How to Leave a Godly Legacy
Passage: 1 Timothy 5:5-6, 9-10
We began our study of this very unique passage two weeks ago. Remember that the early church was generally more active in caring for widows than we are because widows didn’t have anywhere else to turn. They was no SS or Medicare, and women didn’t have many rights. Therefore, the church believed it had a gospel duty to provide for its widows, and they were working hard to do so. But the Ephesian church was facing some challenges in fulfilling these obligations.
First, based on the 5th command children have the first obligation to care for their elderly parents, but some people were trying to push this responsibility onto the church. This was putting a heavy strain on the church’s resources. Second, as is typically the case with things like this, the church was struggling to know where to draw the line on who to support and who not to support. Therefore, Paul gives three criteria that a woman must meet before the church commits to giving her long-term aid. She must be elderly, she must have no other means of support, and she must have a godly testimony.
Paul describes her godly testimony vv. 5–6 and vv. 9–10, and in so doing he doesn’t just give practical help to the church; he also provides a challenging picture of how to pursue godly life that deserves honor and will impact others. I’d like to focus on these for verses today and preach a message entitled, “How to Leave a Godly Legacy.”
Whether you think about it or not, you are leaving a legacy. Everything you do—every action and reaction, every priority, and every passion—is building a legacy people will remember after you are gone, and this legacy will impact your family and friends.
Therefore, I’d like you to consider, am I leaving a legacy that I can be proud of in a God-honoring way? Does my life demonstrate an accurate picture of Christ that will draw others to him and by the grace of God impact generations?
I hope this is your desire. If so, this passage has much to say to you.
We will see first in vv. 9–10 that you must “use your youth to serve others.” Second, we will see in vv. 5–6 that you must “use your retirement to seek God.” And so my first challenge is…
Use your youth to serve others (vv. 9–10).
To fully understand these verses, we have to understand their purpose in context. Paul’s purpose is to paint a picture of the kind of woman the church should honor in her old age. This older woman has reached a point where she has a limited ability to serve, but how she lived and served in her youth should determine how the church cares for her in her old age. And so this is not a description of the widow’s current service but of how she lived her younger adult life.
Therefore, while the purpose of vv. 9–10 is to define what kind of widow the church should care for, it is also instructive regarding how a younger woman should live and really for how all of us should live. In particular it drives home the importance of serving others. Verse 10 opens and closes by requiring this woman to be known for good works. And so do you want to leave a legacy that will impact others? Be a person who humbly and lovingly serves others. First, you must…
Serve your family.
This is a great place to begin because we live in a day that is obsessed with career success and with enjoying life. And sadly, the family often loses out when we buy these values. But Paul says that you cannot leave a godly legacy if you neglect the people in your own house. Therefore…
Invest in your marriage.
Verse 9 says that woman worthy of honor must have been “the wife of one man.” This phrase is an exact parallel to the requirement Paul gave for pastors and deacons in chapter 3 where he said they must be “the husband of one wife.” You may recall that I said then that the literal idea is “a one woman man.” The same idea is present here. A literal translation would be that this woman must be “a one man woman.”
The point is not that every woman must get married, because in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul says that celibacy can be a good thing. His point is also not that she can only be married one time, because v. 14 will say that younger widows should remarry. Rather the point is that she is known for being faithful to her husband. She loves him and him alone, she invests in him, and her commitment to him is obvious to all who know her.
Do you want to leave behind a godly legacy? Then be faithful to your spouse and invest in having a healthy marriage. Again there are so many pressures in our culture that push us away from strong marriages. The world constantly pulls us toward lust and immorality, not marital fidelity. And it tells us that you can be happy if you are successful. Laziness also pulls at our hearts. Sitting on the couch and watching a T.V. show or surfing the Internet will always be easier than doing the hard work of listening to each other, expressing affection, and serving.
As a result many couples live in the same house and sleep in the same bed, but their hearts are not with each other. If you are married, next to your walk with God, no relationships is more important than the one with your spouse. It is even more important biblically than your relationship with your children. And no other relationship has the potential to be as rewarding. A strong marriage is a great joy. Invest in marriage. As well…
Invest in your children.
Verse 10 says a woman worthy of honor is one who has “brought up children.” We should again understand this phrase in light of the parallel requirements for pastors and deacons in chapter 3 where Paul said that a man must be a good manager of his children. He must have them “in submission with all reverence.”
Therefore both chapter 3 and chapter 5 teach that the parent who invests in raising godly deserves honor. They also imply that if someone neglects his children, no matter what other successes or abilities they may have, they do not deserve honor in the church. Parenting well matters to God.
Parents, if you want to have a godly legacy that impacts others, then invest. love and time in your kids. And above all else invest in their souls. Show them by your life that Jesus is everything. Constantly bring them back to the gospel. Deuteronomy 6:7 says, “teach your children (God’s) commands diligently…and talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, and when you lied down and when you rise up.” Get them to church as much as possible so that they can learn from other godly examples.
