Fight for the Vulnerable
We have been looking at 1 Timothy for several weeks now, and I am sure some of you are ready to move on.
Some of this feels so theoretical that it can leave you wondering, “What difference does this make?”
You look at the news, you look around you, and you see a world of hurting people who are hungry and angry and need something.
How does this fight we are talking about impact them?
Is this just about fighting for some ethereal truth so we can say we are right and someone else is wrong?
Hopefully, you have already seen how this fight for the truth impacts you.
We have seen that an understanding of the good news, the gospel, changes our hearts to keep us humble, reminded of just how dark our hearts are without God.
That understanding plays itself out, as we saw last week, in every area of our life, calling us to set an example in our speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity.
But again, how does this help the pain in the world around us? Sure, it makes me better, and yes, we are joining together with others, but how does that impact those around me who have need?
We are going to see this morning that the fight we are in includes a call to fight for the vulnerable, especially those in our midst.
Paul is about to instruct the church in a specific area of ministry: the ministry to widows.
In Paul’s day, this would have been a major issue for churches, because there was no Social Security or Medicare.
Not only that, women were not as able to find work as they are today, so many widows found themselves in incredibly vulnerable situations.
The church, then, was called to step up and come alongside the vulnerable and provide what care they could.
That is something we see from the very beginning of the church. One of the first church conflicts was over how widows were being cared for, and that is what likely gave rise to the office of deacons.
So, then, Paul is helping the church figure out how to fight for the vulnerable widows in their midst.
Although we do have more social programs available to help widows, they are still included in those our church needs to care for well.
So, then, we are going to draw three principles from this passage on caring well for the vulnerable.
1) The church must care.
1) The church must care.
Did you notice the tone of verse 3?
What kind of statement is that? It is a command, isn’t it?
There is an expectation that the church will care for widows and others who are vulnerable.
As we go through this passage, though, you may notice that it is just talking about how we care for vulnerable widows within the church.
So, then, does the church only care for its own?
No! The expectation is that we will care for as many as possible, but it starts with our brothers and sisters in Christ:
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.
We should be working to make life better for everyone who is in a bad place, but especially for those who follow Christ.
Why? Because that is one of the key demonstrations to the outside world of what Jesus has done for us:
“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Doesn’t that make sense?
After all, the goal of our instruction is love, isn’t it?
Like we looked at last week, we are to love with the same sacrificial love that Jesus demonstrated by dying in our place.
So we too are to sacrifice and love the vulnerable around us, especially those who are a part of God’s family because of their trust and salvation in Christ.
Did you realize it is possible for us to be so busy as a church that we never stop to care for people?
We can have services and programs and special events, and when you step back and look, we may not have accomplished anything to come alongside someone who is hurting and help them to find hope, peace, and practical help.
This is especially sad when it comes to godly women who have faithfully served Christ, their families, and their churches.
I am grateful for the men God is calling to serve our church family who will help us care more deeply for the widows God has graciously allowed us to care for.
Caring for widows is something that God’s people have always struggled with.
In fact, when you read through the Old Testament, you see that this was one of the primary ways that Israel failed.
They didn’t care for the poor, the widow, or the orphan, which is why God would tell his people things like this:
Your rulers are rebels, friends of thieves. They all love graft and chase after bribes. They do not defend the rights of the fatherless, and the widow’s case never comes before them.
Things hadn’t gotten better by Jesus’ day.
Mark 7:10-13 talks about a practice where the Pharisees told people they could dedicate a portion of their money to the Lord, but they held onto it until they died. That way, they could still use their money for themselves, but they couldn’t spend it on caring for their parents.
They were violating what Paul says to the church in Ephesus was the first command with a promise:
Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise, so that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life in the land.
That command to honor your parents never stops, which is why we see the next truth:
2) The church steps in where families can’t.
2) The church steps in where families can’t.
Go back and read verses 4-8.
These are tough words, aren’t they?
Where does God place the primary burden of care for the vulnerable? On the family.
He doesn’t start with the government, although we know from Romans 13 that the government can be a tool God uses.
He doesn’t start with the church, even, although we do have a responsibility.
In caring for widows, the burden begins at home.
The expectation is that, when possible, the primary care for the vulnerable should come from within their own family.
I know several families in our church who have taken these commands seriously, both in the past and in the present.
They are making sacrifices of their time and their finances, giving back to the ones who gave them life.
I know it is kind of a joke at this point, but did you ever hear your mom say, “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out?”
Well, I don’t know about the last part, but you wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for your parents.
I know they haven’t been perfect, but you have the privilege of repaying some of the kindness they paid you in caring for you until you were able to care for yourself.
Also, remember that our love is a reflection of God’s love, not necessarily just getting back to even with someone.
God loved us when we were sinners, his enemies, and more. It cost him the life of his own Son to buy us back, and yet in love, he sacrificed whatever it took to bring us back into a relationship with him.
As you love your parents, even when your relationship wasn’t perfect with them, and even if they never understand, you are still reflecting the very love Christ showed you and honoring them as he directs.
I understand that there are all kinds of situations that change what this looks like from family to family, but ask yourself seriously, “Am I honoring my parents the way God wants me to?”
There may be distance there that your family won’t allow you to reconcile.
