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Fathers, Brothers, Mothers, Sisters

July 7, 2024 Speaker: Clark Bartholomew Series: Timothy: The Household of God

Passage: 1 Timothy 5:1–16

Fathers, Brothers, Mothers, Sisters



Today we are continuing our sermon series in 1 Timothy by moving into chapter 5 of Paul’s letter. And as we approach today’s passage, it might be good to recap where we have been so far. We have titled this series “The Household of God,” because Paul weaves the idea of the household throughout the letter to this young pastor. But in the dead middle of the letter, Paul gives his thesis statement. He says “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God…” (1 Tim. 3.14-15). At the very core of this book is Paul’s exhortation how one should act in the household of God.


Like I said a moment ago, Paul has been weaving the language of household throughout the letter and applying it to different groups of people. He has talked about how the leaders of the household (elders) are to be and act, he has talked about how the servants in the household are to be and act (deacons), and he has warned against those who want to tear the household apart (false teachers). And now we are about 5/6ths of the way through the book, and might be thinking, “When is Paul going to get to me?” Because not everyone here is an elder or a deacon, and I certainly hope no one here is like Hymaneus or Alexander. It seems that Paul has been addressing very specific functions and roles in the household up until this point. But, now, he addresses everyone directly. In the first two verses of today’s passage, Paul mentions four groups of people that everyone in the church falls under: fathers, brothers, mothers, and sisters. Paul has reached the core of the household of God: the family of God.


Last week, Robert really laid out what it means when our devotion is right with God and how that flows out into our daily lives as we seek to love Him. This week, we get the second half of the equation: devotion to our neighbor. Because remember when the lawyer asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is, He doesn’t just stop with love of God. “And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” And today Paul is directing our attention to how we love our neighbors in the church by referring to them as our family.


Family is one of those things that we quite literally all have experience with. However, that experience looks very different for every person in this room. Some of our experiences with families have been sweet and the memories from them are wonderful. Some of our experiences with families have been nothing but bitter and reflecting on that experience is painful. No matter what your experience with family has been, there is one thing that marks all of it: sin. No family is exempt from some level of sin and some level of brokenness. If the Winslow family and the Brady bunch had strife in their family, what hope do the rest of us have? And if you are here today and think that your family has successfully dodged any degree of sin and brokenness… I am going to ask that you stop taking your denial pills for at least 24 hours. 


Just like most things, God created the family to be a good thing for us, but ever since the Fall - it can be a means for pain, heartache, and brokenness. But, in today’s passage, Paul gives us a glimpse at what God is doing in and through the church. While families have been affected by the Fall, God has chosen to call His people “a family.” And 1 Timothy 5 tells us the importance of “the family” that lives in the household of God. Through his discussion of fathers, brothers, mothers, sisters, and widows, Paul is showing two fundamental truths about the household of God and its implications for us today. Paul is telling us that it is in the church, the household of God, that the family is being restored and fulfilled. And those will be our two main points today: how the family is restored and how the family is fulfilled in the church.


The Restoration of the Family

First, we are going to talk about how the family is restored in the church. And to talk about that, we have to go back a little bit. And by “back,” I mean way back to the Garden. As I said a minute ago, Paul has been weaving in a lot of “household language” in his letter to Timothy. But, there is another type of language that he has also been weaving in: “Garden language.” Multiple times throughout the letter, Paul has drawn attention back to Creation and the Fall. There have been multiple references to Satan (1.20, 3.6, 3.7), God creating all things “good” (4.4), and Paul’s use of the creation and fall of Adam and Eve to explain male headship in the home and church. All of that is to say that Paul definitely has the Garden of Eden on his mind while writing this letter.


Today’s passage continues that thread of the Garden. There is mention of Satan again (5.15), talk of marriage (5.9, 5.14), talk of bearing children (5.14), and the mention of family (5.1-2, 4, 8). Why does Paul keep drawing Timothy’s (and our) attention back to Genesis? Paul is showing that the ideal of creation is being restored in the context of the household of God. Let’s take the idea of “family” (like Paul does) and see how the ideal is restored.


In the beginning, God created mankind as male and female in His image. He gave them the task to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…” (Gen. 1.28). God gave this task to two humans who were created to reflect their Creator. If they had carried out this task well, their offspring would also have been image-bearers perfectly reflecting their Creator. And God’s image would have spread throughout the world through His people reflecting Him to the creation around them. However, after the Fall all of that changed. 


