In 1stC Ephesus, as in many places in the world today, the scale of human need was overwhelming. The church had to prioritise. Paul’s instruction to Timothy was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Widows who had trusted God should be honoured, but only if they met certain criteria: then they could be included on a list of women who received food and other help from the church.
The list parallels the description of the ‘virtuous woman’ in Proverbs chapter 31, except that these ladies were old (over 60 was old for those days) and widowed. However, during their marriage they were ‘one-man women’ (matching the monogamous description of elders in 1 Timothy 3:2 ). They were hard working at home, in the family, in the fellowship of the church and well regarded in the community as being kind and helpful to people in need. So, unfaithful, lazy, careless and self-centred women were excluded, and younger women were encouraged to think about their lifestyle and learn what pleases the Lord.
Some may think that that is harsh, or that surely the church should be helping everybody. But the scale of need is too vast even if every believer worked 24/7. And it is not the job of the church to save the world – Jesus is the only Saviour. But it is the church’s responsibility to be a visible signpost to Him, the doorway of the Kingdom of God (John 10:7) and the King Himself. As the world sees the church (the people of God) loving and caring for each other so they will marvel about her Head, Jesus Christ, and be drawn to Him (John 13:35). Focussed ministry is essential. We cannot do everything; we just need to play our little part as the Lord directs. Ask Him what He wants you to do, and do it well!
© Dr Paul Adams