The body of Christ needs to help those who cannot help themselves.
“If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church be not burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.”
- 1 Timothy 5:16
As we come to Paul’s final statement about how the church is to care for its widows in today’s passage, note that much of what he has said is the result of looking at the church with biblical wisdom. Such wisdom recognizes that all persons and organizations must at some point deal with the reality of the limitation of resources. No single congregation is able to meet every single need that its people might have, for churches, just like anybody else, cannot spend funds that are nonexistent. Therefore, Paul contends that the church support only those who are in need, those who have no other place to go. We see this, for example, in the direction to enroll widows who are only above age sixty (1 Tim. 5:9). Few people in that day lived past that age, so the direction had the practical effect of making sure the church never took on more than it could handle.
Scripture’s many admonitions to look out for the destitute (Deut. 15:7–11; James 1:27) mean that this age was never meant to be taken absolutely. Also significant for this point is the recurring theme in 1 Timothy 5 that the church should not take care of those who have relatives willing and able to help them. Obviously, the qualifiers “willing” and “able” are important, otherwise they would not be a part of Paul’s discussion at all. This implies that the church must help any widow who has nowhere else to go, regardless of her age.
Still, the widow’s first recourse is her relatives, and those who profess Christ cannot follow Him and neglect the needy widows in their own families (v. 8). This is true even in those cases when the relative who has the means to help the widow is a woman, an unlikely event in Paul’s day (v. 16). But the history of the first-century church had several women who did indeed step up and help the widows they knew, whether in their families or not. Tabitha was known for helping widows through sewing (Acts 9:36–43), indicating that individuals can help people in need without necessarily having much money themselves.
We are called to help the needy in our families first, but let us never forget the others who are not related to us. May we help in whatever way we can, especially if we are tied to the poor widow by blood.
Matthew Henry aptly comments, “Rich people should be ashamed to burden the church with their poor relatives.” It is easy to think that helping the impoverished is someone else’s responsibility, even if they are related to us. But each of us should be doing what we can to provide for those in need, especially if they are members of our own family. What resources and skills can you offer to help those who cannot help themselves?
Passages for Further Study
- Leviticus 19:9–10
- Luke 16:19–31