After the Fall, there were two branches in the humanity family tree. There were those “of the woman,” the people of God and the line that would one day bring about the Messiah. And there were those “of the serpent,” those who would follow after their father, the Devil, as Jesus would say. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve would have had children that continued the line of God’s people perfectly. After the Fall, there was no more guarantee that the children born to Eve would be “of her.” I mean think about Cain and Abel. Adam and Eve’s immediate children were both born from her, and yet Cain was clearly “of the serpent” and killed his brother. Both from the same mother, but with two different families of origin. And starting from that point on, the family saw hardship, strife, lying, murder, cheating, scheming, separation, and death… and that’s just Genesis.


And we have all felt that brokenness in our own families. From the mundane brokenness of eye rolls, door slams, name calling, disobedience, and anger to the intermediate brokenness of shouting, fighting, unrealistic expectations, and absence all the way to the extreme brokenness of neglect, abuse, and abandonment we have felt how our families have been affected by the Fall.


Paul points out several of these fracture points in today’s passage: death of husbands, being left all alone, and families refusing to care for one another. Family pain is one thing that everyone can relate to at some level. Whether being slighted by a relative, being a disobedient child to our parents, or a fight with our children we have all been wounded by and contributed to the brokenness that families feel constantly. And we start early.


My parents still tell the story of the first time that I deliberately disobeyed them. I was playing in the driveway and my dad, from the front porch, called out to remind me not to go into the street. And like the sinful, comedic genius that I was, I went to the edge of the road, turned my head, looked him in the eye, and put one toe out in the street. While that is a minor example of family strife, if a baby can cause sinful disruption in the family, what hope is there for the family?


And yet, after the Fall, God still continues to work through the family. He promises that through Abraham’s family “all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” He commands His people (adults and children) to honor their parents, and promises David that an everlasting kingdom would come from his family. Even with those promises, sin still seeps in. Abraham’s family is rife with strife, no one can perfectly keep the fifth commandment, and David’s family is not picturesque either. Not everyone who was “in the family” was “of the family.” So, how is the family going to be restored?


Jesus Himself is how the family is restored. He tells us as much in Mark 3, “And a crowd was sitting around Him, and they said to Him, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.’ And He answered them, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around Him, He said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother,’” (Mark 3.32-35).


Christ became part of a real family with real issues (just look through His genealogy sometime). But, as God’s perfect Son, He came to bring people into His family - out of the line of the serpent, into His family tree. It is only through our union His life, death, and resurrection as the perfect Son that we are brought into that family. This is how Paul can tell Timothy to treat older men as fathers, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters. Because of Christ unifying a people to Himself, we have entered a new, restored family. 


And now the way that we are to “be fruitful and multiply” is through evangelism and discipleship. When Christ commanded the church to go out and make disciples of all nations, that is our task to make image-bearers that reflect God’s glory. Because it is through conversion, discipleship, and sanctification that we are made more and more into the perfect Son. And once we surround ourselves with other people who are reflecting God like that, the family is slowly being restored.


And remember who it is that Paul is writing to: Timothy. What is Timothy to the church in Ephesus? Right, a pastor! Paul is commanding Timothy to treat older men and women as mothers and fathers. There are two things we might have expected Paul to tell the pastor of the church of Ephesus. In our era of learning and specialization, we might have expected Paul to say, “Hey now that you are the pastor, you are the adult in the church. You don’t need help anymore.” Because of our individuality, we might have expected that Timothy is at a “level of Christianity” that he doesn’t need to learn from anyone anymore. But that just isn’t true! Even Timothy needed parents in the faith!


Or maybe, if we know a little better than that, we might have expected him to say, “Hey now that you are the pastor, surround yourself with older men to learn from.” But Paul does not just say “fathers,” he tells Timothy to treat older women as “mothers.” So, against the first expectation, Paul is saying “You cannot do this alone, find parents.” And against the second expectation, Paul is saying, “Don’t just find fathers, you need mothers as well.” 


And notice that Paul makes a distinction between “mothers” and “sisters.” What is the difference between a mother and a sister? Deference. Listen, I love my sister, but I am not gonna give her advice and teaching the same esteem as my mom. The fact that Paul makes a distinction between “mother” and “sister” shows that he thinks there is a level of deference that is owed to mothers - the same as fathers. If the pastor of the church of Ephesus needed both spiritual fathers and mothers, what about the rest of us? We, as disciples, need to be hearing from each of those four groups in our lives. God created humanity male and female, and if we are only being formed by one half of that equation then we are going to be lopsided disciples.


Last week, Ragan and I went to a pottery class for our anniversary. I made what we think is a cup and she made what we think is a bowl. But, learning to work the pottery wheel is quite the task. Any number of things can affect the forming of the clay: you sneeze, you twitch your finger, you apply too much pressure. And because of all those factors, you always work pottery with two hands. One hand will apply pressure and the other stability. One hand will form and the other will provide shape. One will wet the clay and the other seal the sides. If you tried to form the clay without both hands, you are going to get a lopsided cup.


