A Biblical passage like 1 Timothy 5:3-16 might seem irrelevant.
But before we cut it out of our Bibles, look at what it says. Compare to today.
At least use it to critique our modern approach, if not our thinking.
First thing to note is that Paul simply assumes the church should be involved in caring for those in need. Just as was the case with discipline when we considered the first couple of verses in this chapter last time, he simply assumes that Timothy will accept the need for the church to be involved in caring for her members.
No theological argument is given, it's simply described as 'proper'.
But we might ask “Am I my brother's keeper?” We might say “Prove it, Paul!”
And we wouldn't have to look far. Think of Exodus 20 - “Honour your father and your mother”. Certainly matches the general thrust of what is said here. But more – Ex 22, Deut 10, 14, 24, 26 & 27 all express God's concern for widows, among others. One of the Psalms we are singing mentions this too. God cares, and wants us to care.
But the obligation toward widows doesn't start with the congregation as a whole.
Starts with the family of the widow.
Who is family?
V4 – children or grandchildren (descendants).
They are to repay the widow in their family. What has she done for you?
Cf Ruth and Boaz – wider family too. Maybe not done directly for you but for those you love.
Boaz acted in a/c with treatment of widows in Deut 24:19-21 (edges of field)
But went further in a/c with laws relating to kinsman redeemers.
Seems to be a reflection not merely of obligation but of godliness.
=> 'Put their religion into practice' (NIV) or “show piety” (NKJV).
What we believe is supposed to affect all of life (cf sermon on later part of ch 2)
Notice that this assumes the widow has brought up Christian children and grandchildren. What we have to repay is not therefore merely the changing of dirty nappies or food on the table but the work mum or grandma has done in seeking to impart faith in Christ to us.
=> “Pleasing to God”
Want above all else? Imagine for a second that for some reason love for this family member doesn't drive obedience to this command. Even if that were the case, shouldn't our love for God, our desire to express gratitude to Him for all of His love and care to us, get us into action anyway?
V16 Widow should not be made to ask.
Initiative in helping widows should come from family. Family should “Help them and not let the church be burdened”.
Why women in particular in v16? (NJKV says 'man or woman' but shorter reading better attested). The woman in a household would bear the main burden of caring for a widow. She is appealed to in particular so that her husband and household may be enabled to do what God has called them to do.
So then, if a widow has a family she can rely on, the family should be the first people to offer help.
But what if there is no family?
Tendency nowadays by churches to provide help to all and sundry, totally understandable. Some might ask how we can rightly turn anyone away.
But Paul does have more to say.
In vvv 5 – 8, he first draws our attention to the behaviour of the widow. A woman who is going to receive help from the church ought to be, according to the apostle, an example of godliness. She should be one who puts her hope in God and asks Him to provide her with the help she needs, in contrast to a person who lives for pleasure.
Think of it this way. How often do you hear of a person who is entrenched in ungodly ways coming to faith because of kindness shown by the church? It may occasionally happen, by God's grace, but it's far more common for the kindness to be taken for granted or simply as a kindness, not resulting in any real consideration of God's goodness and grace. It's far more common for the ungodly to take our charity for granted or even abuse it.
This doesn't mean we shouldn't help those outside the church. But it does mean we shouldn't neglect those who do belong to the family of God.
What is more, if we help those who are godly anad reject those who reject kingdom values and priorities, we provide more encouragement for godliness to flourish.
This must be why Paul says in v7 “Give the people these instructions so that noone may be open to blame.”
The apostle rounds off these verse by returning to his original thought: the first port of call for the widow in need is her family. The first ones to offer help to a widow in need ought to be her blood relations and especially her immediate family.
Notice Paul's strong language here – failure to do this is not merely a problem. It's a denial of the faith and makes us worse than unbelievers. Such strong language should make us consider Paul's statements carefully! We ought not discard them simply because they were written so long ago.
Is it right, then, in the age of government provided social welfare, for us to ignore what is written here” and rely on taxes to fund the care of our family members by others who have no vested interest apart from a pay packet?
God's plans and purposes have not changed.
The first responsibility for care still lies with family. The church's first responsibility is still to take care of her own.
But we're not done. Paul has more to say in v9 and following. Some of this overlaps with what we've already considered, for Paul again focuses on the need for such widows to be godly people and show that in how they live.
But he also adds an age test.
Based on what Paul says here, it seems that being added to the list of widows involved making some sort of vow of dedication to Christ above and beyond what is normally done. Paul is concerned that younger widows might break such a pledge. More than that, though, he is concerned that the aid of the church might lead to them developing ungodly habits such as laziness and gossip, and perhaps ultimately turning away from the faith. The support of God's people should not lead to an increase in ungodliness! So then, says the apostle, younger widows should remarry, carry on their new homes and normal and give the enemy no opportunity for slander.
Do you see the underlying principles that keep appearing?
First, there is the fact that care should begin with family- the genetic family in the first instance, then the church family. Helping someone you don't know isn't excluded. Government welfare isn't described as wrong. But in God's eyes, the first responsibility lies with family. I am my brother's keeper.
Second, whatever role the church plays, she should exercise wisdom in going so. Our actions should not help ungodliness to flourish. Sometimes we might even refuse aid, lest we end up with people turning from the gospel or thinking of the church as merely a source of social welfare.
And thirdly, we're reminded of our overarching aims in all of this. Paul spoke of pleasing God in what we do. He talked about people being open to blame, about the opportunities for slander that improper behaviour can bring.
Even in the ost practical of matters such as this, then, our aims are unchanging. We're called above all else to seek the glory of God.
We ourselves, in what we do, are called to think about and do what pleases Him. We're to seek to make God happy because we were made to love and honour Him and because we want to say think you for all that He has done for us.
And as part of that, we're called to seek to make wise decisions regarding how we conduct oursleves as God's people, so that the reputation and esteem of God, even among non-Christians, will only be enhanced.