It’s true that you aren’t sovereign over how your kids turn out. You can’t force them be born again or to love Jesus; therefore, you need to pray, and you need to trust God to work. But do everything you can to show them Christ in how you live your life, in how you love them enough to consistently discipline them, and in how you constantly push them toward the gospel.
Make it your goal that someday when they stand over your casket, they will say, “Mom and Dad weren’t perfect, and they never pretended to be. But they loved Christ and they loved me. And they showed that love by doing everything they could to lead me to the Savior they loved.”
Do you want to leave a godly legacy? If so there are very, very few things in life that ought to be more important than raising godly children. Be very careful that you do not neglect this vital duty for some lesser thing that will quickly fade.
Use your youth to serve your family. Second, use your youth to…
Grammatically, the central characteristic in vv. 9–10 is the phrase at the beginning of v. 10 that she is “well reported for good works.” “Good works” in the NT is typically a reference to acts of service that stem from genuine love. And with the rest of v. 10, Paul gives examples of this kind of loving service. Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list; rather, it is intended to paint a picture of the kind of woman that deserves praise. We already talked about the first item, raising children.
The next example is that “she has lodged strangers,” or she practices hospitality. Chapter 3 also required this of pastors. The primary concern in the first century world would have been with opening your home to traveling Christians and especially Christian teachers because hotels were sparse and pretty disgusting. Therefore, a very practical way to serve the church was to provide lodging for these brothers and sisters. And Paul says that a practical test of woman’s godliness is if she has the kind of compassionate heart that wants to use her home to serve this way.
Of course, providing lodging isn’t as big of a deal today, but our homes still have incredible ministry potential. When you invite someone into your home, you are communicating openness and love. This love is itself a powerful expression of Christ that can be a great blessing, and can open great doors to encourage or disciple someone.
Hospitality is a great way that you can serve the body, and by the way, it is a great way to serve the body as a family and to train your children in how to love and serve others.
Next, Paul says, “she has washed the saints feet.” There is a lot of cultural distance between this action and us. I’ve ever had someone offer to wash my feet when I’ve visited his or her house, and if someone did, I would decline. But in the ancient world people normally wore sandals, and they walked on dirt roads with a sewage ditch commonly alongside it. Therefore, people appreciated having their feet washed when they entered a home.
But of course, this wasn’t the most pleasant job; in fact, it was a rather humiliating job, which is why the disciples were so appalled when Jesus washed their feet at the Last Supper. But Jesus did it to set an example of how Christians are to humbly serve each other.
And that’s the point in this context. Paul is saying that the church should value people who have a this kind of heart for people and for service—people who have a legacy of humility and kindness.
Folks, we all know someone like this, someone who finds joy in being a blessing through humbly serving others. Maybe you distinctly remember how your parents served others. We can look around this church, and see lots of people who are known for their heart to serve. My, how we appreciate these people, and boy, do we respect them. Their servant’s towel is more beautiful than fine jewelry. Do you want to leave a meaningful legacy? Be this kind of humble servant. Love people enough that you are willing to get dirty caring for their needs. I promise that you will find far more joy in being this kind of servant than in living for yourself. Selfish people are always cranky people because they are never satisfied. But there is joy in serving others.
The next practical example Paul gives is “she has relieved the afflicted.” The afflicted would be anyone facing a significant need and especially those living in poverty. The Bible consistently uses this kind of service as a litmus test of genuine love. Widows, orphans, and others who are down and out will probably never be able to repay you, and so caring for them is just a matter of kindness. You do it, simply because you have a heart of love and you want to serve others.
But while there may be no selfish benefit to such service, the church should take note and honor these kinds of servants. It’s interesting that Paul uses the same verb in this phrase that he uses in v. 16. What kind of widow should the church “relieve”? It should relieve in her old age the widow who cared for the needy during her youth. The church should make sure this woman reaps the same kindness she has sown.
And so vv. 9–10 teach that the church should honor widows who have left a legacy of faithful service to their families and to anyone else in the church who has a need. Do you want to leave behind a legacy that is worthy of honor and that will impact others? Then be this kind of person. Don’t waste your life serving yourself and running after temporary pleasures. No, invest your life in your family and the other people around you, and you can leave a meaningful legacy that will impact generations.
I want to speak for a moment to those of you that God hasn’t blessed with a spouse or children. You wish that God would give you these blessings, so that you could leave a family legacy but for whatever reason he has chosen not to give you this opportunity, at least not yet. I know that’s hard because Heidi had to wait for kids. But even though I didn’t have biological children, I had 80 teenagers that looked up to me. I had a spiritual family that was ripe for impact. And so understand that even if you don’t have a biological family, you have a spiritual family, and there are opportunities all around you to impact people and to leave a legacy. Find someone that needs encouragement and love on them. Perform the kinds of humble service v. 10 describes, and leave a legacy that extends far beyond your own roof.
And so vv. 9–10 teach that to leave a godly legacy you must use your youth to serve others. Second, if you want to leave a godly legacy…
Use your retirement to seek God (vv. 5–6).
