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How Do You Treat Your Family?
1 Timothy 5:1-8
How you regard others reveals your heart. Yesterday we went to a birthday party at our neighbor’s house. Moníca turned two and we joined the party. Friends from LA, OC, and SD drove in. Aunts, uncles, tias y tios, abuelitas and grandpas came from all over—lots of family. And we all talked and laughed and talked and ate and talked and grieved over the Falcons loss.
One of the best things yesterday was seeing all the extended family who came together to celebrate a little two-year-old girl who didn’t know many of them. They came because of her parents–not just because they love her parents, but because she is their daughter, so she is family. And they love family.
The party started at 1 pm. The two-year-old took a nap in the middle and the party continued. It was still going long into the evening.
We live in an age where relationships seem to matter less than they used to. We live in a time when people are more concerned with those nearby than those far away. We spend less time with our own families than did generations before us, when people tended to live in the same town and work the same job for most all their lives.
Have you gone to a party like we went to yesterday, when you see all the extended family come together and enjoy one another? I’ve been to other parties. Big family reunions and holiday celebrations where the kids are off outside or in the basement playing and their parents are sitting with the grandparents and uncles, making small talk and wondering how long until they can escape.
The elderly are thankful for the company and stay far longer than anyone wants, because they don’t get the time they want with their family. And once cars are loaded up and driving home, most everyone breathes a sigh of relief that it’s over.
I don’t know what your families’ parties are like, but if you’ve been to both kinds, you know that there is a qualitative difference between the two. One is fun–the other feels like a prison sentence. How much do you enjoy your family? How do you treat your family? How do you feel about your family? That’s the question Scripture has us wrestling with today.
We’ve been studying through the book of 1 Timothy, hearing Paul’s instructions for the household of God. Just last week, we heard a rundown on how to create spiritual health. It was a fast-paced look at chapter 4, where Paul tells Timothy that the way to prevent error in the church is by cultivating spiritual health.
And he presses on Timothy–prescribe these things, teach these things, discipline yourself. Point these things out to the church. Give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. Labor and strive for godliness. Take pains with these things. Over and over, Timothy is told to work hard for truth. First Timothy 4 ends with verse 16, “Pay close attention to yourself and your teaching.”
Now the danger for any man who spends time studying, teaching and pursuing self-discipline is that his love for others grows cold. And Paul knows that. He knows the danger of losing your first love. In every place he’s been, he has seen leaders who don’t love people. And so as he continues his letter to Timothy and the church in Ephesus.
As we open chapter 5, Paul reminds us that how you regard others reveals your heart. Your feelings about other people is a window into the state of your soul. Being a Christian means more than just getting the truth right. Our attitudes matter. We must love others. We must respect others. This is a message for Timothy, for the Ephesian church, and for us today.
We live in a nation that seems to be losing its love for others. Our news often functions as an echo chamber and genuine, empathetic listening is rare. In 1 Timothy 5, Paul lasers in on the attitudes we have towards others–particularly toward how we treat those in the church and in our own families. And he says some hard things, some difficult things.
Timothy was called to exhort and teach others. Paul had just said in 4:12, “don’t let people look down on you.” And now he adds, don’t be abusive–don’t hurt people, but encourage them.
1. Nurture Your Spiritual Family Verses 1 to 3
The first command we read is in verses 1 to 3, “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. 3 Honor widows who are truly widows” (1 Timothy 5:1 to 3).
The word rebuke is rooted in the concept of “striking out at.” It’s connected to a word that was used for plagues and wounds and floggings. Our words can be like that. Words spoken without love are like a boxer throwing punches. They plague and wound a person. And Paul is warning Timothy and all of us to be careful with our words–that when we’re talking with others, even when we’re correcting others, to use words filled with love.
