Thursday, March 21, 2013

Widows and Family Responsibility – 1 Tim 5:3-16

Honor widows who are widows indeed; but if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God. Now she who is a widow indeed and who has been left alone, has fixed her hope on God and continues in entreaties and prayers night and day. But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives. Prescribe these things as well, so that they may be above reproach. But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man, having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints' feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work. But refuse to put younger widows on the list, for when they feel sensual desires in disregard of Christ, they want to get married, thus incurring condemnation, because they have set aside their previous pledge. At the same time they also learn to be idle, as they go around from house to house; and not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention. Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach; for some have already turned aside to follow Satan. If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed. (NASU)
Honor Widows
While this first paragraph starts out talking about widows, it becomes evident that the main topic is taking care of your own family. In our society, aged parents are often cast out of the family by sticking them in some kind of assisted living or other care facility. While there are some very good reasons for doing this, the issue is not where they are living but whether or not they are still part of the family. All too often, once the parent is put away, they are no longer included in family activities and rarely visited.

The wording in verse four is interesting in that the NASU says to make some return to their parents. I read that and thought of how many people have left the nest and then returned to live with their parents. This is true of single moms who struggle to make ends meet. However that is not the context of the verse. The some return is not referring to people but to the investment that the parents made in the lives of the children. In other words, it is time for the parents to get a return on their investment and be cared for by the children.
So, if the widow has children or grandchildren, then it is their responsibility to take care of the parents or grandparents in their old age. This isn’t a negotiable scripture. To emphasize it even more generally, Paul extends it to the whole household.

Family Responsibility
Let’s expand the principle to gain some insight to family relationships and responsibilities.

For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. (2 Cor 12:14b NKJV)
At the beginning of a family, the parents are responsible for saving a nest egg for the children. Societies around the world have long been based on a patriarchal system. The oldest in the family are the head and the others in the family, whether it is children or grandchildren, lived with or around their parents. With wealthier families, that meant that new families would often build another house or room on an existing home for the new family. The elders were cared for by the family. When the parents died, the property was distributed to the adult children.

While this was the norm, families were not bound by this rule. An example is seen in Genesis 11:31:32 when Terah took Abram and his grandson Lot (Lot’s father, Haran, had already died) to Haran.  He left his other son, Nahor, in Ur. When Terah died, God called Abram to move and leave his father’s house, yet Abram took orphaned Lot along with him. Abram, in this case took on the responsibility for new family unit.
At some point in life most relationships change. When Abram and Lot became rich in livestook, they parted company (Gen 13:2-13). However, this didn’t prevent Abram from looking after Lot when he was captured during a war between cities. Abram took his SWAT team by night and rescued Lot along with all the other captives (Gen 14:1-16).

The principle is that even when living apart, families need to take care of one another. Today’s society encourages separate living. However the world system tries to use that to avoid family responsibilities. If you read Dear Abby in the newspapers, you can get a pretty good idea of how this is happening. There are often stories about a family that is trying to care for its aged parents without the help of other siblings who are sometimes closer and even financially better off that the caregivers. There are many stories of people being abandoned in retirement homes or long-term care facilities without visits by loved ones.
And Ruth the Moabitess said unto Naomi, Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find grace. And she said unto her, Go, my daughter. (Ruth 2:2 KJV)
A good example of family loyalty is found in Ruth. The story may be familiar to most, however, have you ever asked why Naomi didn’t also go out to the fields to glean? Nothing is said about Naomi’s physical condition, but it would seem that had she been in good enough health, she would have been out there working as well.

Both Ruth and Naomi were widows. Naomi fit into the definition that Paul outlined, but Ruth didn’t. She was still young and able to work so that’s what she did. She saw the responsibility to her mother-in-law as something that not only involved personal affection as well as part of God’s plan for families. Ruth had committed to have Naomi’s God as her own (Ruth 1:16) and that meant going with Naomi and becoming part of the people of Israel.
Ruth’s reward was finding a husband even though she was an outcast in Israel. She had a child named Obed and became the great grandmother of King David. What happened to Naomi? She was still part of the family. In the eyes of the community, she was the mother of Obed (Ruth 4:17).

