1 Timothy 5:8 – How do you read it?

September 2, 2010 — 29 Comments

A good friend shared a video from Mark Driscoll on Facebook yesterday.

I saw it a while back and it got me worked up then… and when I saw it again yesterday (I need to work on that).

In it Driscoll and his wife discuss the role of a husband in “providing for” his family. He points to 1 Timothy 5:8 in saying that a man who does not provide for his family has lost the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

But I think we’re missing something when we read the verse in that manner.

I tend to believe there’s a lot more going on than the point Driscoll is trying to make.

1st, I don’t believe 1 Tim. 5:8 has to be read as gender specific as Driscoll wants us to believe. The ESV, KJV, NIV and other translations begin with “anyone” or “if any.” Our modern translations use “his” later in the verse but I don’t think we have to read this text as gender specific, simply because it’s been translated with “his” – which can also be used as gender neutral.

2nd, I don’t believe “provide for” has to mean working a paying job every day. Provide can simply mean “to make preparation to meet a need.” And I think a better explanation of provide in this use would be “care for” which is what several translations have opted for instead. When I read this verse I see a picture of a family working together to be sure all needs are met. If a husband has a journalism degree and doesn’t make much money – and his wife has a doctorate and makes loads of money – it might make a lot more sense for the wife to work while the husband stays home with the child — and vice versa.

Providing for and caring for a family can mean any number of things and I don’t believe we should be limiting ourselves (or others) in what it should look like in one another’s family.

3rd, I also think Driscoll is playing a game of proof-texting here. This verse takes on an entirely new meaning for me when you read it with the verses before and after it. When you read from verse 1, Paul tells Timothy to care for the elderly men in the community as fathers (or as family) and then he instructs Timothy to be sure to care for the widows as well. But… he adds, if there’s a widow in my family — I should be certain I’m caring for her and not expecting the church or anyone else to do that. “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.

It’s after he makes these points that Paul says not caring for/providing for your family shows someone has denied the faith.

After all, our faith is the outer expression of God’s love in us. We are to show love to the world — but it’s really hard to show love to the world if we don’t first learn to show love to those at home.

But this is just how I read it… how do you read it?

Jonathan Blundell

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29 responses to 1 Timothy 5:8 – How do you read it?

  1. I agree with your points 1 and 3, however on point two — just because a wife earns more than her husband does not mean that she should work while he raises the kids. God created a natural order in the family for the man to provide for his family. While there are cases when he can not provide (part of that better or worse vow) these should be rare exceptions and if possible for limited a time.

    • I am an exception👌
      My wife is a very respected and needed pediatrician in our city. It is her primary way of sharing her giftedness and faith in our community. I am trained in medical equipment repair, marriage and family therapy, and recovery ministry. The economic value of my wife’s profession is most certainly worth more than mine, but that’s not the deciding factor in our life. The workforce is where she wants to serve and believe she has been called to serve.

      I actually home school both our boys myself. What a gift for a father to be able to raise and model and mentor his boys! My wife’s career has allowed me to mentor some wayward young men, run a Celebrate Recovery ministry at our church, and be with our boys (all without monetary compensation).

      A contextual view of scripture, I believe, allows this while still calling each spouse to honor his or her God-given gender and associated role in the family.

      Blessings!

  2. Thanks Ken.
    I would agree that just because a wife earns more doesn’t automatically mean she should work while he raises the kids – but it seems to be a realistic example of why a man might choose to stay home instead of his wife.

  3. I agree with your understanding of this Scripture verse. And for those who take exception with the stay-at-home Dad. Just because the mother is working outside the home doesn’t mean that she ceases being a mom. Yet, the stay-at-home-dad is the exception rather than the rule.

    • Yeah, I don’t want to come across as making excuses for dads to stay home with the kids, but I think we have to realize there are “exceptions to the norm” and people shouldn’t feel guilty – or even more “less Christian” because they’re an exception to the norm.

  4. Theres a lot of communities in other countries that have the women working and men staying at home. This simply does not condemn them to hell, just a different way of life.
    In regards to the scripture, supporting others is critical. Not just financially, but like you said, in every need. I guess the real question is, can you be a follower of Christ and not serve others when they are in need? I do not think so. Christ did not do that. And while we fail in trials at times in this regard, we must continue and try our hardest to serve not only those we love, but those we do not love as much as well. Being worse than an unbeliever is a strong statement, yet Paul says it very wisely. He knows what he is addressing and he knows why he is addressing it. Declining to serve others is a mental decision when you are a christian. Christians are able to see those in need, and when we do not support those people, we are worse than unbelievers. Unbelievers do not know that Christ wants us to support our loved ones; Paul says beautifully that since you are a follower of christ, since you should be serving and providing for your loved ones, while this is pleasing to God, you should provide for your loved ones, otherwise you are not doing what Christ told us to do and are denying the faith.

