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 Tim. 5:9-10)
What are gospel-glorifying good works exactly? Jerry Bridges calls them “deliberate deeds that are helpful to others.” They are tangible acts of kindness that serve and bless others and proclaim our Savior’s goodness.
In 1 Timothy 5:9–10 Paul gives counsel to Timothy about widows, but in so doing, sets the standard for godly women by describing a lifestyle of self-sacrifice. The godly woman grasps the sobering fact that “God’s reputation is at stake in [her] public profession” of godliness.
She desires to be known for good works because she longs for God’s Good Work to be known.
Every Christian woman should strive to have a reputation for good works. There are no good works specialists. This is not for the gifted or enthusiastic few. We all must raise our hands to volunteer. All of us can do good works, for God has called all of us to do good works.
And as Jerry Bridges put it, good works are “deliberate.” We don’t fall into them or stumble upon them. We must choose to practice good works. In First Timothy, the apostle Paul provides us five categories of good works.
These five examples of good works in 1 Timothy 5 are not exhaustive, nor are they to be applied exhaustively. But they characterize the woman who has a reputation for good works. To get a picture of this woman of good works let’s look briefly at each example.
Brought Up Children. The heart’s desire of a godly woman is to raise her children to honor and serve the Savior. To that end, a mother should give herself to bringing up her children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). A woman who doesn’t bear children can be a godly influence on children in her church and community, and care for orphans. Bringing up children to serve the Lord is precious to our Savior who said “let the little children come to me” (Matt. 19:14).
Shown Hospitality. This is a home-based good work. To show hospitality means “meeting the needs of others through the use of one’s resources, specifically in and through the context of the home.” The godly woman practices hospitality by having people into her home, giving refuge and refreshment, and by taking meals and resources from her home to others.
“The ultimate act of hospitality was when Jesus Christ died for sinners to make everyone who believes a member of the household of God,” writes John Piper. The hospitable woman desires to reflect Christ’s hospitality. Regardless of the size of her home or her budget she wants to extend to others the unmerited love and grace that she first received from the Savior.
Washed the Feet of the Saints. Foot washing was an essential but menial task in ancient times, as everyone’s feet were either muddy or dusty from the roads. It was a chore usually reserved for household servants. So to wash the feet of the saints meant to be a humble servant, to take on the tasks no one else wanted to do. In other words, the godly woman is willing to take on the dirty jobs, the lowly jobs, and the unattractive jobs. When we serve others, we follow the example of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet: “For she has done a beautiful thing to me,” Jesus said (Matt. 26:10). And so he says to us when we humbly serve the saints.
Cared for the Afflicted. The godly woman is like a nurse in a hospital, on call, ready to help the suffering—whether they are afflicted physically, mentally, or emotionally. To do this good work we must draw near to that which is raw, ugly, difficult, and painful. In so doing we properly reflect our Savior’s reputation as one who is “acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3), “near to the brokenhearted” (Ps. 34:18), “comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Cor. 1:4), and is “a very present help in time of trouble” (Ps. 46:1).
Devoted to Every Good Work. If you had to describe her in a sentence, you would say that the godly woman “has at all times thrown her whole heart into good deeds.” We are to, as someone once said: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you can.”