Morning Sermon: 1 Timothy 5:3-8; Honor True Widows

Old Testament Reading: Psalm 146

“Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul! I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD!” (Psalm 146, ESV)

Sermon Text: 1 Timothy 5:3-8

“Honor widows who are truly widows. 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. She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. 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 5:3–8, ESV)


Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.


It would be good for us to remember that we are in that portion of Paul’s letter to Timothy wherein he gives specific instructions for the proper care of the various groups of people within Christ’s church. Timothy, as a minister, was to care for all generally. He was to put the word of God before the members; he was to teach sound doctrine, provide oversight, and pastoral care. But here in this section of the letter, Paul speaks to the particular kind of care that various groups in the church will need to receive. 

In the previous passage, special instructions were given for ministering to young and old, male and female. In this text and in the next one, Paul speaks to the care of widows. After that, he addresses the treatment of those who hold the office of elder. And finally, he addresses pastoral care for bondservants. Ministers must be faithful to provide care for the congregation generally, and also for the various groups that exist within the congregation. 



Here in verse 3 Paul says, “Honor widows who are truly widows” (1 Timothy 5:3, ESV). Let’s talk about this little phrase for a moment: “Honor widows who are truly widows”, Paul says.

The word “honor” is very important. In fact, it ties this entire section of Paul’s letter together. Timothy was to minister to young and old, male and female, in a way that was fitting. Remember, he was not to rebuke but encourage the congregation. He was to treat the older men as he would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters with all purity. In other words, Timothy was to honor those to whom he ministered. In verse 17 we read, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching”. And in 6:1 we read, “Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled”. So Timothy was to show appropriate honor to all, and he was to see to it that honor was shown to all within Christ’s church.

So what does it mean to honor? 

To honor someone is to value them and to show them proper respect. This respect is, first of all, to reside within the heart and it is shown through our speech and in our actions. When you honor someone you speak respectfully to them. When you honor someone you listen to them. When you honor someone you treat them honorably — you pay them their due, and you care for them if they are in need. This is what Paul was urging Timothy, along with the whole congregation in Ephesus, to do — they were to show honor to one another! The church, brothers and sisters, is to be an organization of honor — an institution where the members treat one another with proper respect. 

As I have said, the principle of “honor” is the glue that holds this entire section of 1 Timothy together. And that word “honor” should immediately remind us of another scripture text. It should remind us of the fifth of the Ten Commandments, which says, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12, ESV). If the principle of “honor” is the glue that holds this section together, then the fifth commandment is the source of that glue. 

As you know, the first table of the law (commandments 1-4) has to do with man’s relationship to God. And the second table of the law (commandments 5-10) has to do with man’s relationship to man. How are we to relate to God? In brief, we are to honor him as God alone. And how are we to relate to our fellow man? In brief, we are to honor our fellow man in a way that is fitting. Or, to quote Christ we may summarize the whole law in this way: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…”, and “you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37–40, ESV). Though love and honor are not synonyms, they are closely related. To love is to honor, and to honor is to love.   

The first command of the first table is, “You shall have no other gods before me.” In other words, here is the first requirement for a right relationship with God: We are to honor him as God, and we are to give that honor to none other. And the first command of the second table is, “Honor your father and your mother…” (Exodus 20:12, ESV). This is the first and leading requirement for a right relationship with your fellow man. 

And why does the law say, “Honor your father and your mother…”? Why does it not say more generically, honor everyone with the honor that is due to them? Why the specific command to honor father and mother? The answer is this: By commanding children to show honor to their parents God does highlight the importance and priority of that parent/child relationship. Children are brought into the world through the union of a man and a woman. And that man and woman do then have the privilege and responsibility to raise that child, teaching them to walk in a manner that is worthy. Parents are to teach their children to love and honor God, and they are to teach their children to love and honor their fellow man. And how will they learn to show honor to their fellow man except by learning to, first of all, show honor to their parents? 

When the law says, “honor your father and mother”, it certainly does not mean that this is the only human relationship where honor is to be shown — from a child to a parent. No, but it does help us to see the importance of the parent/child relationship, and the importance of the family for the establishment and maintenance of a good and just society where men and women honor and love one another.  

