How does conduct in the household of God look like? Paul answers the question in chapter 5 of the book of 1 Timothy. He addresses his protégé on how to treat the different groups of people in the church as a leader. Paul Chimhungwe takes this interesting passage in today’s post and skillfully finds ways how this can be applicable in our African churches. Enjoy the read.
Paul, an aged man, on the verge of his death, writes I Timothy, encouraging his young protégé to remain faithful despite the challenges he is facing in his ministry. In chapter five, he gives enduring godly leadership lessons to the young man that can be appropriated by youthful indigenous African leaders, irrespective of gender, in our churches since they resonate with our socio-cultural contexts.
The Church as a Family (5: 1–2)
The first two verses of this chapter are a transitional passage-connecting chapter four to the rest of chapter five. In these verses, Paul is arguing that since the church is the family of God, youthful leaders must treat each Christian with respect regarding elderly men and women as their fathers and mothers, young men and women as brothers and sisters, respectively. These relationships must be anchored in purity.
In return, these elderly Christians will respect the young leader’s position regardless of age. Young Christian leaders should appreciate that they function in a community and must identify with it since “A person is a person only with other persons, alone one is an animal” (Magesa, 13,). For that reason Paul gives Timothy detailed instructions concerning the treatment of widows in the church.
The Treatment of Widows (5:3 – 16)
After dealing with the transitional passage, Paul discusses Timothy’s relationship towards widows (5:3–16) and elders (5:17–25). (The discussion continues in chapter six where Paul handles issues relating to slaves (6:1–2) and wealthy people (6:17–19) but this is outside the scope of our essay). In verses 5–16, the apostle is discussing issues relating to the financial support of widows in the church at Ephesus. Commentators give two views on the meaning of a widow.
The first camp “feels these verses spell out the duties of widows who have been enrolled in an order of widows” (Mounce, 273). Those who argue for this position maintain that the church at Ephesus had widows—women who had dedicated their lives to the ministry of prayer while living from church coffers—whom Paul is trying to regulate. The second camp argues that these verses do not discus duties, but “rather . . . establish who should be enrolled to receive benefits as a widow and who should not” (Mounce, 273). This means there was no official order of widows in the church, a position articulated in this paper.
However, Paul categorizes widows into two groups: first, widows with children or grandchildren who can help (5:4a). Definitely, their family members must support widows in this group, financially and materially. In the case of indigenous Africans, family includes extended family members. If the widow’s offspring fail to execute this noble duty, Paul argues in verse 8 that “whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (I Tim 5:8 NRSV). The second group comprises of those widows who do not have any family members to rely on (5:4, 8).
Those widows must be attested to have good deeds before they are enrolled to receive the church’s financial and material support. In the case of Southern Africa, with the advent of HIV/AIDS, young widows, like during Timothy’s time, are encouraged to marry and have children instead of receiving material assistance from the church. Of course, both partners must be tested first in order to make an informed decision concerning each other’s HIV/AIDS status. Although it is important for the church to help its needy members, Solomon Andria thinks that the church “should not become so focused on doing charitable work that it forgets its central calling [preaching and teaching the gospel] (Andria, 1501).
The Treatment of Elders (5:17–25)
In verses 17–25, Paul deals with the responsibility and treatment of elders. An elder is a mature church leader who can also be called presbyter or bishop. These words describe the same office. Paul deals with the elders’ task of preaching and teaching since most of the “problems in Ephesus originated with the elders, their heretical teaching and their sinful behaviour” (Mounce, 321). Although they were struggling spiritually, Paul instructs Timothy that they deserve respect and he should not accept accusations against an elder unless there is a witness.
If an elder is found guilty and refuses to repent, he should be dealt with in a manner that sets an example to others. On the other hand, Timothy must not show favouritism, something common in Africa where some young leaders overlook the elderly’s faults. If and elder works fulltime as a teacher or preacher he should be paid. Andria argues, “elders merit both honour and honorariums!” (Andria, 1501).
Paul concludes the chapter with Timothy’s poor health. He is encouraged to “take a little wine for the sake of [his] stomach and . . . frequent ailments” (5:23 NRSV). Timothy was a teetotaler for the sake of Paul’s opponents who were drunkards. Although he knew that wine heals, he was willing to suffer for the sake of the Ephesian community. This verse has been used to endorse social drinking, but “the use of alcohol here is strictly medicinal” (Mounce, 319). Definitely, Christianity is not a teetotaler’s religion but indigenous young African leaders should eschew alcoholic beverages for all its ills. Timothy left you an enduring legacy—he was a teetotaler. The same applies to Christians of all ages, particularly young men and women.
Our youthful godly indigenous African Christian leaders should espouse Paul’s eternal lessons that were initially addressed to Timothy, who was working with the church at Ephesus. These teachings are applicable to our congregations in Southern Africa. First, youthful leaders should treat every Christian as a family member with honour, respect and in purity. Second, they should encourage churches to take care of widows who are not receiving any financial assistance from family members. However, churches should not enrol young widows, but they should be encouraged to marry.
Third, young Christian leaders must respect elders who should be paid if they are involved in fulltime preaching and teaching. Such men deserve honour and respect since they are also mentoring these young leaders. In an indigenous African setting, it is imperative for a young leader to heed the elderly’ counsel because “an adult squatting sees farther than a child on top of a tree” (Magesa, 13).
— Works Cited —
Andria, Solomon. “I Timothy.” In Africa Bible Commentary, 2nd Edition, pp. 1495–1502. Edited by Tokunboh Adeyemo. Nairobi, Kenya/Grand Rapids: WordAlive/Zondervan, 2010.
Magesa, Laurenti. What is Not Sacred: African Spirituality? New York: Orbis, 2013.
Mounce, William D. Word Bible Commentary, Pastoral Epistles, Vol. 46. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000.