Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: help

To stay eternity-focused, you must be free from this

Last time, we read the author of Hebrews’ warning about the significant consequence to sexual impurity in a believer’s life.  Unfortunately, that is not the only trap we must be aware of…there is something else that loudly clamors for our attention:

Hebrews 13:5
Keep your life free from the love of money.  Be satisfied with what you have


If the author stopped right there, we could nod our heads in agreement and talk about all the times we won and lost in our struggle with the priority of money.  The consumerism of our modern culture puts an especially tough spin on this topic.  We are constantly barraged with the mantras “You need this in your life.” and “You deserve to have that.”  Advertisers strategically manipulate our emotions to convince us that whatever someone else has, or whatever new thing comes along, we should have it in our hands.

However, the author of Hebrews didn’t stop with just these two statements.  Instead, he did as he has throughout the entire letter – he referred us back to the Old Testament, providing a map to the solution of our not-so-modern problem:

Hebrews 13:5-6
Keep your life free from the love of money.  Be satisfied with what you have, for He Himself has said,

“I will never leave you or abandon you.”

Therefore, we may boldly say,

“The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?”


Although his readers would have understood these Old Testament references, we need to step back and grab some context so we can fully understand his lesson:

The first quote is from Deuteronomy 31:6, where Moses is giving God’s marching orders to the Israelites as they get ready to take over the Promised Land.  They didn’t need to worry about having “enough” possessions as they went to the Promised Land, because they had God and He would take care of them.  This reassurance, I will never leave you or abandon you, is given to those Israelites who are going to enter “God’s rest”.  These are the ones that are going to partner with God to establish the future country of Israel.

The second quote comes from Psalm 118:6 and maintains the same idea.  Just like with the Deuteronomy reference, the author points to the psalm to show that we can confidently trust the Lord to come to our aid.  As the original recipients of Hebrews were Jewish Christians, they would have recognized the context of the first quote, and they would have known that Psalm 118 deals entirely with God coming to rescue and protect His own people when the entire world is against them.

However, when we love money, we are distracted from the reality of God providing.  We don’t trust Him with our future.  Our security becomes dictated by the size of the bank account and reserves.  Don’t get me wrong, saving money is extremely important, and God even tells us many times in Scripture that saving money for future use is a wise activity.  But it matters where we are getting our security from. 

A personal example: as our family finances have changed over the years, my wife and I sometimes catch ourselves worrying about how much is in the savings account.  We save for a while, make a big purchase, and then have to catch our breath when we look at the “little” remainder left.  However, one of us is always quick to remind the other that God has always provided, even when the savings was much, much smaller than the “little” we are currently fretting over. 

We all need regular reminders that our security in this life is not in the size of our bank account, but in the One who has entrusted us with the money in our account.

Perhaps we should refer back to Psalm 118 on a regular basis.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Legitimate help for legitimate needs

Whenever we see someone with a financial need, there’s always an underlying tension to deal with. 

What’s the best way to help them, without making them dependent or having my “help” end up being detrimental?

We want to help where we can…but only for legitimate needs.  We silently wish for criteria or even a flow chart to make the “Do I help or not?” decision for us.  But then we’re afraid that evaluating a person’s situation via a formula is too cold, not very loving, and when we consider each person’s financial need has different factors and influences…we quickly feel overwhelmed, even paralyzed.

The church family in Ephesus must have had similar struggles, because Paul spends a large section of his letter to Timothy discussing how to handle the support of widows within the church.  As mentioned before, widowhood was a serious situation for women in the ancient world.  They were not typically the direct heir of their husband’s will, and income generating options were limited, at best.  Additionally, if the husband was poor, he may not have left much for his wife to live on.

Before we read Paul’s criteria to Timothy for helping widows within the church, we need to understand a little bit about life expectancy in the ancient world.  Although the age of 60 was when a person was considered an “old man” or “old woman”, in the time between the Old Testament and the New Testament, the average life expectancy for a woman was 36 years.  This was mainly due to the significant risk of dying during childbirth; however, the men were not fairing much better, as they were only living on average up to 45 years.

