Timothy 5:3-16 “Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a woman has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. The widow who is really in need and left alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and ask God for help. But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. Give the people these instructions, too, so that no one may be open to blame. If anyone does not provide for his relative, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 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. As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to. So I counsel young women to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan. If any woman who is a believer has widows in her family, she should help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.”
The only opportunity a Christian would ever have of hearing a sermon on this passage would be if he were a member of a Bible church, that is, a church where the Bible is systematically expounded to the whole congregation week by week. What itinerant preacher would choose to speak on such a passage? Few pastors would select such verses for a one-off sermon. It might seem to have less relevance to many in a congregation than other passages. So these verses are ignored by preachers. Yet they are enormously challenging and fascinating. It is the longest single section of this entire letter, and its theme is the church’s responsibility to widows. Dr Jay Adams says that it is ‘the most interesting section in the letter’ (Jay Adams, “The Christian Counselor’s Commentary”, Timeless Texts, 1994, p.35). While Dr Gordon Fee says that “the letter has been moving towards these instructions right along” (Gordon Fee, “New International Biblical Commentary”, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Hendrickson, 1984, p.114). In other words, these words are one of the climaxes of this letter.
It is evident that there were difficulties about the church’s ministry of mercy in Ephesus – as there had been thirty or so years earlier in Jerusalem, and, one thinks, as there are today. It is a delicate and challenging ministry, helping the poor people of a Christian community. So after writing about so much else Paul comes to this subject, and he does so very graciously and carefully. The problem of the Christian widows of Ephesus must not be ignored, but it is not like the issue of false teaching facing the Galatian church which was utterly crucial to the very survival of Christianity. When writing to the Galatians Paul begins, goes on, and ends with that issue. Timothy was agitated about the widows in the congregation, but Paul has much else about which to write to him before giving him these particular counsels. Let Timothy get this problem in perspective. The future of the gospel witness in Ephesus does not hang on this matter. But Paul gives the most fascinating advice which has implications for every gospel church in the world today, and until the Saviour returns. How does the apostle begin?
1. The Church is to Give Proper Recognition to Widows. (v.3).
‘Honour widows’, says Paul. It may be time-consuming, unending, unexciting, and a delicate matter, nevertheless they must be honoured. Let the whole congregation give respect and recognition to the widows in its midst. Clearly the apostle is writing about the larger issue of Christian reaction to those people in our congregations who are in the most need, economically, physically and emotionally. In Ephesus that issue came into focus in the form of the widows. Perhaps Paul’s Jewish background and knowledge of the Scriptures would make him think particularly of them. God is a “father to the fatherless” and “a defender of the widows” (Ps.68:5). His servants declare, “Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan;” because then, God says, “If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused …” (Ex.22:22f). Let the magistrates take heed who were unjust to the accused widow (Deut.27:19). Let that tight-fisted farmer beware who did not share a tithe of his produce with the widow and the orphan, or leave the gleanings of the corn and barley fields as well as of their orchards for the poor and widows (Deut.14: 28-29). How often did God give his prophets a stern word of warning to a godless nation who, amongst other things, was oppressing its widows.
God the Son showed his compassion to the widow. He raised the son of the widow of Nain. He commended the importunity of the widow who continued to plead with the unjust judge. He noted the generosity of the poor widow who put her mites in the treasury of the Temple. 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 early church appointed men full of the Holy Spirit to take care of the widows in the Jerusalem congregation, and the leader of that church, James, in the only letter which he wrote, defines true religion as looking after widows in their distress (James 1:27).
So these women were a particularly vulnerable strand of society in the ancient world and even the Greeks had passed laws making children responsible for their parents’welfare. The Christian church couldn’t fall below the standard of duty recognised by the world or it would be a fraudulent religion. A congregation is like a family. Remember that all the older women in church are to be treated as our own mothers.
So there is this particular emphasis upon widows in need, but I am sure you would agree that there is the greater principle here of Christian responsibility to any needy person in the congregation. The great proof text of this is found in the description of the early church found in Acts 4:34 “There were no needy persons among them.” There was a spirit of giving that resulted in the Jerusalem Christians bringing their offerings and laying them at the feet of the apostles, “and it was distributed to anyone as he had need” (Acts 4:35). So we have to consider our responsibility to anyone who has need in the congregation – such as the widower, the handicapped, the hungry, the prisoner, the house-bound, such people “who are really in need” (v.3) – that is the significant phrase in our text. This is an extraordinary burden to lay upon you today. Many of the most mature members of the congregation are pressed down with concerns, and one can understand Christians who like the freedom of not belonging to any church so that they can dodge such responsibilities as these – though one totally rejects that attitude as wrong before God.