Then Na'omi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. (Ruth 4:16 RSV)
Our responsibilities as Christians should look more like these examples than what we read about in Dear Abby. We need to set an example for a watching world.

On the flip side of this is a growing problem. That is dead-beat kids or even parents who are capable of taking care of themselves but are sponging off other family members. There are many who are living with their parents and not working. They may have college degrees but do not contribute to the household, even to do chores. Keep reading Dear Abby; it displays a composite of what is going on in society. It’s a good thing that we don’t adhere to the following command.
And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear. (Deut 21:20-21 KJV)
There is a principle in this command that we should follow but not to kill our kids. Parents should not enable their kids to become lazy and expect that their parents will cover up for their faults. There is a time when the kids need to face the consequences of their own behavior and not get bailed out.
Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the Lord your God disciplines you for your own good. (Deut 8:5 NLT)
Don’t we expect God to discipline us? Moses assumed the parents would discipline the kids. He used that to show how God will discipline us when we have gone astray. The world has turned it around to actually defame God. Since parents are not disciplining their children, then the assumption is that God doesn’t either. In the world’s eyes, God doesn’t discipline people and therefore doesn’t care. If He does, then the worst we can expect is a time-out. Corporal punishment has become abhorrent to parents as we have drifted further away from God’s standards and the concept of hell being a place of eternal punishment.
When is a widow not a widow?
Getting back to the text of 1 Timothy 5, we find an extensive definition of a widow and how she was expected to behave if she wanted to be helped by the church. The first description is in verse five. It is probably the most important one as it deals with the widow’s spiritual orientation. She depends on God. I’ve heard a couple of widows express this clearly. When they were married, they depended on their husband to do many things in their home and now they are faced with things they know nothing about – anything from fixing a dripping faucet to financial matters. They daily trust in God more than while they were married.
God has promised protection for the widows and fatherless. It was established as a law in Ex 22:22.
He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. (Deut 10:18 NASB)
It wasn’t a law that God established without teeth. He promises that He will execute justice for the widow. He reproved Judah for their lack in taking care of widows and orphans (Isa 1:17, 23). They didn’t learn even when Jeremiah again warned them (Jer 7:6). The result was that the whole country was sent into exile. Of course, it wasn’t only because of the way they treated widows, but this was one of the evidences of their departure from the Lord.
It may seem rather harsh, but Paul condemns the widow who is self-indulgent, whose desire to marry draws them away from Christ, are idle, and busy bodies. While not all younger widows may fit that picture, he lumped them together in this generalization. The prophetess, Anna, was an exception to this trend that Paul saw. She was only married for seven years but lived until she was eighty-four as an exemplary widow (Luke2:36).
In our current welfare system, it seems that the government encourages this generalization by attempting to waive work requirements for some aspects of the welfare program. Others are trying to prevent the waivers.[1] We are obviously living in a different socio-economic system than Paul’s. However, God has established principles in these passages that when ignored, will add to our problems instead of alleviate them.
Whether we are talking about widows or single moms who are trying to raise their children when everything around them is apparently against them, we need to have compassion. We also need to be wise and not enable people who abuse the compassion that the church needs to show. Finally, we shouldn’t be punishing the victims, especially the children who are caught in the middle.
Read again 1 Tim 5:3-16 and see that we should be helping those who are showing that they have a history of walking with the Lord and being productive. Those who are departing from the faith and showing it by their lack of restraint and sin should not be provided the same kind of assistance as the faithful. They are not to be classified as widows.
What can the Church do for those who aren’t classified as widows? They are no different from the millions of people in the world who need Jesus. We can offer some assistance on a temporary basis when emergencies arise and it must be accompanies with the Gospel. Many Christian shelters bring homeless widows and single moms and men in for short-term assistance and others for long-term. Their goal isn’t simply to patch up their outward behavior but to make heart changes. If they recover from their circumstances but don’t change inwardly, they are very likely to fall into the same problems of abusive relationships and addictions, but worse, they will still be without Jesus and eternal life.

[1] Delaney, Arthur. "Welfare Work Requirement Bill Passes House To Ban Obama Option." The Huffington Post., 13 Mar. 2013. Web. 20 Mar. 2013.

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