The church in Ephesus had widows in its community. From its earliest days, the church exercised its responsibility to take care of widows (Acts 6:1). This was in line with scriptural teaching as well as practical necessity.
The church, as Paul paints it, should be an orderly and caring one—a great witness for the Lord
God expects His people to help the needy, such as widows and orphans (Deuteronomy 24:17–21, 26:12–13, 27:19; Isaiah 1:17; James 1:27). In ancient societies, widows and orphans were unable to support themselves through employment. If left unsupported, they could end up as slaves, prostitutes, or beggars, neglected or abused by society.
The early church had to work out a practical way of assisting widows. Paul deals with some helpful principles here.
Firstly, a proper attitude is required towards widows. Unlike sinful and selfish society, which tends to neglect or put down widows, Christians must give “proper recognition to those widows who are really in need” (1 Timothy 5:3). In the English Standard Version, this phrase is translated as “honour widows”. In other words, we are to honour them in the same way older people, elders, and masters are to be honoured.
Secondly, not all widows need to be supported by the church. Those with families should be taken care of by them (v. 4). It honours and pleases God when Christians take care of their needy relatives. It is best for younger widows to be remarried so that they can do good by bringing up children and managing their families (v. 14). This will save them from idling away their lives fruitlessly (v. 13) or being the subject of slander (v. 14). They will also relieve the church of the burden of having to support them (v. 16), so that it can focus on the really needy widows.
There are, therefore, certain criteria for putting widows on the list to be helped by the church. One is that they must have no family members and no option of remarriage (“over sixty”, v. 9). Another is that they must be godly women who had been faithful to their husbands and who are recognised for their good deeds—both at home, in the church, and in larger society (v. 10).
These are practical principles that the church can apply today in caring for the needy. The church, as Paul paints it, should be an orderly and caring one—a great witness for the Lord.