In those instances, take comfort in this command:
If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Your job is to let Christ’s love flow through you, giving you the strength to love them like he loves us. You do what you can, and you honor them as Christ leads, and you leave their reaction between them and God.
Did you notice how serious an issue this is? Look back at verse 8...
There is an expectation that a man will do what he can to care for and provide for his own family.
Again, there are all kinds of situations where this will look differently than in others.
However, if you aren’t providing for your family because you are lazy, then you are worse than an unbeliever!
Why? Because even unbeliever’s take care of their family. If you, out of laziness or fear or whatever it may be, are not caring for your family, you are acting as if the selfishness of sin still rules your heart.
The expectation, then, is that care for the vulnerable starts with the family.
However, there are times when there isn’t family around. Whether a widow is childless, or whether her children refuse to honor God in this way, the church is called to step in and help those in genuine need.
The one in genuine need is described in verse 5...
This doesn’t mean that widows are some kind of nuns or something; however, it means that they are dependent on God and his people alone to provide for them.
In that case, the church needs to step up and help however they can.
Notice something about that help, though, as we look through the rest of this section: When we care for the vulnerable, we must...
3) The church must help, not enable.
3) The church must help, not enable.
There was a very specific set of qualifications for a woman who was a widow that was eligible to receive ongoing aid from the church.
Look at verses 9-10.
Those who receive the priority of help are the ones who have demonstrated God-honoring lifestyles.
We will look at why they were supposed to be older than 60 in a minute, but look at that last phrase in verse 9...
This is the equivalent of what we saw of elders and deacons. If a woman was going to receive aid from the church, she had to have been faithful to keep her marriage vows, as well as being known for her good works.
In that day, it would have included taking in orphans, showing hospitality by opening her home to others, encouraging believers who were travelling through, and things like this.
Those kinds of women, who had faithfully served Christ while their husbands were alive, demonstrated that they would continue to be faithful to the promise they made to follow Christ, which is what in verse 12.
Remember, life expectancy wasn’t what it is now, so these women were older and unlikely to marry again.
They would need the church’s support for the remainder of their lives, and their lifestyle to that point showed they wouldn’t abuse it.
What about younger women? After all, there were lots of ways to die young in the Roman empire, so what did Paul say to them?
Pick up in verses 11-15...
This is where things get even trickier than they have been so far.
Although there are a variety of different ideas about this passage, it seems that the context here is that by enrolling the younger widows in the church assistance program, it would enable them to pursue lifestyles that weren’t God-honoring.
With the pressure of providing taken off, they may have been more prone to pursue men who didn’t follow Christ.
Also, without needing to find work, they had time to be idle, which led to gossip spreading throughout the church.
For those women, then, it was better for them to seek out a godly marriage and focus their attention on honoring Christ in their marriage and home than it would have been for the church to continue to enable them to live a life that led to idleness and sin.
Why is that bad? Look at verses 14-15 again.
If they continued to live in sin like that, it would give Satan an opportunity to bring accusations against the church. That would damage the church’s testimony with those around them who didn’t follow Christ.
This is a tough issue for churches, and it is one that can go wrong in a couple of different ways.
On one hand, some of us have so much compassion in our hearts for Jesus and for others who are made in the image of our God that we will give the shirt off our back to anyone who asks us.
That is a beautiful response, but sometimes, it ends up enabling someone to continue a sinful lifestyle or in an unwise pattern that only makes things worse.
If that describes you, I would point you to a book called, When Helping Hurts. It examines a lot of the issues that we unintentionally create with unwise attempts to help
Let me give you a silly example that illustrates this point:
Yesterday, one of my kids was playing a video game. They hit a boss that they couldn’t beat, and they wanted me to do it. I could have done it, but she needed to learn how to beat the level if she was ever going to get better at the game. It took her a while, but suddenly, she ran in the room screaming and jumping up and down, thrilled that she had beaten it herself.
Sometimes, when we help without figuring out the real need of a situation, we are beating the level for that person, when they really need us to help support them, encourage them, and guide them through beating it on their own.
Others of us, though, have grown so calloused that we don’t want to help anyone ever because they need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
In your eyes, everyone in need is a lazy leech who is living off the system when you worked your whole life to get what you have.
For you, I would challenge you to go back to the first part of this message. You and I are called to reflect the same love that Christ showed us.
Maybe you need to go back to 1 Timothy 1:12-17 to remember who you are and where God found you and who he is.
Paul wraps up where he began, with verse 16 - When the family can’t help, the church should step in.
So, let me ask you: what does this look like for you. Is there something you need to do to honor the widows in your family?
What about the widows of this church, and the other vulnerable members in our church family? What does God want you to do to help care for them?
By the way, this doesn’t just mean give money. In fact, the research done by those who wrote When Helping Hurts says that the overwhelming thing that defines poverty across the globe is a lack of dignity, not a lack of money. Maybe you have a network of friends that you can invite that person into so they can have a group like you have who loves them. Perhaps you can connect people with a job or share a meal with them.
Would you pray for our deacons, that God would give us wisdom on how to care best for those in need?
Maybe you just don’t care about anyone. Would you ask God to remove that callous and give you the concern for others that he showed for you?
Through it all, would you pray for God to help us as a church to become a group that fights for the vulnerable?