While the presidential candidates spar about one policy or another, today I want to talk about welfare reform or rather, Welfare as God intended it. Redistribution of wealth through the federal government is not God’s plan for taking care of those in need. God’s intent from the beginning is that God’s people take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. Those who are capable of taking care of themselves should continue to do so for as long as they are able. Please turn to and prepare to read 1 Timothy 5:3-16 where we will be focusing today on verses 3-8 which describes this church’s requirement to care for widows. (Read it)
God’s passion for The Helpless
Throughout the scriptures a significant measure of righteousness has been “What do you do with the helpless?” In particular two classes of people have always required God’s special protection. In that culture especially the orphan and the widow typically had no social standing and thus were helpless. God describes himself as “A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, Is God in His holy habitation.“(Ps. 68:5) For this reason godly people will spend themselves on the widow and the orphan because like their Father they strive to deliver those who cannot deliver themselves.
A brief survey of the Bible reveals God’s constant passion to care for them. The book of Ruth is a beautiful example of God’s tender care for those who are helpless.
Ruth is a widow herself and a Moabite foreigner herself who takes it upon herself to ensure that her aged Mother-in-law who is also widowed is adequately provided for. She ventures out in the the fields to glean whatever she can find for them to eat and God directs her to the field of Boaz; who demonstrates his righteousness by actually ordering his harvesters to intentionally leave extra grain behind for her to gather.
In Exodus 22:22-24 we read “You shall not afflict any widow or orphan.If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry;and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.“
And in Deuteronomy 27:19 “Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow…“ On the opposite end in Isaiah 1:17 God says, “Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.“
When we turn to the New Testament we see Jesus honoring a widows offering of two coins (LK 21:2-3) and raising a widow’s son to life (Lk 7:11-17).
In the book of Acts the first major issue after the birth of the church is the care of widows. (Acts 6:1-6) In fact it was because they saw a need to ensure that the widows were properly taken care of that they created the role of Deacon so that righteous men might make sure that the widows were well cared for. And James caps off the survey in James 1:27, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.“
It should come as no surprise to us then that when it comes to defining “Church 101” behavior, that taking care of widows is high on God’s list. He says to “Honor Widows who are Widows indeed.” (1 Timothy 5:3)
Our Privelege to Meet Their Needs
When he writes honor he calls on the many nuanced meanings of the word. The first meaning our our mind is included and and that is The treat someone with respect. The second aspect however is actually at the core of the word and that indicates assigning value to someone; the result being that you pay them. The two concepts are not truly separated.
The fifth commandment is to “honor your father and mother.” In Matthew 15:3-9 Jesus derides the Pharisees for setting aside the commandment to honor their father or mother by authorizing children to give the money which would be used for their care to God in the form of temple donations. Jesus’ rebuke helps us clarify that in this text, honoring widows means providing financial assistance for them.
Unfortunately one of the road bumps to overcome is of course pride. It is best to remember however that this is a requirement of the Lord and obedience in this area is to God’s glory. Of course as we investigate this passage some more we see that not every widow needs this help but only a “widow indeed”. So who, according to Paul is the widow who needs help?
Who is a Widow Indeed?
The Greek word for widow has a broader meaning than you might expect. It extends to include any woman who has lost a husband to death, desertion, divorce, imprisonment, or even those cases where a polygamist became a Christian and separated himself from his wives..1 but in this context, a widow indeed is someone who is not only bereaved but also completely alone and broke.
It’s clear from the text that she not only doesn’t have any means to care for herself but she also doesn’t have any family who will do righteousness and take care of her. She is totally alone.
A Believer In Christ
We read this in (Galatians 6:10) “…while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.“(NASB95) In other words, we should help anyone we can but above all let’s be certain to help Christians. There are lots of ladies out there who need help but looking at the context it’s clear that Paul has a concern that the church not be overburdened. The greater responsibility we have is to take care of Christian widows. So not only is she to be a Christian, she is supposed to be fully devoted to Christ. Looking at verse 5 we can see that she has fixed her hope on God.
Committed to Christ
You know as well as I do that not every believer is living fully for God. It is God’s will that those who live for him be cared for above those who do not. There are many many verses in the Bible which demonstrate God’s promise to take care of his own children. Many times God provides through his own people.
For a widow to be a widow indeed means that she is without other means of support. When that Happens, God’s people are love bound and honor bound to step in and take over provision for God’s dear saints.
Few of life’s events are more devastating than losing your spouse. That loss was critically compounded in a society where opportunities for making money were quite limited to the widows who had for all of their life thus far been able to rely upon their husband to provide their needs. Now suddenly without a husband and without an ability to earn money for her needs a widow faced a dire situation. In this situation she turns to God and continues in prayer night and day. And God provides for that dear woman through his church.
In a very real sense, our provision for the helpless is a reflection of God’s glory.
Reflecting God’s Glory
Taking care of widows is not a shameful thing for the widow nor an act of mere generosity by those who would endeavor to obey the command, it is a direct application of the gospel as we do what our Father has done. The broad principle of this section is helping the helpless, which is exactly what God has done for us.
You and I were dead in sin, totally alone, unable to believe and devoid of all righteousness. We were completely lost, completely separated from God, and without any means of making up the distance. But God in his gracious love reached down from heaven and literally stepped into our world. For the sake of his glory he left his riches behind and embraced his own poverty so that he could provide for us all of the riches of heaven. How then could we do any less?
For us to fail in providing for a widow indeed is in the words of verse 8 a denial of our faith because it is a denial in practice of the very core truths of our faith.
Let us decide today to make it a practice and a priority to provide as needed for God’s precious women in need.
1MacArthur, John 1 Timothy p 196