The very first human authority that children encounter is parental authority. Parents are to teach their children to honor them, not only so that they might have the honor that is due to them, but so the child might also learn to honor every other human authority which God has established in the world. And children, by learning to honor their parents, will also learn to honor God and their peers! To put the matter succinctly, the home is the place where honor is taught and learned. It is the first place where children learn to honor God supremely, and their fellow man in their variety of “places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals.”

Brothers and sisters, when you hear the fifth commandment, “honor your father and your mother”, do not think that it only applies to children living under their parent’s roof. No, it starts there! But here in this little commandment we have a kernel of truth that is meant to sprout, grow, and blossom, producing a people who know how to live to the honor of God and of all men, no matter if they are “superiors, inferiors, or equals.” This is the true and full meaning of the fifth commandment.             

And to demonstrate that this is the case, I may ask you, who are we to honor, brothers and sisters? Answer: Above all, we are to honor God. And among men, children are to honor their parents. Wives are to honor their husbands, church members are to honor their pastors, citizens are to honor those who govern, employees are to honor their employers — all of this should be clear to us. But that is not all. There is also a sense in which parents are to honor their children, husbands are to honor their wives, children are to honor their siblings, kings are to honor their subjects, teachers their students, bosses their employees, pastors the members of the congregation. As I have said, the fifth commandment, “honor your father and mother”, is a  kernel of truth that is meant to sprout, grow, and blossom. When properly understood and applied it guides us to show honor that is fitting to all men, no matter if they are “superiors, inferiors, or equals.” 

And where is this teaching found, you ask? Where does the Bible say, for example, that parents are to honor their children? Or husbands their wives? In many places! 

Generally, it is found in these words: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, ESV). To love is to honor, and to honor is to love. And love is to be shown to all men. And it is also found in these words: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12, ESV). And it is in Christ that we find our example. Though he certainly had authority over his disciples, and though they certainly owed him a special kind of honor as inferiors, Jesus washed their feet and said, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:12–17, ESV).

Brothers and sisters, this is the Christian way. Not only are we to show honor to our superiors — God, the Lord Jesus Christ, governors, parents, and pastors. No, we are also to honor, love, and serve those who are our equals, and even those who are under our authority, just as Christ did. And this is why the scriptures warn fathers, saying, “ do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21, ESV). And husbands are also warned: “live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7, ESV). This is the way of Christ, brothers and sisters. Though he had all authority, he did not Lord it over his subjects, but humbly served them. He loved us and gave himself up for us. And we are to do the same for one another. 

We are to show honor to one another. As Peters says, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:16–17, ESV).

So why have I belabored this point? Why have I camped upon the word “honor” and taken all of this time to connect it with the fifth commandment, showing how this commandment is to sprout, grow, and mature into a sincere love for God and neighbor? Well, two reasons. One, that is what Paul does in this section. From 5:1-6:2 he is urging that honor be shown to the various groups within the congregation in a way that is fitting. The church is to be a place where God is honored above all, and where men and women, boys and girls are treated with honor. And two, I think we need to hear it. 

I’m afraid that our culture has forgotten what it means to show honor. Consider our public discourse. There is so much harshness. Men are so very inconsiderate and impolite. People have forgotten how to listen to others or to communicate their opinions in a clear, calm, and respectful manner. Dishonor rules the day! I’m sure it has a lot to do with the breakdown of the family. Certainly, it is a symptom of the rejection of God’s moral law in our culture. Perhaps it is also symptomatic of media forms that do not require face to face interaction. It is much easier to be harsh and rude when you do not have to look into the eyes of the other human being, made in God’s image. Whatever the root cause, I think you agree with me that in our culture — at least as it pertains to our public and political discourse — very little honor is shown.  

Brothers and sisters, we must be careful to avoid this virus in Christ’s church. In Christ, we must keep God’s law. And as we do, we will be countercultural. The church is to be a place of honor. It is to be filled with people who honor God supremely, submitting to his revealed will and loving him from the heart. And it is to be filled with people who treat others with honor. 