The apostle is dealing with the subject of our duty to Christians in our own congregation who are in need. 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. The theme, we repeat, is widows in need, or more generally, church members who are in need. “Honour them, Timothy, and give proper recognition to them.” Because the apostle proceeds to make it clear that the obligation of the church to help does not go out to every single widow.
2. There are Those for whom Members of the Congregation have No Responsibility.
The apostle specifies three classes of widows for which groups the congregation does not pass the plate around. Its men do not spend hours sacrificing time and energy, strength and emotion, in providing for these women. The following women are excluded from the list (v.9):-
i] Widows who have families who care for them.
It is not the responsibility of the congregation to support them, but their own families. Paul actually labours to get this point across, first of all in verse 4: “But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.” Then you notice, he returns to this theme of filial obligation in verse 8: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” But he still wants to burn this message into the consciences of his readers and he returns to it yet again in verse 16: “If any woman who is a believer has widows in her family, she should help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.”
See how earnestly Paul speaks to them. “Put your religion into practice,” he says, and care for your parents and grandparents. Learn that lesson early on in the Christian life, he says. You are merely repaying them for all that they have expended upon you for so long. You are not being wonderfully generous and gracious to them. It is a matter of justice. They worked for you. Now you work for them. If you fail to do that then you are just like the religious hypocrites Christ saw who would say to their parents “Corban.” That is, “What I would have given to you I am now dedicating to God, and so I am religiously free from any obligation to care for you” (Mk. 7:11). Such a fox would deprive his very parents of the help they might expect from him – in the name of religion. How our Lord denounced that attitude. “You nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down” (Mk.7:13). “Repaying your parents is pleasing to God,” Paul tells them.
But Paul gets even stronger, and he expects the congregation to take action and to denounce such an attitude and remove from its membership list people who refuse to care for their aged parents. Such a person, by that action, “has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (v.8). There is no room in the fellowship of the church for such a monster who will not provide for his immediate family. If the salt has lost its savour it is only fit to be trodden underfoot.
Paul makes it clear that a congregation should not be burdened with caring for people for whom their own families have a far greater obligation (v.16). The church has enough to do helping Christians who have no one to care for them.
ii] Widows who are Unbelievers.
The church is not an agency whose calling in the world is to care for the aged and infirm in every community. Christians are not in the business of caring for widows; we are in the business of caring for our widows. So here is a widow who has no interest in the Lord Jesus at all. She scorns the church and rejects the gospel, and the apostle says of her, “the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives” (v.6). She doesn’t live for Christ, she lives for fun. The apostle says she is spiritually dead. The life of God is utterly absent from her. Biologically and socially she may be alive, but as for that life that comes from heaven by the indwelling Spirit, she is a stranger to that and so is dead.
I was reading a review of a TV religious programme in the “Everyman” series called “Dying Alone” which apparently was shown throughout the United Kingdom two weeks ago. It followed two Hackney Council employees in London, Alice and Debbie, as they tried to organise funerals for those who die alone – without friends, relatives or anyone to take account of their passing. Apparently it was a very humane, poignant and discreet documentary. A woman called Phyllis had died in a flat piled high with rubbish. She was 95 and believed to have a nephew to whom she was devoted. This information came from regulars at the bingo hall where Phyllis would arrive at six in the morning, seven days a week, and stay until closing time.
So Alice and Debbie, donned their white overalls, stepped gingerly around the piles of filth in the flat and embarked on their investigations. It turned out that Phyllis hadn’t been 95, but 84. As for her beloved nephew, he didn’t exist at all: she’d made him up just to have someone to talk about. Phyllis was put in a hardboard coffin with a cushion of scrunched-up newspapers under her head. The only mourners were a few fellow bingo players. At the bingo hall itself, the announcement of Phyllis’s death made people look up briefly from their cards. “And now,” said the man at the microphone, as soon as this formality was over, “back to Damien for the rest of your games.” Now that is a perfect illustration of what the apostle is writing here. “The widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives” (v.6). The congregation of Christ has no obligation to feed and clothe a woman who spends her life and money playing bingo. Widowhood itself is not a qualification for support by the church.
iii] Widows who are Able-bodied.
