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"Obligations in Our Extended Family and Faith-Family"

Feb.23, 2014 1Tim.5:1-16


Our good friends from university days, Brian and Jennifer Murrant, are spending up to a year in Mukinge Zambia as short-term missionaries. They have good jobs in the Orillia area - Brian is a teacher, Jennifer's employed at the municipal library. Their 3 daughters are now grown and out on their own. Somehow Jennifer and Brian sensed the Lord leading them to give a year (in Brian's case; a half-year for Jennifer) to work in Africa. Jennifer's latest blog describing Brian's current activity exemplifies in some ways the ethos or attitude Paul encourages the church to develop in his letter to Timothy: "The Head Teacher at the [Mukinge Hill] Academy has returned to England on furlough so Brian has taken over the responsibilities of Head Teacher while continuing to teach the Grade Six class.Just to keep him out of trouble he stays after school to try and finish putting up the ceiling boards in his classroom.Add to this his computer class at the nursing school that he holds Monday, Wednesday and Thursday evening and he is quite busy.The computer classes should be finished by the time I return to Canada in April so that will give him a little more time to concentrate on his other duties.So prayer for wisdom, energy, strength and patience would all be appreciated."

Busy man! A key word in that first line sums up the focus of his activity: "responsibilities". In our affluent Western culture, the temptation is to shirk responsibility and become a 'busybody' instead of fruitfully busy about the right things. Yet continuous effort, even for good works, can be draining. How do we keep restored and recharged? Paul offers us a clue about that, too.


Before we start immersing ourselves in the apostle's guidance to the early church, let's acknowledge there's a huge gap between our cultural reality and the situation back then. We live very much in a "welfare state" - not so much as Britain perhaps, but moreso than the U.S.A.- we don't have to mortgage the house in order to have an operation! We pay considerable taxes in order to enjoy universal health coverage. For those who can't find work, there's Social Assistance and Employment Insurance. If our house catches on fire or a relative falls unconscious we can call 9-1-1 and know someone at the other end is going to respond.

What if you didn't have all that? What if you lived back in the first century where there was no health coverage, hardly any medical care, no old age pension, and no social safety net? Who's going to pick up the slack? The State's role was much smaller - enforcing law and order, facilitating transportation through improved roads, but much of ordinary life was left up to the citizens. What other social institutions were there? Of course, there was the family. People depended a lot more on their relatives. Also there was this brand new social phenomenon called the Christian church. Something that made the church very noticeable was the way it stepped into the gap where family provisions stopped and the state hadn't yet begun.

1Timothy 5:16 "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." You can see the division of labour there: families are to help their own relatives who have fallen on hard times. The church had already accepted some responsibility to help those who were "really in need", who had no family to take care of them. It sensed God's nudge, God's leading, to "be burdened with" or accept the weight of caring for those who had no one else to provide for them. This really caught the attention of those outside the church.

The danger in a "welfare state" is that an attitude of "entitlement" can develop - we sort of start to expect everything is going to be done for us, we have it coming to us (this may be partly a contrast as well between the WW2 "GI Generation" and the more spoiled "boomers" who followed). GI Gens had to be entrepreneurial, starting businesses and enterprises; whereas many young people today go to college expecting that when they graduate some already-established company will provide a ready-made job for them. That model's getting challenged by our current economy.

Families, Paul's saying, should take initiative to help their own relatives, easing the burden on the church so it can take initiative to help those who are most desperate. Become generous and entrepreneurial rather than stymied in entitlement. So, for many centuries until the rise of the welfare state, the church played an important role as a vehicle providing care to the poorest in society. This arises from a non-entitlement attitude. To quote John F Kennedy's 1961 inaugural address, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what YOU can do for your country."


Another danger we face, from the university student on reading week to retiree soaking up sun in their southern timeshare, is the inclination to "party hearty". In v15 Paul warns that "Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan." That can't be good! What's he mean? Probably not talking about Satan-worship, but something more subtle - that Christians were getting tempted by evil desires and pastimes. V6 "But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives." Now, that's harsh!!! The person who "lives for pleasure" - wouldn't that describe much of our culture, "living for pleasure"? Living for the weekend? Stashing cash in our RRSPs so we can take it easy and relax at the end of our work-life? The person who lives for pleasure is DEAD even while they live. The 'walking dead', if you will. Nobody home - from an eternal perspective, you've "checked out" from Christ's Kingdom if you're only pursuing pleasure.

