The 1 Timothy 5 Woman

As a follow-up to my post on stay-at-home dads, I want to go to one of the passages in Scripture which further describes the role of a woman. In 1 Timothy 5, Paul spends some time addressing widows in the church, and in so doing, describes for us an exemplary woman, not unlike the Proverbs 31 woman.

Paul has been instructing the church as to how they are to provide and care for widows. In order for women to qualify for the help of the church, Paul has several requirements they must meet. These women must have not only lost their husbands, but have no children who are able to care for them. He goes on to say:

A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man, having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work.  1 Timothy 5:9-10 NASB

I believe that here, Paul is setting the standard for a godly older woman. These are the women who have spent their lives in faithful service, earning the honor of the church. I think we can safely presume that these are women that have fought the good fight, have persevered in their faith through their lives, and will now reap the blessing of the church in their old age. So what are his requirements?

Married to one man. Done good works. Brought up children. Shown hospitality to strangers. Washed the saints’ feet. Assisted those in distress. Devoted to good work.

This is a hefty list of requirements. It mirrors the qualities we see in the Proverbs 31 woman, and also the list of instructions that older women are to give younger in Titus 2. It builds on the ideas found in those passages, and more specifically, on the idea that women are oriented toward service. The woman who is worthy of honor has devoted her entire life to works of service—service to her husband and children, to her church family, and to the stranger who crosses her path. This is a very different picture from the modern picture of working motherhood that the media portrays to us as “normal.” In general, this woman is not running a small business; she is feeding strangers. She is not pursuing her PhD; she is bringing up her children. She is not seeking self-actualization through a stimulating career; she is washing the feet of the saints.

Simply put, one of the things we learn in 1 Timothy 5 is that women are to be service oriented, not provision (career) oriented. We really should view this as a privilege: we, as moms, get to take what our husbands have provided for us, and put it into real-life service to others, starting with our children, and then moving out into the broader community. This is freedom from the rat race. We are free to bless others with our time and efforts. We are free to take a hungry man and feed him, to take a bleeding child and bandage and kiss them, to take a lonely child and comfort them. We do not answer to a boss who pays us by the hour—we answer to God for the use of our time.

Not one of the activities in the list that Paul gives brought those widows honor while they were doing it. It was hard, humbling work, often without thanks or reward, monetary or otherwise. But Paul tells us that those women will be honored for it in their old age. Paul will honor them in her old age. The Lord will honor them in their old age.

When we serve others, are we always giving, with no benefit to ourselves? Of course not.  Among other things, service kills our pride. We women are very good at comparing ourselves to others, in all sorts of areas. When we wipe the snotty noses, wash the feet, and feed the stranger, the Lord uses those acts to take one more notch out of our ever-present pride. When the snot smears across our brand new Ann Taylor blouse enough times, we will eventually decide that we do not need Ann Taylor blouses. We will think less about our position and appearance, and more about how to not sin against our children. And what is this to us, other than intensely helpful? In our role, God is helping us imitate the humiliation of Christ. What other end goal is there?

(Note: after an email and consideration, this post has been edited from the original.)

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