1 Timothy 5:6 But she who lives for pleasure is dead even while she is still alive.
This is a very common NT idiom. The word (noun) for "dead" is "nekros" and is used of physical death (obviously) but also spiritual death to describe an unsaved person who is physically alive but spiritually dead. Here are some examples:
- Matt 8:22 - But Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead."
- Eph 2:1 - As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,
- Eph 2:5 - made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved.
- Eph 5:14 - This is why it is said: "Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.
- Col 2:13 - When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins
The same idea is extended to the condition that Christians should have in regard to sin. See Rom 6:11 - In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. James used the same idea extended to faith in James 2:17, "In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."
In 1 Tim 5:6 we have the verb, "tethveken" (= having died) which is the perfect form of "thnesko". However, in view of the above, the sense is clear. The woman is physically alive by spiritually dead.
The letters to Timothy are personal letters from a church leader to his apprentice, not a public letter to the congregation or church community. It mostly contains housekeeping advice rather than instruction directly to the people.
The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. Give the people these instructions, so that no one may be open to blame. Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 1 Timothy 5: 5-8
The distinction is made between those widows who need to be supported because they have no other means, and those who expect to be supported by the church simply because they are widows. The instructions that Timothy has been advised to give to the people are two-fold:
the onus is on families (not the church) to support their widowed relatives as part of their commitment to the faith and Jesus' teaching;
a widow without family, who is expecting to be supported by the church, is expected in return to accept the role of 'widow' to the church in the same manner that a widow would serve her family:
bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord's people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds. (1 Timothy 5:10)
The 'widow who lives for pleasure' in this context would be one who expects to be supported by the church so that she can serve herself - so that she can live her own life, for her own pleasure. To say that she is 'dead even while she lives' refers in some way to Paul's teachings, that caution against living according to what the flesh desires:
Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8: 5-6
But it's important to recognise that a widow who had no family was considered of no use to anyone. With no childbearing years left, no children to raise, no means to support herself and no husband to serve, such a widow was simply a burden on society. To put it crudely, she was considered 'dead even while she still lives' - a body waiting to die.
A widow could avoid this status by living in accordance with the Spirit within the church community, who will support her as a valued member of the body of Christ. The advice to Timothy is that she shouldn't get that support by simply being a widow and then living according to the flesh - according to her own desires.
I agree with Dr. Peter and would only add that the immediate context tells us in what way she is spiritually dead. Here are verses 3-6:
3 Honour widows that are widows indeed. 4 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. 5 Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day. 6 But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.
These verses are dealing with giving support to those women who are truly widows (V3). V4 states that if the widow or nephews, that they should support the widow before the church. V5 says that if a woman is truly a widow without any family then she will act as becoming a godly woman. However, V6 states, the woman who lives in pleasure does not honor Christ.
The word pleasure means to be sexually wanton. See Strong's: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G4684&t=KJV
Strong’s uses the words “to be voluptuous” and “be wanton”. Both words support sexual meanings. In addition, the continuing context tells you this is a correct application. Verses 11 and 12 tell you that the younger widows will face damnation (spiritual death) having left off from their faith when they will “wax wanton against Christ they will marry”.
11 But the younger widows refuse: for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry; 12 Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith. 13 And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not. 14 I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully. 15 For some are already turned aside after Satan.
So, she who gives herself over to unrestrained sexual passion, while physically pleasurable, is in fact spiritually dead.
1 Corinthians 6:15-20 (KJV)
15 Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. 16 What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. 17 But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. 18 Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. 19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? 20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.
The above answers are terrific! I would just like to add a comment by Warren Wiersbe, "the PASTOR'S PASTOR" (Greg Laurie):
"A widow the church helps should not be a self-indulgent person, seeking pleasure, but a godly woman who hopes in God and has a ministry of intercession and prayer. See Luke 2:36-37 for an example of a godly widow."