Contending for Holiness & Justice (1 Timothy 5:1-16)
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
Affectionate Mentorship (1 Timothy 4:11-16)
Words have value and power. When spoken words can heal, restore and build. Conversely, they can be used to cause pain, bring down and tear apart. All words have power. However, the words that matter the most to us are the words that come from the people closest to us. The value of these words comes from the value that we hold for the people that are speaking. The people closest to us hold our affections, passions and commitment. Therefore they’re words represent a communication of they’re heart towards us.
Throughout this book I have found the intimate relationship of Paul and Timothy beautiful. It has endeared my heart and warmed my soul, because the relationship is a beautiful model that is so tragically missing in many churches today. In our devotionals we have already seen how this relationship has been leveraged to encourage and strengthen Timothy. Paul has been pouring himself out onto paper, with the desire of equipping his spiritual son. In secular places we would call it ‘mentorship’, but we can call this ‘fathering’. The active, on-going, ‘doing’ of a strong and loving father figure towards his children.
We see throughout 1 Timothy, but I highlight this now because Paul seems to get personal. Beautifully personal. Lets remember two things at this stage. Firstly, Paul has given Timothy a challenging assignment. Going to Ephesus without backup, confronting the established, power-hungry, leaders. Correcting behaviour from church members. Secondly, Paul has been writing about holiness, and the need for the Ephesian church to reclaim godliness as a means of displaying the power of the Gospel.
We should remember these two things as we enter this part of the chapter, because it explains why Paul gets personal with Timothy. After admonishing and encouraging the church towards holiness, Paul turns his focus towards his son-in-the-faith Timothy. He strengthens Timothy towards strong and brave leadership when others might look down on him (verse 12). He encourages Timothy towards practicing leadership gifts wholeheartedly (verse 13). He reassures Timothy that his leadership is based on grace gifts given by God and recognized by church Elders (verse 14). Finally reminds Timothy to intentionally steward these grace gifts as well as his own holiness (verse 15 & 16).
Paul’s words are a blindingly bright display of his affection for Timothy. Look at Paul’s desire to see Timothy pursue holiness and live out the gospel. As Matthew Henry says, “Those who teach by their doctrine must teach by their life.” Look at the desire to protect and strengthen Timothy’s leadership; to see him thrive and establish himself. Look at how specific he gets. Paul knows what to check, what to encourage and what to challenge. The church today is meant to be filled with these discipleship relationships. It will advance the kingdom, transform the church and bring glory to the one we are all imitating (1 Cor 11:1).
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- How does Paul guide Timothy in this passage?
- What do you think are Paul’s main concerns for Timothy?
- How are you being a Paul or a Timothy in the church today?
- How has this passage challenged you to grow your personal leadership gift?
Paul strikes a great balance in this book between guiding Timothy, and letting him discover and develop himself as a leader. Paul gives some instructions, some pointers, but he isn’t in the trenches with Timothy in Ephesus. Timothy has to build the strategy himself. Have the confrontational conversation himself. Change procedures and disciple new leaders himself. The ‘discipler – disciplee’ relationship is a balance, and this passage can be instructional for both roles. Invest the time. Commit to the challenge. Raise new leaders. Be transformed.
The House that God is Building (1 Timothy 3:1-16)
Sometimes it is possible to forget that the church isn’t ours. It is God’s people, brought together as His family, united by His blood, to advance His mission and magnify His glory. For sure, we are the church, strengthening and taking responsibility for its purposes on Earth, however it’s not ours to mold and change as our own. Don’t mess! This is God’s house!
Paul holds a deep concern for the church, as it is the household of God. This explains the whole letter, but verse 15 is especially helpful when reading chapters 2 and 3. Paul states that his purpose in writing is so that we “may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” If we read chapters 2 & 3 again, understanding that the church belongs to God, we will see that God himself cares deeply about how His church is being built. That’s why, at the very onset of its inauguration, in Matthew 16:18 we read that Jesus claims ultimate responsibility for building the church.
Paul’s deep concern for the well being of the church comes from remembering what the church is. In verse 15 we get three different descriptions of the church. It is the household of God, referring to the church as the family of God. Next is the church, meaning the assembly / coming together of God’s people. Finally we get the church as “the pillar and foundation”, because whilst in the world the church is meant to be both the firm foundation and the high tower of truth. These are awe-inspiring truths of who we are as the people of God, and it demonstrates how intentionally God is building His bride.
God’s concern for His people is shown in chapter three through his concern for the holiness of leaders. Found in the list of Elder and Deacon characteristic’s, we see practical examples of the kind of gospel transformation Paul has been exhorting throughout the book. These ‘qualities’ are also a direct contrast to the false teachers influencing the church in Ephesus. At the heart of the churches problems was a failure of leadership character, necessitating Paul’s detailed descriptions of what godly leadership should look like.
One of the fundamental problems behind all church failures (not just in Ephesus) is a failure of character, and this failure will always be found when leaders over-emphasize their importance in the church. Then egos begin to inflate (1 Tim 1:7), sound doctrine begins to wane (1 Tim 1:10) and church roles begin to get muddled as people are not guided into holiness (1 Tim 2).
When I was young up I had the privilege of growing up in a church plant with leaders who were clear that the church would not rise or fall based on their abilities. From my childhood onwards, I learnt that church leadership is about gospel transformation, internal character and spiritual dependence on the God who is building His church.
This chapter is a continuation of Paul’s concern for gospel transformation in the household of God. It is an incredible gift to the church from God Himself, as it will protect us from bad leadership and constantly point us to good leadership. But we also should be regularly asking the Holy Spirit to encourage and challenge us personally, trusting that God is transforming us as He is building His church.
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- Why do you think Paul is so concerned that Timothy establishes healthy leaders in the church?
- What does these two lists of leadership characteristic’s reveal about the heart of God towards His church?
- How could these lists help you to assess your own spiritual transformation?
These lists are incredible gifts to help guide us as we seek to grow more and more into imitators of Jesus, and they are worth our regular meditation. You may find it beneficial to ask others you trust to help guide you through them. Remember, God is transforming you. God is building His church. These character traits are not about performance, or striving to be better. They are about seeing an inner renewal by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God.
 This is the ‘most likely’ understanding as verses 4, 5 & 12 use the same word is used to refer to family households.
 You can read 1 Tim 1:7 & 6:4-5 to see how different these church leaders were from the standard that God required in His household.