    I didn’t care for the literalistic interpretation the video tries to demonstrate.

    Hope this is decent!
    God Bless

    • Thanks for the input Brian!

      I’m with you… I didn’t care for the literalistic interpretation the video tries to demonstrate. :-)

      Thanks for reading and joining the conversation!

  5. I was curious to see what your input regarding a relative would be? Specifically should a father-in-law that has the financial means to help a daughter that is about to lose her house through foreclosure, if he is a christian? The verse reads relatives and I wanted to hear your thoughts. Thank-you

    • Todd, I’d probably need to know specifics before I commented on a specific situation. I’m confused as you said “father-in-law” and then daughter.
      I believe “provide” can mean many things.
      It may mean providing a loan for a family member if that’s an option. It may mean simply bailing out the family member and covering their debt. It may mean helping them move into a smaller, more affordable home, or perhaps it may mean letting them move in with you.
      Provision can mean many things and I think each situation should be examined and viewed as such.
      I think the heart of the issue is, we should do whatever we can to ensure our family is taken care of – but you also have to decide what that means for your own family and situation.

  6. I agree with your points. Every scripture must be interpreted based on the context. Many people will want to interprete that scripture based on our traditional understanding that it is the man who should provide for the home. This is understandable. However, in our society today the couple should be able to work out an understanding in order that the home is taken care of.

    Besides, we mustn’t forget that that scripture is not just about the home, for it talks about “his own” and then “especially those of his own house.” It is clear that we are not to look out for only those who are our immediate family. There are others who are dependent on us. God expects that we take care of all of these also.

    Thanks.

  7. First of all, I love reading the letters to Timothy because he is getting instructions from the greatest apostle ever! It would be awesome if we all could get that!

    On a separate note: does the widow mentioned in this portion of scripture refer to women only or men as well?

    So I think it was rightly said that Paul was talking about the duties of a widow/widowers and that he/she should attend to their OWN family first. I understand that because the church starts in the family first. However, verse 8 can be a little puzzling coming from generational and cultural bondage and should be interpreted by way of the Holy Spirit, contextually, not literally.

    Paul instructs Timothy in Verse 8 that “Whoever does not care for his own relatives, especially his own family members, has turned against the faith and is worse than someone who does not believe in God.”

    Note: I would like more insight on the context of the use of the term “relatives” and what does that mean (I would appreciate any sources that could help with interpretation of the text).

    The reason I ask is because I am the only saved person among my relatives (i.e. parents, siblings, and uncles, aunts, cousins, etc) and I have shared Christ with them all and they haven’t accepted him. I recently married a believer (thank God) and we live a great Christian life of service to one another and those who God calls us to serve. We live far away from both of our relatives and make a point to stay away from MY relatives in particular because of the negative sentiment towards our marriage. As the head of my family, I don’t want to put my wife and kids in harms way.

    What I am trying to learn is what God’s Word is really saying here because I desire to do what He says. Can anyone shed more insight on the contextual use of relatives in verse 8? Is my situation related?

    Thanks in advance and may God richly bless you!

    • Jeremy,
      It sounds like you’re hoping the verse gets you out of caring for certain relatives. Or am I misinterpreting your comment?
      You write, “we live a great Christian life of service to one another and those who God calls us to serve.”
      I think God has called us first to serve those closest to us in our sphere of influence (eg our family, our neighbors, our co-workers).
      I think it would be a sad state of affairs if we all had people we didn’t like, or didn’t get along with and packed up and moved to another city or country to “serve God” and left those others behind.
      Imagine if a pastor couldn’t get along with his wife, so he simply spent all his time doing “the Lord’s work” with the people in his church and neglected his own family. How would that look to his family or the world outside? I know a number of friends who grew up in a very similar situation and it’s DESTROYED their relationship with their fathers.
      I don’t really believe there’s a contextual aspect to “relatives.” Family is family. Relatives are relatives.
      We’re called to love ALL people so that Jesus may be made known to ALL people.
      So I don’t think Paul is writing in a way that get’s us off the hook because we don’t like our wife’s third-cousin.
      As I wrote above…
      “Our faith is the outer expression of God’s love in us. We are to show love to the world — but it’s really hard to show love to the world if we don’t first learn to show love to those at home (to our own family).”

