No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, 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.
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. Thus, they bring judgment on themselves because they have broken their first pledge. 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. So, I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.
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. (New International Version)
The subject of widows is throughout all of Holy Scripture. Since well over half of all women in the ancient world above age 60 were widows, there were continual and ongoing needs to be addressed.
Women were mostly dependent upon men in the biblical world. So, whenever a husband died, this put the widow immediately at risk. The children and other extended family needed to step up and care for her. And, if this didn’t happen for whatever reasons, then the church would fill the void of caring for them.
Because of their vulnerable situation, God especially cares about widows. This is made evident by the many instructions and exhortations of the Lord to Israel:
The Lord your God is the God of all gods and Lord of all lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who doesn’t play favorites and doesn’t take bribes. He enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing. (Deuteronomy 10:17-18, CEB)
A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families. (Psalm 68:5-6b, NIV)
Jesus maintained the stance of care and concern for widows in the Gospels:
Soon afterward, Jesus went to a city called Nain. His disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he came near the entrance to the city, he met a funeral procession. The dead man was a widow’s only child. A large crowd from the city was with her.
When the Lord saw her, he felt sorry for her. He said to her, “Don’t cry.”
He went up to the open coffin, took hold of it, and the men who were carrying it stopped. He said, “Young man, I’m telling you to come back to life!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. (Luke 7:11-15, GW)
So, it is no wonder that the Apostle Paul gave his young protégé Timothy some detailed instructions on how to handle ministry to widows in his church at Ephesus. The gist of that instruction is to encourage younger widows to remarry so that they would be properly cared for and enrolling older widows on a church list for support.
These widows within the church were expected to have a ministry of prayer and good works. This is truly wise counsel from Paul. Good relations and lifestyles require a healthy rhythm of giving and receiving. Widows are honored by having their needs met, as well as providing opportunities for them to give in ways they are able.
Whenever widows are only on the receiving end, they tend to become busybodies and gossips. And whenever they only give, then widows can be overlooked, and their daily needs neglected. All this is to say that there really needs to be thoughtful and intentional ministry to the widows among us.
Although in today’s modern society the status and station of many widows is different from the ancient world, there are still widows who need a life-giving ministry of both giving and receiving.
For this important dynamic to be successful, it’s necessary that adult children care for their elderly parents. I can testify firsthand as a hospital chaplain that there are many sons and daughters who fall woefully short of providing basic help to their aging mothers through a failure of consistent relational interactions, following through on needed paperwork, and answering calls in a timely manner.
Also, far too many aging widows are lonely with little to no resources and support in the form of both relationships and basic necessities. A truly Christian community is aware of the widows in their parish and seeks to honor them through establishing a ministry of giving and receiving.
Families and churches have a responsibility to the elderly in giving sufficient financial help, practical assistance with driving to appointments, and consistent companionship. They also have a responsibility to arrange opportunities for widows to give their time in prayer and helping out others through good works and good wisdom.
If we ourselves who are not widows have healthy rhythms of giving and receiving in our own lives, then we are in a position to help the elderly establish healthy rhythms, as well. Perhaps it is telling that any lack of attention to widows reflects our own personal neglect of spiritual and emotional health.
May God be in my head and in my understanding. May God be in my eyes and in my looking. May God be in my mouth and in my speaking. May God be in my heart and in my thinking. May God be at my end and at my departing. May God be with us, in all things and in every way. Amen.