This is another category of person the church is under no obligation to maintain. Some husbands die young and leave young widows. For Paul the cut-off date was sixty years of age (v.9). Those under that age could work to provide for themselves. He says, “As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list” (v.11). What are his counsels to them? “To marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander” (v.14). Wuth a first glance those words might seem sharp. “Easy to say” we comment, “for where are the Christian husbands?” But listen to Paul’s whole argument here refleting on the Ephesian situation Timothy was facing.
The New Testament has a high regard for singleness. There are many opportunities that an unattached person has for serving God. Such people do not have to consult their spouse about their inclinations. They are free to travel and to adjust to new circumstances. There was a dynamism about the early church. Paul could say to one such congregation, “I wish that all men were as I am” (I Cor. 7:7). He could go from one city to another without having to consider the education of his children or the feelings of his wife. So he addresses the congregation in Corinth and says about the unmarried and widows, “It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am” (I Cor. 7:8). The single state has many advantages. It is a good state, says the apostle. Not perfect, but it is good for the church to have people who dedicate themselves to the welfare of the congregation and its responsibilities. It is good for the world to have Christians who have more time to serve and bear witness there.
So some of these single women may have publicly in a church meeting stood up and dedicated themselves to such a work, pledging to the congregation that they would, from this time forth, be serving Christ. The church might actually have set these widows aside to the ministry of mercy and outreach, working with women, the elderly, street children and with widows in need. But then something happened; some of these ‘lady workers’ met a man and fell in love with him, and Paul says, “when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. Thus, they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge ” (vv.11 & 12). So the apostle has mixed feelings about these younger widows immediately offering themselves to becoming Christian workers.
The apostle has another misgiving about younger widows being financially supported by the church, and this is another angle on his concern for some of the troubles that this church at Ephesus was having, “Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to” (v.13). Being supported by the church because they were widows these young women had time on their hands, and instead of working they went from one woman to another (we would say today that they were on the phone for hours), and they gossiped about the church. So what is Paul’s counsel to them? Rather than consider a pledge that they won’t marry again because they are going to serve the Lord, “I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander” (v.14). Think of Paul’s great phrase to the Thessalonian church, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). In other words, let the lazy brother experience the consequences of his own behaviour. Don’t keep giving food and support to people who then will have no incentive to find a living. Our mercy must not make it easier for someone to disobey God.
We can see just how sensible the teaching of the Bible is on this matter. It is not sentimental at all. There is virtually a Biblical ruthlessness about the apostle’s counsels. So there are three categories of widows for whom the church has no obligation of giving financial support, those who have their own families, non-Christians and the able-bodied.
Let us return to this matter of the church and the non-Christian in need. There is much talk today about ‘unconditional love’ and it is a wonderful phrase which contains a very profound truth, that the Lord called us with the gospel before we had shown any interest in or desire for him. But God did not leave us in the situation in which he found us, he put within us a new energy for obedience and zeal in doing good works. So we also show kindness to all men, and bear witness to the free grace of God. But we have higher ends than the forgiveness of sins. We want to see men and women made self-sufficient, working with their own hands so that they can help others also. But if that great aim of God’s is being constantly thwarted, and our assistance to them is being abused – so that they are always taking and taking but not attempting to change – we … eventually … withdraw our aid. Christian aid is like the Christian evangel. We offer it to all without exception as we have resources and opportunity, but if eventually there comes a rebellious and disrespectful attitude to the gospel, we are to brush the dust off our feet and seek others who will receive our Saviour.
Let’s again think of bingo-playing Phyllis. A Christian meets her and she asks the Christian for money. The Christian asks what for, and she says, “For food.” The Christian says that he wont give her money but he will take her to a cafe and buy her a meal. He tells her where she may get a meal daily supplied by the Salvation Army. While they eat he tells her of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. Phyllis is noncommittal. A week later she returns and asks for money again but the Christian says to her, “I will buy food for you again, but if you want us to continue to help you, you will have to let us into your life.” Phyllis asks what he means. “I mean that there may be habits and patterns in your life that are pulling you down and are the cause of your being out of money again. If we in the church are going to truly help you, we need to look at your whole life. You may need help in managing your pension, paying your rent, buying food and weaning you away from playing bingo every day of your life. It would not be truly loving of us simply to give you money or even buy you food unless you let us help you more extensively.” At that Phyllis got angry and got up and walked out. Her life was her business, and she never returned.
