Care for Widows
Open Your Bible
1 Timothy 5:1-16, Ruth 2:5-16, James 1:27
I help teach a membership class at my church about once a quarter to those interested in learning more about what we believe and what it means to be a member of a local church. When you join a local church, you commit to a group of people and ask them to become your people, and you promise to become theirs. We ask our new members to stand up in front of the congregation and make that pledge to strangers and friends, people who look like them and people who don’t, people who make way more money and those who make a lot less, people that have lived many more decades and the littlest children that call our church home.
The beauty of the church is in that diversity. It’s in the equality we all share because of the work of Jesus to reconcile us all to each other and to God. And one of the most beautiful charges of the church is to love each other as a picture of how God loves us.
In 1 Timothy 5, Paul gives the young Timothy a list of helpful ways to serve the various people in his church. These are the kind but strong words of a much more experienced leader, encouraging his protégé to lead his people in love and service. Paul discusses three groups of people: church groups by age, genuine widows, and younger widows.
First, Paul tells Timothy to honor the older men as fathers, the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters. What a beautiful posture of humility and kindness Paul describes here!
Second, Paul explains how the church should care for “genuine” widows, which he describes as those with no family to take care of them and those who have shown their love for God through prayer and service. We’ll unpack the distinction with “younger widows” in just a minute, but this theme of caring for widows stretches like a red thread all the way through the Bible. You can read about God’s prioritization of and care for widows in Exodus 22, Deuteronomy 24, Psalm 68, Isaiah 1, Acts 6, James 1, and more. Part of the reason for this was cultural; women whose husbands had died (particularly those without children) had no stature in society, no means for economic security, and no rights. And so God who loves the least of these always wants His people to love them too, with words and with actions.
Third, Paul reminds Timothy about “young widows” or those otherwise disqualified from the church aid, including those with families or those who wanted to remarry. This isn’t an exclusionary list of those who were or were not worthy of love or care; rather, it was a helpful instruction for a young pastor trying to establish healthy boundaries for his congregation and resources. God’s commitment to his people, all of whom are made in His image, is deeply woven throughout this text and all of Scripture.
This text reminds us what it means to be part of the family of God and part of its expression in the local church. We are bound together by a love for the Lord, and are compelled by that love to love each other in word and deed. Because of His great love for us, we are able to love fully and give freely to all in need.