“But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God” (1 Tim. 5:3).
The great apostle Paul was a very practical man. As he organized churches through the Roman Empire, he gave simple and logical instructions to the pastors and people who lived out their Christian experience in the local assemblies. “Rebuke not an elder,” commanded Paul. Do not strike out at your leadership, or at any old man. If there is an area of concern, “entreat or exhort him with all the due respect shown a father.” If a younger person needs correction, do it with the courtesy in treating a brother.
The apostolic advice continues. Elder women in the church are to be treated with the honor and sensitivity accorded to one’s own mother. And the young ladies in the church are to be treated as sisters with all purity. It is good counsel. It is also the will of God, for the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write. God would have His church operate in the context of a home. That is to be the mindset. There is a presupposition that underlines the exhortation. The presupposition is that the home is the place where the best characteristics of the heart are displayed. In particular this is to be true of the Christian home, for in it, people are different.
A young woman once lived under very discordant conditions at home. She was always dissatisfied. Nothing ever quite pleased her, and her discontent was manifest in her face, her manner, and the tone of her voice. Little things irritated her, and had it been possible she would gladly have traveled to the ends of the earth to get away from her disagreeable environment. Time passed, and one day a friend met her, and saw in her smiling face that a change had taken place. “How are things at home?” he inquired. “Just the same,” was the reply, “but I am different.” To be converted is to be different, and that difference will be reflected in one’s own home, and then in the family of God.
In verse 4 Paul states that the difference in a Christian will be reflected in a demonstration of piety. Piety will be shown at home, if piety has been learned at home. That is a big “if”, but an important one, for the word itself speaks of potential. “If” Christian piety is learned, maybe it will be, maybe it will not. “If” piety is to be learned, then several things have to happen.
First, the home must look like a Christian home.
The famous English preacher Dr. G. Campbell Morgan tells of how his father came into his house soon after he was married and looked around. Says Dr. Morgan, “We showed him every room, and then in his rough way he said to me: ‘Yes, it is very nice; but nobody will know, walking through here, whether you belong to God or to the Devil.’
I went through the house and looked at the rooms again, and I thought, ‘He is quite right.’ So, we made up our minds straightway that there should be every room in our house, henceforth, by picture or wall text, to tell that we served the King.”
The children will not mind if the home reflects Christ. It will be quite normal. One night when she was young, my daughter Tara came and said, “Daddy, will you hang up this picture for me?”
It was a picture of Jesus and the children coming to Him for a blessing. So she got the hammer and a nail and we hung up the picture.
Second, piety will be learned if it is cultivated and not destroyed. “Mark Twain” was the pen name of Samuel Clemens. As a young man, Samuel fell in love with a beautiful professing Christian girl and he married her. Being pious, she wanted a family altar, and prayer at meals, after she and Sam were married. This was done for a time, until one day Sam said, “You can go on with this by yourself if you want to, but leave me out. I do not believe in your God, and you are only making a hypocrite out of me.”
Fame and affluence came to Samuel Clemens and his wife. There were court appearances in Europe. Sam and his wife knew worldly success but his wife got far away from her early devotion to her Lord. The eventual fall came. Tragedy struck in several forms. In an hour of bitter need Sam Clements said, “if your Christian faith can help you now, turn to it.” She replied, “I can’t Sam; I haven’t any; it was destroyed a long time ago.”
It is possible for faith to be destroyed. Sometimes faith is destroyed by intellectual arguments. The theories of evaluation can sound so intelligent and convincing to the ears of the innocent. In our public schools and colleges young people are taught as fact, a theory which stands opposed to the revealed Word of God, and more often than not young people will trust the word of man, rather than in the simplicity of the Biblical narrative.
It does not always happen. A college girl wrote home to her parents, who seemed to have expressed some fear as to her religious life at college. “Do not worry,” she wrote. “God has been a member of our family too long for me to lose Him now.”
Parents need to be well informed as to what their children are learning in public schools, and in private schools. It may be that the youth are being instructed in such a manner as to sow seeds of doubt about their faith. It may be that a system of amorality is being taught. Amorality breeds immorality, for there is no right and there is no wrong. The evidence that God is now left out of our educational system is too great to be ignored.
Then again, sometimes faith is destroyed by lack of commitment to Christian virtues. If earthly fathers are to reflect our heavenly Father, then how is a child to love God when mother leaves father and tears him down with ridicule and hostility? And even when mom and dad love each other, if the father has no vital spiritual life, how are the children to have strong faith and call God Father? The Bible warns that the sins of the parents will be visited unto the second and third generations.
A woman and her little daughter were in a service in which the preacher spoke about how obedience toward God is revealed in the manner in which one attends to the small duties of everyday life. He described how many parents neglect their spiritual duties in the home, how they retire at night without praying for God’s watchful care, and how in the morning they fail to thank Him for rest, protection, and the blessing of the new day.
The little girl was listening. Turning to her mother she whispered, “Mama, is the minister talking about you?” The simple question pieced the mother’s heart. She said nothing, but that night she knelt before her bed, confessed her sin, and asked God’s help in carrying out her duties as a Christian mother.
Some years ago, a very foolish parent told me she was not going to send her child to either a Christian Church or a Catholic one. Rather, in the liberal tradition of the times, they were going to be neutral, and when the child was old enough, he could choose his own faith. Do I need to tell you that the young man, now in his twenties has no faith? It was destroyed by having no commitment to basic Christian values. There are many ways to destroy one’s faith. Care needs to be taken to build up the faith in the home. A popular religious pastor reminds us that it is easier to build a boy than to mend a man.
If piety can be learned in the home, in part, by living out the Christian values, and displaying religious emblems, piety can also be instilled by having a larger respect for the Church of Christ, which is the other home. The Bible says that Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her. The Church universal, and the Church local, is an enlargement of the home. In the church a child finds many mothers and many fathers, and many brothers and sisters.
I want my own children to find much love in the family of God, and I want your children, and your grandchildren to have the same experiences. That is one good reason for the church to be alive, and active, and kind.
An announcement in a church bulletin board read: “This church is the gateway to heaven!” Summer came. The following words were added, “Closed for the summer.”
Lenin, the founder of Russian communism declared, “We will not accept into membership anyone with any reservations whatsoever. We will not accept into our membership anyone unless he is an active, discipline, working member in one of our organizations.”
The Church of Jesus Christ needs such revolutionary commitment. She is worthy of it, for the Church is glorious. Perhaps the finest name ever given outside the Bible to the Church is Bunyan’s “Palace Beautiful.” That is what Bunyan called the church in his books. Yet the churches with which he was acquainted were only the Baptist meetinghouses in Bedfordshire.
No better than barns they seemed to common eyes, but in his eyes each of them was a “Palace Beautiful,” because when seated on one of its benches, the eye of his imagination would look up through the dingy rafters and roof of the church universal. Love to God translates into love for His church, no matter how humble the material structure or the people in it.
It is my prayer that we will come to have strong Christian homes in this community where Christian piety can be learned, holy values are lived out, religious emblems are displayed, and faith is built into the children, so that they are like Timothy, knowing from childhood those Scriptures which are able to make them wise unto salvation.
When we have strong individual homes, we shall have a vital church home, which merely enlarges upon the characteristics of the individual units. Someone has said that the local church is only as sound as the families that make up its membership. That is true. The principle of verse 4 is sound. Let the children show piety at home. The presupposition is also valid. Piety can only be demonstrated when it is learned. Therefore, let the home be the place to learn godliness. And let the church home also be the place where godliness is learned, and then perhaps, the next generation will not leave us but will show the piety they have learned. To that end we labor for the glory of God and the good of man. Amen.