The church is charged with caring for the widows and the needy among us. But the church is not some far off corporation. The church is not just the pastors or elders. We are corporate. We work together as one. And that means all of us pitch in, each of us does what we can. In 1 Timothy Chapter 5 Paul tells Timothy about how the church should care for widows. And what he says may surprise some people. He doesn’t say, ‘take care of every widow, provide her every need.’ He begins with a charge to respect one another and this is key to our unity, our care of each other, and our outreach. Verses 1-3 read,
“Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.
3 Honor widows who are truly widows.”
What does it mean to be truly a widow? Why doesn’t he say, honor widows, full stop? It means that not every woman whose husband has passed away should be considered a widow or recieve the special privileges allotted them. A true widow is a woman who is alone in the world, without someone to care for her. Verses 4-7 define the true widow.
“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. 5 She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, 6 but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives.7 Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach.”
The true widow, the one the church is charged to help, has put all her hope in Christ and she really has no other choice. There is no one else she can put her hope in. She prays day and night. We are not supposed to help the self-indulgent widow, who uses the status to pamper herself. That is not what our beneficence in Christ is meant to do. And there is more that may surprise those of us who think we need to freely give to every church member who cries “need.” Most of us have families, and many of us have relatives in need. We have a responsibility to help them. If there is a widow in our family and we do not help her, we are worse than those who reject Christ. Because we know true love and deny it. Verses 8-10 read,
“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.
9 Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband,10 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.”
He says that if a widow has a family they should be taking care of her. And if she is young enough (under 60!), she should get remarried and take care of herself. Only the widow who is over 60 and has proved herself as a Christ Follower through the fruition of a godly life should be taken care of by the church as the church.
I believe this applies of any person of need in our local bodies. We are to meet each other’s needs. That is very clear in the Bible. 1 John 3:16-18 reads,
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
But sometimes rather than the corporate church meeting the need it needs to be the individuals in the body. Sometimes we need to look at a person’s fruit and realize, we are not helping her by meeting her needs rather than letting Our great and mighty God meet them. And it shouldn’t be an ongoing endowment for a person who is capable or has family that can help them. There are several reasons for this.
It is the family’s responsibility and honor first to care for their own. This is one of God’s plans for the family and it pleases Him when children care for parents and vice-versa. (Verses 4-7)
Verses 11-15 say this,
“But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry 12 and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. 13 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. 14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. 15 For some have already strayed after Satan.
Idleness leads to sin, a sinful lifestyle and takes one away from faith in Jesus not toward Him. The widow, the person who gets everything handed to them and so has plenty of time on her hands, will walk away from dependence on God, will walk toward sin and away from Jesus. That is one reason it is nearly impossible for a rich man to get into Heaven. (Matthew 19:16-24). He depends on money, not God. When we depend on anything or anyone other than God, be it the government, church, science, or whatever, we will not grow faith or any other Spiritual fruit. The church is just not meant to support people who can support themselves. We are not meant to be God for each other. The church can use those funds for other needs, such as true widows, good works, and supporting people involved in full-time ministry Verses 16-18 say,
“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.
17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”
We pay attention to the lives our brothers and sisters lead. If we support the self-indulgent widow, we do her a disfavor. We know as the body of believers we have to judge one another at times in order to help keep each other walking in Christ effectively and well. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). But we also have to be very careful about just leveling charges against each other. Verses 17-25 read,
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” 19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. 22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. 23 (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) 24 The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. 25 So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.
It may seem like a good thing to give to some people. But when you give them more than what they truly require you take away their need to work, and your charity becomes a burden that can lead them down the path of destruction. Do not let people among you suffer with needs that you can meet. But be careful that their needs are legitimate. Be sure that your assistance will be a temporary aid meant help restore and not a permanent crutch that will lead to crippling the beneficiary.