Care for Others or The Cosmetics of Christian Faith

Having placed before Timothy the eternal consequences of a ministry faithfully executed, Paul now gives specific instructions as to how he is to function with different groups within the church. Also, he gives Timothy guidelines as to the care he must take in establishing elders in the churches.


I. Larger Context for Instructions

A.  Cosmeticfrom Cosmos meaning proper and purposeful arrangement of all things – the title I have given to this lesson reflects the idea that God is restoring his intended order to the created order, cosmos, through the redemptive work of Christ.  Every bit of instruction is designed to involve a part of this restorative process, incomplete in this fallen world, to be brought completely to pass only in the new heaven and the new earth. In this passage, therefore, we find the constant interplay between what ought to be in the created order following the cultural mandate as it concerns families, and the redemptive community of the church, that is the restored family by means of the new birth.

B. The goal is for the church to reflect a world of order in a world of corruption and confusion. The fall subjected the world to corruption and vanity (See Romans 8:19-23).  It awaits the revelation of the sons of God and finally the glorification of their bodies.  But substantial healing may take place presently as God’s children conform to his holiness and more and more show themselves to be the Sons of God that they are. Also look at 1 John 3:1-3 in this regard. The hope for the full restoration of the future motivates our desire for present objective anticipation of that glorious transformation.

C. This comes about by a focus on heavenly attitudes toward earthly conditions and confidence in the reconciling work of Christ. Working out the transforming impact of the Gospel, therefore, has cosmic implications and has been given to ministers of the Gospel as constituting their calling.



II. Godly Approach to relations in the “household” – Equitable and responsible treatment of different age groups

A. Men – Fathers and brothers – continued analogy of a family [“Household of God” 3:15] Though the minister has authority granted with his position as overseer and has eternal truth as the content of his message, he must see himself in proper perspective. He must not lord it over anyone (see 1 Peter 5:2,3). No son under the influence of natural affection would be rude or commandeering to his father; nor would a mature person be condescending toward his brother. The horrors of sin-infected relationships within the sphere of family we find sprinkled throughout the Bible. One example would be the relationship between Amnon, Tamar, Absalom, and David (2 Samuel 13-18). Spiritual relationships in the church assume a family model as well as the devastating impact of sin throughout human relationships, particularly within the family. Thankfully, many families have an amazing manifestation of love, encouragement, and unselfishness throughout their familial relations. The analogy, however, does not reflect a real situation of perfect stability and unsullied affection within families. Rather it assumes the internal instinct as to how sad an unnatural disrespect and division is when it occurs where natural affections should reign in joy. Whereas Paul instructs Titus, in his dealing with false teachers, to “rebuke them sharply” (Titus 1:13), when dealing with the elder men of the church in their normal church relationships, if they fall short in some spiritual way, they should be given positive encouragement rather than sharp rebuke.

B. Women – treat as sisters and mothers – The same idea of family relationship applies in these cases.

  1. The importance of clearly circumspect relationship with women on the part of an elder cannot be emphasized too strongly. Positions interpreted by others as powerful and prominent give rise to flattery on the one, from those under leadership, and a feeling of self-importance and invincibility on the other, by those in such authority. For the real possibility of great abuse in this position look at 2 Peter 2:2, 14.
  2. Casual and shallow jesting with female church members not only can compromise the ability to provide consistent spiritual ministry to them, but can often lead to unhealthy personal relations easily degenerated into fatal compromise. “Treat the younger women as sisters in all purity” For purityas a constituent element commanded to the minister see 4:12. The word comes from the same etymological family as “holiness” and carries an intensified meaning as sinlessness. In this matter of relations with females in the church the elder must indeed be sinless.

C. Widows

  1. The foundational principles for these prescriptions (3-8)
  • Distinction between widows of marriageable age and those pious but destitute 3 – The word honor probably refers to the giving of monetary aid similar to its meaning in verse 17; In Matthew 15:3-6 Jesus applies the commandment to honor father and mother as specifically including giving monetary assistance when needed.
  • Paul instructs families to care for widows in ways that relieve the church of monetary responsibility. As a matter of personal responsibility, Paul sees the natural relationship so compelling here that even unbelievers can see how right it is for one to care for his own family.  Christians should do no less and if they do less they have “denied the faith.” Again, we must see how clearly Paul assumes the naturalness of affection in the earthly family as foundational to church relationships.  If we are to regard spiritual family ties as we would natural family ties [review verse 1, 2], then we must realize that the family of husband, wife, children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, is a God-ordained unit of human society and  makes legitimate demands of love, care, and sympathy on all humans. Those ties are not destroyed when one becomes a Christian, although the relationship established in conversion is built on more precious blood and looks forward to an eternal family re-union.

a. Children and grandchildren are immediately responsible (4) Paul insists the giving pecuniary support is an act of piety and acceptable in the sight of God. “To their own household” recalls the necessity of a minister managing “his own household” and the spiritual connections in the church as constituting a “household:” The spiritual household does not diminish the moral responsibility in the natural household. Creation and providence established the latter, and redemption has established the former.

b. Women [perhaps nieces] are next in the chain of responsibility (16)

