Sometimes some of the harshest, most straight-forward declarations in Scripture are found in the least expected place. Take this one for example, “He has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Ouch! What could someone do that would cause Paul to label him “worse than an unbeliever” . . . what action or behavior would merit having to wear a t-shirt with “FAITHLESS” plastered on it? The context might seem a bit surprising . . .
“But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1Timothy 5:8).
In the overall scheme of 1Timothy, this first part of chapter 5 probably doesn’t get a lot of attention. It’s not as grand as “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1:15) . . . or as all-encompassing as the priority of prayer for all men (2:1) . . . or as foundational as the instruction concerning the qualifications of elders and deacons (3:1-13) . . . or as lofty and theologically profound as “the mystery of godliness” (3:16) . . . or as inspiring as the charges about godly exercise (4:7-8) and being an example of a believer (4:12). Instead, it’s pretty targeted . . . almost mundane compared to the grander things of Christianity . . . it’s about the care of widows.
In a nutshell, this portion of Scripture defines who should be viewed as “really widows” and who should care for a senior saint who has been “left alone.” The church should care for them . . . but only if they are truly “left alone.” If a widow has family, then they should provide for the practical needs for their parent or grandparent (5:4). And it’s in this context that a pretty powerful and practical principle jumps out at me . . . “learn to show piety at home” (5:4).
It’s in the home where we have a 24/7 opportunity to learn how to love and live and give like Christ. Piety (NKJV) starts at home . . . godliness (ESV), true religion (NIV), . . . literally, reverence and worship . . . it all starts at the address where my house is located. Show me a good family man, I’ll show you a good church man. Show me a woman who nurtures at home, I’ll show you a care-giver at church. Show me a teen who honors his or her father and mother at home, I’ll show you one who respects the elderly on Sunday mornings.
And it’s in this context where Paul throws down one of his harshest judgments . . . a person who doesn’t provide for his own . . . who doesn’t place as priority his family . . . has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. We can talk about serving the Lord in ministry . . . or glorifying Him in missions . . . but if the ministry and mission doesn’t start at home, then we’re skipping a pretty foundational developmental ground.
Being a “servant of all” (Mark 9:35) is learned in the family . . . esteeming others better than yourself and looking out for others’ interests (Php. 2:3-4) should begin at home . . . and while I know that, for way too many of us, homes are also a place of trial and tribulation, even then it becomes a forum to learn how to love unconditionally and trust in the Lord.
That I am to provide for “my own and especially for those of my household” is clear. That’s a priority . . . that’s where I learn something of service . . . that’s where I first model the image of Christ being formed in me . . . that’s the field upon which I’m first called to honor God. Charity begins at home . . . piety does too!
For His glory . . .