Now think about the context–in Ephesus, old men taught false doctrine, saying things like the resurrection had already happened (2 Timothy 2:15). There were older ladies spreading gossip and myths and quarrels (1 Timothy 5 and 2 Timothy 2). Second Timothy 3:6 says that there were women in the church being led about by evil desires.
Timothy was called to teach, instruct and correct them all. And so Paul encourages him to be nurturing with his words. He says that you need to remember that those in the church are your family–and this is huge! (The President would say, “Yuge!”)
A. At Salvation, You Get a New Family
Before Christ, you may have been Mexican, German, or Filipino. You may have been an only child like me, or one of many children in a large family. You could have been raised in a wealthy home or a poor home. But once you are in Christ, you are part of a larger family. You have a new family. You have a new bloodline. You have a new wealth.
Romans 8:15 to 17, “You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” Christians are a family. We have new brothers and sisters, new fathers and mothers.
We are related to them spiritually and will be with them longer than our earthly families. And if they are our family, we should not assault them with our words or our thoughts. Grammatically, Paul makes this strong contrast. Instead of rebuking, encourage your spiritual family. Rather than treat with contempt, we should encourage, appeal to, exhort them.That word “encourage” is the same word he uses in 1 Timothy 4:13, “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” It’s the same word he uses in 1 Timothy 6:2, “Teach and urge these things.”
Have you ever tried to convince someone to join you for something fun? How many of you were here for the very first marriage retreat we did as a church? Mike Fabarez was the speaker. It was in Anaheim, just down the road from Disneyland. We planned it and the recession hit. The cost was $199 for two nights and we couldn’t fill all the rooms we reserved. We were giving spots away and we still couldn’t get people to say yes.
We were literally pleading with people to join us. We were exhorting them. But let me ask you–do you think we were teaching at them? Do you think we were lecturing them? Were we badgering or nagging them? Do you think there was love in our voice and a desire to see them benefit? Yes, that’s the kind of encouragement Paul is describing.
Older men are to be treated as fathers. Older women are to be treated as mothers. Younger men as brothers. Younger women as sisters. Paul purposefully uses general language here to describe age differences. He is not talking about spiritual maturity when he uses older and younger. He is describing believers who are older/younger than you, regardless of their maturity.
B. Treat Christians like Family
How do you look at other people at church? Single guys, when you take a girl out on a date, she is not just someone who loves Jesus, but she is to be treated like a sister. When a young girl becomes a member of FBC, ladies, do you see a sister in Christ?
When a man older than you comes to your CG, do you treat him and speak to him as well or better than you would your own father? When a young man from the church begins to spend time with your family, do you see him as a brother in Christ, rather than the gorilla he acts like?
In 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul called the church the household of God. Believers are a family. We’re not a perfect family. We have crazy aunts and messy toddlers. We still sin and create issues within the family. But we are connected to one another. We should treat believers like family, and that actually means treating people different sometimes.
Let me ask you this–do you treat your 78-year-old grandma the same way you treat your 10-year-old son? “You don’t get dessert unless you eat all the meat.” Or, “You need to put away your toys before we turn the TV on.” And, “Please be quiet while mom and dad talk.”
In your family, you treat people differently according to their maturity. And Paul actually says that we should respect this in the church also. People of different ages should be treated differently. Often, younger people think everyone should be treated the same. Often, older people think that younger people should be ignored
or not paid as much attention to.
Paul says that everyone is worthy of our care. And we should be thoughtful about our care of them. You don’t treat your mom the way you treat your brother. You shouldn’t treat Dick Thompson the same way you treat Alex Schweizer. Younger ones you watch out for. Older ones you listen to and help out.
You treat them according to their place in the family. But every Christian is family. You are connected to every believer here today. Everyone is to be loved and encouraged and nurtured. They are all family.
C. Help Make the Family Healthy
That command to “not rebuke” but “encourage” older men is repeated implicitly for every category. It applies to every group listed. Do not sharply rebuke any believer. Do encourage every believer. Throughout the New Testament, this is the repeated challenge to believers.
