In 1 Timothy 5:1-16 the Apostle Paul offers advise to Timothy (and those in the church that he leads) for honouring others – ‘Give honour to those widows who are really in need’ (5:3).
As he explains this advise, Paul is quite helpful in offering some suggestion in how to treat each widow differently given their particular situation – to the widow with children or grandchildren allow her family to care; to the godly widow who is alone offer her help; to the widow who has no interest in the things of God, exercise care if you help; to the faithful widow who is over sixty put her on the care list, but to the widow under sixty do not. All very specific!
The driving principle here is that the church of Jesus should be a help to those who are in most need (5:16) and if there are others like family members who should bear that responsibility, then allow them to do as such.
I take it that there are limited resources and that the wisdom here is to give priority to those who are most at risk- and at that time, it would have been the widow.
In this and the next post, I want to make two observations that may be helpful for our church family. Then in a third post a want to recommend a helpful book.
1. The ‘widow’ here is akin to the ‘vulnerable’ today.
The Bible has a lot to say about widows and alongside orphans and exiles (those with no family) they are given an honour which many cultures do not offer. They are valued in and of themselves and special attention is given to ensure that they receive provision, care and protection (c.f. Ex 22;22; Deut 10:18; 24:19; 27:19; Luke 18:1-17; Acts 6:1; James 1:27).
The reason being for this kind of care is that that culture was one where women and children were spoken for. A woman if married by her husband, if not by a kinsman or father figure (think back to Naomi and Ruth or the widow of Nain – Luke 7:11-12). A child, by parents and if orphaned by relatives. This would have involved both material and spiritual care. In 1 Tim 5 it seems that the widows who are to receive care are the ones who have no one to care for them and have no opportunity to find someone to take that role. And so the church family steps up.
That social arrangement does not exist in the same way today (at least to the same degree) and the result is that there are many more people now in the same kind of need as a widow or orphan – the vulnerable. Those who are in spiritual hardship with no one to speak for them, those in material hardship: financially, physically, mentally.
As a church, we need to be intentional in the way that we care for those who are vulnerable especially those who are vulnerable in our church family.
Among us there many who are vulnerable. There are some with physical illnesses (heart issues, cancer, chronic back pain) and others with mental illnesses (depression, anxiety). There are members who are caring for loved ones (like a child or a parent or a spouse). There are members experiencing financial hardship (no work or can’t work). There are members who are grieving, some who are homeless, some with relationship difficulties, some dealing with sexual issues, some who have been abused and some who are lonely. There are members with spiritual issues. We are a mixed bag.
Friends, be thankful that we are a family. This means that between us there are many who are honouring and serving those who are most vulnerable. The pastoral care that is given does not come from the few, it comes from the many!
Be thankful that even among those who are most vulnerable, they themselves are working hard to care for others in our church family. Be thankful that in so many ways that care and concern for others is demonstrated week in and out in many different (seen and unseen, rostered and unrostered) ways for the benefit of others under God.
Please pray that we ‘give proper recognition to those who are really in need’.
A second observation – next post!