Recently at the G3 National Conference, I had the privilege of sitting at the feet of Susan Heck, and I mean that quite literally as the breakout session we were both in to hear Erin Coates was so packed that by the time I got there only floor space remained. But I also got a chance to hear the teaching of this godly older woman in her own breakout session on 1 Timothy 2:9–15 and at a lovely pre-conference tea where she spoke on Scripture memorization. What a gift this widowed pastor’s wife is to the women of our generation!
When Susan teaches, one knows she has spent time with the Lord, and we get to be the additional beneficiaries of that communion. This is right in keeping with the qualifications for widows in 1 Timothy 5:3–16. So many of the characteristics listed there are designed to benefit the church. It’s to our shame and detriment that this passage gets so overlooked. Most seem to read it and think it only applies to widows in need of financial assistance and so if they are not in that particular stage of life, they pay it little attention.
The fact is, most of what is discussed in this passage occurs early on in a woman’s life, prior to widowhood. When her qualifications are being examined, it is not her current circumstances that they are looking at, but rather a lifetime of behavior that should be representative of all Christian women, behaviors that not only benefit our families and the church but prepare us for a quieter season of communion with and dependence on the Lord. We are all in essence to be widows in training.
To begin with, one way we younger women are to train for widowhood is by caring for the widows in our own family first. Paul gives three reasons for this command in verse 4. It models godliness for our own households, it provides a way for us to return to our parents the care they gave to us, and it is pleasing in the sight of God. It’s no wonder God takes such pleasure in seeing us care for widowed relations. Jesus Christ modeled this even in His final moments on the cross when He entrusted the care of His own mother into the hands of the beloved disciple, John.
We do not know when Mary was widowed, but we do know her other children were still unbelievers at the time of Christ’s death and so she was taken into John’s own home for the remainder of her days (John 19:25–27). She then became part of the small but monumental prayer group that established the first church in Acts 1:13–14. This care for widows set a precedent for the early church that we see already in practice in Acts 6:1–7. Caring for widows who didn’t have believing family members in the church was something the disciples took very seriously, as was teaching those in the church to first care for the widows in their own families so the church wouldn’t have to step in.
Whether it be by their younger family members or the church itself, Christian widows were to be cared for and this wasn’t just for their own benefit. Again, it allowed younger women to model godliness to their families, to make a return, and most importantly to please their Lord. But the church also benefited from caring for the widows because it then freed the widows up to continue “in supplications and prayers night and day” (1 Tim 5:5). What family and church has not benefited immeasurably from godly older women interceding for them in prayer? Just as the apostles were freed up to devote themselves to prayer and the preaching of the Word in Acts 6 by delegating the care of the widows to qualified men, qualified widows who are entrusted into our care are then freed up for the ministry of prayer.
Verse 6 gives us a glimpse of the flip side to godly, praying widows: “But she who is self-indulgent is dead while she lives.” Sadly, this is the exact state most women of my generation are in training for today—self-indulgence. What a warning and rebuke leveled at us here! The self-indulgent woman is as much a benefit to her family and church as a corpse.
So how practically does a Christian woman train for qualified widowhood rather than deadly self-indulgence? Verse 10 lays out six practices of godly Christian women:
- She stays married to one husband.
- She has a reputation for being devoted to good works.
- She brings up children.
- She shows hospitality to strangers.
- She serves the saints.
- She cares for the sick and those in need.
Imagine churches filled with this kind of woman—women who during the younger, active, busy season of life are training hard for the quieter, hope-filled, dependent season to come in which the Holy Spirit is her closest companion and her ministry of prayer fortifies her family and church. Sisters, are you training for that day? Church, are you caring for your widows? Shepherds, are you providing the women in your flock with the necessary instruction and encouragement to those ends? If not, your church is being deprived of something so valuable that it was of chief concern to our Lord Jesus Christ to model even in His dying moments and for the apostles to practice meticulously from the very birth of the church.
Our heavenly Father purposed different seasons in a woman’s life to benefit not only herself and her own family, but His precious church as well. What a privilege to play so vital a role in His kingdom work! Let’s get busy sisters, there’s much to do, and much glory to be given to our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. To that end, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb 10:24).
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