Taken together then, not only do the words sound very similar to that which is spoken of widows (“for some have already wandered away to follow Satan”), but combined with the need to be well thought of by those outside the faith, one can here sense a prohibition against being a gossip or a busybody, about being lazy, and about going from house to house talking about things they should not. There’s no reason to believe that this is somehow the exclusive domain of women.
If this is what will give the adversary the opportunity to vilify the church when such activities are undertaken by the widows (those normally dismissed by the wider culture), how much more than when the overseers of the meal table---the ones who would naturally be looked upon with as leaders of the assembly by the surrounding world (though they do not hold a formal position)---engage in the same. Concurrently, one can notice that the same words are not applied to deacons.
This is understandable, because as table servants they would not be accorded the same type of respect by those outside the church as would the meal overseer, though those who serve are accorded the highest honor within the church. Such is the nature of Paul’s witness to the church, as he always has his eye on the church’s interaction with the culture and its need to be a counter-balance to the stifling of true humanity that takes place in the cultures that do not bow the knee to the Lordship of Jesus.
Finally, rounding out his words for Timothy and the church in regards to widows, having given this group a seemingly inordinate amount of attention, Paul writes “If a believing woman has widows in her family, let her help them. The church should not be burdened, so that it may help the widows who are truly in need” (1 Timothy 5:16). While Paul’s words clearly operate at a level that allows the church for all time to ascertain direction and ideals, one can’t help but believe that Paul has some specific people in mind here as he writes.
There is little reason to think otherwise, and there is even less reason---considering the fact that Paul is dealing with specific situations that have arisen in the church letters---to imagine that Paul is suggesting guidelines to be applied to the church universally and for all time. What should get a reader’s attention, when considering how to apply these words of Paul, are the counter-cultural elements and the implications for service within the church and the church’s interaction with the world.
One stumbles dangerously into anachronisms when losing sight of the fact that Paul writes to real people, in real churches, at a definite time in history, dealing with real and pressing situations as the church sought to find its way in representing the kingdom of the Creator God while standing against the forces, though defeated by the cross and by the Resurrection, that sought to infiltrate and destroy the people of that God---attempting to destroy the church’s ability to stand as witness to its sovereign Lord.
When taking the honor and shame competition of the day into consideration, while also considering the possibility that in all of this talk (concerning overseers, deacons, and widows), Paul has certain problematic individuals in view, one can move helpfully away from reading this letter solely as some tractate concerning church discipline, and instead read it as a clarion call to a church, through the apostle’s emissary, to continue to align itself with kingdom ideals, seeking the way of the cross and of shame, as all honor continues to accrue to Jesus.