Hebrews 3:13, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
Hebrews 10:24 to 25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
These passages tell us that your words take work–that it is easy to cut down with our words and takes focused effort to build others up. There is no family that genuinely loves one another and then puts a little bit of rat poison in each meal they eat together. Sharp words slice people open. Correction without love will be remembered long after you have forgotten saying it.
The goal of a healthy family is not to kill one another, can we agree? And it’s not to hurt one another either. The goal of a healthy family is to enjoy one another, to glorify God and to help one another grow and age well. It starts off with the parents caring for the children, and eventually comes full circle as the kids care for the parents in their decline.
In the church, everyone is family and we strive to be a healthy family. We don’t provoke one another. We don’t strike out. We don’t abuse one another. Instead, we encourage one another. How you do this takes thought. It doesn’t happen naturally. You have to consider how to stir up love in others. You have to think about the words you say and what will be heard.
You don’t talk to men and women in the same way. You take into account their gender and their age. And to Timothy, a single man in the Ephesian church, he emphasizes that to younger women, he should encourage and appeal to them as sisters “in all purity”.
This is talking about something bigger than sexual purity, but a purity of the mind. The way he thinks about a sister in Christ should be rooted in holiness. It should be total and absolute. And Paul is not just addressing the 20-year-olds with this exhortation. Timothy was likely older.
He is saying to men, when dealing with women younger than you,
deal with them “in all purity”. Don’t say or do things that manipulate them. Don’t be cruel to them. Treat them like the sister you never had. Protect them and watch out for them. Guard their hearts. And then Paul moves to one more category of women in the church–the widow.
D. Pay Particular Attention to Family in Need
Paul commands the church as a whole to give particular care to them. In the text, Paul actually switches his focus from Timothy to the church as a whole with this command. First Timothy 5:3, “Honor widows who are truly widows.” The word honor here is not talking about giving them a trophy or applauding for them on a Sunday. It means more than just giving them a pat on the back. The word honor describes “respecting and providing” for another.
Early in Acts, we see that the Church already understood this responsibility in Acts 6:1 to 6. “Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution” (verse 1).
It was the habit of the Early Church to care for widows in their midst. James was one of the church leaders in Jerusalem at that time and he would later say, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).
I don’t know if you’ve thought about it, but there are many more orphans in the world than widows and the Church isn’t given particular command about orphans. As believers, we are given individual challenges to practice compassion and generosity, and many within our church have adopted orphans. I love that! But corporately, as a church, there is not a command for us to start an orphan care ministry.
However, right here in 1 Timothy 5:3, we have a command from God for the Church to care for widows. This is one of the only compassion ministries that the church corporately is commanded to do. We are to care for widows! There are many women who have lost their husbands and it is sad every time. Paul is more specific though.
He is not talking about every previously married woman whose husband has died. They need our love and care, but Paul has a special category of widow in view. In your Bible, look at verse 3. The NASB says, “widows indeed”. The ESV says “truly widows”. The NKJV says “really widows”.
Paul puts another word in front of widow to describe the true widow–the one who is left without anyone. Paul describes her in a little more detail in 1 Timothy 5:5. “She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day.”
There are many women who have lost their husbands, but here he is talking about true widows–those who have no parents, no children, no earthly family at all. The ones who are left all alone. We’ll talk more about these women next week. Just notice that the church has a particular duty to care for such women, and here’s why.
Do you know what would happen to a woman who had no family? Back then, there was no life insurance, no 401k, no Medicare, no Social Security available. Property was not owned by women. If a woman’s husband died, the remains of her dowry would be entrusted to her sons who were then under obligation to look after their mom.
If she had no children, then whatever was left of her dowry would go back to her father, and she would return home to live with him. The hardest place was if she had no family. This is why God’s law gave instructions for her husband’s kinsman to marry such a woman (such as demonstrated in Ruth).