That seems to be the Christian pattern. First, we bear witness to the free love of Christ, and then we have to call that whole person and their entire life to come, just as they are, to the Jesus Christ who is Lord. That is the crunch time. Often the Phyllis’s of this world will then remove themselves from our aid. But we did not go into that relationship laying down conditions straight away, because that is not how God first dealt with us. While we were yet sinners Christ gave … himself for us. Then, when we had become Christians, God told us how then we should live.
It is our love for them that sets limits on the mercy that we show them. Because we love them we have to say no to giving them money for drugs, for drink, for bingo. It would be unloving to give them money for such self-destruction. They need to feel the full consequences of their own irresponsibility. We say, “Phyllis, we will still pray for you, and visit you. The moment you are willing to cooperate with us and make the changes that are needed we can give you practical help. It is only out of love that we are now saying No to your request for money.” Our love for them limits our mercy (cp. Timothy J. Keller, “Ministries of Mercy,” P & R Publishing, 1997, p.97ff.). Grace may be free but it is not cheap. Grace comes to the undeserving, but its goal is to intercept self-destructive behaviour. Our love is not mere sentiment. It longs to bring healing and change into the lives of the recipients, under the lordship of King Jesus. Nothing else will satisfy us, or Him.
3. How Does the True Christian Widow Live?
There are words here which give a very attractive picture of the Christian life. We often ask ourselves whether our own practice of the Christian life is simply what we have picked up from our family, and our own Welsh tradition, or that our living is just a religious veneer covering a basic bourgeois middle-class lifestyle indistinguishable from other people who live in our town who make no profession of following the Lord. How were these Christian women in Ephesus different from their non-Christian neighbours and family members?
i] They were people of hope (v.5). “The widow who really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God.” They are half what they used to be. Their dear husband has been taken from them. Their house seems empty. They have to learn new responsibilities. They have no-one working to bring in a wage. When you pay a visit to their home you might expect tears and despair, but to your amazement you find a peace and hope for the future. “My God shall supply all my need,” they say to you. “His faithfulness has been great. Morning by morning new mercies I see.” That is their testimony to their neighbours and to their family and it is a remarkable witness to the power of their God.
ii] They were people of prayer (v.5). They “continue night and day to pray and to ask God for help.” In other words they prayed without ceasing. They did not go to a certain place and repeated some prayers. But they constantly prayed as they breathed. They looked to Jesus Christ for help to get through life, moment by moment. At a meeting of the Eclectic Society, a fraternal of ministers in London in the 18th century, they were discussing how it would be possible always to be praying. A woman present listening to them, and known to be like the women Paul describes here, volunteered an answer. She said, “In the morning when I open my eyes, I pray, ‘Lord, open the eyes of my understanding, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law.’ While I am dressing I pray, ‘Lord, may I be clothed in the robe of righteousness, and adorned with the garment of salvation!’ As I am washing myself I pray, ‘O Lord, may I be washed in the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness!’ When kindling the fire I pray, ‘O Lord, kindle a fire of sacred love in this cold heart of mine!’ And whilst sweeping the room I pray, ‘Lord, may my heart be swept clean of all its abominations.’ So there was a women like these godly women of Ephesus who continued night and day to pray and ask God for help.
iii] They were zealous for doing good (v.10). That is said in two ways, firstly, that she was “well known for her good deeds”, in other words, the light of Jesus Christ in her own life was not put under a bushel. It blazed forth, however modestly and secretly she served others, the light of Christ shone amongst men. The Saviour said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). There are people in the congregation who are known to be tireless in their kindness to others, and we are all to follow their example. Secondly, this godly widow devoted herself “to all kinds of good deeds.” She did not have one string to her bow. She served others creatively and with a single-minded devotion. She said to God at the start of every day, “How would you have me serve you and the people in need in the church today?” She was led by providence to this person and to that person. They had different problems and so her response to them was different.
We are given four examples of her good deeds in verse 10. Firstly, there were orphaned children and she brought them up. “I’ll look after them,” she said. Secondly, there were itinerant preachers passing through Ephesus and she had a ‘prophet’s chamber’ for them to benefit from her hospitality. Thirdly, we are told that she washed the feet of the saints. It is a reference to those menial ministries that need to be done. There is vomit on the church steps from the Saturday night drunks that needs to be cleaned up before the first worshippers arrive. There are elderly and infirm bedridden people who have a range of needs. The godly widow does this sort of service – she ‘washes the feet of the saints.’ Fourthly, she helps those in trouble. That is a broad category of affliction and distress. It includes those who have been persecuted. She is there for them. She will be the first to visit and to respond wisely.
