It is a Christian virtue to want to help people who need it. But in terms of how the church operates what begins as an honest desire to help whomever needs it can often devolve into a frenetic attempt to meet every need presented until cynicism and low coffers cause the church to fail on it’s commitments or to end up accidentally helping those who don’t truly need it while rendering itself unable to help those who truly do need it. The only way to fix that situation is to establish some guidelines. This is what Paul does in our passage this morning which is 1 Timothy 5:3-8.The Apostle acknowledges the need to honor widows and encases it with some reasonable guidelines meant to spiritually protect those helped as well as protecting the church from unnecessary burdens and slander. Out of that list we gain some helpful principles. But we have to learn these principles in the context of what appears to have been going on.Apparently the Ephesian church,being eager to help had committed itself to support some local widows who could not take care of themselves in that culture. Apparently the financial strain on the church was too much. Somehow, whether by trying to achieve some perceived ideal of “fairness” they had taken on too much. By looking at the requirements here you canalmost get a sense that among the widows being supported were a number of young widows, godless widows or even widows who had other means but who were feeding off of the church.
1 The result is that the church is falling into reproach among the general public and something has to be done about it. So Paul specifies that the widow whom the church helped must (1) be without other means of support and (2) must be a godly woman. It is not the church’s task to subsidize godlessness.
A Family Responsibility
"According to a Dutch proverb it frequently seems easier for one poor father to bring up ten children than for ten rich children to provide for one poor father."
2In God’s economy the first responsibility for caring for the needy falls on the family (not the church and surely not the state), these family members should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own.
3 This is the very first principle when it comes to the church’s ministry to widows. It is the families responsibility to take care of their widows. That means it is your responsibility to care for your own family. It is my responsibility to ensure that my parents and my wife’s parents are adequately supplied.It is not the governments job to take care of the elderly. I’m not at all interested in changing the status quo of governmental provision or lack of it; the measure of righteousness for us is whether or not wemake a return to our parents, or older family members. Most translations refer to grandchildren but the word is actually more general than that, "descendants" might be better and opens it up slightly. Very practically it means that any believer who has an older person in their family is responsible to meet their needs.John MacArthur succinctly states,"Children and grandchildren are indebted to those who brought them into the world, reared them, and loved them. Fulfilling this responsibility is a mark of godly obedience…”
4Likewise, as you grow older, there is a reasonable expectation that you will be provided for by your children or grandchildren. If you start asking around, it’s funny tome but it seems you’ll find just as many people saying “I think it’s wrong to expect my kids to take care of me” as saying, “why not?” But from God’s perspective it is “acceptable” for a child to care for his aging and widowed mother or grandmother.The idea is that it is at least some return for the care they gave to you or your parents. Notice please that being obedient in this matter is called “practicing piety”. It sometimes amazes me how often we look around for opportunities to demonstrate Christ likeness or we feel like we have to ask the question, “What would Jesus do?” but we fail to recognize that on occasion the greatest ministry work available is within our own family.But what happens when a child or grandchild fails in this regard? For a believer, failure is not an option.
Failure is not an option
Look down to the eighth verse and read it with me. (Read 1 Timothy 5:8)We live in a time and place in which it has become culturally acceptable to dispose of our parents when they get older. It seems we forget the sacrifices they have made for us.By the way, I’m not referring specifically to putting them in a nursing home, but it certainly does apply when that is a form of abandonment. But there are many examples where even in a nursing home – Christian care can be evident.In My Humble Opinion, the first example that comes to my mind of the most effective fulfillment of this requirement is Jim and Nadyne . They are not the only examples I could cite, but they definitely stand out to me as an example – taking extended care not only of Doris but also of Velma to an incredible degree! They have implicitly understood what this passage meant and have applied it by seeing to it that in every possible way they have cared for their own widows indeed Nadyne even ensures as much as possible to visit nightly, helping and making sure Velma is eating something.Even those who do not implicitly declare themselves to be Christians believe that is just plain“right” to take care of those in our families who cannot help themselves. In answer to the question “would you take care of your bed-bound parent’s personal needs” one individual shot back, “any person who does not take care of the very people who raised them are horrible souless [sic] people”
51 Timothy 5:8 “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” In the context we’re definitely talking about monetary or other sustenance but I think proper respect in general isa broader application of the principle.A familiar folk tale goes like this:
A frail old man went to live with his son,daughter-in-law, and four-year old grandson. The old man’s hands trembled, his eyesight was blurred, and his step faltered. The family ate together at the table.
But the elderly grandfather’s shaky hands and failing sight made eating difficult. Peas rolled off his spoon onto the floor. When he grasped the glass, milk spilled on the tablecloth.
The son and daughter-in-law became irritated with the mess. “We must do something about father,” said the son. “I’ve had enough of his spilled milk, noisy eating, and food on the floor.”
So the husband and wife set a small table in the corner.There,Grandfather ate alone while the rest of the family enjoyed dinner. Since Grandfather had broken a dish or two, his food was served in a wooden bowl!
When the family glanced in Grandfather’s direction, sometime he had a tear in his eye as he sat alone. Still,the only words the couple had for him were sharp admonitions when he dropped a fork or spilled food.
The four-year-old watched it all in silence.
One evening before supper, the father noticed his son playing with wood scraps on the floor. He asked the child sweetly, “What are you making?”
Just as sweetly, the boy responded,“Oh, I am making a little bowl for you and Mama to eat your food in when I grow up.” The four-year-old smiled and went back to work.
The words so struck the parents so that they were speechless. Then tears started to stream down their cheeks. Though no word was spoken, both knew what must be done.
That evening the husband took Grandfather’s hand and gently led him back to the family table. For the remainder of his days he ate every meal with the family. And for some reason, neither husband nor wife seemed to care any longer when a fork was dropped, milk spilled, or the tablecloth soiled.
The most startling charge of this passage is that of being worse than an unbeliever. Worse than an unbeliever!? That’s a horrible charge. Note that Paul isn’t calling their salvation into question I think that is in some measure important but by the same token, you’d be hard pressed to find aworse cut down for a Christian. Even the heathen recognize that taking care of a widow is necessary and most will out of general human compassion. How much more should believers be quicker to do acts of righteousness? Any believer who has God’s command and Spiritual power to obey it but fails to do that is worse than an unbeliever! God save us from such blame!So then, if you have in your family an elderly person who needs care you have an obligation of righteousness to take care of them. Failure is not an option.
Further questions for personal consideration:
How does this passage reflect on the US welfare system?
What should be done to church members who fail to care for their own widows?
How should applying this passage be carried out in the local church when the widows are reluctant to receive help?