Without such an arrangement, a widow would be left to extreme poverty. She could sell what she had to gain money for food and then all that was left was to sell herself. The plight of widows was rough. Their options were few. There was not much opportunity.
This is why we see the church in Jerusalem already in action, taking care of widows in their midst. If the church is a family, then we should pay close attention to family in need. We are to look out for our heavenly family. And Paul says, you are to . . .
2. Honor Your Earthly Family (Verses 4 to 6)
“But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. 5 She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, 6 but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives” (1 Timothy 5:4 to 6).
After describing the church’s obligation towards true widows, Paul then says that families have an obligation towards one another. Children and grandchildren are to care for their elderly parents, especially as they become widows. The church is to care for, spiritually and materially, true widows who are left entirely alone and without any family. Again, we’ll talk more about that next week.
Here in verse 4, Paul says that if a widow has family, they are called to be responsible. And he is not limiting his comments to believing children. Get this–he is still talking to the church. He is not saying, “Christians, you have a responsibility to your parents.” He is saying, “Church, don’t care for widows with family, but let them honor their parents as they should.”
Now, we’re not going to let people starve to death, but his words are clear. Part of God’s plan in putting you into your family is that you would care for those older than you. Paul’s words are pretty amazing. He has a focus beyond your immediate family. The word “parents”–the ones born before them. Broader than just mom and dad.
The core principle is you have a God-given commitment to honor your earthly family. Even if your parents are jerks. Even if your grandfather is a racist. Even if one of them was abusive. Even if your relationship to them is poor. Even if they cast you out when you were younger. Even if they are suffering dementia today.
There are no qualifications. There are no restrictions or out-clauses. It would be so much easier if there were. But I think that God made it this way because there was no qualification or restriction in God’s mercy to you. God loved you when you were a jerk, when you were abusive to Him. Christ died for you though you had no relationship with Him at the time whatsoever. He had compassion on you and even provided for your needs, when you were full of sin and hate for him.
A. We are to Imitate God’s Love for Us
So if you know that kind of love personally and have been forgiven of such great sins, then Paul says, to our earthly families we should show godliness (NASB “practice piety”). We should imitate God in His love for us.
It is not natural. Paul even admits in verse 4 that it must be “learned”. But it’s commanded. Not just towards believing parents, but towards every parent. He doesn’t even restrict these responsibilities to Christian kids and grandkids, but is saying that we all have responsibility to our earthly families.
And the church must recognize that families have a responsibility toward their own. We should make some return—recompense, or give back. This is the same word used in Luke 19:8, “And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’”
Your parents and your grandparents–all of your family invested into you. Some invested poorly–some invested wisely. But who you are today, even the things you’re committed to never doing like they did is because of them in some measure. At the very least, they gave you your genetic code. And so Paul says that you owe your family. You should honor and provide for them.
B. Your Care for Older Family is Pleasing to God
Some Jews understood this and tried to dodge out of it. To escape giving to their parents, they would choose to dedicate what they had to the Lord (but not relinquish it yet)–a bit like a reverse mortgage, where you keep the house though it’s no longer yours.
They understood the basic principle that you should honor and provide for your family. Mark 7:9 to 13, “And he said to them, ‘You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, “Honor your father and your mother”; and, “Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.” 11 But you say, “If a man tells his father or his mother, ‘Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban’ “ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.’ ”
God’s design for families is that they care for one another. The end of verse 4 says that such care is pleasing in the sight of God. How willing are you to hear what God is saying here? I am 45 and my parents are in their mid-70s, living on opposite sides of the country. I am wrestling with what this should look like in my own life.
I know that many of you do not have easy relationships with your parents. And that’s really the challenge of this passage. You think it’s going to be about widows and really God is asking how do you feel about engaging with your families and parents?
Scripture is really clear on this, though. We all have a God-given responsibility towards our family–especially our parents. It is not always easy to fulfill, but it demonstrates the love of Christ and is enabled by the love of Christ for us. For those who are utterly without family, the church becomes their family.