That is Christian living. That is how the godly widows in the congregation are to show that they are indwelt and empowered by the Lord Jesus. Paul calls it in verse 4, ‘putting your religion into practice.’ It reminds us of James’ great words that faith, without works, is dead.
Now let me give you an example of such a person. I was talking with Alan Davey who once sat in this congregation when he was a student here, and who is now the pastor of Deeside Evangelical Church in North Wales. He told me last week of a member of his church, Joyce Cummings, who had recently died and the large congregation who came to her funeral. I knew her well. She has come to the Aberystwyth Conference each year, and she came to Alfred Place to the baptismal service of one of our members about twenty years ago. Now Alan has written to me about her, and I think what he writes perfectly illustrates what I have been saying. Think of the different endings to their lives of Phyllis, the bingo player, and Joyce, this humble Christian woman. Alan Davey says,
“On 6 Jan, while I was at Carey, one of our ‘Stalwart Members’ had a melanoma diagnosed. It started on her foot, and by the time it was diagnosed had spread to her leg, lungs and spine. She was not really well enough to stand up to aggressive chemotherapy, so the decision was to let the disease take its course. She faced up to it in a very open way. She had already bought her grave some years before – and told everyone about it. There was quite a rush of grave buying at the time, I remember! She moved in with a friend, Myra, and some other ladies who had nursing experience added their backup. Also the nursing and care staff of the Health and Social Services were doing their thing.
“She continued to come to church on Sunday mornings, even when she had started taking diamorphine orally. She would come in her wheelchair and hold court after the service – carefully curtailing conversations so that the queue of people waiting to see her would not get too long! She also continued to come to the Ladies’ Bible Study on Thursday mornings, chipping in her usual contributions. But she had to miss the January church business meeting this year.
“In the beginning of February her health started to deteriorate more quickly. On Wednesday 2nd February she could not swallow or get out of bed. The medical folk had to set up a syringe driver to deliver her diamorphine. She began to drift into unconsciousness. On Friday 4th February I got a phone call at about 7:30 am saying that she had declined further. I went round there, and she left us and woke in glory at about 9:15.
“She was a splendid lady. A real village character. She was born, brought up, lived and died in Mancot, and she worked within 5 miles of the village, too. At the pinnacle of her working life she had been a fork-lift truck driver, and she was proud of that. A straightforward lady, she seemed to be able to relate to everybody – from teenage lads whom she would tease about soccer, right through to working men. She had a lively sense of humour and a huge laugh – like Basil Brush (without the Boom, boom).
“All through her illness she had had tremendous confidence in God. I had printed out “How firm a foundation” in large print; she looked at the Bible promises often and her friends sang them to her. Medical staff who called at the home remarked on how strong her faith was and how it was sustaining her.” Her Member of Parliament, whom she had often prayed for, attended her funeral service.
These are the people the apostle Paul is telling us to honour. “Give proper recognition to those widows” (v.3). What a privilege to help such people. And one of the gracious people who honoured her, as Paul tells us here, was Myra, into whose house she moved.
4. The Ways in Which We May Honour Them.
What are we going to do about this? How do we give them “proper recognition” (v.3)? We are told to be doers as well as hearers of the word of God. We believe that God has gathered us here today and spoken to us about this subject. This has not been by chance has it? What is God’s purpose for us in telling us again of our duty to people in need in the congregation? We are ‘a Bible church.’ In other words, we do what the Bible says, and we put it into practice, not only when it is convenient and easy, but when it is a burden. So let us be very practical about this subject. We have been given an example of how a Christian church rallied around Joyce Cummings at the end of her life, and I would want us to be like that congregation.
Most of the help in any congregation is not done through the official programmes of the church or through the church officers. Sensitive individuals in the church watch out for real needs and meet them within their own schedules, and out of their own pockets, and out of their own hearts. If the congregation officially helps by giving a thousand pounds a year to the needy then individuals in the congregation would give two or three times that amount in informal and discrete giving. So all of us are to look in close, before we look afar. Make sure that there is no hurting woman right under our nose, in our family, or in our church.
