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 saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds. (1 Timothy 5:9-10)
Just to keep track of the criteria Paul has been establishing for widows “in need”:
1. They are not in need if they have family members who are capable of caring for them. This does not mean a widow’s church family should not be there for spiritual and emotional support. But if she has family members capable of meeting her financial needs, they should accept responsibility for her welfare and not take advantage of God’s people who are trying to help those who are truly in need.
2. They are not in need if they are using the resources they have to feed their pleasures, while not looking to God as their source of strength and guidance.
Now we discover widows are not in need if they are under the age of sixty, and they should not be put on a list for assistance if they have been unfaithful in their marriage, or have failed to show kindness to others.
Wow! These rules are pretty tight aren’t they? But they are scriptural…and this leads us to a difficult topic of discussion.
Throughout my ministry I have heard people say the church should not be about rules and policies because God is a God of grace, not Law. Aside from the fact this logic is not grounded in good theology (the subject of Law and grace relates to how we are saved and not how we structure ministry for the efficient and effective use of God’s resources), it also is absolutely not true. If it were, we would have to cut passages like 1 Timothy 5 out of the Bible.
In my experience, people who don’t like rules and policies, and use the subject of Law and grace to fight against them, are usually just unhappy with the particular rules and policies that get in the way of the things they want. And upon further examination they usually have rules and policies of their own, crafted for their own purposes and ministries. What I am suggesting is the debate over rules and policies usually comes down to who is in authority, and who is not, and the spiritual conversations that take place are a smokescreen for the intent of the heart.
The truth is, the New Testament is full of rules and policies, handed down by people like the Apostle, and carried along by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Sometime they seem rigid, and to be honest some of Paul’s words here make me uncomfortable. But as I have grown older I have discovered rules and policies have to be established, even in the Lord’s work, because there are people who will take advantage of a church family. And all of the religious sounding language in the world can’t hide the fact that those who are not in need should be meeting the needs of others instead of asking others to meet needs in their lives that don’t really exist.
When we are frustrated by the rules and policies of others we would do well to ask ourselves whether or not we would like to operate our business, organization or personal life without them. It isn’t easy saying “no”, but it is biblical.
Dear God, help me find the balance between truth and compassion. In Jesus’ name, Amen.