Bible Answer

How to care for the weak and widows?

Please explain the 1 Timothy 5:8?

When seeking to interpret scripture, it’s important to understand the text in its proper context. The full context of 1Timothy 5:8 is:

1Tim. 5:3  Honor widows who are widows indeed;
1Tim. 5:4 but if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God.
1Tim. 5:5 Now she who is a widow indeed and who has been left alone, has fixed her hope on God and continues in entreaties and prayers night and day.
1Tim. 5:6 But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives.
1Tim. 5:7 Prescribe these things as well, so that they may be above reproach.
1Tim. 5:8 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.

In this passage, Paul gives the church a test for how to care for the weak and vulnerable within the body. In particular, Paul is focused on the needs of widows within the body of Christ. Widows in Paul’s day were especially vulnerable since they often lacked income and could not possess property. The church body often came to the rescue of needy Christians, including widows, which is what the Lord intended.

Still, such charity must be applied in the right ways to prevent abuse, so Paul sets standards or tests for whether the body of Christ should provide financial support to a widow within the congregation. First, Paul says the church must ask if the widow have immediate family that can provide support. If so, then the widow's family must assume responsibility for her care before seeking support from the church body.

In Paul’s day there was no state welfare for the needy, so if a family failed to care for a widow, they would have doomed their relative to a life of poverty and likely death. Such neglect would have been considered disgraceful, so few if any families dared to be so cruel. Believers, on the other hand, had the church body to lean on for financial support in hard times. So if a family couldn’t afford to support a widow, then the church would step into the gap and provide support to a believing widow rather than allowing a sister in the Lord to suffer. 

Unfortunately, some believing families in Paul’s day neglected their responsibility to care for their widows out a selfish desire to protect their own wealth. These families had the means to support their widows, yet they refused to do so expecting the church would handle the need instead. This is why Paul says such families were worse than unbelieving families. They weren’t willing to show the common decency, love, and selflessness that even unbelievers were willing to demonstrate to their families. 

Secondly, Paul says if a widow is to receive support from the body, the widow must be in good standing in the church body. If she is not living in a godly manner, then she has no right to expect the hard-working members of the body of Christ to sacrifice for her sake. This test of behavior is appropriate since a church body would deeply resent being called to obey Christ by sacrificing to support a woman who was not herself seeking to be obedient to Christ.

What do we conclude from Paul’s teaching? In short, Christians must not neglect customary personal responsibilities even in cases where the church body is prepared to assume that responsibility for them. For example, if a Christian can afford his bills and support his family, then he must do so. If a Christian has the ability to mow her own lawn, clean her own house, or do her own shopping, etc., then she should not lay those burdens on the church body instead. The Lord has joined us to a church body so that we may serve and be served at times, but we must not abuse that relationship for our own advantage.