“With God there are no little people.” So wrote Francis Schaeffer echoing the meaning of Paul’s words in the first three verses of 1 Timothy 5: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. Honor widows who are truly widows.”
What do the older men, younger men, older women, younger women, and widows have in common? Sometimes older men and women are regarded as passé. Sometimes young men and women are regarded as people without gravitas. Sometimes widows are regarded as people with no voice. We need to hear these words today. Who among us has not regarded as irrelevant the older man or woman to the modern world? Have we not at times disregarded younger women and men whom we thought were too inexperienced to make serious contributions to the plans being laid down? And don’t we sometimes inwardly relegate widows to the sidelines?
I am thankful that Tabletalk assigned this passage to me. Paul’s words bring me back to the truth that everyone is made in the image of God, no matter how old and no matter how young. The orphan and the widow are made in His image. Paul reminds me of the reality that all Christians with whom I rub shoulders have the same Father and are indwelled by the same Spirit. We must be vigilant to guard these truths and to live them. We are in a culture that is moving away from God’s desires that the baby in the womb and the gray-headed lady in the wheelchair be respected.
I have a friend who tries to put his observations through a sieve until he has the essence. He teaches that when anthropologists analyze the collapse of our culture they will trace our demise to the generation that failed to teach its children to say “Yes, sir,” or “Yes, Ma’am.” It is easy to forget that respect expressed verbally is a biblical mandate, not a cultural habit.
In our esteem for the widow we are to respect the powerful ministry to which she may be called. In our text (v. 5) Paul refers to the widow who fills her life with prayer. My mother’s original home was Dallas, Texas, so we would often travel west from Virginia to see her family. On one visit my father was asked to preach in a nearby church. God blessed his preaching and time spent with that congregation in an amazing way. After we returned home, a widow in the church he served asked my father to come see her. During his visit she asked my father if anything peculiar had happened on his trip. Dad told her about the spiritual blessings that God wrought while he was preaching in that small church. She then told him that she awakened one morning with an urge to pray for him. She was compelled to pray for him throughout that day and the next, the very same days he was preaching in that Texas church. The widow was in her eighties, frail, living alone, and homebound, unable to attend church services. She spent most of her days sitting in a chair or in bed. The majority of us in a similar situation would say, “My useful days are past. There is nothing important that I can do. I can’t even go to church or get out and walk around the block.” God has used the prayers of such “useless” people to expand His kingdom and change the course of history. We must remember that in our weaknesses God proves His power. When we are in our beds, aged and infirm, we are still priests who have power with God.
Paul concludes this section on “no little people” by admonishing the church to be sure widows receive physical care. The strong words he used in verse 8 — “if anyone does not provide for his relatives…he has denied the faith” — can be applied to the church that fails to provide for her own destitute. Many of us desire to deal with the “soul” (spiritual) and ignore the hard and mundane work of relieving the physical needs of the impoverished saints around us. We want to evangelize and keep our hands clean from the dirt and grime. Amy Carmichael, the well known missionary to India, received a donation to her work with the stipulation that it be used toward “soul work.” She responded, “One cannot save and then pitchfork souls into heaven. There are times I heartily wish we could. But souls, in India at least, are more or less securely fastened to bodies. Bodies can’t be left to lie about in the open and as you can’t get the souls out and deal with them separately, you have to take them both together” (Converting Women by Eliza Kent). Biblical evangelism and benevolence properly practiced is compassion expressed to the whole person.
In Psalm 68:5 God gives Himself a wonderful title: “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.” May we learn to be godly in our lives and in our churches.