Tuesday, September 30, 2014

WIDOW CARE (1 Timothy Chapter 5)

1 Timothy 5:3-16, “Honor widows who are truly widows.  But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God.  She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives.  Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach.  But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.  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.  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.  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 truly widows.”

This passage represents the Bible’s most extensive treatment on the subject of care for widows.  God, who “executes justice for the fatherless and the widow,” cares about how we care for them (Cf. Deuteronomy 10:17).  Jesus concerned Himself with seeing to His widowed mother’s future needs (Cf. John 19:26-27).  That He fulfilled His responsibility while dying for the sins of all mankind speaks to the priority God places on such matters.  The early church cared for its widows.  When a conflict arose over partiality shown in the distribution of food to widows, the apostles immediately intervened.  They appointed well-qualified men to oversee the matter so that every widow would be provided for and treated fairly (Cf. Acts 6:1-6).

The church needs to honor its widows.  A widow typically receives much attention and assistance immediately following the death of their loved one.  But what about the proceeding weeks and months?  This passage speaks to the need for the church to honor certain widows—those who are said to be “truly widows” (1 Timothy 5:1, 5, 16)—by providing ongoing practical support for them.  There were differences in that day as opposed to ours.  There was no such things as Social Security.  There were no government programs or social agencies tasked with caring for folks in need.  The church was tasked with the responsibility of caring for its members, and especially for those who had no visible means of support—like widows and orphans (Cf. James 1:27). 

Practical need for help is not sufficient grounds in itself for providing assistance.  There are certain qualifications that need to be met.  The widow’s circumstances and reputation are to be examined before she is to be enrolled on the list of those widows to be provided for (Cf. 1 Timothy 5:9).  With respect to her family situation she is to be all alone and without family able to help her out, for it is the family that is first obligated (Cf. 1 Timothy 5:4, 8, 16).  Another practical consideration is her age.  She is to be “not less than sixty years of age” (1 Timothy 5:9).

These are all matters related to the need of the church to exercise good stewardship.  But the care for widows has also to do with the church’s testimony.  On the one hand, as a component of that, there is the need for the church to demonstrate Christ-like love by caring for those in need.  On the other hand, it could potentially damage the church’s testimony if assistance is provided to a widow who possesses a bad reputation.  In order to guard its testimony the church can only subsidize the activities of widows who prove themselves to be exemplary in their conduct.  Such widows are those who set their hope on God and devote themselves to prayer (Cf. 1 Timothy 5:5).  They are those who have been devoted mates, mothers, and good deed doers (Cf. 1 Timothy 5:10).  They likewise have demonstrated their capacity to serve others in various ways (Cf. 1 Timothy 5:10).

Our society is an aging one.  There are many elderly folks, men and women, who may not have need of financial assistance, but genuinely have need of someone who cares.  They long for nothing more than to hear from or see their loved ones—but far-too-often nobody calls or visits.  The church has an obligation to provide practical assistance to those who are truly widows, but we all have an obligation to care.  God cares about the bereaved and lonely.  We should too.

No comments: