Also available as MP3: Providing For Widows – 1 Timothy 5:8-16
In the context, Verse 8 is saying that a widow’s sons and nephews should care for her instead of the church (v.1-7). But Paul left it purposely open-ended, saying “if any provide not for his own…he hath denied the faith”, so it would be applied to husbands and fathers as well.
“The faith” is the body of truth given to Paul (Col. 1:23; 2:7), which includes these instructions to care for widowed moms. So if a son refused to care for a widowed mom, he denied the faith and was “worse than an infidel,” an unbeliever (cf. IICor. 6:15). Even unbelievers know they should care for their own (Lu.11:12,13).
The “number” (v.9) was the number of widows on the official roll of widows receiving church aid. If “wife of one man” meant a divorced woman couldn’t receive support, it would also mean a twice widowed woman couldn’t. It actually means one man at a time. Hagar was called Abraham’s “wife”, so if a widow similarly had a husband and a man on the side, she was the wife of two men at a time.
Bringing up children (v.10) means teaching them the Word as well as feeding and clothing them (IITim.3:15 cf. 1:5). “Lodging strangers” means to be a gracious hostess. It involved washing your guests’ feet in those days, but today it just means to make your guests feel at home. And since God designed women to be nurturers, no one is better at relieving the afflicted. Since a woman is “well reported of” for these things, these are the things “of good report” that a Christian woman should “think on” (Phil.4:8) and emulate.
If younger women are included in the support roll, they’ll start to wax wanton against Christ (v.11). “Wanton” means to fail to restrain one’s sexual urges, something that’s hard for young widows. The word “against” can mean in competition with, as “the cars were racing against each other for first place.” Placing a young widow on the roll sets her urges against Christ for first place in her heart. Older widows can win that battle generally, but not younger widows. They will “marry.”
But marrying is what a woman should do (ICor.7:8,9), so why does Paul say she has “damnation” (v.12)? At first I thought he meant they’d marry unbelievers, but the Bible isn’t shy about saying so when that’s the problem (cf. Neh. 13:27).Then I thought maybe they got married in the Abraham/Hagar sense, but then it would say “having damnation because they fell into fornication.” No, “her first faith” is the faith a young widow pledged to the church when they added her to the support roll. She agreed to pray for the saints to requite them for supporting her (ITim.5:5 cf. Lu.2:36-38). If she then married, she’d cast off that faith.
If all “damnation” were eternal, Mark 3:29 wouldn’t make sense. Breaking the law earns you damnation from the government (Rom.13:1,2), and casting off her first faith earned a widow the kind of self condemnation we read about in Romans 14:23. She condemns herself for taking money from the church then marrying.
Marrying usually leads to fullness of bread, which can lead a woman to idleness (Eze.16:49cf.ITim.5:13), just as a lack of bread can lead man or woman to work hard. Marrying shouldn’t lead to idleness (Pr.31:27). The right response is to requite your husband for supporting you instead of busy-bodying from house to house. By the way, the Thessalonian men became busybodies when they quit working (IITh.3:11). Paul says rather than let younger widows be taken into the number of widows the church supports only to marry and cast off their first faith, younger widows should marry instead (5:14). Since this was Paul’s will, it was also God’s will, since he wrote by inspiration. But if you’re not married or a mother, it was only a “reproach” if young widows pledged faith to the church then cast it off.
Some young widows had already done so, and “turned aside unto Satan” (5:15). If that sounds harsh to say about a woman whose only crime was casting off her pledge of faithfulness to the church, remember Eve turned aside to Satan by eating fruit. The smallest of sins is a turn to Satan.
Lastly, if sons supported their widows, the church would have more money to support widows with no kids (16).