If we are limiting discipleship and disciple-forming to just one of our hands (in our context, just men) then we are going to produce lopsided disciples. And if you think that I am straying “too far from complementarianism” by saying that, I would say that I am actually being more complementarian. Because, what I am saying is that it is wrong and unfair to expect spiritual fathers to be both fathers and mothers. God has gifted and equipped the women in this church to be mothers to sons and daughters and if we are expecting the fathers of this church to meet all spiritual parental needs - that is a reduction of male and female. And I am not arguing for women elders or preaching. All I am saying is that our discipleship is lacking if we are just being formed by fathers or just being formed by mothers. And in our context, the default is the former. There are ways to have spiritual mothers that aren’t them preaching on a Sunday morning, but it takes relationship building, time, and effort.


But, there is tension. It would be unfair and unloving to expect that everyone has come from this picture of the family: a father, a mother, a brother, and a sister. Like I said before, the family has been broken since the Fall. And although Christ has provided a way for the family to be restored in the church, our lived experience does not always match that in our families. And I am certainly not saying that if you grew up in a single-parent household or are in one now that you are destined to be a lopsided person or disciple. Because, Paul does not stop at the restoration of the family, but he talks about how the church fulfills the function of the family too. And it is in that fulfillment that we begin to be better and better shaped as disciples. 


The Fulfillment of the Family

So far we have looked at the restoration of the family in 1 Timothy 5.1-2, and I am sure that you have noticed that there are fourteen other verses that I still need to cover. Now, we are going to see how the family is fulfilled in the church. The rest of the passage homes in on what we discussed in the introduction: the devotion of God (from last week) flows into devotion to neighbor. 


If, like we have seen, we are called into a family of fathers, brothers, mothers, and sisters, what does that mean that we owe to one another? Paul gives us one extensive example in his discussion of widows and how the church is to fulfill being the family to widows. Paul tells Timothy to “Honor widows who are truly widows,” (v.3). Honor? What Old Testament passage does that sound like? Yea, the Fifth Commandment. Paul is telling Timothy one way that believers can fulfill the Fifth Commandment within the church. 


There are layers to what Paul says in this section, and some of what he says is pretty serious, so let’s break this down. Paul tells Timothy to “Honor widows who are truly widows…” What distinction is Paul trying to make here? Different commentaries come to slightly different conclusions about who the “true” widows are, but the rest of the passage pretty much sums up what he means: widows who have no one to care for them and are genuinely in the faith. 


Paul transitions to talking about widows who have children and grandchildren who are able to care for their widowed mothers and grandmothers. He says that they (the children and grandchildren) should “learn to show godliness to their own household” by caring for the widows in their home “for this is pleasing to God.” But, there are “true widows” who do not have a husband or children/grandchildren to care for them. These widows “left all alone” (as Paul says) only have their hope in God (v.5). But some widows are not all alone, so Paul offers the first of his sobering warnings. “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,” (v.8). What is going on here?


This is an example of what I have been hinting at: devotion to God and devotion to neighbor. If these hypothetical children and grandchildren claim to love God and be in the faith, but refuse to honor their mother/grandmother in a way that pleases the Lord… they are proving themselves to not really love God. The love of neighbor and the love of God have always been implicitly tied together. I mean this is why Israel goes into exile! In Isaiah 1, God tells the people, “You keep praying to me and acting like you love me, but the blood of your neighbors is on your hands!” Paul, in v.8, is saying, “If someone cannot even love their closest neighbors (their family), they have denied the faith that they claim to have.” 


Now, please hear me. I don’t believe that Paul is not calling your faith into question if you cannot take care of your parents or if that relationship is strained or broken beyond repair this side of heaven. We should always be seeking reconciliation and restoration as far as we can, but sometimes that simply won’t happen this side of the New Earth. It is like we have discussed before about the Fifth Commandment, it is not a blind obedience to everything your parents do. Paul says to “obey your parents in the Lord,” (Eph. 6.1). If your parents ask you to do something that is not “in the Lord,” then you do not obey them. What Paul is addressing here are those children/grandchildren who simply do not love their widowed mothers/grandmothers. Their lack of love to their closest neighbor is evident to their lack of love to their God. 


Paul’s point here is that a Christian family should be a Christian family to a widow. However, if a widow does not have children/grandchildren (or believing children/grandchildren) then the church is called to be that Christian family to that widow. This is how the church fulfills the family, because it accomplishes the family relationships that have failed because of the Fall. We have to love our neighbors in the church if we ever hope to love our neighbors outside the church. 


