In all likelihood, the primary reason Paul writes to Timothy about the widows in such detail and such length, is because the church that Timothy is serving is neglecting the widows, there are those in the church and community that are hurting, and struggling, and barely making it, and the leaders are so caught up in their own troubles, the widows are falling between the stools. Nobody even notices, or if they do notice, they don’t have time because they are caught up in their own drama. And how sad it is when two sides fight and there is a third innocent victim. What is the purpose of the church? It’s an old saying, but has a lot of merit: “The church is the only organization that exists for its non-members.”
Keep focused on what is most important….The main thing is making a difference to the powerless, people that, on the surface, cannot do anything for you…Paul has marched us to this most important principle of not letting anybody fall between the stools. The widows, the powerless, the hurting, the struggling, this is the purpose.
It’s easy to be discourage: The story is told of William Wilberforce who was discouraged one night in the early 1790s after another defeat in his 10 year battle against the slave trade in England. Tired and frustrated, he opened his Bible and began to leaf through it. A small piece of paper fell out. It was a letter written by John Wesley shortly before his death. Wilberforce read it again: "Unless the divine power has raised you up... I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that (abominable practice of slavery), which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? Oh, be not weary of well-doing. Go on in the name of God, and in the power of His might." When you know your calling from God, you will find the strength and the resolution…
Keep focused on what is most important… The big fear of Paul is that Timothy and the church he is serving are sidetracked. From the messages a few months ago, there is tension among the leaders of the church, “command certain men not to teach false doctrines…endless genealogies…meaningless talk ” (1 Tim. 1:3-6). When the leaders start posturing, when the powerful start taking sides, who falls between the stools? The innocent, the powerless. The church leaders, the powerful, those with a voice in the church where Timothy was serving, were posturing, caught up in drama, and who lost: the innocent, the widows, the powerless.
There are those who need to make better choices, to not get caught up on drama, but the ultimate goal is NOT so that you can live a healthier life, the goal is to serve others, so that nobody falls between the stools.
The widows were the problem of the day as Paul wrote to Timothy. I am sure Paul cared deeply about Timothy, he wanted correct teaching and for people to use their spiritual gifts for the greater good of the body of Christ, but more importantly, he wanted a system in the church to take care of those who were struggling, the powerless, the hurting, those who had no voice. How easy it is to look past those who are not yelling and screaming, those who are not seeking attention. It’s not hard to see that perhaps this scripture about the widows is Paul’s main concern: get your act together so that you can focus on those who need a helping hand, those who are hurting and struggling.
In Sumas, one of the prayers, is that we will be able to connect with more and more people who never venture outside of their doors. The hidden population.
Never give up on people…Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9 “Give proper attention to those widows who are really in need.” Paul says. That’s a healthy church. For them it was widows; we live in a very different age. The world has changed, now we have social security and pensions, means that were not available in those days, a variety of living situations. Some widows are millionaires. Many widows have a tremendous capacity to contribute in a thousand ways according to their calling. As we apply this scripture to us, we must be ready and willing to give proper attention to any person in danger of falling between the stools: the children that don’t have a healthy support system at home, young adults that are struggling, middle age adults that get caught up in health issues that are under-resourced. The elderly, including widows, that are struggling either financially, emotionally. I have had many conversations in recent weeks in which we are agreeing that in todays world, and Sumas and the Nooksack Valley is no exception, the biggest problem is loneliness. People feeling alone, people that are discouraged. Never give up…always looking, watching, Let us not become weary in doing good.
How dare we be a people that fight with each other to the neglect of being the hands and feet of Jesus in the community. May we be a church and Christian community that searches out those who can do nothing for us in return, because they are powerless…
Clearly this scripture says we are to be Systematic: we start in our own families. Take an inventory of those in your family that have needs, and that is to be a priority (1 Tim. 5:4). You can easily read through these verses and see the principles, they make sense. Help should come from families first, but if families are not stepping up to the plate, or if there are no families, then we are to step in and make a difference. 1 Tim. 5:5 even talks about the problem of loneliness as part of the equation. I’m not sure what the business is about compiling a list (1 Tim. 5:9), but again, even if we are not called to duplicate an exact list, the principle is clear to be aware and systematically help. Whatever our system. We are privileged to have Seeds of Hope, the Women’s Ministries, the Clothesline, the Baby baskets. Part of my giftedness is to be able to cast a wide net, so I am trying to find pockets of like minded people in every corner of the city, every niche, in Sumas and in Everson and Nooksack. To know and identify the needs. To make a difference. If anything is clear in this scripture, it is to be systematic as we care about people and never give up.
Have high standards, high expectations…we are not called to have a blank checkbook. Paul indicates there are those who are not ready to be helped. 1 Tim. 5:6 indicates that some people cannot be helped. I have been cursed out more than once by people demanding that as a Christian it was my duty to help them – it’s a most interesting phenomena. The most vivid time was when I was in the Nooksack Church and a stranger called demanding that I give her money to put gas in her car.
Read through this scripture and you get the sense there are standards. If people are able to help themselves then they need to do so: 1 Tim. 5:9-10. One thing I learned in working with youth for a brief time is the importance of having high standards. Young people will rise to high expectations. Once in a while I see Jack in the youth center, and you can see very quickly it is a safe place with high expectations, high standards. Christians are not called to be doormats for the world, open pocketbooks, or non-discriminating fluff people. We are called to have high standards and high expectations, expecting people to do what they can, to seek help in their own families, and even to join the team. My favorite verse in this section is v. 10… isolate a few verses and you’d think the widows are the most powerless people ever, but not so, widows are capable of being some of the most awesome and amazing people: “…washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.”
Many of the people we are trying to help, will be the leaders on the front lines helping others. I have to believe that. And I see that. High standards, high expectations. We don’t want anyone to fall between the stools, but if somebody chooses to be lost, we are powerless to stop them. High standards, high expectations, and some may say no.
Conclusion: Helping others is our greatest privilege, our greatest calling. Jesus showed his compassion to the widow. He commended the persistence of the widow who continued to plead with the unjust judge. He noted the generosity of the poor widow who put her pennies in the offering. He warned the Pharisees who devoured widows' houses while at the same time were so 'splashy' in their religion. During his dying he commended to the apostle John his own widowed mother.
The powerless are to be lifted up. The powerless are so often left behind when there is drama, when there is tension, because all energy goes into taking sides. Paul is dealing with the subject of our duty to help those in need among us. He is not talking about every single widow. There would be widows who are millionaires, self-sufficient, and well able to look after themselves, their families and their possessions. "Honor them, Timothy, and give proper recognition to them." May we be a church that helps those that can do nothing for us, those who are vulnerable.
'Honor widows', says Paul. It may be time-consuming, unending, unexciting, and a delicate matter, nevertheless they must be honored. May we give respect and recognition to the powerless. We already have a fledgling system in Sumas to try and make a difference, although obviously you may have your own niche and a better way. We must be discriminating, helping those who truly need help. We must have high standards and high expectations, believing that many of those who are helped will become the most effective difference makers themselves.
May we be a people that never gives up, but work together as a team, helping those who are truly in need, honoring the powerless among us, and having high standards and high expectations. Amen.