After having spoken of the care for widows, who are widows indeed, and the primary duty of the children to care for the aged parents, lest they be worse than infidels, Paul now turns his attention to the matter of the proper choice and admittance of widows for the work of mercy and practical care for the sick and needy in the church.
We are not too familiar with the exact state of affairs and customs of Paul’s day as they existed at Ephesus. It seems that there was a group of women in the church, a class by itself, who made it their special business to be busy in the work of a “deaconess.” That became their “office and calling.” They, as it were, gave their word of honor and the assurance that they felt called by God and impelled by the Holy Spirit unto this task.
Due to the weakness of human nature and the ever present sin which so easily besets us, Paul limits the eligible women, widows, for this work. The mere fact that one is a “widow” does not per se indicate that one has the qualities required for this work. In the first place this calling entailed work, initiative. Besides, this task entailed rather difficult work, involving much self-denial, plus a goodly amount of “human relations.” One must be fortified with a good deal of spiritual wisdom, love and mercy. Let not every widow think that she has these qualities. This is not joining the “lonely hearts club”!
Writes Paul concerning the widows who are eligible for this task:
“Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man., well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she hath washed the saints’ feet, if she hath relieved the afflicted, if she hath diligently followed every good work.” Verses 9, 10.
In the first place Paul will guard against permitting undesirable widows to enter the ranks by placing the age-limit from sixty years and upward. That is to exclude the younger widows who definitely should not be permitted to do this work. That he sets the age limit at sixty is because, generally speaking, beyond the age of sixty the “desire to thy husband” spoken by God to Eve has died out. She then has reached the age of which Sarah speaks, “after I am waxed old shall I have pleasure?” Gen. 18:12. (More of this later.)
It seems to be an axiom with the apostle Paul that to have been “the wife of one husband” is a virtue. Although he instructs those “Who burn” to remarry, and such remarriage is not sinful (I Cor. 7:9), yet those who do not have the power of continence will remarry. Such must not be allowed to be “enrolled” into the number of those who are busy in practical love and mercy in the church. Hence, a candidate must be (have been) the wife of one husband. She shows strength of character, loyalty of love, is not frivolous and fickle. She is a widow “indeed” who bears her solitude in patience, and labors in love in view of that day when she can remove her veil of sadness for gladness. She is strong enough to walk alone with God. She needs no husband upon whom to lean, and, therefore, can be a tower of strength in the life of those whom she succors.
However, the mere fact that she has been the wife of one man, still must be complemented by other virtues. She must have good testimony of having been engaged in honorable works, which are of such nature that a heathen as well as a Christian would speak well of her. Paul enumerates them here.
On the foreground he places that she must have “nourished children.” She must, therefore, have been a woman who understands that a woman is saved through child-bearing. She must understand her basic position towards her husband and toward the kingdom of God, the gathering of the church, and the innumerable hosts of the elect in glory. Without this basic attitude she cannot qualify as a widow, be she past the age of sixty. This is not some “Dear Abby” advice! She must not have been the woman who was so narrow in her sympathies that she was unwilling to have her schedule and routine “interrupted” by the way-faring stranger that came to lodge at her door.
She must be a true daughter of Sarah, an Abigail, who is wise when even her husband is a “nabal,” a fool! The woman that scowls and “pulls her husband apart” for inviting in the stranger, is a too self-centered and sinful egoist for candidacy to the work of a deaconess, which exactly calls for qualities where one is interested not in self but in others.
Furthermore, the apostle states that the candidate for deaconess must be one who has washed the feet of the saints. Now “washing” of feet was the work of a slave in the house. A “saint” is one for whom Christ died. One who will wash the feet of saints, having performed the meanest of tasks in the communion of saints, is certainly willing to do any other mean task in the church in behalf of the saints.
When “affliction” becomes the lot of God’s people she shall not be found negligent. When poverty becomes the saints’ lot she will have “put her hand to the distaff” and she shall “have taken hold of the “spindle.” Is she not the woman that “girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms,” so that “she stretcheth out her hands to the poor; yea . . . reacheth forth her hands to the poor”? To the poor she “openeth her mouth with wisdom: in her tongue is the law of kindness”!
