"A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man, having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints' feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work. But refuse to put younger widows on the list, for when they feel sensual desires in disregard of Christ, they want to get married, thus incurring condemnation, because they have set aside their previous pledge. At the same time they also learn to be idle, as they go around from house to house; and not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention. Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach; for some have already turned aside to follow Satan. If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed." (1 Timothy 5:9-16)There were those widows who, because of their piety, their advanced years, and the lack of any family to care for them, were taken in and provided for by the church. It is unclear if other churches had a similar "list" or of this was particular to the church at Ephesus. Only those widows over the age of sixty were to be considered for such support, which most likely made this list rather small in number. However, Paul goes on to warn of the dangers of placing younger widows "on the list." His concern, at first, seems nonsensical since other widows in the church were marrying and not falling away from the faith. Why, then, the worry that widows "on the list" will want to marry "in disregard to Christ" and subsequently fall away and "incur condemnation?" What difference does being "on the list" make?
I believe the concern is broader than just widows but would extend to any young unmarried person being supported by the church; either out of benevolence or ministry. For, while at heart, the care of widows was certainly benevolence, in return they provided prayers and thanksgiving as ministry to the church. Paul writes of the widows who, "fixed her hope on God and continues in entreaties and prayers night and day." (1 Timothy 5:5) The benevolence of one being returned as service by the other. The problem arises, for young unmarreds, when their devotion to God and the church begins to come into conflict with their desire to marry. On one hand is their devotion to God and the church, from which they derive their support, and on the other is their desire to marry and raise a family. Often, such a conflict of desires, can put their very faith at risk for one cannot be entirely devoted to God and at the same time be devoted to a wife or husband. Often, when faced with such a choice, their desire to be married can not only separate them from their professed devotion to God and the church, but can even place their faith in jeopardy.
Paul's advice is not to place anyone in such a position but to let the young widow, and all other young unmarried people, marry, raise a family, earn a living, and become productive and godly members of society and of the community of faith. In time, their character will show forth and, if need be, when they are alone with no one else to support them, the church can step in and support them and honor them for a life well lived. It is my opinion that, today, in many churches, we elevate young single men and women to places of paid ministry when they haven't yet learned how to make a living, live in marriage, or raise a family. In doing so we often, unwittingly, place them in a tenable position and require them to make difficult decisions later when these desires for a career and family surface. Far better it would be to wait until they have matured before placing them into paid ministry and making them dependent upon the support of the church.