“Honor widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 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. But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. For some have already strayed after Satan. If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.” (1 Timothy 5:3–16, ESV)

The Old Testament communicates clear expectations about the care of the poor. God is described as a protector of widows (Psalm 68:5). God instructed his people not take advantage of a widow or an orphan (Exodus 22:22–23). James continues this familiar refrain and defines true religion as looking after widows in their affliction (James 1:27). The church at Ephesus may have been taken advantage of by those who did not need that much assistance, particularly some of the younger widows. This church had limited resources, and it was vital to set some clear guidelines for eligibility. Paul says that if a widow has a family that can care for her, then the expectation would be that they would assume that responsibility. If the widow is young, they should entertain the idea of serving the Lord as wives and mothers. This is not a blanket commandment, but it seems that some were not fulfilling their service or their vows and were inserting themselves into others business and giving themselves to idle gossip. Some were not honoring God; they were abusing the care that had been extended by the church. 

The purpose of these detailed instructions is to guide the church in Ephesus back to its mission. This welfare initiative had been taken advantage of by women who had no intention of following Christ and was being abused by Christian women who had become troublemakers and busybodies. The church was losing her way and falling into confusion as its modus operandi was undermined. Paul wants to bring clarity to the situation so that the church will be equipped to discern between cases and focus on its mission. This passage seems a bit confusing, and some principles must be acknowledged. The church has a responsibility to the needy, but she must be wise and not neglect her primary calling. Sometimes, difficult decisions must be made about time and resources. The church must recognize and accept her limitations while being obedient to Jesus.