In verse twelve of chapter four Paul writes “Let no one look down on you because you are young” (1 Timothy 4:12a). Honor came to someone (at least partially) in conjunction with age. Though a person would not be looked upon as being honorable simply because of age, those things that conveyed honor would only be recognized as being truly honorable when attached to someone of appropriate age. The church of Christ, unconcerned with the conveyance of honor according to the world’s standards, recognizes an entirely different set of honor standards, in accordance with “speech, conduct, love, faithfulness, and purity” (4:12b). There is no age-discrimination here, and all can participate equally. Accordingly, these things can be demonstrated through “the public reading of Scripture… exhortation… teaching” (4:13), and it is these things that should absorb attention and be marks of progress (4:15).
In the fifth chapter of this letter, Paul addresses an issue that is near to the heart of the Creator God, which is that of widows. The Hebrew Scriptures---the words that reveal the character of that God, and which must be viewed through the event of the incarnation and the cross---are filled with words that speak to the covenant God’s concern for widows. Widows, along with orphans, were among the most vulnerable members of society, and the mark of the people of the Creator God was their proper care of widows (and orphans, though this study will ultimately be limited to widows for the sake of the treatment of Timothy).
Indeed, it could be said that a driving force behind the judgments of the Creator God that rained down upon His people through the instrumentation of Assyria and Babylon, was Israel’s treatment of the groups of people to whom their God had directed them to offer special concern and consideration. This group included widows. Therefore, one should not be surprised to find the issue of widows treated in the New Testament, as the church of the Christ sought to find its way in a culture that was quite dismissive of widows as those that had no place in the honor system---who were relegated to the margins of society, and whose existence, by and large, was going to be meager at best.
The Creator God’s passionate concern for widows, as revealed in the narrative tradition that was foundational for the covenant faith of Israel, is best summed up by James, as in the context of the early church’s grappling with the continuation of that narrative tradition and the re-shaping of that covenant faith around Jesus as Lord, he writes “Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune” (1:27a). This has an added benefit of making it possible “to keep oneself unstained by the world” (1:27b).
There is a tendency to see this as a statement with a double directive, with the first directive concerning achieving a pure and undefiled religion being caring for orphans and widows, while the second directive is keeping oneself unstained by the world. Perhaps this is a false division? Perhaps it is time that Christians saw this as directive and consequence---action and reaction? Perhaps this statement by James follows hard on the directives and examples of the Hebrew Scriptures? Israel failed to care for the orphans and the widows, and therefore they became stained by the world around them. Had they cared for the orphans and the widows, and kept that at the center of their covenant-keeping, such staining would not have taken place.