While a wedding marks a joyful beginning to married life for a husband and wife, a funeral marks the end, leaving a lone man or woman in a significantly different phase of life. In 1 Timothy 5:3–16 it is clear that the church at Ephesus had a number of widows, both young and old, in the congregation. The Apostle Paul knew there were multiple widows in need, and even more, our Lord Jesus Christ knows every widow and the best way for her needs to be met (see Deut. 27:19; Ps. 146:9; Mal. 3:5; Luke 7:11–15; Acts 6:1–7; James 1:27).
Our Savior’s message in 1 Timothy on widow care begins with the call to “honor widows who are truly widows” (5:3). The kind of care we are called to is described using the word “honor,” a word embodying a mix of respect, love, and care. It echoes the language of the fifth commandment: “Honor your father and your mother” (Ex. 20:12). The term “widow” here refers to a once-married woman who is now without a husband. Ordinarily, this would come about through the death of a husband, but there could also be cases in which a man abandoned (1 Cor. 7) or divorced his wife, leaving a woman in the same category as a “widow.”
Paul explains further what the category of someone who is “truly a widow” looks like in relation to the call for the church to care for “true widows.” She is someone who is alone in this world. She has no Christian family members who are able to care for her and no non-Christian family members who are willing to love and provide for her—and so the church is to act as her family in doing that. For widows who do have Christian family, Paul reminds us as the church of a fundamental principle of multigenerational Christian family life: “But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents” (1 Tim. 5:4). Our grandparents sacrificed to raise and care for our parents, and our parents have loved and cared for us. While some have experienced suffering or abuse at the hands of parents, many can testify that even in weakness and sin, parents sacrificed and provided for us for many years.
Families matter in God’s sight. He is the Creator and Redeemer of marriage and family. He delights in our showing love, care, and respect to widowed parents, whether our family is biological or adoptive. Here is where, as parents and grandparents age, we can begin to “make some return” by lovingly caring for them. The final encouragement is marvelous: “for this is pleasing in the sight of God” (1 Tim. 5:4). When Christians care for widows, whether in our families or churches, it brings pleasure to God. Our Lord Jesus Christ is glorified and rejoices to see you minister to the parents and grandparents He has given. As you do, you also help the church as a body to minister to those who are “truly widows”—so that no one in the family of God is left without a family of love and care.