      • No, I am not intrepreting this scripture to get out of caring for certain relatives. I brought it up so that I can properly apply it to my life. I think we all need to test God’s Word and see how it applies to our life. I think it’s vitally important to keep my conscience clear by asking the Holy Spirit to reveal any sin in my life knowingly or unknowingly. It is a great relationship!

        Let me break it down: I have a good working relationship with my in-laws, keep in touch with them, and reach out to them as I am able. Some of them have become believers in the past year (Hallelujah!) However, it is my immediate relatives who I am having troubly applying this scripture verse to. They have been calloused to the Gospel, are against my marriage, and are very critical. We pray for them, but “we love them from afar.” It has also been revealed that they operate in witchcraft.

        So (I apologize if I wasn’t accurate before) I am asking how does this scripture apply to the situation of “hard” even dangerous relatives? I pray the Lord reveals it to me in Jesus’ name.

  8. I’d like to add that we have attempted to visit my relatives and we’ve left feeling so heavy and exhausted, yet our time with them was so miserable (not fun-filled, uplifting, or even exciting). My relatives need real deliverance.

    • Thanks for clarifying.
      Here’s my thought – I believe the verse says we should provide for our relatives (I think Scripture shows us elsewhere that in reality this extends to EVERYONE – not just family).
      When I think of providing for someone, that means caring for them and showing them compassion in their times of need.
      In your situation, that may not mean you have to spend 24/7 365 days a year with them – but it means keeping the relationship there so that in their time of need they know they can trust you, depend on you and know that you still love them.
      Keep the relationship there – love them regardless of how they treat you or make you feel. Love them regardless of if they chose to follow The Way or not. Love them so that you know their hurts and struggles and pains. And then as the Spirit leads, share relevant truth with them in their time of need. Give provisions in their time of need. Let the Spirit guide you.
      Don’t try to change them yourself, just let the Spirit do her thing and she’ll call them to respond to her tugs of the heart.

  9. I’m not to sure of how much I should share. I’ll start with this, my wife left after a year and a half. One reason was my “not being able to provide, for my family” We have no children, it was just her & myself. She has been gone for a year. We came upon some hard times, she lost her job, we moved 2 times and ended up at her moms apartment “to save money”. My income was $1500 per month, we had $700 of monthly bills, 80% which was hers’. After being there one month, she tells me, we have to give her mom $500 for help with the rent + food. That left us with about $150 or less a month. This went on for 9 months with out her having a job. Her beef was with me that i did not provide and that i needed to get a 2nd job.

  10. I agree that the verses need to be read in context, but I also believe that context includes the entire Bible. Taking into account things like the creation story, 1 Corinthians 11, and Ephesians 5, to name the big ones, I believe this verse is being specifically addressed to the man to take care of his family. Of course, on the topic of those other verses, I imagine that others (like myself, admittedly) see something happening in scripture and tend to take the same position with each of those texts, so we would likely disagree on Ephesians and Corinthians as well. So I do believe that the best possible way to set up a family is to have the husband working full time to provide financially and the wife at home taking care of the house and kids. Of course there are some exceptions, like Driscoll said, and in fact in our own small church our youth leader works full time for a part-time salary, which is all we can afford to pay him. His wife also works to help with the finances at home. This seems logical as he is doing specific ministry work, but on the whole I think that providing for the family is a responsibility the Lord has put on the husband, and unfortunately is not usually taken seriously enough.

