How To Act
1Don't correct an older man. Encourage him, as you would your own father. Treat younger men as you would your own brother, 2and treat older women as you would your own mother. Show the same respect to younger women that you would to your sister.
3Take care of any widow who is really in need. 4But if a widow has children or grandchildren, they should learn to serve God by taking care of her, as she once took care of them. This is what God wants them to do. 5 A widow who is really in need is one who doesn't have any relatives. She has faith in God, and she keeps praying to him night and day, asking for his help.
6A widow who thinks only about having a good time is already dead, even though she is still alive.
7Tell all this to everyone, so they will do the right thing. 8People who don't take care of their relatives, and especially their own families, have given up their faith. They are worse than someone who doesn't have faith in the Lord.
9For a widow to be put on the list of widows, she must be at least 60 years old, and she must have been faithful in marriage. 10She must also be well-known for doing all sorts of good things, such as raising children, giving food to strangers, welcoming God's people into her home, helping people in need, and always making herself useful.
11Don't put young widows on the list. They may later have a strong desire to get married. Then they will turn away from Christ 12and become guilty of breaking their promise to him. 13Besides, they will become lazy and get into the habit of going from house to house. Next, they will start gossiping and become busybodies, talking about things that are none of their business.
14I would prefer that young widows get married, have children, and look after their families. Then the enemy won't have any reason to say insulting things about us. 15Look what's already happened to some of the young widows! They have turned away to follow Satan.
16If a woman who is a follower has any widows in her family, she should help them. This will keep the church from having that burden, and then the church can help widows who are really in need.
How does Christian community work in practice? If we don’t get this right we’re in danger of living like people who have “given up their faith” (v 8). We may fail to prevent others from “turn[ing] away from Christ” (v 11). As if that is not bad enough there is the damage we can do by bringing insult on the church (v 14). These are heavy duty issues! It seems that getting it wrong in our Christian communities has massive consequences. It takes work to figure out what to “love our neighbour” means in practice.
There are two dangers to avoid. The first is not caring enough, the second is over-indulging people. Positively, Paul encourages proper respect (vv 1 and 2), and calls for followers of Jesus to take their responsibility seriously (v 7). Paul would never allow “ministry” to squeeze out proper care for family (vv 4,8).
How do we serve God and do what he wants us to do (v 4)? We do it by clearly identifying need and fulfilling our duty of care before God and to others. It seems that this does not just happen. Expressing love for each other demands thought and organization so that limited resources are targeted effectively (v 16) and everyone shares in the burden of care.
But what about over-indulgence, what Digby Anderson describes as “kindness that kills” (Digby Anderson Kindness that kills: churches’ simplistic response to complex social issues, SPCK 1984)? Is Paul being harsh when he speaks about younger widows (v 11)? Supporting certain people can be detrimental to them and impede them from carrying responsibility themselves. In fact, it can be so damaging that they end up renouncing their faith in Jesus altogether (vv 11,15) as it undermines their trust in him.
Are we serious about caring?
God of compassion, who cares for the vulnerable, may our churches display your heart of care towards the needy. Forgive us for damaging your reputation through lack of compassion. Give me a soft heart and active hands to fulfill my responsibilities. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.