A reminder of a practical and God-honoring exercise.
This question must be addressed from two positions. First, there is the matter of a widow’s personal maintenance; then we need consider her practical ministry.
As to the first point, let us remember that in the basic needs of life, God first has a special interest in the widows, as well as the orphan, and destitute, whether in the O.T. or N.T.(Psalm 146:9, Jer 49:11; James 1:29). In the early days of the church, the care of the widows was the first threat to the unity of the believers (Acts 6). To meet the need, there were men appointed to attend upon the problem who were described as full of faith, full of the Holy Spirit, full of wisdom. One can’t help noticing that their faithfulness in attending to the care of the widows was preparatory to public preaching and witnessing later, as in the case of Stephen. That work must have held great importance. So, caring for the widow can pay great dividends to the assembly. We have an obligation to ensure that such are remembered, and, therefore, to give of our means for the maintenance of needy widows accordingly. This is especially necessary when there is no family for support. The responsibility is both an assembly and an individual duty. It is not enough to assume there are societal and government provisions in place. Discretion will be necessary to ascertain need, while avoiding embarrassment. It would not be considerate to read publicly in the assembly the name of a recipient of such gifts; enough to call it “Christian fellowship.” And, to encourage awareness in young believers, they would be surprised at the joy they will receive in their souls if they were to place money in an envelope, and, without identifying themselves, anonymously drop it through the mail slot of one of these dear sisters, who in turn will thank God, the source of the blessing.
As to the second point, there is often the perception among our sisters that widowhood ends their usefulness in the assembly generally, and in the Lord’s work particularly. However, let us notice some of the widows of Bible record.
The widow of Zarephath, in spite of her relatively meager circumstances, was a necessary means of support for Elijah, God’s man of the hour at the time of King Ahab. God had raised up Elijah to remonstrate with this wicked king to turn back the tide of idolatry in Israel (2 Kings 17:9 – “Behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee.”) The same Lord, who was directing the movements of His prophet, was directing the service of this widow, though she seemed a rather obscure servant. The sustenance from her table and shelter in her home were provided to the prophet when no other home in Israel was made available.
Who is not touched by the story of Naomi? Bereft of husband and sons, she was destitute in a strange land. Nevertheless, through conviction and with humility, she led Ruth, though but a daughter-in-law, out of the idolatry in which she had been raised, back to Bethlehem. And thus, through the exercise of this widow, Ruth was brought, through unique circumstances, into the world of Boaz, becoming his bride and bearing his child. This was a crisis point in the earthly lineage of our Lord Jesus whereby a stranger, through Divine arrangement of a widow’s life, became a mother to the King of kings. Of Naomi it was written: “Blessed be the Lord which hath not left thee this day without a kinsman, that his name may be famous in Israel.” How satisfied she must have been!
Then there is the witness of Anna. Widowed after only her seventh wedding anniversary, she served God with fasting and prayers (not very dramatic service by our reckoning). But, this seemingly insignificant saint was rewarded with a view of the newly-born Christ child. In consequence, “She then spake of Him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). Could there be any greater service than that?
The Lord Jesus spoke of the contribution of the widow at the temple treasury. Her two mites were not only given out of her limited resources, but also out of her deep devotion to God. Even one mite would, to her, be costly. But such an offering was of more value to God than large public gifts from the wealth of the rich that represented no sacrifice. All service is seen by the Lord and valued by Him in its true light.
In 1 Timothy 5:10, Paul directs Timothy in the matter of caring for widows: “… lodge strangers … washed the saints’ feet … relieved the afflicted … diligently followed good.” Here is quite a comprehensive description of the areas of service where a widow could effectively serve the Lord with invaluable service to the assembly. It represents a list of activities which, if in any measure pursued, would leave her no “down time.”
These are only five of the many examples from a former age and the present one, to demonstrate that our dear widowed sisters are an essential part of the assembly testimony and necessary for the work of the Lord. They may feel that they have only walked in the shadow of their husbands, and with his home-call, have no usefulness of their own. Consequently, they feel depressed, lonely, and intrusive into the lives of family and others. Very few of us can understand the lot of this segment of Christian society unless we have been there. But there are many areas for usefulness and effective service for God, such as hospitality, visitation of sick, counseling younger sisters, prayer and intercession for others’ concerns, even advising newlyweds (when asked!) from personal lessons learned. And many an evangelist at home or abroad can testify of practical gifts from widows that proved invaluable in meeting the need of the moment in their field of service. The exercise of the widows to serve God in these important needs can only strengthen the assembly testimony of which they form a part.
However, this raises the question that with the reduced income from loss of the primary wage-earner, how is a widow to have the means to fulfill service in these areas of the Lord’s work? Money is required for food, home upkeep, car expenses, and other expenses.
So if these dear sisters devote themselves to meeting these various needs, practical support should be an exercise of the assembly so as to enable them to serve God and the believers in these ways suggested when extra cost and expenditure is necessary. This is vital labor for the health of the assembly and worthy of its support.
Let us “Honor widows that are widows indeed” (1 Tim 5:13).