This Sunday is Mother’s Day, a perennially difficult day for those who have lost mothers, mothers who have lost children or women who wish they were mothers. I’ve spent time in all three categories. For those formerly untouched by tragedy, this year’s celebration might bring new sadness in dealing with the restrictions, lockdowns, illnesses and deaths of COVID-19. I offer my condolences to anyone experiencing grief instead of joy this day. If we’re able, it’s a good day to pause, honor and cherish the mothers in our lives.
On a related tangent, I grew up hearing Joan Lunden on Good Morning, America. Smart, good humored and beautiful, she was among my favorite television personalities. In later years I heard her familiar but older voice over the radio promoting A Place for Mom. The website features several of her video ads, also on YouTube, and calls Lunden “A Place for Mom spokesperson” and “a proud advocate for families seeking quality senior living and care options for their parent or loved ones.”
The free service sounds really good, and for some families in American culture today, perhaps it does provide the best option for eldercare. But what does the Bible say?
Paul introduces the topic in verses 3-8 of 1 Timothy 5:
Honor widows who are widows indeed; but if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God. Now she who is a widow indeed and who has been left alone, has fixed her hope on God and continues in entreaties and prayers night and day. But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives. Prescribe these things as well, so that they may be above reproach. But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
What is “acceptable in the sight of God?” Paul hasn’t made all that he’s talking about completely clear, but though he begins gently, he ends harshly, pronouncing some pretty heavy judgements on those who neglect their parents or any of their own. Note that Paul does not say that “if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is” an unbeliever. Rather Paul says that person “is worse than an unbeliever.” The word “unbeliever” is “apistos,” literally “not faith” or the “opposite or negative of faith,” which is “pistis,” in the same verse. The King James Version (KJV) translates the word as “infidel.”
In verses 9-10, Paul talks about “the list” and qualifications for those to be on it : “A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man, having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work.”
Along with requirements for widows in verses 5-6, Paul names no less than 6 “if” criteria widows must meet in order for the church to care for them (5 in the KJV), along with 2 other “if-less” clauses she must also have fulfilled (3 in the KJV).
This is biblical welfare, and Paul starts to explain reasons for ineligibility in verses 11-12: “But refuse to put younger widows on the list, for when they feel sensual desires in disregard of Christ, they want to get married, thus incurring condemnation, because they have set aside their previous pledge.” According to Blue Letter Bible, the KJV translates verse 12 as “Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith.” “Faith” is, again, the “pistis” of verse 8 above.
Paul continues in verse 13, “At the same time they also learn to be idle, as they go around from house to house; and not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention.” For the problems of verses 11-13, Paul proposes a solution and the reason for it in verses 14-15: “Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach; for some have already turned aside to follow Satan.”
The family is God’s primary, wonderful welfare web. The church is secondary, and government or other institutions are tertiary. At least in America, and even in the church, I fear we reverse God’s order. Paul confirms this hierarchy in the last verse of this passage: “If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed.” The KJV renders this verse, “If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed.” Since the Greek for the first phrase is “pistos ē pistos,“ translated “trusty” or “faithful” and again related to “pistis,” I tend to lean toward the KJV: the duty of caring for widows belongs to believers (male and female plural), not a believing woman as the New American Standard Bible translates it above. And as verses 4 and 8 state, care involves making some return to our parents or providing for any of our “own”–especially those in our own household.
Overburdening the daycare, senior living care, health care, welfare and social security systems in America is a great and worsening problem–laid directly at the feet of the church and family. Our government was not founded to address such problems. It is trying to and failing miserably and expensively. As always, the Bible shows a better way.
This Sunday, may people all over the globe celebrate their mothers, or, like my own family, at the earliest opportunity. I’ve planned since last year to visit a greenhouse with our eldest daughter. She loves plants as I do and wasn’t able to go with me then–and probably won’t be able to the next eleven years or so. With the lockdown, we must wait at least another week. No matter what the situation, may we all fill this Sunday with service and love, which is what Mother’s Day, and mothers, are all about.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB (New American Standard Bible) Copyright by The Lockman Foundation http://www.lockman.org
Scripture translation from Blue Letter Bible’s search of the King James Bible on the top right sidebar at http://www.blbclassic.org/search.cfm