And if we needed more proof of this, look no further than Jesus Himself. Earlier we saw how Christ showed how the family is restored in Him, but He also cares about the family being fulfilled in His church. It is so important to Him that it is on His heart, mind, and lips as He is dying. In John’s account of the Crucifixion, Jesus looks down and sees His own mother watching Him die. Can you imagine what is going through Mary’s mind? Not only is what is happening to Jesus horrific, but Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, appears to be dead by this point in Jesus’s life. And Jesus, as the eldest son, would have taken care of Mary and He is about to die. Mary’s whole world is falling apart. And during the most excruciating and darkest time of His life, Jesus is thinking about His mother. And what does He say? He looks down at Mary and John, His disciple, and says “‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’” (John 19.26-27). And this was not just a platitude about “Mary is now your mother in the faith and you have so much to learn from her, John!” Jesus was telling John that Mary is to be treated as though she was John’s very mother and what does he do? “And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.”


While Paul just gives us the example of how to honor mothers (specifically, widowed mothers) the idea of devotion to our neighbors in the church extends to all the groups that Paul mentions in vv.1-2: fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters. And our continued devotion to God and to each other is going to affect how we view this family and how we are fulfilling God’s design for the family.


I think it is easy to picture the family relationships and deference that we owe to spiritual mothers and fathers. Those who are older in the faith and have walked with Jesus longer than the rest of us, we kinda understand, “Oh yea, learn from them and imitate them as they have learned from and imitate Christ.” But what do we owe to each other as brothers and sisters? And how is the family fulfilled in that? This comes from Dr. Scott Swain at RTS and it made a huge impact on me as I studied there with him.


Naturally, when we talk about the brother-sister relationship in the church, the first thing that springs to people’s minds (post-1990s) is the “purity culture.” And the purity culture for all its faults (and there were a lot of them) did one thing: it identified a problem. The problem was the rampant objectification of women that has happened in the culture and sadly in the church. However, the purity culture movement offers zero solutions. Men were just told, “Don’t look at her that way, don’t look at her that way, don’t look at her that way…” And women were just told “Don’t dress that way, don’t act that way, don’t say those things…” It was all negative “don’ts” without a positive “do.” We were just told to “not” and it is hard to live in a community where over half the people are women and you have just been told how to not see them. This passage tells us what to do, “Treat them like brothers” and “View them as sisters.” Just “don’t” reduces people to a sin or temptation. “Do” restores who they are: people - fellow image-bearers.


Every one of us is called to be fathers, brothers, mothers, sisters, daughters, and sons to different people in the church. And any one of those groups missing makes for a family with a chunk missing. Our devotion to God should drive us to be the spiritual father or mother to those in the church who need mentoring and discipleship. Our devotion to God should drive us to be spiritual mothers and fathers to those in the church who need parental love and affection. Our devotion to God should drive us to be spiritual brothers and sisters to those who need those to rejoice and cry with. Our devotion to God should drive us to be spiritual sons and daughters to those who have so much wisdom and love to give.



This passage has such a depth of wisdom and application to mine through, but there is a tension I have felt as writing this sermon. Most of the wisdom and application of this sermon has to come from you. From the relationships in this church. I love this passage, it has affected the ways that I see male-female relationships, parent-child relationships, and the implications of what it means to be a male, female, a parent, and a child. However, I am a 26-year-old white male with a great family. I deeply want you all to see the beauty of this passage and the ways that God has gifted us the church, but there are some things I just cannot convey.


I can say to those of you without children or believing children “You might not be able to have biological children, but you can have real spiritual children in the church.” I say to those of you with broken parental relationships that “You can have the spiritual fathers that you have not had here!” But, there are people in this church with those stories who can tell that to other people in this church. I can say it, but there are fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters that can show it. 


And to keep our eyes fixed forward, we are not in this family alone. We are accompanied by the One who died to bring us into this family. Christ, the true older brother, who in Isaiah is also called the everlasting Father, and the One who gathers His children like a mother hen will lead us in being better fathers, brothers, mothers, and sisters to those who need it in the church. And though we may slip and fail at it as we go along in this life, He has promised that He will never be ashamed to call us His brothers. He has called us to be fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters in the church and if we rest on Him, He has promised to enable us to be those until we are all just brothers and sisters dining together with our true older brother. 

More in Timothy: The Household of God

July 14, 2024

Authority and the Gospel

June 30, 2024

Maturity Stinks

June 23, 2024

The Blessing of Deacons