Parents, may I  turn to you for a brief moment and ask, are you teaching your children to give honor to whom honor is due? Are they taught to  honor God as God in your home? Are they learning to honor their superiors by first learning to honor you? And are they learning to honor their equals and their inferiors through their interactions with their siblings and their friends of various ages?

Being a parent is a great blessing. It is very rewarding work. It is very important work. And it is also hard work. It requires that we lovingly and patiently instruct and discipline our children, brothers and sisters. We must teach our children God’s law. And because they struggle with sin (as do we), we must teach them to trust in Christ. They must trust in him for the forgiveness of their sins, and having done so, they must trust him also to have victory over sin. They must strive to live in obedience to God’s law, not in their own strength, but with the strength that God provides. Are you teaching your children to do this? Are you modeling it? Are you showing them how? 

I’m preaching to you not as one who has mastered parenting, but as one who is struggling in the trenches with you. Brothers and sisters, let us be sure to give our children both the law and the gospel. Let us be sure to show them the way that they should good go (law), and when they fail let us be sure to lovingly discipline them and to point them to Christ — they are to trust in him for forgiveness and for victory over sin (gospel). Our children need to hear the law and the gospel just as we do, if they are to learn to honor God and man.   

Children and young adults, may I speak to you for a moment and ask, are you striving to honor and love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength? And this will involve loving and honoring your fellow human beings. Are you keeping the fifth commandment? Are you honoring your parents? Are you resolved to always show them respect and to obey them? It is so very important that you do. You should remember that the very first thing God commands us to do when it comes to our relationship with other human beings is to honor our father and mother. Are you striving to keep God’s law? 

And I will also ask you this, are you honoring your siblings and your peers? You are not to honor them with the same kind of honor as you give your parents. For example, you are not required to obey them. But you are to honor them as your equals. You are to treat them as you would want to be treated. You are to speak to them with love and respect.  

Brothers and sisters, young and old, if I were to read the fifth commandment and ask, have you kept this law perfectly, what would you say? You would say, no, I have violated this law in thought, word, and deed. And this confession of sin should send you running to Jesus to trust in him for the forgiveness of your sins. But if you are in Christ — if you have been washed by his blood — then you ought to strive to keep God’s law, including the command to honor your father and mother.

And members of Christ’s church, I ask you, are you honoring one another in Christ Jesus? That is what Paul is urging us to do throughout this section of his letter to Timothy. Honor is to be shown to all. In particular, he is commanding that honor be shown to widows. 


Honor Widows

“Honor widows”, he says. 

A widow is someone whose spouse has died. And in Paul’s day widows were particularly vulnerable. There was nothing like social security in those days. The government did not care for widows as it does today. The responsibility to care for widows was left to families and other private institutions. And so Paul commands Timothy as a minister in Christ’s church to “honor widows who are truly widows.”  

And clearly the word “honor” here means more than “respect”. When Paul commanded Timothy to honor widows, he was insisting that honor be shown to them by seeing to it that their needs were met. 

Surely, Timothy was not to do this all alone. Instead, as He was to see to it that the church honored its widows. 

Pastors have a particular responsibility to honor widows in the congregation. They are to care for them spiritually and see to it that they are also provided for physically.

And it is the deacons of the church who have a particular responsibility to care for the physical needs of widows. You should remember that passage in Acts 6 where the first deacons of the church were appointed. And why were they appointed? To oversee ministry to widows. They were to see to it that the widows in the church were cared for, both the Jewish widows and also the Greek widows.

It may be that the deacons provide the care themselves, but it is more likely that the deacons will oversee ministry to widows, and the members of the congregation will be the agents who do in fact meet the needs. 

So it is the church, made up of pastors, deacons, and members, that is called to “honor widows”.

 And though Paul mentions only widows here, what he says may be applied to anyone within the church who is in need. The church is to be a place of love and honor, and this will involve caring for the needy and vulnerable amongst us.    

Listen to James 1:27: “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, ESV). Following God faithfully in this world will involve visiting, or caring for, people who are afflicted.  

Later James says, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:14–17, ESV). This is a sober warning. 