Ladies, imagine condensing your life down to just 36 years.  Guys, yours to only 45 years.  Needs, wants, plans, opportunities all look different on a shortened timeline.  Keep that in mind as you read through Paul’s criteria:

1 Timothy 5:9-10
No widow should be placed on the official support list unless she is at least 60 years old, has been the wife of one husband, and is well known for good works – that is, if she has brought up children, shown hospitality, washed the saints’ feet, helped the afflicted, and devoted herself to every good work.

There’s a fair bit of structure to this widow-helping program.  With an official support list, we see that this program is to provide elderly widows with long-term support (nor does this prevent the church from assisting in one-time, immediate needs).  The requirement for her to be the wife of one husband doesn’t mean she’s disqualified if her husband previously died, she re-married, and then her second husband died.  Rather, this is a prohibition on support those who have been in polygamous relationships.  This matches up well with the rest of Paul’s conduct expectations – he is instructing Timothy about the importance of asking “Does her life represent Jesus to others?

However, he also gives Timothy this warning:

1 Timothy 5:11-13
But refuse to enroll younger widows; for when they are drawn away from Christ by desire, they want to marry, and will therefore receive condemnation because they have renounced their original pledge.  At the same time, they also learn to be idle, going from house to house; they are not only idle, but are also gossips and busybodies, saying things they shouldn’t say.

This widow-helping program wasn’t going to be a monthly stipend check and then she does whatever she wants.  The church family expected that those who received support would work on behalf of the church within the community.  The widows would pledge their lives to this work, forsaking any additional marriage relationship…in a sense, they were “married to Christ”.  However, the normal desires of family life would likely be too much for the younger widows to fully abstain from once they made their pledge.  Additionally, the younger widows would not have developed the discipline that the older women had learned.  As widow-representatives, the reputation of Jesus and the entire church would be severely damaged by them saying things they shouldn’t say.

1 Timothy 5:14-16
Therefore, I want younger women to marry, have children, manage their households, and give the adversary no opportunity to accuse us.  For some have already turned away to follow Satan.  If any believing woman has widows, she should help them, and the church should not be burdened, so that it can help those who are genuinely widows.

The purpose of this criteria is to ensure that the church can help those who are genuinely widows.  We want to meet legitimate needs; therefore, we must have a way of evaluating the requests that come to the church.

God likes order.  We see it in creation.  We see it the structure of relationships.  We shouldn’t be all that surprised when we find that He also expects our giving to be thoughtful and purposeful.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Knowing when to give assistance

There is no shortage of people who need help.  No matter what lies the health-and-wealth teachers may tell, there are poor people in our churches who need help.  Whether due to circumstances beyond their control, circumstances which they created, or some combination of the two…there are needs all around us.

But how do we decide, who gets help…or who possibly “deserves” it more than someone else?  I have a tough time figuring that out as an individual, but have we considered how our church should be responding to assistance requests?  Logistically speaking, our churches have bills to pay, too.  So, it’s unrealistic to expect that every single request for support can or will be met at 100%.

Resources vs Needs isn’t a new problem for the church, either.  Paul addressed it with Timothy regarding the needs of widows in the Ephesian church.  Widowhood was a serious situation for women in the ancient world, since they were not typically the direct heir of husband’s will, and income generating options were limited, at best.  Additionally, if the husband was poor, he may not have left much for his wife to live on.

Her needs would be more significant than a one-time pantry-stocking trip to the local grocery store.  So how was Timothy to handle this significant of a request for continual support?

1 Timothy 5:3-4
Support widows who are genuinely widows.  But if any widow has children or grandchildren, they should learn to practice their religion toward their own family first and to repay their parents, for this pleases God.

Timothy’s first step is to thoroughly check for family.  I almost find it humorous that Paul says “Support widows who are genuinely widows”.  First step is to verify that her husband is truly dead.  The second step is check for extended family, especially if they are believers.  If they’ve been adopted into God’s family, then they have no excuse to skip out on taking care of members of their earthly family.  There were no assisted living homes and no hospice care in the ancient world.  The family’s care for the widow is an act of worship and respect toward God, which He finds pleasing because their actions are a reflection of his own.

1 Timothy 5:5-7
The real widow, left all alone, has put her hope in God and continues night and day in her petitions and prayers; however, she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives.  Command this so that they won’t be blamed. 

The real widow, the one the church should consider helping is destitute and has no other family options.  In fact, she considers the church her last resort…notice that she goes to God directly and repeatedly before she approaches the church body with her need.

