Read 1 Timothy 5
Focus on verse 9-10
In the New Testament culture of early church history, the social safety net looked a little different than it does today. I do not believe there was any government financed welfare system providing food and shelter to people who were unable to provide for themselves. In most cases the family system provided for extended family members who were ill or disabled. In the cases where a person had no family, it could get a little severe. They typically ended up begging along the roadways, and often women who were widowed of divorced would often be resigned to a life of prostitution in order to survive. Either that or they just died, and I suspect many did.
With the event of establishment of the New Testament church, things began to improve a little for these social outcasts. In today’s reading Paul instructs Timothy regarding how the church ought to care for older widows who had no immediate family to look after them.
Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, 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. (v. 9-10)
As one reads the entire chapter on one finds a fairly well thought through plan for not only caring for those who genuinely need help, but a fairly decent system of vetting prospective people to weed out those seeking to abuse or take advantage of the system.
I am grateful that we live in an age and culture were more help is available to people who are truly unable to care for themselves. Unfortunately, even the best system is not able to help everyone, however, I have noticed that a program run by volunteers of a locally run and funded non-profit organization tend to be more efficient and effective in helping people that can’t seem to help themselves than large government programs administered by bureaucrats in distant offices.
Perhaps the reason this is so, is because God actually designed and commissioned the church to be the organization taking care of this social issue. The only thing I am not certain of is whether it was the churches failure to step up and do it that caused the government to step in and try to fix it? Or did the church stop doing this because the government regulated the churches out of being able to do it? I suspect the true cause may be a little of both, either way, the church is not off the hook. If the church would step up get a little more organized in this regard, perhaps the government would take note and either begin to work with the church instead of trying to compete with it, or at least encourage the church in its efforts instead of creating regulations that make it more difficult.
No program is perfect, but some programs do provide an avenue along which it is more likely that those who need help encounter those willing to offer it. The bottom line is not the program but the people who make the program work. Helping people is not about money – though it takes money. It is not about buildings – though buildings are helpful. It is also not about honor – though those who help others are honorable people. What it is about is people. People who care enough to help someone and to share their life with them.