling their purpose in a family setting, these younger women grew idle and in the visitation ministry they took on, they began to spread harm instead of help. They talked and involved themselves where they should not have. They lost their purpose.
Women, have you lost your purpose? Has your life become dominated by something lesser? For women who stay at home, it is easy to hide your idleness. You can watch TV or stream Netflix for hours without any one knowing. And because you are so busy catching up when people are home, they have no idea how little you did during the day. You can sit with your family in the room and stare at your phone, engaged in another world of prettier people and happier moments.
Men, you can encourage your wife to do things that are contrary to God’s purposes for her. It could be a degree, a job, a hobby, even a friendship. And I’m not being negative about any of those things. I’m only saying that lots of free time can lead you, men and women, to move away from God’s purposes for you and become distracted and entertained by things that prove harmful long-term.
This is why men who retire early often become progressively disconnected from a church. They believe that having more free time will lead to all sorts of great opportunities for ministry, but they usually become distracted from God’s purposes for them. That freedom is spent on self instead of on others. To those younger than 60, Paul emphasizes that you need to watch out for losing your purpose.
In whatever life situation you are in,
1. Aspire to minister to others
2. Stay focused on God’s purposes for you
3. Prioritize Your Family Above All Others Verses 14 to 16
Because of the danger of losing your purpose in God’s plan, Paul encourages younger widows to remarry, to have children and to stay focused on their own households. Look at 1 Timothy 5:14 to 16, “So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. 15 For some have already strayed after Satan. 16 If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.”
Within our culture today, there is a stigma, almost a shaming of women who stay at home. They deride men as wanting women barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. They believe that a woman who stays home will be uneducated, disconnected and irrelevant. That is not what Paul is advocating. That is not what the Bible teaches.
Some of the sharpest, smartest women I know are stay-at-home moms. What Paul is advocating here is almost a mirror image to Titus 2:3 to 5, “Older women… are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.”
The priority for women is their family. If you are married, your parents are to be honored, but they do not come first. Ministry is awesome and you should aspire to it, but it’s not the first thing to focus on.
God’s top level priority for women is their husbands, children and households–that’s the sequence repeated throughout Scripture for women. Husband comes first, then kids after that. Some women mix that order up and it messes up their family and their marriage. God desires women to love their husbands, to love their kids, and to manage their homes well. I know that’s counter-cultural, but it’s really hard to argue against this as a biblical priority.
We should aspire to minister to others. In fact, if you are an unmarried woman, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:32 that ministry should be your priority. Work outside the home is not prohibited. But Paul’s point here is really clear. A woman’s top priority is her personal ministry to her family. That’s even the focus at the end in verse 16 when Paul tells believing women with widows in the family, don’t neglect your own extended family while ministering to others.
Ladies, what does your heart naturally gravitate towards–work or home? Not just being at home, but managing things in your home. Kids can wear you out, I know that. But are you more prone to idleness or engagement with your family? If you were to chart out your week, what do you allocate the majority of your time towards?
In Training Center/Year 2, we have each man write out his priorities and then the next week, chart out how he spent his time. He then has to determine whether his time matched his priorities. Would a chart of your week reflect God’s priorities for you?
As your kids grow up, your responsibilities change and where you spend your time shifts. Do you aspire to minister to others, or do you think about how you will benefit? As they move away, do you remain available to your kids by phone and flight, or have you moved on and shifted priorities?
Men, how do you lead your wife to prioritize? Men often tend to take the easy path and just affirm what we hear our wives wanting to do. Men, do you encourage and affirm your wife in her biblical priorities? Do you express appreciation to her and esteem her for the more than full-time job of caring for you, the kids and the home?
Have you made decisions or demands on her that make her responsibilities harder? Let me encourage you—do not hinder her from doing what God has called her to do.
Unmarried men–this priority needs to be at the top of your list as you seek a wife. God is glorified when we live according to His design. Every married woman is to prioritize the home. Every married man is to help her fulfill God’s design. Younger widows should pursue remarriage. And godly older women should invest into and train the younger ones. That is God’s plan.
And you need to know that God’s purpose for women is way bigger than you and your family. If you think that God’s goal in this is for your family to be healthy, you miss the point. This is not about how to make your home run smoother. This is not about how to have a happier marriage. This is not about the priority of raising your kids.
The calling that God has given to women is far bigger than any of those things. Why did God make woman? What was His purpose in Genesis 2 in making woman? You know that back in that day, He said to Adam, Genesis 2:18, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’”
He made woman to be a helpmate. But why was it not good for man to be alone? Because marriage is for a greater purpose than your happiness. A woman caring for her family is not about her family. A woman loving and submitting to her husband is not about him or her.
Marriage Exists to Magnify God
Ephesians 5 says that a healthy marriage shows off Christ and the Church. When you function by God’s design, you visibly and loudly portray Christ’s sacrificial love and the Church’s loving submission to Him. Our goal as Christians is to draw the world to Jesus.
As a church, we invest into missions and outreach. We send out an ice cream truck with the Gospel message. We go into jails with the Gospel. People here go to the homeless and into memory-care facilities–all so that people would know and hear of Jesus.
But do you know the single biggest impact for the Gospel that you can have is your marriage? And the biggest reproach you can bring on the Gospel is also your marriage. A marriage that reflects God’s design is rare today. I don’t mean that it’s rare for a wife to stay home and not work. That’s a pinky toe in the breadth of God’s design.
God has called women to prioritize their family above everything else. But ever since the fall in Genesis 3, women have sought joy everywhere else. Paul reminds us in 1 Timothy 5 that the target and goal for women is not what the world shows, but what God Himself designed them for.
A woman who works hard for others is radically counter-cultural. A woman who prioritizes her family above others is exceedingly rare. And as a godly woman ages and matures, she will aspire to minister to others. That’s the target. That’s the sequence. Not for your happiness. Not for a healthy family. Not for a happy husband or great marriage.
When we do this, Jesus shines through our lives and the Gospel will go forward! There is a missionary purpose to your marriage! We live the way God has called us because it pleases Him and it exalts Jesus to a sin-sick world.