  1. Some widows are marked out as the special care of the church (9, 10).
  • Older than 60 with no family support: “Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband” (9)
  • Wife of one man – since second marriages are not forbidden to young widows, but virtually commanded, this refers to widows that had never put away a husband and married another. Jesus called this adultery Mark 10:12. So this phrase, “the wife of one man” probably should also be determinative of the meaning of the “husband of one wife” in 3:2.
  • Reputation for true piety and presently is an example of faithfulness (5, 10.) This is a woman who has cast herself on the care of God in that she has no earthly family responsible for her care. Verse 5 Her spiritual family comes, therefore, into the position of the responsible family.  It is important to note also that Paul gives warrant for such care only to those who have previously demonstrated a genuine affection for the gospel and its attendant privileges and duties.10  This case is far different from the one who pursues the way of death through giving over to the desire for immediate temporal fulfillment.  She has no savour for the life that is life indeed [6:19] and thus is dead spiritually and has no claim on the gracious honor of the church. [verse 6]
  1. Young widows and non-dependent widows 11-16
  • Young widows must not be placed in a position that calls for mature, disciplined spirituality 11, 12 Their desire to marry is not wrong, but right; but seeing that such is likely to happen and they are yet strong, they should provide for themselves until opportunity for marriage presents itself.  At their age they should not profess to give themselves up to supplication and prayer when the pleasure of married life, being fruitful and multiplying, and busy domestic responsibility are still live options and in a true sense constitute a call from God.
  • Their tendency is toward worldliness and sensuality if their time is not filled with duties appropriate to their propensity by creation 11, 12. By taking a vow to commit to a life of prayer, intercession, and service to others and then to break such a vow is unwise. “Do not be rash with your mouth, not let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven, and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. . . .When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay” (Ecclesiastes 5:2-5).

a. Also, being without domestic responsibilities to a husband and children makes them susceptible to idleness.

b. Idleness makes them restless and seekers after social activity

c. Seeking social activity makes them crave talk and gossip.

d. This makes them open to the slander of a community and gives advantage to Satan, who desires to destroy the witness of the church and impede its Christlikeness.

  • They must marry, therefore, to fulfill their God-ordained role as women and avoid the sins endemic to young unmarried and idle females (13, 14) Support by the church would give them time on their hands that probably would not be managed to the greatest edification of the body.  Paul’s command to marry stands in stark contrast to the false teachers of 4:3 who forbid marriage, and perhaps the worldly fables of “old Women” [4:7] who presented the young women with the Gnostic non-sense of female deities and the evil of entering into a marriage relationship.  This only made them prey to the natural familial and sexual desires designed for marriage, but now in their assumed celibate state, to be fulfilled outside of it.


III. Evaluation of Elders 17-25

A. Appropriate honor for elders – this word is used synonymously with overseer, or bishop, and is a local church officer, qualified as described in chapter 3.

  1. Proper respect is included because of the goal of the task (cf. 4:16). Again, Paul points out the value of preaching and teaching. In 1:5 Paul said, “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, and a good conscience, and a sincere faith.” In 4:16 he reminded Timothy that in his careful handling of the word of God lies the salvation of those who hear him as well as his own. To work hard at preaching, therefore, calls for respect from those to whom the elder ministers.
  2. Sufficient pay is specifically warranted with its basis in Scripture [cf. 1 Cor. 9:8-14] The church can transfer earthly mammon into spiritual good through the proper material support of an elder/bishop that teaches well and labors in that task. Look at Galatians 6:6-10 for the use of monetary “seed” given to those who teach as a means of gaining spiritual harvest. See also the parable of the unjust steward and Jesus application from it in Luke 16:9-13. We make friends for eternity with the unrighteous mammon.

B. There must be equitable discipline for elders [Timothy as an apostolic messenger has special obligations here, but the principles for the church would still apply].

  1. No purely private and prejudicial vendetta is to be given credence but only substantial accusations affirmed by two or three witnesses (19). It is not legitimate for any group in the church, including deacons, to cut a deal with a minister and entice him to leave over issues that do not rise to the level of public accusation. A minister who leaves under such a circumstance is not teaching his people the God-revealed way of dealing with the elder.
  2. If an accusation is found to be true, and not corrected by private admonition [implication of the phrase “continue in sin”] the minister should be rebuked openly; for rebuke see Gal 2:14; Eph 5:11; 2 Cor 9:8-12; In the case of Peter since the error was immediately admitted and corrected, no discipline was necessary nor interruption of ministry. Many a person can be corrected on doctrinal issues without the necessity of dismissal. Minor errors concerning personal relationships {“He appeared to be rude to the person that asked a question.”}, perceived failure in some duties {“He does not visit the hospital enough”} may be corrected immediately and pastoral growth results.  Severe moral failure, however, or outright heresy, uncorrected, should result in accusation and dismissal. Sometimes, such moral failures also involve civil crime and should be reported to civil authorities.
  3. He solemnly charges Timothy to operate in the realm of truth, and not in personal preference. Notice the invocation of God, Jesus Christ and the elect angels.The church is the church of the living God, it is purchased with the blood of Christ and it is presently ministered to by angels, Hebrews 1:14.
  4. This will be healing and protective not only to other elders but to the congregation.

C. Be careful in their [re?]admission (22).

  1. He possibly is speaking of the readmission of elders in consequence of their repentance. In light of the qualification listed in 3:2-7, restoration after a disciplinary issue either doctrinally or morally is highly unlikely.
  2. Perhaps more likely he is speaking of the care that must be taken in setting them aside initially in order to avoid the situation just contemplated. Paul indicates that setting aside someone to this office without sufficient knowledge of their doctrinal soundness and maturity and with insufficiently attested moral character will make him a participant in their failure.

D. Deeds, both worthy and unworthy of the office, might be evident in this life or might await revelation in the day of judgment, but all will be open (24, 25); Jesus spoke of the full display of sin in Luke 12:2, 3—“Nothing is covered that will not be revealed.”

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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