And finally, Galatians 6:10 says, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10, ESV). This is helpful. The words “as we have opportunity” acknowledge that resources are limited. There may be needs that we do not have the ability to meet. The words “let us do good to everyone” remind us that it is good to help even those outside the church. And the words, “especially to those who are of the household of faith” teach us that the Church is to give priority to meeting the needs of its members. 

The church is to be a place where honor is shown, and this will sometimes involve caring for those who are afflicted by meeting physical needs. This should not come as a surprise. Remember that the church is the household of God. If we are in Christ, we have been adopted as God’s children, we bear his name, and we represent him on earth. Or we may also say, the church is the body of Christ. We are his members. We are his hands and feet. We do his work as we represent him on earth. And we are to remember this about our God: “The LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin” (Psalm 146:9, ESV).

Church, I ask you, do you have God’s heart for the sojourner, the widow and the fatherless? Are you eager to represent Christ on earth? Are you prepared to be his hands and feet? And you will notice that I addressed you as the “church”. I did not say “Christian”, I said “church”. And there is a good reason for that. We are so very limited as individuals. We have a very limited amount of time, resources, and ability. But together we have more. It is the church collectively that is to care for its widows and others who are afflicted.   


Honor Widows Who Are Truly Widows

Now, the remainder of this passage does provide the church with very helpful boundaries. That Galatians 6:10 passage that I read earlier had boundaries built into it. Churches are to “do good to all” — that is the general principle — but Paul did also say, “as we have opportunity”, and  “especially to those who are of the household of faith”. Here in 1 Timothy, he says, “honor widows who are truly widows.”

Now isn’t that an interesting phrase? “Honor widows who are truly widows.” I suppose that some might respond saying, but aren’t all widows, widows? How can you be a widow, but not truly a widow? So what does Paul mean by this?

Well, clearly he knows that all widows are widows. If a woman has lost her husband to death she will need to be ministered to. She must be honored and cared for. There are no exceptions to this. And the same can be said of widowers — a husband whose wife has passed. To be joined together for life in one-flesh union, to be bound together in a covenant of love, and to have that bond severed by death, is a very difficult thing. All widows and widowers are to be honored and cared for. 

When Paul commands that only widows who are truly widows be honored he is clearly speaking of honor being given in the form of financial support. In other words, the question is, when should a widow receive substantial and regular financial support from the church? When should she be “put on the list”, if you will. Notice that verse 9 says, “Let a widow be enrolled if she…”, and then a list of qualifications are listed. We will come to that text next Sunday, Lord willing. And the answer is that only true widows should be honored in this way. Only true widows should receive this kind of substantial and ongoing support. 

We will move through the remainder of our passage rather quickly in just a moment. But before we do let me make this very general observation based upon the phrase, “honor widows who are truly widows.” Though it is true that the church is to care for those who are afflicted, this most certainly does not mean that the church is to meet every need that presents itself in a careless and undiscerning manner. To put the matter bluntly, a church is not fulfilling the law of love if it carelessly distributes money and resources to everyone who asks for aid. Wisdom is needed. Discernment is needed. And sometimes it is right for the church to say “no”. Isn’t that what Paul is saying here? When he says “honor widows who are truly widows”, he means do not honor (with substantial and ongoing financial support) widows who are not truly widows. These are not to be “enrolled”.

Let me make a couple of very brief points of application before moving on. 

One, all of the members of Emmaus should seek to develop discernment when it comes to benevolent giving. The resources you have are God’s resources. He has entrusted them to you. And he is not pleased when you distribute those resources carelessly and foolishly. Brothers and sisters, the world is filled with scam artists. Do not be gullible. And if you know that you are prone to this, lean upon others in the church who can help you discern the difference between a legitimate offer or need, and a fraud. Also, do not believe the lie which says, it is unloving to say no to someone who is in need. Brothers and sisters, it may be appropriate to say no, not because you are unloving, but because there is a better way. 

Two, please pray for your elders and deacons that they would have wisdom as they oversee and manage the benevolence ministries of the church. Pray that the Lord would give them wisdom to know when to say yes and no and to determine how and how much.     

So, who are the true widows that Paul was referring to? Two things may be said. 

First of all, a true widow is one who is left all alone. Not only has her husband died, but she does not have family to care for her. In cases such as these, the church is to step in to meet the needs.

