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: support

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

For those not in the limelight

In 1937, the Academy Awards began giving out an award for “Best Supporting Actor” in movies.  This recognition was given in honor of an actor who had delivered an outstanding performance in a supporting role.  Having a supporting role meant that the actor wasn’t the main character of the story; however, he held an important role in the movement of the plot and/or the development of the lead character.

Paul certainly was the main character and lead preacher of the gospel in the first century.  He authored approximately half of the New Testament and was the focal character throughout most of the book of Acts.  However, Paul rarely traveled by himself.  Other believers traveled with him and on behalf of him to evanglize the known world.  Some people would help for a short time, others for longer periods.  Some, like Timothy and Titus, became his protégés…while others held varying roles within to the ministry.

Based on the number of times he’s mentioned and the type of work he’s given, Tychicus was one of Paul’s best supporting ministers.  Tychicus was Paul’s personal letter-bearer for the New Testament letters to the churches in Ephesus and Colossae.  Tychicus was also likely the one who delievered Paul’s letter to Philemon. 

However, Tychicus was more than just a mail carrier delievering letters.  Take a look at how Paul described him – and his role – to the believers in Colossae:

Colossians 4:7-9
Tychicus, a loved brother, a faithful servant, and a fellow slave in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me.  I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know how we are, and so that he may encourage your hearts.  He is with Onesimus, a faithful and loved brother, who is one of you.  They will tell you about everything here.

Paul’s words are very high praise.  From these verses, we see that Tychicus was both trusted and up to the task at hand.  In addition to delivering Paul’s messages, Tychicus was also ready to encourage their hearts.  He was ready to be a surrogate minister when Paul couldn’t be there because he was in prision for preaching about Jesus.

In one of his last letters, Paul tells Titus that he would send either Artemas or Tychicus to give Titus a break from his ministry overseeing all the churches on the island of Crete.  That would have been a significant task, one that Paul would not entrust to just anyone.

However, the Bible doesn’t record Tychicus’ encouraging words to the Colossian believers.  We don’t know if he went to Crete, or if Artemas went instead.  Tychicus’ job in Paul’s ministry wasn’t to do big enough things that he would be recognized in Scripture.  Instead, Tychicus found a purpose for his God-given talents while being the best supporting minister for the Apostle Paul.  From Paul’s words, we see that Tychicus did well in his role.

It helps us to have this kind of reminder – that we don’t have to be a main character in the Bible to have an impact for God in other peoples’ lives.  Although everyone that comes to your local church knows who the lead pastor is, or who the worship leader is…God knows where our talents are best suited and most profitable for the advancement of His kingdom.  It’s not just the “upfront” leaders that will be rewarded by God, either. God has promised a rich reward in Heaven for those who do well in supporting roles also.

Keep Pressing,
Ken