In v11 Paul cautions that "sensual desires" can overcome one's dedication to Christ; NRSV sensual desires "alienate them" from Christ. Fleshly appetites unchecked can sabotage our spiritual life in Jesus. V13 also has a warning pertinent to our time: "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." Being idle (as in the expression "couch potato" - watching the Olympics can turn into a very UNHEALTHY lifestyle!). "Wandering around the houses" - when Friday comes, some folks are all keen to find out where the closest party is happening. And idling can lead to creativity of dialogue, making up things to talk about, perhaps at others' expense: "not only...idlers, but also GOSSIPS and BUSYBODIES, saying things they ought not to." "Say - did you hear about so-and-so?" and thus begins a little bit of character assassination. The Greek word for "busybodies" is defined in the lexicon as "busy about trifles and neglectful of important matters." Backwards priorities, majoring in the minors, busy (yes) but busy about trifles, things of no consequence, while neglectful of (ignoring) important matters.

Maybe you're not a "party animal" - but do you find your priorities tend to get turned around? When you look back at your day, have you really accomplished what was needed - or did pleasurable sidelines creep in? How many of us streamed an Olympic hockey game at our workplace? (Some will say that was our patriotic duty!) How many "sick days" are lost to employers because their workers were hung over from the weekend? How hard is it to give up that hour on a weeknight watching our favourite show in order to volunteer with that charitable group or community organization? Living for pleasure, our desires twist what OUGHT to be our priorities askew.

There have been quite a few popular movies and TV series based on the Victorian period in England - e.g.Pride and Prejudice, other Jane Austen stories, North and South, Downton Abbey, and so on. Have you noticed in some of those how LITTLE the upper class gentry actually seem to accomplish? Much of their time is spent "idling" - sitting around, dancing, playing cards, shooting pheasants, hunting for a fox. Even when they go on a picnic, it's their servants (the working class) who have to lug the basket and paraphernalia up the hill. Sometimes their whole existence - based largely on living for pleasure, amusements - seems so empty. Are we that much different?


Respect is in many ways the foundation of ethics. A Mexican proverb says, "Respect the rights of others, and you will have peace." Irish radio broadcaster Frankie Byrne said, "Respect is love in plain clothes." So in Paul's advice to his young protege Timothy on how to treat others in the church, respect figures prominently. Vv1-2 "Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father.Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity." Timothy's appointment amounted to the equivalent of a "bishop" - overseer of the local elders - yet Paul instructed him not to "play the heavy" or pull rank by harshly rebuking the older men in the congregation, but instead exhort them. The Greek term is related to what Jesus used for the Holy Spirit (Paraclete) - comfort, counsel, encourage. Be considerate towards all those in the church just as you would your own family, as mothers, sisters, brothers. V3 continues "Give proper recognition [NRSV:honour] to those widows who are really in need..." Respect should be the keynote in all our dealings, not throwing our weight around, bullying, or pressuring to get our way. The apostle Peter told church leaders in 1Pet 5:3 not to be "lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock."


The theme that comes through most strongly in this passage is that of RESPONSIBILITY. The church overall, as we've noted, is to take responsibility (be burdened) for widows and others who are truly in need, with no one else to help them. Those in families are to look after their own relatives. V8 "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." That's a pretty powerful statement! Why even 'worse than an unbeliever'? When we profess faith in God, we sign on to pledges such as the Ten Commandments, which includes "Honour your father and your mother." When we fail to do that, it's worse than for unbelievers who never promised to take on such obligations in the first place.

Let's insert here for dads that "providing for your relatives" includes but isn't limited to material provision, bringing home the bacon. That's important, but your wife and children also look to you to provide physical and emotional affection, attention, time, and meaningful interaction - loving with your heart and soul as well as your strength.

Several other verses reflect this need to show responsibility. V4 "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." Your parents brought you into this world, nourished you, clothed you, spent hours awake at night for you, took you to the hospital and doctors and dentists, paid thousands of dollars to your orthodontist (in some cases), took you to sports practices and games and spent countless hours in cold arenas to cheer you on, prayed for you and tore their hair out over you during your teen years, agonized with you over your relational break-ups, and helped you get launched into a family of your own. Their lives have been invested sacrificially in yours. To quote our daughter Emily, "A mother's sacrifice is her child's reward." We owe care to our older family members. God's pleased with that!

