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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:Give honour to the widows of God’s household.
Text:1 Timothy 5:16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Communion of Saints
 
Added:2016-06-20
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 146:1,2,3

Psalm 84:3,4

Psalm 68:2,3,4

Psalm 146:4,5

Psalm 73:8

Read:  1 Timothy 5:1-16

Text:  1 Timothy 5:16

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ

As the world’s population continues to grow to the point that it now exceeds 7 billion, it is easy to become lost in the crowds.  Although there are more and more people not just in the world but also in our communities, there are also more and more people who live all alone, who have no family, and who have no real friends. As a song of a previous generation put it,

“The world is full of lonely people

I know because I’m one of them.”

Loneliness can and does affect people of all ages.  But it is perhaps most acutely felt by some of those who are old.  And it is especially those who are widowed who experience the pain of loneliness.  Those of us who are not widowed can not fully understand what it is like to lose a spouse with whom you shared years of your life together.  When the one person who really knew you is gone, it is as though a part of yourself is gone.  People dealing with the pain of losing a husband or a wife may get depressed, they can’t sleep at night and they can not seem to think straight.

  But God knows how you feel.  The Lord knows what it means to be lonely.  And He declares Himself to be the Father of the fatherless and a defender of widows.  And what He has done for us is that He brings us together to be a community.  A community where we all belong.  A community where we are not lonely in the sense that we are all alone in the world.  A community where we are a family, the family of God.  A community where we all – including the aged and the widow – have a role to play.

And in that community, in that church family, the Lord gives His special blessing, His care and protection, to the widows.  And He calls us to care for them and to honour them and others like them as we live together in the household of faith.

I preach to you the Word of God from 1 Timothy 5 under the following theme:

Give honour to the widows of God’s household.

  1. Honour them as members of God’s household.
  2. Honour them as they minister in God’s household.

1. Honour them as members of God’s household.

In 1 John 3:1 the Bible says,

“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!”

God is “the Father” and we are His “children”.  We are His family in and through the Lord Jesus Christ.  And since we are His family, we are all a part of the same household, the household of God.  And therefore we not only belong to God the Father, but we also belong to one another.  We are brothers and sisters in Christ.  As young and old, male and female, we are joined together in a relationship that is so close that it is called a family. 

And being a family together, we need to treat one another as family.  We need to get away from the modern but unbiblical idea that being a Christian is all about me and my personal relationship with God and understand that being a Christian is about us and our relationship not just with God but with the community of God.  You can not belong to God and not belong to the family of God at the same time.  And in that context it is of great importance that we all know how we are to live in the family of God.  And that, in fact, is why Paul wrote this letter to Timothy.  As he made clear in 1 Timothy 3:14,15

“These things I write to you, though I hope to come to your shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”

And now in 1 Timothy 5, the apostle Paul taught how the church is to honour and care for those who belong to the family of God.  Older men and older women are to be respected, even when they need to be admonished or exhorted and so Timothy was commanded to honour them as he would honour his own father and mother.  Younger men were to be treated with respect, as you would deal with a brother and younger women must be honoured and respected with all purity.  They were to be looked upon and treated as sisters.  The church must be a safe place for them and for us all.

But from here Paul goes on to speak about one particular group of people in God’s household, the widows.  It is striking that Paul devotes 14 verses of a relatively short letter to specifically speak about widows.  He begins in 1 Timothy 5:3 by saying:

“Honor widows who are really widows.”

It is likely that the church at Ephesus had quite a few widows and that there were reasons unique to that church for Paul to write so specifically about them.  At the same time, however, it is important that we read these verses in the context of the rest of the Bible.  And from the rest of Scripture we learn that the Lord has always impressed upon His people that the widows and other vulnerable members of His household be cared for.  In Exodus 22:22,23 the Lord commanded,

“You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child.  If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry.”

And Deuteronomy 24:17-18,

“You shall not pervert justice due the stranger or the fatherless, nor take a widow’s garment as a pledge.  But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this thing.”

In other words, since God has shown His care and favor to you, you are to show your care and favor to others: to the stranger (who in many times is a refugee), the fatherless and the widow.

