5 Signs of a Healthy Church Life – 1 Timothy 5:1-16

Last Sunday we learned how to discern whether we are listening to right biblical teaching by applying the 4 principles i.e right teaching, right living, right community & right scrutiny.

Right biblical teaching will always lead our hearts to sound teaching of the scripture pointing our hearts to Christ and the Gospel, help us live godly lives, join us with godly community and convict our hearts of sin.

In our passage today which is 1 Timothy 5:1-16 I believe Paul is getting into the practical aspects of church life. After addressing false doctrine and rebuking false teachers, pruning the church from anything or anyone that was taking the focus away from Christ and the Gospel. Paul goes on to speak specific things about church life that needed attention.

In these passages Paul lays down a number of instructions and I want all of us to keep in mind that since the context of the church life in Ephesus is quite different to ours we wont be able to literally take the instructions as if it relates to us today. Like for example, Paul giving specific and elaborate instruction regarding widows. The reason being there were many widows in the community at that time and the church had taken responsibility to care for them.

And how come there were so many widows in the church? Well, historians say there may well have been two classes of women here. There were certainly widows who had become widows in the normal way by the death of their husbands. But it was not uncommon in the pagan world, in certain places, for a man to have more than one wife. When a man became a Christian, he could not go on being a polygamist, and therefore had to choose which wife he was going to live with. That meant that some wives had to be sent away and they were clearly in a very unfortunate position. It may be that such women as these were also reckoned as widows and given the support of the Church.

So, instead of taking each of those instruction literally we will try to understand God’s heart behind these instructions and try and apply them in our context.

These instructions were given as practical applications to consider in a normal and a healthy church life.

And there are five such application that I can see in these passages.

1. Being considerate & respectful of one another

The first sign of a healthy church is where people are considerate & respectful of each other.

In verse 1 & 2 Paul writes “Do not rebuke an older man harshly but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.”

Even though this instruction may specially apply to Timothy and others leaders where Paul is saying do not rebuke an older man harshly, while rebuking is clearly an elders role. But we see God heart wherein he wants them to be considerate of the old age and deal with an old man as they would with their own father.

In the later verses Paul goes on to say “Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity”

In a generation where all these respectable attributes are fading away even from Christian families and churches, God’s heart still remains the same and calls every child to continue to show love and respect to strangers just as they would do to their own family members.

A few months back I happen to see a video from one of my previous churches, its the church where I was mentored and discipled by an elderly pastor, the church where I met Jane and served God as a young man.

It was a clip where the some leaders and members of the church broke out in a fight with the Pastor concerning some church issues. It was not the issue regarding which they were having a fight that disturbed but the manner in which they were talking and shouting at each other. In the chaos there was this young girl in her twenties got up from the crowd and snatch the microphone from the pastor hand to stop him from speaking.

A clear act of disrespect to the elders and other members of the church and it is happening in our generation, in our churches today.

Philippians 2:3-4
“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Titus 3:2
To speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.

Brothers & Sisters, being considerate and respectful of one another is a sign of a healthy and flourishing church. One that God desires from his children.

2. Giving generously

The second sign of a healthy church life is where people give generously.

Verse 3-8 Paul writes
“Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. Give the people these instructions, so that no one may be open to blame. Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

[16] If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.

Even though Paul in talking about giving in context to the situation with widows his general observation is that people within the church are giving importance to their religious practices but completely ignore to care for their families. He goes on to say in the last verse that “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

If we look at the early church we will notice that giving was an essential part of church life.

Acts 4:32-35 says
“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.”

Matthew 12:41-44 records an event where “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Our society values how much a person has; God values how much a person gives. When Jesus watched the widow, He praised her who cast in just two mites—a fraction of a penny—because it represented such a sacrifice. Though money itself is not evil, loving money leads to all kinds of evil.

The best protection we have against the sorrows that come from loving money is to cultivate generous hearts. And therefore we need to look for opportunities to use the resources God has given to us (even if they do not seem to be great) for the benefit of others. Rather than waiting until you have enough to give, we need to be generous and give as the Lord leads.

Giving generously is the sign of a healthy and flourishing church.

3. Testing and validating spirits

The third sign of a healthy church is to be able to discern, test and validate true and devoted believers from the flock.

Verse 9-10
9 No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, 10 and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.

Often churches are assumed to be a place where human spirits are celebrated regardless of the heart motives of people. Where correcting and being bias is looked down on.
But unlike what people assume the church should look like, the scripture clearly demands church authorities to discern, test and validate true and devoted believers, the people under our care and supervision.

Paul is telling Timothy not to include widows who are under sixty, has been unfaithful to her husband, known for bad deeds, not bringing up their children well, not showing hospitality, not washing the feet of the Lord’s people and not helping others in times of trouble.

Can you imagine Timothy and other leaders standing at the door and telling some of widows to go back home for the reasons mentioned above? Would you be part of a church where you see this happening in front of your eyes? What will be your reaction? Will you look down on the church or will you honor Gods word and his governance displayed through the elders of the church.

Beloved, discerning, testing and validating true and devoted believers from the flock is the sign of a healthy church life.

4. Seeking sexual purity

The fourth sign of a healthy church life as described in the passage is seeking sexual purity above everything else.

Verse 11-15
11 As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. 12 Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge.

14 So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes

God’s heart for the church is to seek sexual purity above everything else. Please note Paul is asking Timothy not to consider younger widows on such list because there is a possibility that their sensual desires cam overcome their dedication to Christ.

It is a proactive step Paul is asking Timothy to take just in case an event like that may occur.

You see, As long as we are in our flesh we are and will always be prone to fall for our sensual desires. And that is why it is important to constantly guard our hearts and avoid any such circumstances to damage our devotion to Christ.

It happens when we daily remind ourselves the Gospel. Remembering what Jesus did for us on the cross of cavalry, that he died on our place for our sins, broke the bond of slavery to sin and made our bodies slaves to righteousness.

Unlike what most people think when they fall in to sin that the power of sin is greater than their willpower. But it is the lack devotion to Christ and his finished work on the cross that often leads our hearts astray.

Beloved, sexual purity within the body of Christ is a serious matter for Jesus.

1 Corinthians 6:18
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-5
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;

Hebrews 13:4
Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.

In the case of young widows Paul says I rather prefer that these widows would get married, have children & manage their homes.

Seeking for sexual purity within us and among the church members is a sign of a healthy church.

5. Avoid Slandering. Talking nonsense and say things they ought not to.

The fifth and the final sign of a healthy church is that it is careful not to slander, get into senseless discussions and avoid say things to each other that are not true.

13 Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to.

14 So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. 15 Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.

Another reason why Paul is saying not to include young widows in the list is also because of their habit of being idle and becoming idlers, busybodies who talk nonsense and say things they ought not to. And by doing so Paul says some have even turned away to follow Satan.

Here Paul is out rightly against young widows making pretty judgmental statement against those who slander, give themselves to idleness and speak nonsense in the church.

I think the churches today have become quite tolerant of these behaviors in the church which is leading the hearts of people especially new believers away from the Lord. This passage suggest that we need to be quite intolerant to these behavioral patterns so that the church sets itself as an example to the world outside.

Matthew 12:36
I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,

Psalm 101:5
Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy. Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure.

Luke 6:45
The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

Avoiding slander, withdrawing ourselves from either speaking or listening to senseless talks is s sign of a healthy church.

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