A reader writes, “I am trying to interpret I Timothy 5:5-16. What does Paul mean when he says, ‘But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth’ in verse 6? What does Paul mean when he says, ‘But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel’ in verse 8? What does Paul mean when he says, ‘But the younger widows refuse: for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry; having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith ... For some are already turned aside after Satan’ in verses 11, 12 and 15? I know that this does not mean that believers apostatize. I know that the many other passages that speak of God’s grace, salvation by grace and perseverance refute any claim that this passage refers to true Christians apostatizing. But I am having difficulty properly explaining it and finding clearer passages that clarify this passage. Perhaps the answer lies within the context of this passage, but my understanding is fruitless for now.”
I thank the reader who sent in this question, for he calls to our attention a passage that is often misinterpreted; and, indeed, such passages are often used by Arminians to support their erroneous notion of a falling away of true saints. It is good that we be clear on this point.
The author of the above question does not hesitate to state his firm faith in the truth of the perseverance of the saints. This is good, for we need not take the time to prove this crucial doctrine of Scripture. I only point out, somewhat in passing, that already the great church father, Augustine (354-430), held to the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints and wrote a famous book entitled On the Gift of Perseverance. It was written shortly before he died and was a sequel to a book on divine predestination. Augustine wrote it to refute the error of the Pelagians. The Roman Catholic Church adopted the position of the Pelagians or Semi-Pelagians in preference to the teachings of Augustine and so went further and further down the road of apostasy.
The questioner, committed to the truth of the preservation of the saints, wants to know how it is possible that people who are designated as Christians can apostatize, lose their faith and perish everlastingly. This seems to be the interpretation of the passage in I Timothy 5:5-16. The passage speaks of those who are members of the church. They deny the faith (8), are worse than an infidel (8), wax wanton against Christ (11), and suffer damnation (12). They cast off their first faith (12) and are turned aside after Satan (15).
But a passage such as this one is not alone in Scripture. An even more striking text is II Peter 2:1: “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.” This verse speaks even more emphatically of false prophets who are said to have been purchased by the Lord.
These passages underscore a fact concerning the church of Christ in this world in her visible form. Not all those who belong to the church, even a faithful church that bears the marks of the true church, are true believers. Many are in the church, but not of the church. To use Paul’s words in Romans 9:6, “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” Some are in the church because God, who has promised to save us and our children, has not promised to save all our children. There is now, as in the old dispensation, a carnal seed. Also some join the church from outside for reasons other than conviction of the truth: they marry someone from the church; they find themselves in circumstances where it is convenient to join the church; they are temporarily struck by the beauties and blessedness of the truth (Matt. 13:5-6, 20-21; Heb. 6:4-5).
The point is, however, that, although they are members of the church, they are not true people of God. They appear to be genuine Christians; they confess outwardly the same truth that the church confesses; they may even be active in church work and may even serve as office-bearers in the congregation. But, for reasons known only to them, all their life is an empty sham and sooner or later, for one reason or another, they leave the church. Scripture speaks in many passages of such people.
There is an important point here. Jesus recognizes this fact in his parable of the tares in the field (Matt 13: (Ps. 8:3) 24-30, 36-43). Not only must the field workers understand that the tares must remain until the harvest, but other Scriptures tell us that this carnal seed serves a good purpose in the church. Scripture uses, for example, the figure of wheat. The kernels, the only good part of the wheat, need the roots, the stalk, the chaff until the harvest when the two are separated.
The truth that wicked people are found in the church is a reason why the gospel must always be accompanied with admonitions. Part of the reason is, of course, that the people of God are very prone to sin and must constantly be called back to the path of righteousness. But the reason for admonitions is also to warn the wicked of their certain judgment when they refuse to heed the call of the gospel and its command to repent of sin and believe in Christ. They must be confronted with the demands of the gospel, so that, when God’s judgment comes on them, it is evident to all that this divine judgment is a righteous judgment.
Perhaps a word yet about the woman who “is dead while she liveth” (I Tim. 5:6). The meaning is that while she is physically alive in the church, she is nevertheless spiritually dead. It too points to the presence of wicked members in the church.
In the passage in I Timothy 5, the church is also pointed to its obligations with respect to widows and is warned against giving too much responsibility to younger women. Further, families are warned of their obligations towards needy members of their own family, such as aged parents who need their assistance (4, 8, 16).
- Volume: 14
- Issue: 5
Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)
Ordained: October 1955
Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965
Emeritus: 2001Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko
Address725 Baldwin Dr. B-25
State or ProvinceMI