Verses 5 to 6 describe the woman whom the church is to care for. I keep saying this, but we’ll talk more about that next week. Scripture’s encouragement to us this morning is this:
- Nurture spiritual family
- Honor earthly family
Both are difficult. Both are challenging. Both are worth it because we . . .
3. Glorify God by Caring for Others (Verses 7 to 8)
Paul concludes this section by saying, “Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. 8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:7 to 8).
He repeats and strengthens what he said earlier. And he gives eternal weight to what’s been said. By using the word “reproach” in verse 7, Paul intimates that we can bring damage to our reputation and to Christ’s name by failure to obey.
A. Lack of Love Damages Our Reputation and Hinders the Gospel
If you choose to ignore your family, if you act abusively towards those in the church, if we neglect true widows within our body–we are showing that what Jesus teaches doesn’t really matter. We are telling our neighbors and the world around us that God is dead to us and we care only for ourselves.
But if we live in obedience to what he has commanded, we will have a great testimony that glorifies God and shows that He is at the center of our lives. “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).
When Paul was writing, it was normal for unbelieving Romans to care for their parents in old age. Part of life was children caring for their parents as they aged.
B. Christian Love Should Exceed What the Unsaved Do Naturally
This was a generally accepted truth among unbelievers in Paul’s day. In fact, this was true around the world, up until the last 150 years or so. So here’s Paul’s point . . .
It is unthinkable that Christians should be less caring, less compassionate, and less loving than the unsaved. The Bible tells of religious Jews and doomsday Christians who shirked their duties to their families. They existed, but they were always rebuked. God’s design for families is that they would care for one another.
So Paul repeats his concern in verse 8 and magnifies the intensity. “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).
And this is the hard truth of this passage–if you don’t provide financially for your family, you are living in a way that denies the faith you profess. You may profess to follow Christ, but how you regard others reveals your heart.
This is written about us caring for the elderly. But it is just as true for a man who has a family and is able to work. Or a man who must make child support payments. If you are not providing for your family, it may likely be an issue of the heart. Your feelings for others, your spiritual family and your earthly family, reveal whether you genuinely know God’s love yourself.
And the words he uses here are broad. The literal rendering is captured by the NASB. If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household–and this is way bigger than you or I are easily comfortable with. One’s own could include servants, even close friends.
I think that Paul leaves it indefinite on purpose. He is intentional in not defining it so that there is some latitude and some introspection. For some of you, the application of this passage is that you need to visit and be involved in the care of a mentally-ill cousin or a failing aunt. Paul leaves it to you to judge their need and your ability regarding your extended family.
They are “your own” and God may be calling you to show them love in a way you hadn’t considered previously. Or you may be so unknown to them that your conscience does not condemn you. Your immediate family falls clearly into “those of his household”. And again, Paul could give us an out-clause and he doesn’t.
There is no mention of our parents’ worthiness. It’s not dependent on their track record, and whether we think they did a great job or not. Paul doesn’t even limit our responsibility to those who were abusive or neglectful.
This passage doesn’t mean your parents have to live in your house until they die. But it does mean that you can’t neglect them. You can’t abandon them. You should care for them, honor them, provide for them. Probably even a bit beyond your comfort level. Failure to care for your earthly family opens you up to criticism by the lost. It gives them another reason to reject the one true God.
It is amazing to think that on the cross, after being scourged, fighting off asphyxiation, in John 19, Jesus made arrangements for his mother’s care when he died. If he did that, you can’t ever say, “I didn’t have the time.”
Joseph was mistreated by his brothers, seemingly abandoned by his father. Yet he cared for them when he found them in Egypt. He forgave past sins and extended mercy. Caring for your family glorifies God.
- Nurture spiritual family
- Honor earthly family
The world is watching–magnify God by sacrificing yourself.