May 20: From Concept to Caution to Cause

1 Chronicles 8:1–40; 1 Timothy 5:10–17; Psalm 78:53–72

Some things in the Bible are downright surprising, including several passages in Paul’s letters. Sometimes his words are so personal or they’re addressed to such a specific person our group, that it’s hard to understand why that particular passage is there. But God uses people to do His work, and whatever they show or teach us sets a precedent—like how to deal with difficult people, or how to best help the poor.

Some sections of Paul’s letters are rarely read aloud in church; we simply can’t figure out how to apply them. What application can you draw from a long list of people, or from the very specific details of how to evaluate a widow in need in your community (1 Tim 5)? What if there are no widows in your community? Do you just move on?

First Timothy 5:10–17 sets a good precedent for us as Christians, and it can serve as a standard for applying other passages. We don’t know precisely why Paul told Timothy not to help widows “less than sixty years of age,” but we do know that he was setting criteria for evaluating and helping the poor (1 Tim 5:9). Other than children and previously freed slaves, widows were the most impoverished members of society in biblical times.

Paul provides further criteria that would prevent a handout-based culture, and would also require a widow to have truly been transformed by Jesus’ teachings (1 Tim 5:10). Helping the poor isn’t enough—they need spiritual help, too. Paul also cautions against those who abuse the system (1 Tim 5:11–13), acknowledging that it can actually cause more harm than good when the church helps them.

As the Church, we want to help. But there have been times when we have done more harm than good—both locally and globally, particularly in the developing world—by failing to understanding the power struggles at play in any given situation. This should not stop us from helping; instead, it should encourage us to be both fiscally wise and culturally educated before providing funds. Understanding what people are really going through and how to truly help them is nearly as important as giving.

Who is your community trying to help? How can you better educate yourself on their real needs and how to meet them?

John D. Barry[1]


[1] Barry, J. D., & Kruyswijk, R. (2012). Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

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