In the conclusion to this section the apostle repeats the instruction to care for widows with some refinement. The reference to the woman of the family is not necessarily surprising, since within the household it would have fallen to a wife to perform this task anyway. Narrowing the focus to the woman also reinforces the teaching to the young widows, for care of older widowed relatives (vv. 4, 8) falls within the scope of the appropriate activities described in verse 10. In any case, the purpose of this last instruction, as also of the whole passage, is to allow the church to concentrate its limited resources on helping those widows who, alone, trusting only in God and committed to service, are really in need (v. 3).
Yet this passage, which addresses a very specific situation, springs from a truth about God that compels us to ask some very penetrating questions regarding the focus of our compassion today: God is committed to helping those who cannot help themselves. As already pointed out, the Old Testament announces clearly God's special concern for widows, alongside of whom are often named the fatherless. The directions of Jesus' ministry developed the theme of God's compassion with even greater clarity to encompass the poor, the sick, the outcasts of society, the disfranchised, the marginalized. It was to these that Jesus reached out. The need for the church to minister to widows and the accompanying concern for the church's testimony in the world evident in 5:1-16 are an application of God's care for those unable to care for themselves.
Widows presented that church at that time with a specific need, and in our churches this same basic need is common. But our technological age is creating some problems (or at least raising them to proportions never before known) that belong to this category. What about our poor—the homeless, the jobless? What about our disfranchised—the single mothers, the elderly, the convicts and ex-convicts, the divorced? While the questions come easier than the answers, I think we will all agree that the church is to be God's channel of compassion as he seeks to include the excluded. Paul's treatment suggests that there is far more involved than simply handing out money. The pattern presented here is a carefully structured ministry to the whole person which encourages and facilitates godliness and a productive life while it also guards against misuse and abuse that might endanger the church's witness. It remains for us to implement this teaching creatively in our particular situations.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.