“Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work” (1 Timothy 5:9-10 ESV).
1 Timothy 5:9-10 offers a few additional qualifications regarding widows and their potential eligibility for assistance from the church. The first consideration involved an age provision. Just as many different types of benefit programs are associated with our physical ages today, the first stipulation for a widow under consideration for assistance was that she had to be a minimum of sixty years of age.
In a first-century era where average life expectancies might only reach fifty years or less, a sixty year old person would be quite old. At that stage of life, a widow was unlikely to remarry or maintain the ability to provide for herself. Therefore, a woman who reached that milestone was someone who might be a candidate for help from other members of the Christian community.
In addition to this age provision, there were several other qualifying characteristics to consider as well. Much like the character of a church leader mentioned earlier in 1 Timothy 3:2, a widow under consideration had to be someone who reflected the qualities of loyalty, dedication, and faithfulness in marriage. Another factor involved her general reputation. Was she known to be someone who sought to help the afflicted?
Another good character reference involved her home life. What kind of influence did she exert upon her children? While children may sometimes stray from a Godly upbringing, it was important for a widow under consideration to be a person of God-honoring character who set a good example for her children to follow.
Then there was her relationship with other members of the church. Did she interact with them in a Christ-like manner? Was she someone who inspired others to praise God for her example or did she inspire others to respond in a different manner?
These questions (and others like them) served to identify those who were genuinely eligible for help. However, they also demonstrate the highly applicable nature of God’s Word for modern-day readers. You see, these characteristics are far more than just a list of support qualifications for first-century widows. Anyone of any age, culture, or time period should prayerfully seek to develop these same God-honoring qualities in their own lives.