Last time, I laid out the idea that we have to be compassionate in order to have an effective mercy ministry. While it’s important for us to be compassionate, compassion left unchecked can, at times, do more harm than good. You see, meeting someone’s immediate need is not bad, and in reality a lot of times we need to do that. But if we blindly meet the immediate or presenting need over and over again, we aren’t really helping that person because we aren’t forcing them to deal with the underlying heart issue that may be causing their hardship.
Now, I’m not saying that everyone who is struggling has an underlying sin condition they need to deal with. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Health issues, natural disasters, the loss of a job, these things happen. When they happen, we may find ourselves struggling and in need of help, even though we have done everything right and our heart is in line with God’s Word.
But there are others who have needs, and those needs are the result of sin. In order for them to get to a place where they can be self-sufficient, we have to help them deal with their sin. If we are just operating on our emotions, we may not do that. Which tells us compassion can’t be the only driving force of an effective Mercy Ministry.
An Effective Mercy Ministry Requires Responsibility
Part of 1 Timothy 5 is centered around the care for the widows in the church at Ephesus. To give you some background information. Apparently, the church was facing a crisis. Their compassion had led them to enroll all the widows in the church and those loosely connected to the church into a welfare program. Providing for all these widows needs became a burden on the church.
Paul isn’t writing to tell Timothy and the church to quit providing for these widows. They were still supposed to provide care. They just weren’t to continue to operate as they had been. The church had to begin operating responsibly. They had to make sure these widows were cared for in the right way and the church’s resources used appropriately. Essentially Paul was telling Timothy that his compassion had to be balanced by responsibility.
He gave Timothy a set of guidelines by which the church should operate.
(1) The church is to care for those who don’t have a family to care for them (3,4,8,16)
Starting in verse 3 Paul says,
“Honor widows who are truly widows. 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, for this is pleasing in the sight of God.” (1 Ti 5:3–4)
Then in verse 8 Paul provides the motivation some family members needed to provide adequate care for their families when he says,
“But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Ti 5:8)
So a person’s family should be the ones who care for them. If they don’t have any family, then the church should take over.
(2) The church is to care for those who have given themselves to God’s service and have a godly reputation (5-6)
Look at the text starting in verse 5,
“She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives.” (1 Ti 5:5–6)
Now drop down to the second half of verse 9,
“Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, [and here is where we pick up] having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.” (1 Ti 5:9–10)
So the church isn’t just to enroll any widow. Only those who meet certain moral standards.
(3) The church is to care for those who are of age (9a, 11-15)
In the first half of verse 9, we are told that a woman shouldn’t be less than sixty years of age. Then picking up in verse 11 we read,
“But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. For some have already strayed after Satan.” (1 Ti 5:11–15)
So again, not just any widow, but only those who meet a certain age requirement.
Just as Paul gave Timothy guidelines by which to operate, we too should have guidelines by which we operate. It’s not ungodly or uncompassionate. Instead, it’s wise and helpful. It not only allows us to care for others, but it allows us to provide care in a way that is most helpful for them and best uses the resources of our church.
Next time I’ll lay out the guidelines by which we personally and corporately should operate.
Question for Reflection
- Do you exercise responsibility when dealing with those who are in need?
Post developed from my sermon: What’s Required to Have an Effective Mercy Ministry?