In every congregation there are certain people who have caught the vision for the ministry of compassion. Can we identify them? Can we get them together, men and women, young and old? Can they stimulate the congregation to the ministry of mercy? Can they model the ministry of compassion to others? One of you came to see me two weeks ago concerned about the beggars and layabouts on the streets of Aberystwyth and wondering whether we could do something about this. He couldn’t do anything by himself but he had ideas and good will and he wondered whether there was anyone else who felt concerned. I told him about the cafe on the promenade and the meals it prepares each day and the Christian literature it gives out. My assistant works each week there. Anyone who is a vagrant can get a free breakfast and a chat there, and it is hoped that this home for those who have been on drugs will be opening soon. People concerned about that can get together in the congregation.
I am suggesting that a group of you who are concerned about a need in the congregation should get together. Don’t grumble that others are not doing anything. Form a little mission task force, or a standing committee in the church so that you can begin to act. Of course you tell the church’s leaders what you are doing every step of the way, but you must take the initiative. The pastor and the elders and the deacons do not need to initiate or conduct this work, just as long you let them know what is happening. It is a great mistake to try to start a mercy ministry by nagging the pastor to make time for it. The pastor is already swamped with worthy demands on his time. I am saying that you just share your dreams and offer to carry the baton, and you may find yourself the answer to the pastor’s prayers. If you can’t get the support of the officers you can surely get their permission. If you can’t get their permission seek non opposition. You do not need 100% backing to get something useful done in a church. There will always be someone who will think or say, “We have done it before and nothing came of it,” and kill a scheme with faint praise or a thousand qualification. You must go for it, but keep us informed and invite us to take part. I am sure you will get encouragement from us.
Maybe only two people will come together. But that is a biblical team. Didn’t the Lord send people out in twos? When there is a need to meet, it is a mistake to send just one person to assess or to meet it. One man or one women can become drained by a couple of needy old folk who adopt this younger person and say, “He is our lifeline.” That’s a great strain on the ‘lifeline’ if he is alone.
Some churches have what they call a “service bank.” That is an effort to identify and mobilise the skills and the gifts of a congregation. We have to use existing resources in the church. It would work like this: someone is struck by this message tonight and wants to do something in the congregation in obedience to I Timothy 5. So he or she would take it upon himself or herself to go around the members with a clip board, or perhaps better give them all slips of paper and ask them to fill them in, and they will write down the services they can render to needy people in the church. It may be transport, or child care, or housecleaning, or working on a garden, or caring for the convalescent, or working with young people, or spending time with the mentally handicapped, or shopping, or book-keeping. Then they file this information, and liaise between the church members in need and those who are offering to give some help. Now I believe that this sort of thing is being done informally all the time, and if it is to be done formally then a wise and energetic person needs to be in charge of it. A lot of work has to be done on this if it is to succeed.
There is something else, and you realise I am simply trying to face up to what God in his word has spoken to us about today. There are five questions to ask and answer before anyone can start anything:-
1. Is there a particular human need that you ‘vibrate’ to? Is there a special hurt or problem that you long to help with? It is by noticing the kinds of needs to which we are most sensitive that we may discover what our gifts are. Has God laid a particular need on our heart?
2. What personal, emotional, and spiritual resources do you have to meet that need? It is not enough that you see the need, you must have the ability too. You could get involved in ministries that are too taxing for your level of spiritual maturity. Do you really have what it takes? Of course we all approach this work with a sense of our own helplessness, but God must also arrange our lives so that we are prepared for it.
3. Are there at least two or three others in the congregation who share your burden or to whom you can readily communicate your skills? And you will find that out by talking to the leader of the women’s work in the church or to one of us elders or deacons. Look for other persons who are also being moved by God. Maybe others feel the same.
4. Is there really an opening for this ministry? You may have the desire, and the energy, and the ability, but that does not mean that God is calling you to do this work. Is this ministry timely and really needed?
5. Before you begin, have you really ‘counted the cost’? Have you calculated what this might mean to you and your family?
I could write those questions in the next Newsletter, and talk about them in a mid-week meeting, and so on. But if any of you come to me and want to do something or start something in the church then it is down the list of those five question we must go together. I want to encourage you to respond to the word of God and explore your own calling, but also to be carefully examined for maturity and resources. Then the Lord might be leading you and the work would be a blessing to the whole church. The incredible aim for every church is that no one is in need.
20th February 2000 GEOFF THOMAS