V14 Paul counsels younger widows "to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander." That again involves responsibility. And v16 women who have widows in their family "should help them and not let the church be burdened with them..." Accept responsibility for your relatives who are in need. Yes Cain you ARE your brother's keeper - your mother's, your aunt's, and so on.

Vv9-10 seem to point to a special order or group created in the church to superintend the needs of poor widows. V9 "No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty..." The word "list" is like catalogue or roll or registry, perhaps an ecclesiastical order of single senior female "presbyters" like Dorcas in Acts 9:41. Different from "deaconesses" because that could include younger unmarried women. One commentary (Jamieson Faucet Brown) notes: "TERTULLIAN [On the Veiling of Virgins, 9], HERMAS [Shepherd, 1.2], and CHRYSOSTOM [Homily, 31], mention such an order of ecclesiastical widowhood, each one not less than sixty years old, and resembling the presbyters in the respect paid to them, and in some of their duties; they ministered with sympathizing counsel to other widows and to orphans, a ministry to which their own experimental knowledge of the feelings and sufferings of the bereaved adapted them, and had a general supervision of their sex."

In the description of requirements we see, similar to the description for elders and deacons back in chapter 3 for men, qualities that would show maturity of character for any Christian woman. Responsibility runs all through these: vv9-10 "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." The words "showing hospitality" are more literally "welcoming strangers". "Washing the feet of the saints" recalls Jesus' action in John 13, symbolically washing the disciples' dirty feet, adopting a servant attitude that says, "How can I help you?" To paraphrase JFK, "Ask not what THEY can do for you, but what YOU can do for them."


Respect; Responsibility...It IS possible to become so weighed-down with responsibility that life isn't much fun anymore. Perhaps those who are middle aged are most susceptible to this, the "sandwich generation" - sandwiched between the needs of your offspring and grandchildren (perhaps) while also dealing with aging parents, whether in their own or seniors' homes. How do we cope when others' needs press in and rob us of personal free time? How can we get restored and replenished when life becomes a grind, when our responsibilities seem overwhelming?

Paul gives us a clue if you look closely at v5: "The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help." Jesus promised He would send the Holy Spirit to dwell inside us, to be a Paraclete, one who comes alongside to help. How did Jesus Himself get restored at a very draining time in His ministry? Mark 1:35 tells us that very earlin in the morning after a night when "the whole town gathered at the door" to be healed, "Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed." We need God's refreshing, and we need to make time for that replenishing, re-filling. How did the apostle Paul himself deal with the pressures of responsibility? For example 2Co 11:28 "Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches." A few verses later he recalls Jesus' own promise to him: "But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." (2Co 12:9) Jesus knows your pressures, your burdens, what the Kingdom is calling for from you - let His power renew and refresh you.


Craig Macartney at ChristianWeek tells of a film being released about Heidi Baker, who has been caring for the poor and the orphans of Mozambique, with her husband Roland, for almost 20 years. "The Bakers have seen dramatic transformation in Mozambique; when they first arrived it was the world's poorest country.Their ministry, Iris Global, now cares for more than 10,000 children daily and has planted more than 10,000 churches." That's a huge responsibility! What fuels this couple to accomplish such amazing ministry to so many? Is there some secret?

The article continues: Baker says Westerners often complicate the gospel, which keeps them from sharing God's love.She believes reaching out begins with the greatest commandment: falling in love with Jesus.As you allow His love to pour into you, she says, it's easier to let His love move you to stop for "the one in front of you."

"You can't care for them all; it's not about the multitudes.[The Bible] just says love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.It's that easy.It's letting God love you and loving the one in front of you, stopping for the one, everyday."

In Western society, Baker says loving your neighbour means giving your time and building relationships, but she cautions not to leave out the first commandment: loving God."In North America, being compelled by love is first being present with God and spending time in His presence," she explains. "You have to give the thing most valuable which, in North America, is your time.Give your time in adoration and in the Word and then stop for the one.It's just stopping, loving, and letting Jesus shine through your eyes." Let's pray.