I Timothy 5:4 But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is [a]good and acceptable before God. 5 Now she who is really a widow, and left alone, trusts in God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day. 6 But she who lives in [b]pleasure is dead while she lives. 7 And these things command, that they may be blameless. 8 But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
As we begin with our consideration of this text let us first speak briefly about the form of the passage.
The form of this passage takes the form of what is called a Hebrew Chiasm. We have talked about this in the past but it has been quite some time since we have raised the issue. The Hebrew mind was constructed by God so that it thought in what we might call connected parallelisms.
A Chiasm is when a series of statements are made elongated to different lengths whereupon a counter series of statements are made that correspond in a mirror like fashion to the first series of statements that were made.
Paul does that here in this passage but before we look at that let’s consider a couple Chiasms elsewhere in Scripture so you can get an idea of what I am talking about.
Another common form of parallelism is the use of negatives, where two opposing ideas are stated as we see in Proverbs 11:19-20.
|A1. Righteousness brings one to life
A2. a mature path is his pleasure
You find this all over Hebrew poetry – Psalms, Proverbs, Job, portions of the Prophets but you also find it in didactic parts of Scripture and we find that here. Paul employs a Chiasm starting in verse 4 of I Timothy 5
A1 – Words to the Relative vs. 4
B1 – Words to the Widows vs. 5
B2 – Judgment on disobedient widows vs. 6
A2 – Judgment on disobedience Relatives vs. 8
Chiasms are all over the Scripture because, as I said, this is the way the Hebrew mind whirred. I’ve seen scholars take whole books of the Bible and demonstrate how those books were one long Hebrew Chiasm.
Think of this methodology as starting and ending with matching bookends so that the ending corresponds to the beginning. Meanwhile the bookends continue on through the passage so that with each initial statement there is some kind of corresponding echoing statement – perhaps in a parallel fashion and perhaps in an antithetical fashion – that will be made.
Well, I’ve introduced you to this Hebraic technique. If you want to know more you can find all kinds of examples on line. If you can’t find them just ask me. But the reason I bring this up here is so that you can read the Scripture in a more informed manner and so you can listen to sermons in a more informed manner. For example, it is a mistake for a minister to make two different points when Scripture is using a parallel Chiasm. It would be error to take the passage “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path,” and try, in a sermon, to make two points out of that since it is communicating the same idea in a parallel fashion.
Practice finding a Chiasm in Psalm 1 –
Well, that gives us the form of the text and also offers a little lesson on hermeneutics. It is good thing to keep in your back pocket.
Now let us turn to the meaning of the text;
A.) Words to the Relatives
In vs. 4 the Holy Spirit is direct in the responsibility of family to take care of their aged. St. Paul clearly says that there is an obligation on the part of children to care for their parents who can’t take care of themselves even saying that in caring for them that those children are repaying them.
Now, this obviously implies that the parents had been responsible and had taken care of their adult children when they were children. This is something that we can’t automatically assume as occurring in our culture of broken homes. But the assumption here on the part of the Apostle is that children owe a debt of honor to their parents.
The problem here that the Holy Spirit is addressing is apparently there were deadbeat children who were fobbing their responsibility in this regard off on the Church.
Here the Apostle is communicating what should be a “Captain Obvious” statement that each Christian family bears the primary responsibility of caring for their own.
And in doing so, the Holy Spirit limns out the truth that distinctions are to be made as to what the family realm is uniquely responsible for and what the Church realm is responsible for, while at the same time teaching that where there is no family to care for a widow there the Church must be the family of God to those family-less widows.
I Timothy 5:3 Honor widows who are really widows.
And the idea of “honoring widows” there per the instruction of the Holy Spirit, is to financially provide for them. By calling the Church to “honor widows who are really widows” St. Paul is teaching that the Church must care for those who are really widows.
Verse 3. – Honor (τίμα). The use of the verb τιμάω in the comment on the fourth commandment in Matthew 15:4-6, where the withholding of the honor due consists in saying, “It is corban, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me,” and so withholding the honor due, shows clearly that in the notion of honoring is included that material support which their condition as widows required. So again in ver. 17 of this chapter, the “double honor” due to elders who labor in the Word and doctrine is clearly shown by ver. 18 to include payment for their maintenance.
So, if there is no family to materially support the aged then the Church must step in to do so. However, normatively it is the family that is responsible for the care of its own aged.
