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Here is a scene that is played out far too often in our churches today. A woman (or man) loses a mate to death. After a few weeks' flurry of attention, she finds it more and more awkward to fit into relationships that had once been natural. Friends, feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed around her, do not know how to relate, and she finds it difficult to relate to them. Her grown children have their own lives to get on with. Gradually, she eases toward the periphery of the church.
Yes, I am aware that this is not always the case, and it is certainly not a problem limited to the church. But when it happens in the church, the heads of even unbelievers shake in amazement and scorn. And they will ask, whether hypocritically or not, the questions that our behavior was supposed to have answered, and answered well. Where is Christian compassion? Where is Christian love for one another?
From the time of Israel's inception, God has been known as the defender of widows (Deut 10:18; 24:17). "Justice" among God's people was measured in part by the treatment of widows (Is 1:17). God's compassion for the widow became the covenant community's responsibility, which the early church naturally took up (Acts 6:1; Jas 1:27).
The present passage is the Bible's most extensive treatment of the subject. Through instructions to Timothy, Paul addresses the issue of community support for widows. At the same time, the widow is encouraged to make positive contributions to the church's ministry.
The passage reflects a fairly advanced system of care--a "roll" or "list" of widows eligible for support (v. 9). But the system was being abused; families of widows were not shouldering their responsibility, thus placing financial strain on the church. Then certain younger widows, who may have managed to get on the list, were threatening the church's reputation by involvement with the false teaching and scandalous behavior. The instructions address three related topics: the identification of the honorable widow, family responsibility for widows, young widows.