She squeezed the hand of the body lying in the casket and whispered, “I’ll see you when I get there.”
This dear, seasoned saint was saying goodbye to her husband of nearly sixty years. I’ve not even been alive as long as they were married. And performing the funeral service of her husband was an honor I never take lightly.
It’s the start of ministry to a widow. She is in a lonely, vulnerable position. And her care is not because she is incapable of taking care of herself; it’s an honor for the church to love her.
Last week, we saw the Apostle Paul’s instruction to young Pastor Timothy regarding caring for the widows of the congregations in Ephesus. He continues this thought today in 1 Timothy 5:9-16.
9 No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, 10 and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.
11 As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. 12 Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. 13 Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to. 14 So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. 15 Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.
16 If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.
1 Timothy 5:9-16
New International Version
As has been pointed out in this study of 1 Timothy, this is a leadership manual of sorts from a seasoned veteran of church leadership to a younger, far less experienced leader. The letters of 1 and 2 Timothy address a great many subjects and the passage at hand is no exception.
It is plainly pragmatic for its time. But how do we handle applying this where most of my readers are: 21st century American culture?
The first application must be to follow the essence of the council from the Apostle Paul: identify “real widows”. That is, recognize there is a different need for those women who have lost their husbands at a young age versus an old age.
Do NOT misunderstand me. In no way am I comparing their pain to each other or diminishing the pain of one over the other. Losing a spouse is painful and age has nothing to do with it.
The application of Paul’s Holy Spirit inspired writing is an issue of knowing there are pragmatic considerations between the level of care needed at differing stages of life.
In some ways, Paul is advocating for what appears to be a type of “deaconess” ministry where women of the congregation provide a level of care to those older women on the “list of widows”. Regardless of how the specifics work, the concept is worth noting: caring for those who have walked life the longest is a social responsibility of Christians.
Younger widows, on the other hand, should be encouraged to remarry (verses 11-15). He goes so far as stating to not include them in the long-term bereavement care of the congregation. This isn’t to be cruel; it’s a practical issue. Younger widows are more likely to remarry than older widows and the fact that they would have “their whole lives in front of them” allow church leaders to encourage them to remarry.
At the end of it all, we must never forget the entire point of this passage: caring for those who are widowed is a special ministry of the church. It is not something we can forget about. We cannot relegate it to government agencies and wash our hands of it.
While caring for widows is not the primary function of the church of Jesus, it is a function of our love for each other. And lest we forget: the world will know we belong to Jesus by our love (cf. John 13:35).
Interested in more like this? Consider Joel’s book: 31 Days of Spiritual Wisdom: A Month in the Proverbs. Moving through a selection of verses from a chapter of Proverbs for every day of the month, Joel walks readers through a journey of spiritual formation applicable to everyday life. The goal? Knowing how to apply the wisdom of Scripture so we grow in our faith, become wiser, and show the world the life-changing power of Jesus.
Let’s connect! I’ve set up a Facebook account where I’m now sharing my blogs, podcasts, messages, and things I hope help you on the journey.