Helping the Poor

1 Timothy 5:9-16

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, 10 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.11 But refuse to put younger widows on the list, for when they feel sensual desires in disregard of Christ, they want to get married, 12 thus incurring condemnation, because they have set aside their previous pledge. 13 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 mention14 Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach; 15 for some have already turned aside to follow Satan. 16 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.

I see much room in this passage for rule making.  Lists in the bible concern me because our society always wants an easy, clear-cut answer to problems and generally, not much is that easy.  I don’t think Paul’s list of who should be put on the list to receive aid is a checklist, especially not for today.  What if a woman did all but one of those things, was she not included?  We discussed this same perspective when Paul instructed Timothy about church leaders.  The list describes what it meant to be a woman of integrity in those times.  These days it might look a little different since our society has changed.  I truly think we would be missing something if we looked at this passage and decided our church policy concerning widows only helped them if they washed people’s feet throughout their lives.

To support my view on this passage, I want us to look at the next few verses about younger widows.  Do you notice that Paul talks about the tendencies of younger women?  He is not saying, “don’t let women in who have done this, this, and this.”  Rather he is explaining his reasoning as to why women under 60 should not be considered a widow.  60-year-old women (at that time) have lived a full life and should be respected as a person who deserves this kind of care. Does this mean a widowed woman who is 59 should not be accepted?  It means a woman who may have lost her husband but still has a life ahead of her to live should not recuse herself to care, but rather continue living her life.

When I first read through this, my thoughts ventured toward the side of making sure the church only helps those who truly need help in order to prevent unnecessary burdens on the church.  However, as we look at verse 12, we realize that Paul’s concern is not just for the church, but also the women.  By letting them receive help when they don’t truly need it, the church would be putting them in a situation where they do not help them at all but instead enable them to become dependent.  Also, as Paul explains, society will look down upon the woman if she becomes a “widow” under the church’s care and then suddenly leaves to pursue a relationship with a man.  Taking in a younger woman (or man, for that matter) does not help them at all, but rather makes them a noncontributing member of society and creates dependence.  They become an outcast.

We Americans are guilty of helping people that truly do not need help.  We throw money at any problem, think we did something good, and all we did was waste money and make someone poorer in spirit and relationships.  This is the reason why aid programs need qualification testing of some sort.  Does this person really need help and what will truly help them?  Maybe they just need encouragement that they can go on, that they can make it on their own.  In many impoverished areas of the world (parts of the U.S. included) there is just no hope because entire societies have grown dependent upon handouts.

The hope is found in Jesus.  It is why He went to the poor and desolate.  He went to tell them that they are important.  They are loved.  They are worth something and they don’t have to be treated like dirt or accept the position of social outcast.  God loves them because of who He is, not because of what their social status dictates.  How can you share this hope with someone today?  It costs nothing but time.

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