  11. spencer colegate November 18, 2011 at 1:16 am

    Hi folks,
    well I have to start by saying that when I read this verse a couple of days ago(even though I have read it many times before),it was only the other day it read me and I got really disheartened because I took it in the literall and because I do not work a job at present and am on sickness,I felt that all of a sudden everything I’ve been doing for the Lord and all that He has been doing for me,went out the window when I read this verse in the literall.As it says that any person(especially the man of the home as the head of the home,which is clarified many times over in the bible)is worse than an unbeliever for not providing.I have to say though that I came on the net to investigate this verse as I was sure there was more to it than just reading it litterally and even though I have been meditating on it for the last few days,I have not recieved revelation.Reading some of the comments already has given me a new perspective on this verse and even as I wrtie this,the Holy Spirit is ministering to me.I now believe that the actual meaning of this verse has been covered by a few people already in the comments above.I believe it means that to provide for a persons houshold means as a the head of the home it is our duty to support,to love all within our homes with a love like Jesus,give guidance and knowledge,be a giver of wisdom,teaching and edifying,speaking into family members lives,praying for the home and it’s members and most importantly “To be the watchman on the wall” and intercess on everyones behalf.Under this new revelation of this verse I now feel much better and now know that all the work the Lord has done in me is not cancelled out by me not providing(job wise)for my home(that is what the enemy has been trying to decieve me with).I was sexually abused by my father who was an elder in the Apostolic church which I grew up going to for 14 years and when I realized what he was doing was wrong I turned my back on God and did not believe in Him at all,going through life professing my own doctrine of how we are here,I was like a modern day Paul(who was Saul)turning people form Jesus!I turned to drugs at 14 and became an addict for 23 years until 3 and a half years ago I ended up in a church meeting(I really didn’t want to be there)and God spoke right into my ear and “Radically” saved my life that night and I have not been the same since.It has been a rocky journey but as long as I keep my eyes upwards on Jesus,I know as I climb this mountain to Him that my place in heaven is justified by grace and His awesome love for me.So to sum up this verse we have been discussing,just keep your eyes on Jesus,provide for your home by being the “Watchman on the wall” and love all of your family whether you get on with them or not.Rejoice always,pray without ceaseing and our place in eternity is waiting for us.I pray I will see you folks there.God bless you all for your wisdom and knowledge and thank you Holy Spirit for Your enlightenment on this verse.Praise be to King Jesus forever.

  12. Sooo I am married and both my husband and me are saved. He has convinced himself that he can’t/shouldn’t work due to bad health situations and some major disappointments in life. I totally disagree with this and we have argued to no end about it. Is this grounds for divorce in the christian community? Unfortunately, it is not grounds legally. Can I divorce him and walk away with a free conscious because I know the christian community supports me divorcing him. Or do I live seperated and lonely for the rest of my life? Lisa

    • So you want a separation and/or divorce from your husband because you think he’s lazy?

      • Lazy is only one aspect. I feel he has let his children down, his wife (me), his role as a father figure, and God since God’s word, 1 Timothy 5:8 (for example), discusses denying the faith. I can’t even begin to unvail the extent of damages this has done to our world (our reputation, our friends and family, those who have loaned us money, our quality of life, etc). Now don’t get me wrong he has been really sick but this has gone on for years. It’s time to pick yourself up and do something about it. Yes, I feel he is lazy.

        • Lisa,
          I’m in no means a counselor or therapist and I can also say I don’t know the entire situation at all.
          Your husband may very well be a lazy bum but in my mind, that doesn’t mean you leave him.
          You’re likely to hear contradicting voices on this manner, but lets say your husband is “worse than an unbeliever” does that mean you give up on loving him and praying for him? Does that mean you and your family walk away?
          A lot of people will say yes. “You’re not supposed to be unequally yoked.” “He’s ruining the family.” “He’s refusing to change.”
          But I say look at things from God’s perspective.
          When we consider the grace that God has for us – in turn it should give us the strength to pass that grace on to those that don’t deserve it.
          And I’ve seen those types of reactions do some AMAZING things in the lives of friends and family members.
          You might be interested in reading these few posts to give you a better understanding of how I see grace and how Jesus taught us to treat “the unbeliever” – http://casadeblundell.com/jonathan/a-change-of-heart/ | http://casadeblundell.com/jonathan/a-change-of-heart-part-2/ | http://casadeblundell.com/jonathan/a-change-of-heart-part-3/
          On my weekly podcast I hear one thread over and over and over again.
          “What I needed was love.” “I needed someone to love me.” “I needed love and they gave it to me.”
          Love has a way of changing hearts like nothing else can.
          So I hope that rather than finding the faults of your husband and “beating him over the head” with his failures – find ways to encourage him. Find ways to be his cheerleader. Find ways to be his #1 fan and love him in ways he never dreamed.
          And then see how things go….

          As an added note, you may want to check out http://www.simplemarriage.net. My friend Dr Corey Allen has a great site and he actually is a licensed therapist. Perhaps if nothing else, you can get a copy of his book: http://www.jdblundell.com/go/simple-marriage/ and you and your husband can read it and discuss it together. Or you can both listen to Corey’s story: http://somethingbeautifulpodcast.com/podcast/corey-allan-3-39/ and discuss it as well.