As an aside let us note here that the call for the Church to be concerned with taking care of the widow would have been a stark contrast to what would have found among the pagans who viewed women as second class citizens – especially aged women who had no kin to care for them. In taking up this care for “the least of these” the Church was demonstrating that the social-order that a Christian community would create would be far different than what was found among the pagans.
“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” James 5:16
Now, let’s note briefly here that one implication of this is that the NT does not define “Church” primarily where the members are to be passive recipients listening to two sermons on each Sunday. The Church envisioned in the NT is to be active in the very way that Holy Spirit speaks here. It is to be active in caring for the aged among their membership if they have no people to take care of them.
Some may tend to think that the Church doesn’t need to do this today because that is what welfare and social security are for but I can tell you as someone who spent his first six years ministering among many poor senior citizens that the Government only gives the aged enough to make sure that they remain poor and dependent on the FEDS. They receive just enough to remain at the poverty level.
But this ought not to be so among the Christian aged. If they do not have kin to provide for them then they ought to be able to look to the Church.
However, ideally, St. Paul teaches here it is the family whom God has designed to care for its own and this care is to be taken up inter-generationally. Note, St. Paul says it is Christian children and grandchildren who are responsible to care for the aged. Today, given the longer lifespans we may well include great-granchildren.
This inter-generational responsibility and privilege works to tie the generations together along lines of both blood and faith.
And here let us note that this inter-generational care should work in both directions per the instructions of the Holy Spirit in Proverbs.
13:22 A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children,
So, the goal of Christian parents should be to leave an inheritance for their posterity and the goal of Christian children should be to provide for their aged if needs be.
And of course the once Christian West no longer embraces this Christian social-order mindset. Instead you will see on the one end of the generation continuum bumper stickers on these huge houses on wheels that say, “I’m spending by children’s inheritance,” and on the other hand you’ll see, as I did as a boy who was often in a nursing home since my Father worked there, old people abandoned and lonely.
Now, combine this destructive generational self-centeredness with the fact that the FEDS are systematically attacking this vision of inter-generational family faithfulness with its program of the inheritance tax, no default divorce, government schools and other programs designed to weaken the family. More later on opposition to the Christian view of trans-generational family life.
So… the generations in their families are biblically designed to take care of one another and we must pause here and ask ourselves if we are doing so?
There is a great deal that is beautiful about the Scripture, but on this matter there is little that is more beautiful of our Lord Jesus Christ, while dying on the Cross, taking up the mindset of God and there, in spite of unspeakable torture spends His strength to make sure his mother is taken care of after His death.
What is implied in the instructions here in I Timothy 5 is the idea of the Trustee family. Carle Zimmerman in his book Family and Civilization teases out the difference between the Atomistic family, the Domestic family and the Trustee family – all different models of family life. The Scripture presupposes and teaches in the main the Trustee family model;
When the state is weak, the extended family or clan is the primary social power, and the state itself is seen as a union of families rather than individuals. Rights and property belong primarily to the family itself, and its current living members see themselves as mere trustees, charged with passing along what they have received.
Illustration – Members of a band.
Carle Zimmerman noted that;
“The family brings the past into the present.”
This is especially true of the Trustee family. We find it exemplified in these lyrcis from Dan Fogleberg;
The leader of the band is tired and his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument and his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man
I’m just a living legacy to the leader of the band
I am the living legacy to the leader of the band
In the Trustee family the music does not die with the members of the band from one generation but continues on in the subsequent generations.
Pretend you were a member of a band. The band retains its name despite band members coming and going. The band excelled so much it became transgenerational. Despite key members changing over the years, everyone associated this band with a particular sound and quality. There may be variations but the band is the band regardless of the individual members who comprise the band.
Whether you had an album from when the band first started or an album from its centennial anniversary you could pick out its familiar sounds and riffs.
This provides an illustration for the Trustee family. The Trustee family, like the band, has key members come and go, and yet it remains the self-same Band. The family (hopefully) has the same quality from generation to generation. It has the same sound (same mannerisms, temperaments, dispositions) over the years so one can readily identify the family. The members of the family may change but new family members are not completely inconsistent with the family members who are no longer living members of the family.
The family is not a one-and-done generational phenomenon. It stretches from the past into the present while all the time remaining one unit. Sure, it has different members but it remains “The Band.”
