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:
- “…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. 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:
- In your own words, why does Paul spend so much time focusing here on widows?
- How is our personal holiness connected to living justice-shaped lives?
- How are you challenged to change your life so you can be obedient to the command to ‘honor’ the marginalized and disempowered in society?
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.
 Accessed 11/12/2019. Walker, Austin. 2015. https://www.crossway.org/articles/why-does-the-bible-say-so-much-about-widows/.
 Accessed 11/12/2019. https://www.studylight.org/commentary/1-timothy/5-3.html
Paul has been boasting about these Thessalonian believers to other churches. He has been encouraged by their growing faith and love, and also by their steadfastness and faith in the midst of the persecution and the affliction they have had to endure because of their faith.
“Faith under fire becomes faith refined by the fire.”
But what comfort is there for those who are being treated unjustly, persecuted because of their faith in Christ?
“…indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven…” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-7)
What comfort is there? Scripture answers that God is just. Implied here is that our Father God who is the righteous all-knowing judge of all sees everything that is done and that which is not done that ought to have been done. God is just, because God will afflict those who have afflicted His children.
And so the knowledge that God is just gives relief/rest to one who has been unjustly treated or who has seen their loved ones unjustly treated.
We are often tempted to make premature assessments, in this life. It can and does sometimes look like the unjust go unpunished, seemingly unaffected by their sin and seemingly free from consequences despite the despicable things they have inflicted on others. Our systems of justice often let people down as the justice they deserve slips away into the cracks of our sin-broken societal systems of justice.
But for those who call God ‘Father’ there will be justice. Our Father will act on our behalf and knowing this relieves us of any need to attempt to ‘repay evil with evil’ (1 Thessalonians 5:15).
Rather, we can and should forgive people. As we do, we are stopping that thing they did from continuing to rob or hurt us into the future. Forgiving people sets the forgiver free, and leaves the forgiven before the God of all the earth – who is just.
Ask Father God right now. Is there anyone I need to forgive?
Choose now to set yourself free, choose now to stop allowing that thing from continuing to impact your life. Thank your Father that He is just.
When though? You might say, well I haven’t seen God being just yet!
I believe there are times when we do see the justice of God in this lifetime come upon people, but this passage is very clear that the time everyone will know that God is just is on the day when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with attending angels and flames of fire (vs7-8).
On that day God the righteous judge will ‘inflict vengeance/retribution’ (vs8) on those who wronged his children (implied by the context) and specifically on those who rejected Jesus Christ.
Note how God is the active agent here, God the righteous just judge is the One inflicting retribution. This clear teaching in Scripture confronts the unbiblical popular notion that the God of Scripture is some wishy washy dispenser of ‘love’ or that it is loving to the victim to let the wicked go unpunished for the sin done to them!
And yet on this same day that Jesus comes back in all His glory, on this day when the unrighteous who rejected Christ will face the punishment for their sin (vs9) and will be shut out from the presence of God forever and ever, on that same day those of us who believed in Jesus will be glorying in Jesus, will be marvelling at Jesus in all His revealed splendour and majesty (vs10)!
May, you believe, may you ask Jesus Himself to forgive you of the wrong you’ve done before that Day. May you and I reach out to EVERYONE we can while we still can with the good news that anyone can join that happy crowd (vs10) if they will only bow the knee now and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour and ask Him to forgive them of their sin.
For if you do accept Jesus, God is just, and so will forgive you of your sin, you will not face any punishment for whatever you did, because God already punished that sin when Jesus died on the cross in your place for your sin, and so God will be just to save you and welcome you into a glorious eternity with Him.
Have you crossed the line of faith and put your faith in Jesus and asked Him to forgive you of all your sin?
Ask the Holy Spirit now to put people on your heart who don’t yet believe in Jesus, pray for them and DO ANYTHING the Holy Spirit leads you to do…