Imagine living in a country without Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, or any other government program that serves as a social safety net. That is what life was like in the ancient world. Throughout the Old Testament, God had commanded His people to care for those in need (see Deut. 10:18; 14:29; 24:17; 24:19).
Today’s passage takes that instruction a step further. In Paul’s day, widows were among those who were especially vulnerable. Here, Paul provides guidelines for how to distribute help to widows in a way that stewarded limited resources and corrected ongoing abuses. It seems that the church in Ephesus had an official program that provided lifelong support to widows. The question was, who should qualify for that program?
Paul put the primary responsibility for the care of widows on family. If a widow has children, or grandchildren, they should be the first source of support (v. 4). Paul has strong words for those who neglect to care for their own, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives . . . has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (v. 8). Clearly, the gospel should impact how we treat our family.
However, if a widow does not have family, has lived a godly life, and is at the age where she is not going to remarry, she should receive this support (vv. 9–10). Paul does not command, but counsels younger widows to remarry for two reasons: (1) physical desire (see also 1 Cor. 7:8–9) and (2) the temptation to fall into idle gossip and embracing false teaching, a real problem in the Ephesian church (vv. 13–15).
>> The needs around us can feel overwhelming! How do we begin to extend godly care to people in our lives? This passage encourages us not to grow weary in doing good. Consider how you can help someone you know who is in need or support an organization in your community that is providing food or services to the needy.
Paul’s detailed instructions on family and church life are a blessing for us! Let’s heed exhortations in 1 Timothy 5 and ask God to make us the people who take good care of our poor, our widows, and our elderly.