Responsibility to Widows

 

 

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Responsibility to Widows

Text: 1 Timothy 5:3-16

Dr. Alex Tang

 

Summary

Children, grandchildren and female relatives have a responsibility to look after widows but widows are a powerful instrument of God in the church.

 

1TI 5:3 Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. 4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. 5 The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. 6 But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. 7 Give the people these instructions, too, so that no one may be open to blame. 8 If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

    1TI 5:9 No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, 10 and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.

    1TI 5:11 As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. 12 Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. 13 Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to. 14 So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. 15 Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.16 If any woman who is a believer has widows in her family, she should help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.

 

1.                  Introduction

One of the problems we often find in understanding Paul is that we tend to read his letters with 21st century worldview. A lot of controversies could be avoided if we would try to understanding Paul's writing in the context of the place, time and culture that Paul was living in. It was a time of a young church, mostly of Gentiles but with Jewish leaders (and their rabbinic teachings) living under the tyranny of Imperial Rome with its Hellenistic influence.

I was privileged to be present at the delivery of one of my church member's first baby boy. Being their paediatrician does have some privilege. Even though the labour was painful and tiring, but the mother and baby survived. Mothers dying during or after childbirth is fortunately rare in Malaysia nowadays. I cannot help but think of the Ephesus at the time when Paul was writing to Timothy. One out of two pregnant women survived childbirth! If a women was pregnant at that time, she will go to the Temple of Artemis, which is regarded as one of the wonders of the ancient world and offer a sacrifice for a safe childbirth. And 1 Tim.2;14 comes to my mind

15 But women will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

Anyone reading the letter at that time will understand what Paul is telling Timothy. A pregnant Christian woman is to trust in God , not in Artemis and she will be safe in her childbirth. Yet we crack our head and wonder whether a woman can receive salvation/eternal life through bearing children. Looking at the Scripture with 21st century eyes.

 

2.                  One view of the text: Categories of Widows

If we read the text, it will appear that Paul has divides the widows into three groups.

(A)              Those with children, grandchildren and female relatives. These people are to take care of these widows and not the church.

(B)              The widow list will have those who have the following qualifications;

q       Over sixty years old

q       Faithful to her husband

q       Well know for her good deeds

(C)              Young widows should marry and let their husbands take care of them.

This is our immediate impression after reading the text because of our 21st century tendency to classify and categorise objects and people. Membership lists, men's fellowship, ladies' fellowship, young adult's fellowship, list of participants - each of their list classify people by their eligibility. This is a very functional list rather than a relational list. This is more like an administration list.

I have problem viewing the 'list of widows' as only a list of widows eligible for church support. Firstly, it is for those over sixty years old. What happen to those below sixty? Does Paul expect a 58 years old widow to get married? And secondly, Paul mentioned those in the widow list as doing good deeds such as raising up children. If they have children, then they should be group A and not eligible for support!

 

3.                  Another view of text:

In 1 Tim 5: 1,2 Paul is talking about relationship between men and women in the church. Older men as father and younger men as brother. Older women as mother and younger women as sister. And the he turns his attention to widows. I believe he is still talking about relationships. How is the church members' relationship to widows. Widow in the New Testament times is poor, powerless and defenceless. They cannot work and are often exploited. They are also regarded as useless.

q       Paul sees them differently. He sees widows as persons in need but also persons of great use to the church. He recognise their needs and hence insist that those who have children, grandchildren or female relatives should look after them. Only if they do not have anybody, does it fall on the church to support them.

q       Paul also see widows as a valuable asset  to the church. These are mature Christians who have time to pray and to minister in the church -praying day and night, showing hospitality, washing the feet of saints, helping those in trouble and doing good deed. The 'list of widows' is a ministry list.  These are the people eligible to minister in the church. That's why he warn against young widows being on the list. Apparently they must have pledge their lives to God like the Jewish customs. Young widow who have made the pledge and then decide to get married is liken to have broken their pledge and follow Satan. Paul also cautioned placing young immature Christian into responsible ministerial positions.

 

4.                  Lessons for us

4.1              Looking after our mothers and other members of our family.

4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.

8 If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

This brings home the fact that we need to provide for our own parents. Often we are so busy planning and providing for our own children that we neglect our parents. There is this story that goes around about a Fong You child who wrote an essay about taking care of his parents,      "When I grow up, I am going take good care of my mummy and daddy. I am going to make a lot of money so that I can put them in an old folks' home."

As we plan to take care of our children, we also need to plan to take care of our parents. A doctor friend of mine said he started saving for his father's medical treatment when he started working because he realise that when his father is old, he will need a cardiac bypass.

                        The sacrifice of mothers. Illustration from nature, mother spiders.

Jesus, dying on the cross, made sure that his mother is taken care of. He told John to take care of His mother, Mary. 

John 19:26       26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," 27 and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

So let us make a point now to look after our parents or parent because it is our responsibility and because it is pleasing to God.

 

4.2              Ministry at 60 and beyond.

1TI 5:9 No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, 10 and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.

Paul seems not to recognise a retirement age for Christian ministry. And he values the role of widows in the ministry of the church. It is an Asian cultural fallacy that after 55 years, we are due for retirement and good for nothing. Yet we see in the west, people in their sixties and seventies active in ministry. How many presidents of the USA are below sixty when they assume the responsibilities of the oval office?

 

5.                  Closing Remarks

Children, grandchildren and female relatives have a responsibility to look after widows but widows are a powerful instrument of God in the church.

                                                                                                                                         Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

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