Thus an aspirant to the work of a deaconess, must in one word be, as Paul sums it up “if she hath diligently followed in every good work.” Hers must have been the works of faith, according to God’s law, and unto God’s glory.
Only such must be admitted!
Others do not qualify even though they have attained to sixty years or more!
Therefore Paul continues:
“But the younger Women refuse: for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry: having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith. And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to home; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busy-bodies, speaking things which they ought not. I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully. For some are already turned after Satan.”
Paul tells Timothy to “refuse” the younger widows. This must be done in a firm and courteous way. The verb in the Greek is “paraitou,” that is: to beg off! The hardships, the qualifications should be impressed upon their minds. They should be taught to see that it would only be foolhardiness for them to make the promise of life-long labor in the church. They are too young. God has made woman thus that “her desire is to her husband.” And that is a fact, a hard fact of life, which must not be ignored; for it will certainly assert itself when occasion arises. Hence, the younger widows must be “begged off.”
It is a remarkable thing that Paul is as sober as a judge in these matters that pertain to the good ruling of the church; the Bible always is just and kind. The Lord knows our frame. We should not tempt the Lord nor ourselves by trying to walk a road and way which is not for us. That can only lead to “judgment,” or as the King. James version has it: to “damnation.”
And the apostle cites some “specifics” on this score.
The younger widows will “wax wanton and marry.” There is a certain delicacy here in the translation which is understandable. However, this very vagueness shrouds the matter, indeed, so that the exact point is obscured. What the apostle means with “wax wanton” is not at all a lascivious life in general, which would make one shameful before even unbelieving society. He has in mind the legitimate and increated sexual urge, which will assert itself in those “under sixty years.” And the result is that they will seek the honorable marriage state. Otherwise, pray why would we read in one breath, “wax wanton and marry”! Such widows would hardly be initiated into the work or they would be out of it. Something like the phenomenon of the girl who goes to college to prepare for a teaching career, only to not finish the race because she enters the marriage state. Instead of an “AB” degree she arrives at a “Mrs.” degree!
That the text speaks of waxing “wanton against Christ.” Now this must not be understood in the absolute sense; it does not mean that when such remarry they have fallen from the faith in Christ into everlasting perdition. In the light of the former paragraph is “merely” means, or what is possibly better to say is: it is true only from the viewpoint of the “faith” they have expressed, their assertion of purpose to, be fully busy in the work of Christ in the service of mercy in the church. When the occasion arises and the “young widow” remarries she has shifted from her avowedly intended course, and in that sense she has waxed “wanton against Christ.” Such was and is the lesson of experience!
And thus she receives “judgment.” The King James Version has “damnation.” That term is too strong. It is more in keeping with the meaning of the term “krima” to translate it: judgment! The judgment that one has is that one did not keep her word. She is marked as one who turned away from the work. Thus she is stigmatized by the congregation. And that should be avoided not only for the sake of the young widow but for the sake of all concerned.
There is only one place where such young widows fit!
They are meant for a place in the home. After due consideration of all the facts in the case, it is Paul’s “will” that such marry. Then they will have no regrets. They will be where the Lord has appointed them as daughters of Eve. That is their environment.
Hence, they should marry.
There is still another motive why young widows should not be busy in the work of a deaconess. While their heart could not be in the work they would yearn for a place in the family. Going from house to house they would not be of service, but would use this position for selfish and sinful purposes. They would “learn to be idle,” lazy. Instead of serving the needs they would be tattlers and busy-bodies.
They would be doing everything except what was their calling. Thus the institution of the “deaconess” would degenerate into an evil in the church. And Satan would have his day.
Hence, refuse the younger widows.
This is not simply a case of expediency, but it is a matter of the principle that the woman’s place is fundamentally in the family, and only, after she have finished that, can she spend her remaining years as a deaconess.