I am not one to really want to travel on vacations, but one experience I do want to have is to go on a cruise. Anybody else here never done that, but want to?
Now, let’s imagine together that I get my wish and I, and a whole bunch of other people, are over 1,000 miles from the coast and the ship starts sinking. Who should get in the lifeboats first?
Women and children first!
But why? Why do we say, “Women and children first?”
Widows and Orphans
Before we answer that, I’d like to mention that the concept of women and children first is at least tangentially biblical. Not too long the adult Bible study went through James, and we read this in James 1:27:
27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
A short, to the point statement from a “to the point” writer. A pure and undefiled religion before God, in great measure, is to visit orphans and widows. There we have a subset of “women and children first.”
James is not the first Scripture author to identify the importance of remembering widows and orphans. King David praised this as a characteristic of the Most High in Psalm 68:4-5:
4 Sing to God, sing praises to his name;
lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts;
his name is the LORD;
exult before him!
5 Father of the fatherless and protector of widows
is God in his holy habitation.
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the “extras” that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
If God is the father of the fatherless and the protector of widows…and we are to be perfect like Him (see Matthew 5:48), then we should be there for orphans and widows too, right?
As a matter of fact, part of Job’s argument that he did nothing to deserve God’s apparent punishment has to do with his treatment of orphans and widows:
16 “If I have withheld anything that the poor desired,
or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail,
17 or have eaten my morsel alone,
and the fatherless has not eaten of it
18 (for from my youth the fatherless grew up with me as with a father,
and from my mother’s womb I guided the widow),
19 if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing,
or the needy without covering,
20 if his body has not blessed me,
and if he was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep,
21 if I have raised my hand against the fatherless,
because I saw my help in the gate,
22 then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder,
and let my arm be broken from its socket.
23 For I was in terror of calamity from God,
and I could not have faced his majesty (Job 31:16—23).
Job never “caused the eyes of a widow to fail” and never has “eaten [his] morsel alone, and the fatherless not eaten of it.”
Job took care of orphans and widows. God is a father of orphans and the protectors of widows. James says a perfect religion includes visiting orphans and widows.
Any theme coming through for you yet? 🙂
Do “women and children first” and the scriptural focus on orphans and widows mean that humans and God have favorites?
I am not going to try to speak for humankind (although I do think we have favorites), but at least for God, Deuteronomy 10:17-18 makes it clear God does not have them:
17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.
Noticed the continual focus on orphans and widows…but what does it say in the verse before?
God…is not partial.
God is no respecter of persons. We have no orphans or widows in our congregation, but if we did God would not love them any more than the oldest guy with parents still alive.
He is an awesome God whose awesome love knows no bounds.
So, what gives? Why the apparent focus on a subset of humankind within the 66?
Unequal and Powerless
In the introduction to his book Dominion, Matthew Scully writes this:
Animals are more then ever a test of our character, of mankind’s capacity for empathy and for decent, honorable conduct and faithful stewardship. We are called to treat them with kindness, not because they have rights or power or some claim to equality, but in a sense because they don’t; because they all stand unequal and powerless before us.
Children, especially those whose parents have passed away, are truly powerless. In a history where men were most often the breadwinners, widows too were powerless.
We are called to treat them with kindness because they stand powerless before us.
It is another especially telling measure of our character.
But, it is not limited to just them. Deuteronomy 10:17-18 added the sojourner to those we should watch out for…and I’m sure if our Lord were to give a complete list of those we should remember it would get very long. However, just like we can see a “orphans and widows” theme in the verses I share, we would see a larger theme in that complete list. One that is pretty clear in Matthew 25:31-40:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
Who should we watch out for? Those who are thirsty, those are hungry, those who lack clothing, those who are sick, those who are alone.
Those who are in need.
The Bible points us towards orphans and widows because they can be poster children for need…and we are to help…
Those who are in need.
But, unlike the modern world…which so often makes up rights without any responsibilities, Scripture doesn’t give carte blanche to anyone labeled as needy. James gives a clear call to watch out for widows, but Paul actually spends quite a bit of time telling Timothy the right way for it to be done:
3 Honor widows who are truly widows. 4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. 5 She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, 6 but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. 7 Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. 8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
9 Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, 10 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. 11 But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry 12 and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. 13 Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. 14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. 15 For some have already strayed after Satan. 16 If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows (1 Timothy 5:3-16).
Yes, we should take care of widows…but notice when. When they truly have no other means of support. It’s one thing to be an 80 year-old, frail widow with no family who cannot work…and quite another to be a 30 year-old widow who can get (or has) a job.
If you don’t use common sense in helping those in need, you are limiting your ability to help those truly in need…and you are also injuring the ones you claim to help.
Yes, giving people a handout when they shouldn’t is hurting them. Otherwise, why would Paul write the Thessalonians:
10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12).
Notice how both what Paul said to Timothy and the church at Thessalonica speak of idleness and busybodies. The Living Bible paraphrases Proverbs 16:27 as “Idle hands are the devil’s worship; idle lips are his mouthpiece.” Although that takes quite a bit of liberty with a more accurate “A worthless man plots evil, and his speech is like a scorching fire,” there is truth to it. Personally, I think that a lot of the strife we see around us in the world…and more specifically in the United States of America…would go away if we stopped handing out rights without responsibilities. If we expected those who could work to work…even if it isn’t at something that isn’t their passion.
If we told everyone who could…
Get off your butts.
What Does this Mean for Us?
Now, please don’t get me wrong. I do not…and let me repeat…I do not…mean that everyone who is on welfare, getting food stamps, or who is receiving other government assistance should “get off their butts.” There are many who are truly in need, and although I would really prefer the church be taking care of them, their neediness is real and they should be cared for.
But that number is far less than those who live off the government, their families, or organizations who use them as pawns for their ideologies.
Ultimately, what does the biblical admonition to be there for the needy mean for us? For the Strasburg Church of Christ?
It means as a church, what we are doing this coming week, sponsoring a concert for the benefit of the CARES Food Pantry of Strasburg, should only be the beginning of what we are doing…as a church…and individually. It’s not all about money. There are those among us who, at times, need to get more than they can give. However, we can always help…with prayer…with visitation…with visible love.
Not just love.
We noted in our last sermon about the Almighty’s characteristics that “God is love” (see 1 John 4:8 and 4:16), and God the Son made that love more than words. He was the epitome of visible love.
So, let’s continue to feed the hungry…but let’s not forget the many other categories of those in need. The heartbroken. The lonely. The sick.
And, especially, let’s not forget each other. It’s a hard world out there…one that follows a fallen agent who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (see 1 Peter 5:8).
As we remember orphans, widows, and everyone else in need…let’s make sure none of our brothers and sisters in our small congregation lack what they need or become lion food.