This is a good example of a passage that people either:
-take too legalistically and make it about a single, narrow issue.
-make an example of how the Bible is too cultural and narrow to apply today.
-or read as it was intended and use it as a helpful guide in many aspects of church, life and culture.
Paul’s writings will often be about a specific topic that affected a church at the time, but that we can glean principles from to apply to a whole host of issues today. So here we have a passage about widows. This passage does not dictate that the church begin taking care of widows older than 60 (not that that would be a bad thing) and send younger ones away to their parents or to remarry. The principles here deal with charitable practices of the time, and the principles that should govern them.
Today we could open these principles to apply to a whole host of charitable ministries of the church. We are not the only source of help for widows today, but we often do a lot of work with the down-and-out and the needy people in society. The principle here is that such help should be given to those who are truly helpless, and that others should be assisted into finding constructive lives. Rather than hand out money and support people who just don’t want to do anything, we should be discriminate in how and who we help.
All too often churches become magnets for people who are too willing to live off the kindness of others. Some would say we are not responsible for how help is taken; we are simply to help where we can. This passage would indicate otherwise. All too often “help” is actually doing more damage, or providing a means for people to be “idlers, gossips and busybodies.”
As is often the case, the true work of the church is a little more complicated than many would have it be. We are not simply to evangelize, we should disciple. We are not supposed to grow as churches, we should multiply. We can’t just follow a few rules, we need to love. We don’t just give money; we need to truly help people with what they need, and even when that may be tough love. Even when people decline the offer.
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