These two verses contrast two very different kinds of widows. Verse 5 describes a poor widow who is godly and useful, and v. 6 describes a wealthy widow who is selfish and worthless. And these very different approaches to the latter years of one’s life lead to two very different legacies.
I’d like to give two challenges about retirement from these verses that also are significant for every stage of life. First…
Be a prayer warrior (v. 5).
I said two weeks ago that v. 5 gives the basic description of the kind of widow the church is to provide for. This woman has been “left alone.” In other words, she has no financial support. But she doesn’t respond to her difficult circumstances by growing bitter or cranky; rather, she responds in keeping with the godly habits she has established throughout life. She trusts in God and she cries out to him in prayer. And she doesn’t just give a couple of minutes here and there to prayer; she lives a life that is dominated by prayer.
Now, it’s true that her desperate plight motivates her to pray, but Paul is certainly describing a prayer life that is more significant than the little kid tugging on mom’s pants and saying, “mom, mom, mom” over and over because he wants something. No, this woman ultimately lives in a prayerful condition because she has walked with God for years.
She has now reached a stage of life where she can’t serve like she once did. Her husband is dead, and her children are adults. She’s not physically capable anymore of washing feet, and she has no money to provide hospitality or to help the needy.
But she has always been a kind servant; therefore, she isn’t content to put her feet up and do nothing while the church provides for her. And so she continues to serve the church through prayer. Every Sunday, she is talking with people and finding out what their needs are. She is scribbling notes in her pictorial directory. And then she goes home and prays for those needs all week. She prays by name for all of the kids in the church that they would get saved and live for Christ. She prays every day for the single mom who always looks exhausted, and she prays constantly for the rough looking man who just got saved but has so much baggage to overcome.
This old lady isn’t the face of the church. She isn’t giving large financial contributions or managing major ministries. But she is praying down the grace of God, and she is essential to what God is doing in the church.
It might be that some of the older folks here feel as if your life doesn’t have much use anymore because you have so many limitations. You are just sitting around wondering when God will take you. I would urge you to see that there is still much you can do. If you will spend your days like the widow I just described, you can continue to have a profound ministry. Be a prayer warrior who keeps the needs of Life Point always at the throne of grace.
My second challenge about retirement is…
Keep a selfless, eternal focus (v. 6).
As I already mentioned this verse describes a foil, or a negative contrast to the person in v. 5. Rather than being poor, this woman is wealthy. She has the financial means to live luxuriously. And rather than spending her days in prayer, she spends her days pursuing pleasure. And rather than enjoying a vibrant walk with God, she is spiritually dead even while she lives.
Folks, it is striking how this verse challenges a common assumption in American culture. There are millions of working people in our nation that can’t wait to reach retirement. They are saving every penny they can, and they are counting the days until they can kick back and do nothing but enjoy the fruits of all of their hard work. They are going to sit on sandy beaches, collect seashells, travel the world, and lounge on their boat. It’s going to be awesome.
Now, I do need to say that saving for retirement is a very good thing. The Bible commands us to prepare for the future. And there is nothing wrong with enjoying the blessings of God’s creation, assuming we do so with gratitude to God, as we saw in 1 Timothy 4:1–5.
But v. 6 is not describing God-centered pleasure; it is describing a selfish pursuit of temporal things that swallows up any time for ministry. This person may enjoy some great times. He may really live up his retirement. But God says he or she is already dead. Let that soak in. The dream retirement in minds of many Americans is worthless to God. That person might as well already be dead because his or her life serves no significant purpose. They aren’t seeking God or serving people. They aren’t contributing to any sort of godly legacy. They’re dead; they’re worthless.
If you are retired or nearing retirement, this verse ought to be very sobering. What are you going to do with the last years of your life? Will you waste them on yourself, or will you use them for eternity? Will you continue to build a godly legacy or just take up space until God takes you home? Many of you have sharp minds and fairly able bodies. Will you use your health for yourself or for others? There are so many needs around here that you can fulfill. We need nursery workers and children’s workers. We need more cleaning staff. If you aren’t physically capable of doing those kinds of things, we always need more disciplers and encouragers. And we always need more prayer warriors. Don’t waste your retirement on yourself; use it to serve.
For all of us, what kind of legacy are you leaving? You are impacting someone, even if it’s just by the fact that you don’t care. Are you leaving a legacy that honors Christ and that is making an eternal difference? When you pass, will people stand over your casket and call you blessed because you loved them and served them? Don’t waste your life on yourself. Leave a legacy that matters because it is of eternal significance.
Maybe you are realizing for the very first time that your life really has been a waste. Maybe you have never really thought about eternity, and you have never lived for God, just yourself. And you are ashamed and sad. I would urge you to see that there is mercy with God. And no matter how you have ruined your life, God can save you. When Jesus was hanging on the cross, there was a wicked thief next to him who had also wasted his life, but he cried out for mercy, and Jesus promised that he would be with Christ in paradise when his life expired. This was possible because Jesus was providing for that mercy that very moment us he died for sin. I hope that you will come to Christ today for this mercy, and you will not waste the rest of your days but that you will use them to make an eternal impact.