Since money is an indication of our life, it is a part of our Christian living. We give our time to produce money, and thus, the money is a symbol of our time. When we contribute our money unselfishly, it is the same as giving our time unselfishly to a specific cause or individual. This was Paul’s point in Philippians 4:17 when he stated that the fruit of his labors went to the Philippians because they had supported him once and again when he preached in Thessalonica. They were blessed with the fruit because they did not personally reap from the contribution. Giving to the evangelist in his preaching somewhere in the world was what the Philippians were doing. They were not supporting a local preacher, or purchasing song books for themselves, or doing building repairs where they would personally benefit. Theirs was unselfish giving for something from which they would not receive personal benefit. We do not say this because it would be wrong to support something from which we receive personal benefit. It is simply a fact that in the New Testament the giving was directed to someone or some famine victims from which the givers did not receive any personally benefit. New Testament giving was always for someone else, not for self. It was as God gave unselfishly to us, we give unselfishly to others.
There are other financial responsibilities where contributors can share their time, and thus reap fruit from their sacrifices. These opportunities to produce fruit identify the nature of our discipleship, which is to say, they are opportunities to manifest our love. They are also manifestations of the nature of the church of our Lord.
A. Enrolled widows:
James identified “pure religion” with the statement, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this, to take care of the orphans and widows in their affliction …” (Js 1:27). Taking care of orphans is simply being a part of the human race. There need be no commandments in reference to this ministry. James’ statement of James 1:27, therefore, is simply a declarative statement, not an imperative. But when it comes to taking care of widows, the Holy Spirit knew that the disciples needed some special instructions in order that their love not be abused by those women who might become Christians just to get on the payroll of the church.
In the early days of the existence of the church, one of the first points of identity of the church was a common distribution to widows. What is interesting to note is that we have this event recorded in the New Testament, not in reference to making this ministry a mandate, but simply as something that Christians did. In the case of Acts 6:1-7 there were some problems with the distribution. But we must keep in mind that as preaching the gospel to the lost was normal for a disciple, so was caring for widows.
But as this behavior of the church progressed throughout the first century, there was some abuse of the sharing love of the disciples in this matter. By the time Paul wrote the first letter to Timothy, the Holy Spirit had to lay down some qualifications for the church’s support of widows. When we study through these qualifications for a widow to be supported, it is interesting to note that the church does not have the responsibility of supporting all widows.
Paul wrote, “Honor widows who are truly widows” (1 Tm 5:3). The word “honor” here means to support financially, or to provide for all their needs. By using the word “truly,” Paul was instructing that the church must support only those widows who are defined to be true widows according to the instructions that he was about to give. The word “truly” excludes some widows who are not qualified to be supported according to the limitations that he gives. The church is not obligated to support every Christian widow. The following would be the defining qualifications that would warrant a widow to be supported by the church:
- A childless widow: “But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to practice piety at home and to repay their parents, for this is good and acceptable before God” (1 Tm 5:4). But if a Christian widow does not have children or grandchildren, then she must be considered by the church to receive church support.
- Spiritually minded: “Now she who is truly a widow and desolate trusts in God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day” (1 Tm 5:5). The widow who is not continuing in supplications and prayers has no right to be supported by the church. If she is “desolate,” and she has no other means of support, then she is eligible for the support of the church. Being “desolate” would be subjective, and thus, the church must make a decision if a widow is truly desolate. If she is living in a mansion that was left to her by her husband, then she probably is not desolate. The church should ask her to sell the mansion, bring down her standard of living, and then she would be considered to be enrolled as a widow to be supported by the church. An older woman is not truly a desolate widow if she has a retirement plan or pension that will service her needs. A Christian widow must always remember what Paul added, “But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives” (1 Tm 5:6). The church is under no obligation to support a widow who is spiritually dead and unfaithful to the Lord.
- Children first: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tm 5:8). The word “household” in the first century context meant more than immediate children. A household included the immediate children, husband and wife, but also servants and relatives. What Paul was instructing in the above statement was that relatives first have the responsibility of taking care of the widows within the household. This would mean that a Christian family who had employed a Christian servant, has the responsibility of taking care of the widow of a Christian servant. If the head of a household does not take care of the widows of his household, then he is worse than the unbelievers who feel no obligation of taking care of widows. The heads of families cannot obligate the church to do that which is their responsibility. Therefore, if a head of a household is negligent in carrying out this responsibility, then it is the responsibility of the church to approach such a person, for he has denied the faith.
- The limitation of sixty: “Let no one be enrolled as a widow who is under sixty years old, having been the wife of one man” (1 Tm 5:9). No widow under sixty can apply for support from the church. If she is sixty and older, then she must have been the wife of one man, and thus not a polygamist. If she was a polygamist, then she was not living a faithful Christian life. It could be argued that she may have been a polygamist before she became a Christian, but remained with one man after her baptism. Thus the phrase, “having been the wife of one man” could apply only to the time she was a faithful Christian. We would assume that this would be the proper interpretation simply because some young woman may have lived a rebellious life in her younger years as an unbeliever, having more than one husband. Such a person may have been as the woman caught in adultery, to whom Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go. From now on sin no more” (Jn 8:11). If this woman went and sinned no more by having only one husband and living a faithful Christian life, then we would conclude that she would be enrolled as a widow when her husband died because she was faithful at the time of her husband’s death.
