Widow - Ignoring Her Needs is Eternally Serious

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, November 7, 2013 0 comments

“Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words”. This great quote has been attributed to church father Saint Francis of Assisi. It is oft-quoted in seminary and other Christian circles. But many of you may be wondering what he is talking about. Isn’t preaching what the pastor does when he gets up in front of the church every Sunday morning and SPEAKS? Well, actually that is just a small aspect of preaching. A pastor can preach an amazing sermon on discipline, but if he is a glutton, lazy, or addicted to something, you’re not likely to put a lot of stock in his words. If he speaks about love, fidelity, or integrity, yet has an affair or physically harms his wife, his words are pointless. To preach is simply to proclaim, and we make much louder proclamations with our actions than we do with our words. Sometimes, words might be necessary. But you can often proclaim without them!

In the early Christian churches, self-righteousness was a major problem. There were people, namely the teachers of the law, who loved to tout their knowledge and legalism yet failed to live according to what they knew or taught. They fell in love with all that their positions afforded them in the eyes of the world, and some went so far as to kill Jesus because his truth was a threat to everything they loved. Because they failed to see their error in living, Jesus spoke of them with harsh words. “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely” (Mark 12:38-40). Friends, this is the Creator and Judge of the universe stating that those who exploit the most vulnerable among us will be punished MOST severely. I’d say we better pay attention.

James, the brother of Jesus, addresses the issue of self-righteous legalism in his letter to the early Jewish Christians who had been scattered due to persecution. He tells them that you can’t just hear, know, and believe the word, because all of that is meaningless if you don’t “do what it says” (James 1:22). He explains further that “anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like” (vv. 23-24). If you can’t remember what you look like, you wasted your time looking in the mirror. If you don’t DO what the word says, you’ve wasted time gaining knowledge that can only puff up your reputation at best. For those who argued over what exactly it is that God wants his followers to do in response to the word they receive, James leaves no room for discussion. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (v. 27). If you want to live God’s Word, start with caring for orphans and widows.

In addition to Jesus and James, the Apostle Paul took the care of widows seriously. He devoted nearly a fifth of his first letter to young Timothy to specific instructions about how the church should care for widows (1 Tim. 5:1-16). Three different times, he references the church’s responsibility to care for widows who are “really in need” (vv. 3, 5, and 16). This qualifying phrase was used to refer to those widows who have not only lost their husbands, but also have no children or grandchildren to take care of them. It was assumed that any widow that did have relatives would be taken care of by them. Just how strongly was it assumed? Paul says, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (v. 8). Wow! That is a strong warning.

The Biblical message about caring for the needs of widows is clear. We can’t afford to ignore them! For all of you young people out there, you may very well be in a position at some point to care for a widow in your family. So many today seem to just want to pass the responsibility off to others, be they family members, friends, or assisted living facilities. I urge you to heed Paul’s warning about those who don’t take care of their own family members. For all believers, I challenge you to think about how you care for orphans and widows. While the Bible’s word for “widow” is very specific for a woman whose husband has passed away, I would also encourage you to examine your heart for serving others who are vulnerable, such as children who have been abused or neglected and single mothers whose husbands or partners have simply abandoned them when they were needed most. Even if a vulnerable person is such because of her personal consequences, I don’t believe that should change how we serve her. Friends, ignoring the needs of a widow or vulnerable person among us will have eternal consequences. I don’t know about you, but I do not want to be punished most severely, be like one who forgets my own face, or one who is worse than an unbeliever. It’s time for the church to BE what we say we know and believe.