          The best of luck to you both!

          • Hi Johnathan, WOW what an impressive response! Trust me I will delve into each and every resource you have provided. Thank you for hearing me. I cant tell you how wonderful it is to talk about this and NOT get judged. You are right, there is more to the story but way too much to explain. Here is my challenge: we have been to four diff counselors; we have read several marriage books; we have prayed together, etc. I tried the “love” thing when everyone around me told me I was crazy for standing by his side. Johnathan, I am a balanced individual, educated, and in my right mind. I have legally seperated from him before about this and have returned thinking he was doing better. I am just at the end of my rope. It is now abusive and my children are watching – generational sin happening right before my eyes and I don’t know how to move away from this for good. Divorce seems to be the only thing left. I am flat out physically and emotionally drained from this. The only thing I have left is anger. I am the only hope that this family has to offer some form of stability. And if I don’t do something, my family won’t have me any longer. I can’t find any scripture to support this. This can’t be what God wanted for my family. My own parents don’t even come to visit any longer because it is too hurtful. The damages are extensive.

          • Lisa,
            Sorry for the late response. I wish I could say I totally understand, but I don’t. I’ve never been in your shoes – and likely most people haven’t.
            But I do understand hurt and pain. I really hope the resources provide some encouragement and/or direction.
            Know that whatever happens or whatever you decide – God is the great comforter of those who mourn and hurt. And God loves you with an undying, unrelenting and unbelievable love. I firmly believe that he is a God of restoration and second chances – and never let anyone tell you otherwise – no matter what decision you see as best for you and your family.
            He wants to restore you. He wants to redeem the broken. And he wants you to experience true freedom in his love.
            No matter what – God loves you (and your family too!).

  13. Dear Jonathan, Thanks so much for your wisdom. I believe in men working and looking after the family. But I was accused by my wife this morning of twisting the bible because I share the same bible passage from your angle that, Men generally are the family manager, and a good manager will use all wisdom and man power under him to ensure success of his family, in correction, provision and sometimes redeployment and reasignment of roles or delegation. Some men are very poor managers granted, they must be honest and delegate easily to even his child provided he is a better manager. Some women are not good with children, while some men will be better off. Lazyness is what God hates. But ability to be a good manager is the key to feeding or providing for the family. Not 9-9 jobs where children may forget what their father or mother looks like.

  14. The Bible does not teach that it’s the man’s job to provide for the family. That is a purely cultural, even Western mindset. 1 Tim 5:8 says “anyone” who doesn’t provide for his “relatives” and his household is worse than an unbeliever – that’s not just the man nor does it only include one’s spouse and kids. The reason it says “his” is simply because that’s proper English – whenever the gender is unknown or neutral, the proper grammar is to use he, his, or him. Not particularly PC, but correct nonetheless. It is not intended to refer solely to the man, especially since it follows “anyone” (indicating male and female). Also, responding to one earlier poster, 1 Cor 11 and Eph 5 say the husband is the head of the wife, but that doesn’t mean he’s supposed to be the breadwinner. For a real eye-opener about the wife’s role in providing for the family, take a look at Proverbs 31:10-31.

  15. By breadwinner, do you mean the one who makes the most money or the one who provides for the family. Are you saying he doesn’t have to work? Are you saying the husband can be the head of the wife without working or providing for his family? If so, I guess the wife is the one who works and provides for the family while the husband does what? Sounds like the oldest profession in the world to me. Prov 31:10-31 says nothing about the woman being the breadwinner–she takes care of her husband, her children and her household. I believe the ultimate responsibility for providing for his family is the man’s; however, knowing the nature of God, I don’t believe He would want the wife to watch her husband struggle if she is working and able to help.

    • Stephanie I don’t believe I mentioned “breadwinner” in my post. My belief is that a husband should provide for his family to the best of his ability. Of that means caring for his family while his wife works – then he’s pleasing God. If that means working 60 hours a week so his wife can stay home – then he’s providing for his family (although probably struggling to be a good husband and dad with as little as be sees them). I’m saying that the verse in Timothy shouldn’t be read as literal (or as hastily) as Driscoll wants to make it. Also traditionally, Proverbs 31 has been sung as a prayer of praise about a woman in Jewish cultures, not a checklist of what a “biblical woman” should be as most evangelicals have made it.

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