In Bible times, many widows had no rights and no safety net.  Outside of the community of God, if a widow had no one to care for her, she would go hungry, she would be short on clothing, a suitable house in which to live, medical care and attention.  And worse, she would be all alone and there would be no one to help.  But the Lord insists that is should not be that way!  He is the One who calls Himself in Psalm 68:5

“a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows.”

And, Psalm 68:6,

“God sets the solitary [or the lonely ones] in families.”

And that is why in the Old Testament He gave laws for the care of widows.  Not only was provision made for younger widows to be remarried and cared for in her late husband’s family, but widows such as Naomi and Ruth had the right to glean from the fields, finding wheat and barley and olives so that they might have enough to live on.  We also see God’s care for specific widows such as in 1 Kings 17, when He sent the prophet Elijah to the widow of Zerephath to make sure that the widow would have enough food and that she in turn might care for Elijah, the prophet of the LORD.  And then in the New Testament the Lord Jesus showed compassion to a widow of the town of Nain and raised her only son from the dead.  And when He was on the cross, knowing that His life on earth had come to an end, the Lord Jesus made provisions for his own widowed mother, placing her into the care of the disciple John.  John 19:26,27 –

“When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’  Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’  And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.”

And that is how it must be not just for Mary the mother of Jesus but for all widows in the household of God.  In fact James 1:27 goes so far as to say this:

“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this:  to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”

The church is to care for them, to care for those who are truly widows, those who are left alone and have no family who are either willing or able to care for them. We must do this individually and we do this together as the church of God.  In fact that is why the first deacons were appointed in Acts chapter 6, to ensure that all the widows who needed help would be cared for.  And this is still an important task of the deacons today.  Our form for the ordination of deacons rightly gives this charge:

“You deacons, be faithful and diligent in the gathering of gifts and distribute them cheerfully to those who need assistance, especially to the widows and orphans.”

And,

“Support those who are burdened with cares or who are lonely.”

But the apostle Paul qualifies who the church should assist in particular.  1 Timothy 5:3,

“Honor widows who are really widows.”

The church’s first responsibility is to care for those who are truly alone.  That does not mean, of course, that that the church, and also the deacons, have no responsibility for those widows – or widowers or those who are separated or single or lonely or needy – that does not mean that the church has no responsibility for those widows who have family members close by.  We are, after all, the family of God and every widow is to be like a mother to you, and every widower is to be like a father to you.  But godliness, or piety, verse 4 says, begins at home.  1 Timothy 5:4,

“But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home, and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God.”

And more strongly in verse 8,

“But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

The LORD puts people into families so that they are known and they are loved and they are cherished.  And we need to do that, not just for those who are widowed but all our parents and grandparents.  The Bible calls us to honour them and you will recognize that this is the same word as that which is used in the fifth commandment, “Honour your father and your mother.”  Brothers and sisters, the fifth commandment does not end when you grow up and leave home.  As Christians, children of God’s household, continue to honour your parents to the very end of their lives.  And show that honour even more when they are old and/or when they are widowed.  And to honour them is more than just showing respect – although that is necessary too.  And it is more than sending a card or making a phone call on their birthday – although that is also a good thing to do.  To honor your aged parents is to care for them and to meet their needs.  As much as you are able, take care of them.  See that they are eating well, make sure that they can find their way through their doctor’s appointments and the various government departments and forms to be filled in and their financial affairs.  Do her shopping, drive her where she needs to go, arrange the things that need to be taken care of and be her companion.

But notice something else from verse 4.  You should not only be doing this for your parents but also your grandparents.  Grandchildren, your lives can get busy and making that visit to your grandfather or grandmother might not be convenient or high on the list of the things that you want to do, but do it!  And do it often!  When you are older and have your own license and should you be married and have your own children, go and see your grandparents.  Help them out, talk to them and be there for them.  Show them your love.  Show them your respect.  Give them your honour.  Because do you know what?  If you do not do these things, you are worse than an unbeliever.  The apostle Paul could point to many pagans who insisted on the need to care for their widowed parents including, for example, the ancient Philosopher Aristotle who said that adult children should starve before they let their aged parents starve, and Plato who said that children had a great debt to pay their parents.  But your reason as Christians is far greater, for the Lord has commanded you to honour your parents and your grandparents.  And He has called you to show mercy and to embrace them into your family just as He has shown mercy to you and embraced you into His family.

