There are many books on Christian worship: some helpful and some not-so-helpful. Nicolas Alford’s Doxology: How Worship Works clearly belongs in the former category. Though affirming the broader sense of worship (as a way of life), the book intentionally focuses on congregational worship. Alford is preeminently concerned that God’s people worship by the Book. Drawing from the Reformed tradition, he concisely expounds and carefully applies the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW), which, in essence, is the doctrine of sola Scriptura applied to church life and ministry.
But Alford does more—which is what makes this book superior to many others. First, he prefaces the the major principles that should govern our worship with a chapter that distinguishes between authority and influences. The Bible is the ultimate authority for worship. Nevertheless, there are other considerations that may and, in some cases, should affect the way we understand and apply the Bible. Alford defines and explains these influences in the following order of priority: Confessional/Convictional, Traditional/Cultural, and Preference/Deference.
Second, Alford identifies seven prefatory principles that we must employ as we seek to order our worship aright: the Biblical, Trinitarian, Covenantal, Ecclesiastical, Sabbatic, Governing, and Commissioned principles. These are Scriptural vantage points or perspectives from which we can ascertain the biblical contours of worship more clearly.
Does this passage have any contemporary significance? It has direct significance on the matter of caring for widows today. But it has additional significance in offering principles for broader issues for the church’s social responsibilities.
Since Paul’s teaching does not seem linked solely to local culture and since it parallels the practice of the early church in Jerusalem (Acts 6), churches should take seriously the responsibility to care for true widows as described in this passage. Caring for widows will most likely be an increasing issue for churches.
εἴ τις πιστὴ ἔχει χήρας, ἐπαρκείτω αὐταῖς καὶ µὴ βαρείσθω ἡ ἐκκλησία, ἵνα ταῖς ὄντως χήραις ἐπαρκέσῃ.
If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are really widows.
Paul concludes this passage with a final exhortation to believing women to care for widows in their family so that the church’s limited resources could be used to care for the true widows who had no family. There is some confusion about Paul’s use of πιστὴ. Though some manuscripts have πιστὸς ἢ πιστή or simply πιστὸς, πιστὴ is supported by both external and internal considerations.58 Paul could be referring to either young widows or wealthy widows (Acts 9:36–42). However, it is probably best to see this as any believing woman who has a relative who is a widow. The reason he addresses women instead of men is “because the woman in a household would bear the main burden of caring for a widow.”59 Since χήρας is plural, it may refer to not only a widowed mother, but perhaps grandmother or mother-in-law as well.
νεωτέρας δὲ χήρας παραιτοῦ ὅταν γὰρ καταστρηνιάσωσιν τοῦ Χριστοῦ, γαμεῖν θέλουσιν ἔχουσαι κρίμα ὅτι τὴν πρώτην πίστιν ἠθέτησαν ἅμα δὲ καὶ ἀργαὶ μανθάνουσιν περιερχόμεναι τὰς οἰκίας, οὐ μόνον δὲ ἀργαὶ ἀλλὰ καὶ φλύαροι καὶ περίεργοι, λαλοῦσαι τὰ μὴ δέοντα. βούλομαι οὖν νεωτέρας γαμεῖν, τεκνογονεῖν, οἰκοδεσποτεῖν, μηδεμίαν ἀφορμὴν διδόναι τῷ ἀντικειμένῳ λοιδορίας χάριν ἤδη γάρ τινες ἐξετράπησαν ὀπίσω τοῦ Σατανᾶ.
But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. For some have already strayed after Satan.
Χήρα καταλεγέσθω μὴ ἔλαττον ἐτῶν ἑξήκοντα γεγονυῖα, ἑνὸς ἀνδρὸς γυνή, ἐν ἔργοις καλοῖς μαρτυρουμένη, εἰ ἐτεκνοτρόφησεν, εἰ ἐξενοδόχησεν, εἰ ἁγίων πόδας ἔνιψεν, εἰ θλιβομένοις ἐπήρκεσεν, εἰ παντὶ ἔργῳ ἀγαθῷ ἐπηκολούθησεν.
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.
Paul transitions from the families’ responsibility to care for widows to the church’s responsibility. He begins with the command to enroll true widows, further clarifying who those widows are.
"According to a recent paper published by sociologist Simon Brauer in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the number of religious congregations in the United States has increased by almost 50,000 since 1998. A key reason: growth in nondenominational churches."
With the historical and literary context addressed, it is now possible to look more closely at the passage itself. Verse three provides the underlying principle for the passage. In verse four, Paul gives his initial instruction to the family of the widow. Paul lays out the first criteria for true widows in verses five and six, before returning to his instructions for the family of widows in verses seven and eight. In verse nine, Paul moves to his instruction to the church regarding widows. In verses nine and ten, he deals with enrolling older widows in the care of the church, while in verses eleven to fifteen he gives his instruction for younger widows. He concludes in verse sixteen with a final exhortation for believing women to care for their own relatives in order to free the church to care for true widows.