- A reputation for good works: Paul now lists a series of things that the church must follow in order to register a widow to receive support from the church. The prospective enrolled widow must have …
… a reputation for good works; if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work (1 Tm 5:10).
From what Paul states here as qualifications for support from the church, we would assume that a problem prevailed where Timothy was located. The problem was probably in the area of widows of the community lining up for support from the only people in town who took care of widows. Since it was the obligation of the church to support widows, the word got out to everyone in the community that the local church puts widows on a pension plan. In all these qualifications, one point is very clear: If a widow has not been a faithful Christian for some time, then she has no right to be supported by the church. In other words, those widows who would seek to be members of the church in order to be supported by the church have no hope of support. The church is under no obligation to take care of any widow who has not become known for being a faithful servant to the saints.
6. No young widows need to apply: “But refuse the younger widows …” (1 Tm 5:11). If a widow is under the age of sixty, then she is not to be supported by the church. Because of the temptations that face young widows, Paul said, “I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house …” (1 Tm 5:14). Paul’s qualification of one being a “young widow” would be a woman who still had the ability to bear children. This would be a young Christian woman who was relatively young, and thus had the opportunity to marry and bear children.
Paul’s final instructions concerning the care of widows is significant. “If any believing man or woman has widows, let them assist them, and do not let the church be burdened, so that it may relieve those who are truly widows” (1 Tm 5:16). A Christian man has the responsibility of taking care of his widowed mother. A younger single Christian woman also has the responsibility of taking care of her widowed mother. If those of the household do not support the widows of the household, then the church would possibly have to neglect those who were truly widows. This is the organic body of Christ functioning properly in order to make sure that every faithful widow is cared for in the fellowship of love.
B. Supported elders:
In reference to the support of elders, Paul wrote, “Let the elders who direct well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Tm 5:17). This statement needs little explanation. “Double honor” refers to double pay. When Paul said in a previous verse of this chapter, “honor widows …,” he meant the same thing as he means here. Reference is to support, not giving respect, though the young are taught to respect their elders. We say this because some have tried to excuse themselves from supporting elders by interpreting Paul’s use of the word “honor” in this text to mean giving great respect. Such would be an inconsistent interpretation, and in being inconsistent, one might neglect his responsibility of supporting worthy elders.
Paul’s instructions to support elders is based on the Old Testament principle, “You will not muzzle the ox that treads out the grain,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Tm 5:18). Paul explains two worthy works of those elders (shepherds) who should be supported by the church. These are those elders who choose to work in the area of preaching the gospel to the lost and those who seek to teach the saved. However, he uses the word “especially” to refer to the specific ministries of some elders. In general, the elder is to be supported, but specifically, those who labor in preaching and teaching must be supported if they do not have any other livelihood.
The elder must be supported with “double” wages. If one truly understands the nature of a godly elder, then he will have no difficulty understanding what is meant in this statement. Godly elders are with the people. And when the people are in need, the elder reaches into his own pockets. A godly elder will never consume upon his own lusts, and thus will always die a poor man. The church has the responsibility of ministering to the poor through the elders who are with the sheep, ministering aid when aid is needed. Worldly minded and greedy people have no understanding of what is meant in the double pay of elders. And thus, the church should under no circumstances allow the twisted minds of greedy people to discourage the church from obeying the mandate of the Holy Spirit in reference to the double pay of elders. When elders are ministering in growing the church through the preaching of the gospel, and edifying the converts through teaching the word of God, then they must be encouraged to continue their work through double pay lest they give themselves into poverty.
C. Concerning orphans:
Outside the statement of James 1:27, there are no instructions in the New Testament concerning the care of orphans. As previously recognized, there is a great deal of information concerning the support of widows. In the past chapters, we have studied at length the support of evangelists who go forth to preach the gospel. There is also a great deal of information in the New Testament concerning the contribution of funds to those brethren who are suffering from a natural disaster. We have the instructions of the previous point in reference to the support of elders. But there is nothing about the support of orphans. Nevertheless, James stated that pure religion is identified by people who take care of orphans.
Since there are no instructions concerning orphans, then we can make only one conclusion. Taking care of orphans is simply a natural thing to do as a citizen of the human race. There need be no instructions, no commandments. To turn away from an orphan is to deny the very principle of humanity.
But one might reconsider the context of James 1:27. In this chapter, we have reviewed the church’s responsibility of taking care of widows. However, the church does not have the responsibility of taking care of all widows. Only those widows who have been faithful Christians are to be listed for support. We would not come to this conclusion in reference to orphans, for orphans would have no life history of service that would qualify them for church support as the widows. We could conclude, therefore, that when James spoke of orphans, he spoke of any orphan. It is simply the responsibility of Christians to do the best they can in taking care of orphans. No qualification is needed on the part of the orphan in order to be supported. Taking care of orphans is a way by which we can determine if we are still citizens of the human race.
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