Contending for Holiness & Justice (1 Timothy 5:1-16)

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To contend for holiness is to contend for justice.

Over the last few chapters we have seen a recurring theme. Paul’s wartime dispatch to Timothy contains a simple message, that believing in the gospel changes you. You can hear the gospel, know the gospel or even study the gospel, and still be left utterly unchanged. However you cannot believe in the gospel and be the same. It will transform you.

In this chapter we see Paul take his recurring theme, and, just as he did in chapter 2, apply it to specific situations that Timothy needed to address in the church. We know that Paul is contenting for the holiness of the church, because his concern is for ‘purity’ (verse 2), ‘honor’ (verse 3), ‘godliness’ (verse 5) and ‘good works’ (verse 10). Paul also calls out a variety of sinful behaviors that have taken place (verses 8, 11-13). Paul is like a broken record, playing the same beat over and over again, determined that the church should display the beauty of God’s holiness.

What might be surprising to us as we read however, is how much time Paul spends focusing in on one particular group within the church; the widows. It seems strange, perhaps weird, that in such a short letter so much ink and paper would be spent here. If you are surprised, then a quick survey of the whole bible will completely confound you! Widows are directly mentioned over 80 times, with a few key verses here below:[1]

  • “…father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.” (Psalm 68:5)
  • “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.” (Deut 10:18)
  • “Leave your orphans behind, I will keep them alive; And let your widows trust in Me.” (Jeremiah 49:11)
  • “You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn…” (Exodus 22:22-24)

Do you see the theme of justice permeating throughout these verses? Lets remind ourselves of the people that these verses, as well as Paul in 1 Timothy 5, are focusing on. Widows are often among the most marginalized and powerless in any society throughout history. They are among the least important, those without voice or agency, with little hope of a brighter future. So the idea that God, the Alpha and Omega, is so determined to love, support and protect widows is an awe-inspiring revelation! It’s so counter cultural, so unexpected and oh so beautiful! It reveals the holy beauty of God to us in a remarkable way. It reveals who He really is.

So back to 1 Timothy, and Paul’s charge to us who believe in the gospel is to live out the gospel and therefore become more like the one we believe in. Just has God has always done, we also are to love, care for, empower, highlight, restore dignity and empower all of those who have been marginalized in our communities.  As the Adam Clarke commentary on 1 Timothy 5:3 says, the word ‘honor’ means to support or sustain.[2] This is an active, sacrificial, intentional command from the bible. This is what Paul is charging the church to do. This is a challenging reminder, to put in the center of our attention and service those who the world is trying so hard to marginalize. It is the inseparable fusion of holiness and justice, and we cannot simply read this section of scripture and not obey its commands.

Our holiness, the thing Paul has been talking about throughout this book, is not just about character attributes we should nurture. It is also about good works that we should dedicate ourselves to, which is why James (1:27) describes real belief as looking after widows. To contend for holiness is to contend for justice, and lets remember that as we do, we display the love of Jesus to the world around us.

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

  1. In your own words, why does Paul spend so much time focusing here on widows?
  2. How is our personal holiness connected to living justice-shaped lives?  
  3. How are you challenged to change your life so you can be obedient to the command to ‘honor’ the marginalized and disempowered in society?  

LEADERSHIP NOTE:

In my experience, church leaders generally are good at pursuing one type of holiness (fruit of the spirit) but are not as intentional about pursuing the type of holiness that Paul has challenged us on today. Leaders must lead by example in living justice-shaped lives. To live passionate about gospel-centered justice means changing how we live, sacrificing things in our lives so we can be obedient to the bibles commands and so we can show other people the love of God. Don’t duck out of this. Be bold. Count it as joy. Be a leader.


[1] Accessed 11/12/2019. Walker, Austin. 2015. https://www.crossway.org/articles/why-does-the-bible-say-so-much-about-widows/.

[2] Accessed 11/12/2019. https://www.studylight.org/commentary/1-timothy/5-3.html

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