And brothers and sisters, don’t just do this for your believing parents and grandparents, but also show this Christian care and honour to your unbelieving parents and grandparents.  Many of you have one or more parents or grandparents who do not belong to the household of faith and who therefore need your care and support even more.  Go to them, regularly if you are able.  Visit them and help them.  Mow their lawn, vacuum their house and clean their  windows.  Visit them when are sick and spend time with them when they are in hospital or an aged care home.  Let the love of God that is in you shine forth in your love and care for others.

I realize that at times that is hard to do.  And it must also be said that for a widow, a parent or a grandparent to be supported, they also need to be supportable.  An aged parent or grandparent must, as much as his faculties allow, live and act and speak appropriately.  Elderly parents and grandparents are not to be demanding, as though the world revolves around them.  The Bible also commands them to refrain from becoming bitter or harsh or a drunkard or a blasphemer.  There is a double duty here:  the child must support the parent, but the parent must behave in such a way that the support is possible to give.  And yet we do not support our widows or our aged parents or grandparents because they are deserving, but we do so to honour them, knowing that this is good and pleases the Lord.

But beyond the immediate family is also the church family.  It pleases the Lord that we honour widows and all those who are alone in the house of God.  For God loves the widow, He defends them and He takes up their cause.  And He calls you to do that in His name.

2. Honour them as they minister in God’s household.

We have a problem in our society and that is that people tend to be valued according to their economic output.  What I mean is, those who can work and make money are valued whereas those who for reasons of age or infirmity can not do that are ignored, seen as irrelevant or worse, a drain on society.  Let it never be like that in the church!  Your value is not in what you do but your value is who you are in Christ.

At the same time, however, there is no part of God’s family that does not have a role to play.  And widows in particular are able to do many things in God’s house.  And that is why 1 Timothy 5 not only commands the church to care for its widows but Paul also explains how the widows in those days could care for the church.   Since everyone is called to use his gifts readily and cheerfully for the church family, widows were to do so as well.  And in this context the apostle Paul wrote about a list, about of number of widows who were to minister to the church in a special way.  But Paul was quite particular about what type of widow was to included in such a list.  In the first place they were not to be young widows but only those over the age of 60 years.  Younger widows should be free to marry, have children and care for their families. Timothy was, in fact, to refuse the younger widows who presented themselves for this special work set aside for widows since there was the danger that, being paid by the church, these women might be a hindrance rather than a help in the church.  Let them marry and settle down themselves, rather than go about telling others how to run their households and then saying things that they ought not.  But older widows, those over 60, were past the age of bearing children and were not expected to remarry, could be formally appointed to ministry work in the congregation.  The church would help such a widow and the widow in turn would serve the congregation. 

Such a widow was to have been the wife of one man  meaning that they were to have been faithful in marriage.  Further she was to have been reported for good works, having brought up her children well (assuming she had any).  She was to be known to be a hospitable woman, one who cared for strangers, particularly fellow believers.  And her life was to have been one devoted to the service of others, one who was ready to do even the lowest job of washing the feet of the saints.  These widows, therefore, were to be honourable and hardworking.  They were to help the poor and the sick, devoting their lives to serving them and sharing the love of Christ.  Such a widow would not live for her own pleasures but would trust in God, praying to Him night and day for the needs of the congregation and the spread of the gospel.

It has to be acknowledged that the church today does not have a list of widows aged 60 and older in the manner described in 1 Timothy 5.  In the early church, however, this was more common, although even then not every church had such a list of widows.  In about 375 AD the Apostolic Constitutions were written by church leaders living in Syria.  These Apostolic Constitutions gave instructions in to how the church was to be organized and how it was to function, including how the widows were to do their work.  Concerning the widows set apart for ministry this document says:

“Let every widow be meek, quiet, gentle, sincere, free from anger, not talkative, not clamorous, not hasty in speech, not given to evil speaking, not given to finding fault, not double tongued, not a busybody.”