Paul also affirms that the widow’s lifestyle should be considered prior to giving assistance.  If she is living a self-indulgent lifestyle, then she probably won’t be wise with the funds the church may give her.  In this case, there are other issues to address that are greater than her immediate need.

Lastly, Paul gives an ominous warning:

1 Timothy 5:8
Now if anyone does not provide for his own relatives, and especially for his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Paul pulls no punches here, so let’s be as practical as possible:

If I have the resources to take care of my widowed mother, and I refuse to do so…which forces her to rely on support from the local church, using funds that should go to those who are genuinely in need…how is that not stealing from God? 

Clearly, this verse is addressed to believers, since the comparison is with an unbeliever.  So, denying the faith doesn’t mean that I would not be part of God’s family.  What it means is that I would be grossly hypocritical of the love and resources that God has extended to me.  God did not withhold His resources when I could not save myself.  How can I claim to be a part of His family and then have my actions deny the faith and relationship with God?  At least an unbeliever’s words and actions match up.  What damage am I doing to God’s reputation if I have no good reason to refuse to help?

Our application of this passage is two-fold:

If we have family members who are destitute, it is our responsibility to care for them – not the church’s.  This doesn’t mean we pay for all their bills each month, either.  “Destitute” means just that.  We should not be passing off our family’s financial burdens to our church family.

If the church is approached by an individual in great need, it is both acceptable and wise to evaluate the depth of that need.  It is also wise to evaluate the person’s lifestyle.  Financing someone’s irresponsibility is less loving than telling a person “No, we will not help you in this way”, especially if there are deeper needs to address.  If there are other avenues of help available, either through their family or other modern-day options, that is acceptable as well.

The problem of societal needs is not new.  However, we must be wise with how/when we support others.  Everything we do, whether we give assistance or refuse assistance, must be done within the context of reflecting God to others.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Getting dressed

After establishing how God looks at His children, Paul has specific directions for how the Colossian believers are to conduct themselves:

Colossians 3:12
Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience

The Greek word for put on carries the idea of putting on clothes or getting dressed.  Putting on these qualities is something Paul is instructing the believers to do.  God isn’t going to do this for them.  God isn’t going to make them instantly and perfectly compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, or patient.  These are skills the Colossians are going learn, practice, and develop. 

As our first son became old enough to toddle around, we began to teach him how to dress himself.  He didn’t put his shirt on right the first time he tried, either.  Sometimes his arm would go through the head-hole, which would lead to panic and tears as he tried to push his head through an arm-hole.  We would then help him back out and calm down.  Before trying again, we reminded him that if he felt stuck, all he needed to do was to ask one of us for help.

Different articles of clothing required the development of different hand-coordination skills.  While a t-shirt was more about gross motor skills, putting on socks required that different sections of the body had to work together.  Each article of clothing presented a new challenge, but after a short amount of time, he figured it out and could dress himself.

When we had our second child, the same getting-dressed skills needed to be taught to him, too.  I’m certain that we didn’t teach him in the exact same way as we taught his brother.  If he learned to put his socks on sooner than his brother did, that was great.  If it took him longer to learn how to shimmy his legs into pants, then that was ok, too.  These skills would develop the more he practiced it.  It also didn’t matter that it was easier for his brother to put his head in the shirt first, or that he preferred to put his arms in first.  The goal was the same – they both needed to put on their shirt.

I think the spiritual parallel is pretty obvious.  Paul lists out several characteristics that God wants believers to put on, but notice Paul doesn’t say exactly how the Colossians are to do it.  Maybe someone will learn how to put on heartfelt compassion while at work, and another believer will learn how to put on heartfelt compassion as they stop their busy lives for a moment to help a total stranger.

Perhaps putting on kindness comes naturally to you, but you struggle with patience.  When we see other believers being patient with their spouse, their children, or their circumstances…it’s easy to get down on ourselves.  We start feeling frustrated and stuck.  However, we shouldn’t be upset that someone else is better at putting on their socks than we are at this moment.  It’s in those moments we just need to ask our Daddy for help. 

With time and practice, we’ll learn how to put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Not only will we be dressed in them, but we will learn how they coordinate into something attractive and beautiful – they will be qualities that others see, qualities that point them toward our Savior.

Keep Pressing,
Ken