Honour widows who are really widows. If a widow has children or grandchildren, they should first learn their religious duty to their own family and make some repayment to their parents; for this is pleasing in God’s sight. The real widow, left alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. Give these commands as well, so that they may be above reproach. And whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
Let a widow be put on the list if she is not less than sixty years old and has been married only once; she must be well attested for her good works, as one who has brought up children, shown hospitality, washed the saints’ feet, helped the afflicted, and devoted herself to doing good in every way. But refuse to put younger widows on the list; for when their sensual desires alienate them from Christ, they want to marry, and so they incur condemnation for having violated their first pledge. Besides that, they learn to be idle, gadding about from house to house, and they are not merely idle, but gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not say. So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, and manage their households, so as to give the adversary no occasion to revile us. For some have already turned away to follow Satan. If any believing woman has relatives who are really widows, let her assist them; let the church not be burdened, so it can assist those who are real widows.
Welfare is a tricky business. Human need presses on all sides. How do you distribute the proceeds of the widows’ fund? This chapter gives advice, but also illustrates what a minefield it is. Timothy is advised only to help “real” widows, which seems to cut out the younger ones, especially any “merry” ones!. We have to smile at the author’s condemnation of the flighty gossip-prone ones! (Who says the Scriptures are boring?)
But widowhood is no laughing matter. War creates widows every day. The widows and children of Syria still cry out in 2017. Child brides become widows overnight. There are no age restrictions. All need urgent help. Christians and Muslims alike weep at the futility.
So what is our response? Christian Aid Week rolls round again, and we walk the streets, and knock on doors, and we hear the blunt grunts: ”charity begins at home!;” “I don’t give to foreigners” and so on. The western world is pulling up the drawbridge… UK first….America first…. but the widows of the world will not go away.
Two of the best known widows in the Scriptures were beautiful people: Naomi and Ruth. Their story must always be our story. They found bread in Beth-lechem (“House of Bread”). Boaz became an answer to prayer.
So do we.
Don’t forget the widows. They focus our Christ-like response. Always.
God of Ruth, teach us friendship. God of Naomi, help us to love and care for our families. God of Timothy, help the Church to be wise and generous. God of Jesus, accompany us into ministry, into compassion, into a world where the tears of widows are dried in Jesus’ way. Amen
The Rev’d David Jenkins is a retired minister and member of Marple URC in Cheshire. .