Because of this I am as attached to my Great Grandfather as he is to my Great Grandson. Different members…. same band.
Because of this, it is not improper to say as I often heard when I lived in South Carolina; “My family has been knowing that family for 100 years.”
In Zimmerman’s analysis the family is the primary instrument of justice: the family itself is held accountable for the misdeeds of its members, and each member has a duty to avenge wrongs against his kinsman. Historically Trustee society have often been naturally polytheistic, with each clan having its private gods. Greece, Rome, and the Germanic barbarians all began with the trustee family system. However, Israel in many respects though not in totality also practiced the Trustee family model.
2) The domestic family.
As the state gains power, it takes over the role of enforcing justice and tries to stamp out the private justice of the trustee family. That the domestic family also has biblical roots to a degree is seen in the fact that the families of Israel were not allowed to implement the judicial death penalty apart from the concurrence of the community, and apart from witnesses. The family was not judge, jury, and executioner such as was found in the American lore of the Hatfields vs. the McCoys.
In Domestic family arrangements and social orders there are more duties that are extended to non-kinsmen. There is thus more co-operation between families. Judges, Magistrates, Sheriffs, public personnel as from many different families work together to make the social order work.
With the spread of trade, it becomes useful for a family to be able to sell the property which it had been holding in trust. Out of these pressures arises the domestic family, the type which Zimmerman believes constitutes the best balance of family and society. The domestic family consists of the living members of the nuclear family unit: father, mother, and children (Nuclear Family). Family property belongs to the paterfamilias; the living no longer hold it in trust. Rearing children is the family’s primary function. Religion provides strong social sanctions against divorce, childlessness, and sexual immorality.
3) The atomistic family.
As individualism and impiety spread, the ideological foundations of the domestic family are undermined, leading to the atomistic family. In an atomistic society, marriage is seen as a temporary and socially unimportant contract between independent individuals. As atomism spreads, divorce becomes common, adultery loses its stigma, sexual perversions of all sorts come to be accepted and even celebrated, children rebel against their parents, childbearing comes to be seen as a burden, and the population implodes. A society cannot survive without the will to produce a next generation, and so the decedent society is eventually replaced by a new civilization embracing a more virile (trustee) family type, and the cycle begins again. Greece after the Peloponnesian War, Rome during the late empire, and the contemporary West have the atomistic family as their dominant type.
It is in the interest of the State to undermine the family since an Atomistic family is no threat to the State’s increasing power. Where the family is weak there the State can assume the former’s authority and power of the family to itself.
Zimmerman sees Western civilization headed for destruction if it cannot revive the domestic family. One of the heroes of his story is the Emperor Augustus, whose anti-adultery and anti-celibacy laws can be seen as a rational attempt to protect the Roman family and hold Rome’s destructively atomistic tendencies at bay. This history’s most important hero, however, is the Church, which was forced to fight a war for the domestic family on two fronts, against both Roman atomism and barbarian pagan trustee-ism. By the High Middle Ages, the Church had established her own sacramental version of the domestic family as the primary type in Christendom. This work was undone by the anti-Christ partisans of divorce and immorality of the Renaissance and Enlightenment.
What we see in I Timothy and elsewhere in Scripture is a hybrid form of the Trustee/Domestic family.
That especially comes through in vs. 8 where we read;
8 But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
The “own” there refers to what we would call today a “man’s Nuclear family.” “The especially for their own household” refers to what we would call today “his extended family.”
And with that observation we will pause and take this up again next week, continuing to draw out the meaning in the text and then also considering recent and current opposition to this family model that we are currently fighting against.
Let us close with a quote from Thomas Fleming in support of returning to the Trustee family;
“For most of the past hundred years, defenders of ‘family values’ have limited their attention to the so-called bourgeois or nuclear family, and some have even pretended that these isolated households of parents-cum-children are a human norm. To anyone who knows anything about chimpanzees or primitive societies and, indeed, to anyone who has read the Old Testament or Beowulf or the Iliad, such a notion will appear preposterous. In rough times, isolated households are incapable of defending themselves from predatory enemies, and in the conditions imposed by modern state, nuclear families cannot stand up against the legions of public-school teachers, child-saving social workers, and children’s rights advocates. Stripped of the protection of offered by broader networks of kith and kin, the nuclear family cannot even protect its children from mass culture, much less from the vast network of social agencies arrayed against it.”
Thomas Fleming – 3213