Caring for Needy Relatives


1Tim. 5:3   Honor widows who are really widows. 4 If a widow has children or grandchildren, they should first learn their religious duty to their own family and make some repayment to their parents; for this is pleasing in God’s sight. 5 The real widow, left alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day; 6 but the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. 7 Give these commands as well, so that they may be above reproach. 8 And whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.


First of all there are two types of widows contrasted. There is the real widow who recognizes her dependence for her daily needs. At the same time, there is the widow who would like to have her wants fulfilled. This message is for the family who needs to take responsibility for the widow who is in need. She has learned to trust and to depend upon God, but the family is to the be source of support for her. If Christians do not provide for their own family members, there will be disastrous consequences. One cannot love God and not love their closest neighbor — their family members. 

Paul is expressing the importance of social responsibility which must be exhibited within Christian families. Caring for needy relatives is a testimony to our love for Christ. Chrysostom says that “The law of God and of nature is violated by him who does not provide for his own family.” In not taking upon ourselves our social responsibility for relatives, we are virtually denying the faith. Faith must be followed up by action, and without this action we are worse than the infidels. 


In the early 4th century Christianity began to have a significant impact on the Roman Empire. Soon Christianity was viewed as acceptable and would eventually become the religion of the Empire, usurping all that had been embraced in the past. The government did not have social welfare programs and so the Christians immediately stood in the gap. They cared for those who suffered from the plague; shared their food during times of terrible drought; and set up facilities where people could come for physical and spiritual healing. It was the Christians who went and gathered the babies who had been left to die outside the city limits, when, for whatever reason society practiced infanticide. Because of the acts of Christians, many came to faith. It’s also because of the church’s social engagement that she was given tax-free status within the Empire. The church was the welfare system of the State. 

We live in different days and yet, there remains the question of caring for others, especially our own family members. Different cultures reveal this care in a variety of ways. Just this last weekend I was in Namibia and I was pleasantly surprised when I met a woman at the gathering who had suffered from a stroke. It was obvious that she was from one of the northern tribes and they had brought her to the assembly. She looked lovingly cared for, but it was obvious that she was left with lingering symptoms; one side of her face drooping and an inability to use an arm and a leg. She smiled and shook my hand as I walked by and I knew that the only way that she could be present and fellowshipping with all these people was because someone was taking the time to care for her, and include her in life. Her presence at the gathering spoke volumes to me. 

At the same time there were children walking around the auditorium during our meeting. No one seemed bothered by their presence, but I also couldn’t determine who the parents were. Everyone present lovingly cared for these children, hugging, encouraging, giving them a bite to eat, etc. The children didn’t disrupt but happily co-existed within the fellowship of believers. They knew that they were welcome. 

Western culture may not necessarily respond in this way, but how much do we lay at the feet of culture? It appears that the church has allowed, or encouraged the State to take on the role of compassion and care for the needy. Some would say that this is a good practice of care and that the system has been established, or encouraged by Christians. But, is there some way that the church has abdicated her ability to be a shining witness for Jesus in this world? Instead of caring for others, we can shirk our responsibility by affirming that we pay our taxes. Even in this way, some believers no longer feel that it is their responsibility to care for their own relatives. I’ve heard the voices of adult children, complaining about the needed care for their parents, stating that they have no resources, while heading off on another expensive vacation. Where are our priorities, and are we willing to lose our witness in this world? 

The world doesn’t want to hear platitudes from Christians. Our actions really do speak louder than our words. If we truly love God, we will love our neighbor and that will start with our own family. Love for God must be visibly witnessed in our care for others or the unbelievers will put us to shame. 


Lord, may love for you overflow to those for whom I am responsible. Amen. 


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