July 18, 2022
“Support widows who are genuinely widows. But if any widow has children or grandchildren, they should learn to practice their religion toward their own family first...”
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“Support widows who are genuinely widows. But if any widow has children or grandchildren, they should learn to practice their religion toward their own family first and to repay their parents, for this pleases God. The real widow, left all alone, has put her hope in God, and continues night and day in her petitions and prayers; however, she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. Command this, so that they won’t be blamed. Now if anyone does not provide for his own relatives, and especially for his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” 1 Timothy 5:3-8
Years ago, I was asked to attend the meeting of a group of creative thinkers called the Renaissance Group. Meeting at the Newport Beach home of Roberta & Howard Ahmanson, hand-selected authors, musicians, ministers, and artists convened to form a “think tank,” whereby new methods of reaching the secular world with the Gospel might develop.
On one occasion, the group was sent a copy of Marvin Olasky’s book, “The Tragedy of American Compassion.” Several weeks later, we met in the Ahmanson’s living room to discuss the book with the author. I suggest you get a copy of Olasky’s book.
The foundation of Olasky’s observations is that compassion only works well in small groups of accountabilities. In small groups, as in small towns, people know each other. They know when a person is hard-working and who is lazy. They know who is honest and are aware of the liars. Mr. Olasky points out that most Americans have lost touch with the “community” mindset, to the point where they give money to charities (or sign-holding men on the corner) out of guilt or raw emotional reactions, without demanding any accountability from those organizations or individuals receiving charity.
On the other extreme, we allow charity to be dispensed by our government through a welfare system in drastic need of an overhaul. In actuality, healthy church ministries have the best record for helping people transition from their dependence on charity into a lifestyle where they become contributors to charity. This is because churches are communities of accountability whose standard for charity is God’s Word.
In today’s passage, Paul is narrowing the focus of what a “widow” is. Those deserving of charity are not simply women without husbands; they are women without husbands who fit specific Biblical accountability criteria. Paul’s system is similar to Olasky’s proposal. He was saying, in effect, “Don’t let your emotions or sympathies interfere with God’s standard for ministry.”
“Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father; younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and with all propriety, the younger women as sisters.” 1 Timothy 5:1-2
When this passage is matched with today’s text, it becomes evident that, while the definition of “widow” is narrowed, the definition of “family” is expanded. Social responsibility is shifted from the corporate congregation to the compassionate individual.