Then it said that these women were charged to care for the poor, comfort the martyrs and those in prison and to assist the deacons as well as assisting with the baptism of women.  They would also have more general oversight over the women in the congregation and report to the elders of the church when necessary.  But not all churches had widows set aside for this, and for many European churches this already came to an end at the Council of Orange in 441 AD.  Widows were used in this way in the church at Rome for some time longer but eventually this dropped off and the monastic orders took their place.

  In the 1500s, in the time of the Reformation, the Reformers such as John Calvin discussed the role of women deacons in particular, but moved away from this, emphasizing the blessing and dignity of marriage and of families.  But in the Reformed churches of France and Germany as well as the Netherlands attempts were made to have a special office or list of widows for ministry work.  An early church order from 1575 specified that 4 deaconesses would be chosen by the consistory.  However not all of these were expected to be widows over the age of 60 since it was felt that there were not enough widowed women in the position to do this work.  The Synod of Middelburg in 1581 relooked at this and decided not to reintroduce a list of widows who would be expected to serve in the congregation.  Women, however, were still encouraged to assist the deacons when that was needed.  And some churches, such as the church at Amsterdam did appoint “aged, virtuous sisters” to assist the deacons and work in the congregation.  In 1582 they had three such sisters but this number gradually increased to 28 where 10 women were set aside for work in an orphanage, 10 in a home for aged women and 8 were assigned to visit the families of the congregation and assist them where necessary. 

  Then in the 1600s an influential Reformed theologian named Voetius emphasized the need for the ministry of women who were to minister to the poor, the strangers, the sick and especially the women and children of the congregation.  These women were to be chosen by the consistory.

  And today, coming out of this history and tradition, some Reformed churches (such as our own here in Baldivis) have officially assigned certain women to arrange for the care and support needed for members in the congregation in need.  We call them our “Care and Share Committee” and they are made up of wives of the deacons as well as sisters who are reported for good works and recognized for their godliness and ministry in the church.  They don’t do all the work themselves but they mobilize the sisters in the congregation to give help where that is needed.  And this ministry of the sisters of our congregation is one that we must value and promote.

We do not have a list of widows aged 60 and above who are provided for by the church and who in turn minister to members of the church.  That is not wrong because 1 Timothy 5 does not command us to do this and the times in which we now live are different to that of the church in Ephesus when Paul wrote his letter to Timothy.  Nevertheless the principles that 1 Timothy 5 teach us do still apply and we ought to promote, encourage and honour the ministry of our women, including the ministry of widows and those who are older in the congregation.  Let us encourage them to pray and let us covet their prayers as they pray for their families, for the church and for the office bearers of the church, as they pray for the ministry of the gospel to continue being spread and as they pray for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ – the return that they long for more and more as each year passes by.  And where they are able to minister in other ways, in looking out for those who might be lonely, without family close by, in helping out in various homes or in the schools or for others in the congregation, and where they are able to minister to those outside of the congregation, let us support them in this and encourage them in it.  It gives me a lot of joy, for example, to visit more than one older sister (that is, over the age of 60) and hear that they are sharing God’s word in the prisons.  It gives me great joy to visit a senior members to hear how busy they are caring not just for their children and grand children but for others in God’s household.  It gives me great joy to hear how many of our more senior members are so thankful to have more time to read God’s Word, to study it, to read good Christian books and to pray.  And it gives me great joy to hear of children and grandchildren who honour their parents, including those who are widowed, and who are blessed as they help them and are helped by them.

We are a family in this church.  We are God’s family.  And in that family we don’t only have the young and able-bodied men and women.  We also have those who are elderly, who in some respects are having to slow down and among whom are some who physically can do very few things at all.  And among them we also have widows, some widows who have a family close by who are able to help and some who are more alone in this world.  But God has brought us together to be one family, His family, for His glory and for our good.  And therefore when it comes to widows and others like them in our congregation, let us honour them as members of God’s house and let us honour their ministry in God’s house.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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