Look at verses 3 and 4. “Honor widows who are truly widows. 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” (1 Timothy 5:3–4, ESV). 

This is very significant. Here Paul upholds the significance of the family. With all of the talk of the church being a spiritual family and God’s household, some might mistakenly believe that the biological family loses its significance. Not so! The church is a spiritual family. Through faith in Christ, we have God as Father. We are brothers and sisters, therefore. We sit at God’s table. This spiritual family is very significant. We have Christ in common. Together we have been reconciled to the Father. This bond that we have will last for all eternity. But this does not obliterate the importance of the biological family. God works powerfully in families. It is there that children are to be raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. It is there that children are to be loved, provided for, protected, and taught to honor God and man. And notice that the bonds of the biological family continue to have significance even after the children are raised.    

Who is responsible to care for widows (and widowers)? Before the church is responsible, the children and grandchildren are. They are first up. They are to show “godliness to their own household”. They are to “make some return to their parents”. I take this to mean that children should be eager to care for their parents in their old age, just as their parents cared for them when they were young. I cannot help but mention the fifth commandments again. “Honor your father and mother”. The obligation to do so does not stop at age 18. 

Children, look at your parents. Consider how they have cared for you. Now think about the future. Someday you may have the opportunity to care for them just as they have cared for you. And you should be eager to do so. “For this is pleasing in the sight of God.” 

In fact, Paul delivers a very strong rebuke to professing Christians who refuse to care for relatives in need when it is in their power to do so. Look at verse 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 5:8, ESV).

Even unbelievers know that they are to care for their relatives. They know this because the natural law is written on their hearts. But the Christan has access to the scriptures. This should be even more clear to them.

And the Christain faith demands that we care for the orphan and widow. To refuse to do this for a family member when it is in your power to do it is to deny the faith, Paul says. This would be a denial, not in word, but in deed. 

Let me tell you what verse 8 does not mean.

This is not a rebuke to those who do not meet the needs of relatives because they cannot meet the needs. No, this is a rebuke delivered to those who have it in their power to meet a legitimate need and yet refuse to because they are selfish and hard-hearted.

Two, this is not a rebuke to those who have decided that boundaries must be kept between their household and an abusive, manipulative, or otherwise damaging relative. No, it is appropriate for Christians to be wise and discerning when offering care, as has already been said.     

As a general rule, children and grandchildren should honor their older relatives by caring for them in times of affliction. But this does not mean that there are no boundaries to be kept, or even exceptions to the rule.   

And parents, look at your children. Your objective is to send them off. But I hope that you send them off knowing how to honor God and man. If you do, I think you will be blessed in your old age, for that honor will come back to you. 

But life does not always go as planned, does it? This life is filled with sorrow and tears. And sometimes widows are left all alone. And if they are, the church is to care for them. 

Secondly, when Paul speaks of widows who are truly widows he has in mind those who have been left with nothing except their hope and trust in God. Verse 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, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach” (1 Timothy 5:5–7, ESV). 

The meaning is this: the church is not obligated to support a widow by providing for her excessive and self-indulgent way of life. A true widow — one who is eligible to receive substantial and ongoing support from the church — is one who is living a very simple life and is lacking even the basic necessities of life. Widows like these are the ones who are eligible to receive substantial and ongoing assistance from the church, being “enrolled” in the number. And we will talk more about what that means next week. 



Brothers and sisters, the church is to be a house of honor. God is to be honored here. And we are to honor one another.

Particularly, it is to be a house where widows, and others who are afflicted, are honored. For “the LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless.” This he does directly. And this he does through the care of his people. 

But this honor is not without boundaries. Families are first in line to care for their relatives. And in general, the church is obligated to meet needs, not self-indulgent desires. Wisdom and discernment are needed here. 

Brothers and sisters, this love we are to show to one another is a reflection of the love that God has poured out on us in Christ Jesus. It is a dim reflection, for our resources are limited, while his are unbounded. And we must be concerned about enabling sin when we give gifts. But God is not so concerned. When he pours out his grace he washes sin away and renews the heart. Never-the-less, our love for one another is to reflect God’s love for us in Christ. This is why he said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35, ESV).

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