Caring for Widows and Widowers in the Church
Within any decent-sized congregation there are bound to be some who are widows, usually those that are older, but in some cases there might be younger widows as well. In the world outside the church, many might look upon widows as a regular part of life. Death is common, and thus widows don’t necessarily merit any undue attention. But such should never be the case within the church.
The Bible has a number of things to say about widows. God instructed Israel not to mistreat widows (Exod. 22:22). The book of Ruth showcases the undying love of a woman for her widowed mother-in-law and God’s greater love through his providential care for both widows, Ruth and Naomi.
The Psalmist tells us that God is a “father to the fatherless and protector of widows” (Ps. 68:5). And the New Testament has a number of passages dedicated to the instruction and care for widows, but James’s words stand out most prominently to me:
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. (1:27; cf. Acts 6:1ff; 1 Cor. 7:8; 1 Tim. 5:3ff)
If you want to see pure Christianity in action, you can witness it in the care for widows and orphans.
For churches, therefore, caring for widows and widowers is of vital importance.
I dare say that the quality of care for its widows and widowers is a barometer of the spiritual health and maturity of a church. If a church neglects its widows, then something is definitely amiss. Some might object because in Paul’s day widows did not have a means of income. Therefore, they required significant assistance if they did not have family to care for them or if they were too old to marry. Likewise, what need is there to care for a widower? Should such a man be able to provide for himself?
Yes, in the present day widows often have greater financial resources at hand—they have insurance policies, retirement savings, and the like. Many don’t need the financial support of the church. But caring for widows is not merely about financial support.
Think about it: if you have a woman who was married for forty or fifty years and then her husband dies, her life has taken a dramatic turn. There are so many little things in life that she now has to do herself—take care of her home, car, or handle household administrative affairs, for example. She may, or may not, be able to handle these things on her own.
Widows and widowers need lots of help and support as they adjust to life without their spouse by their side.
Moreover, before her husband died, she had a protector, confidant, and spiritual caregiver to lead her in Christ. Now, all of a sudden, this has changed. The same holds true, I believe, for widowers. When I was a pastor, a man in my church lost his wife of sixty years. Sixty years! I can’t imagine what it must have been like for him to wake up in the morning and not have the love of his life next to him.
This man was relatively self-reliant, but I suspect the hole in his heart was sizeable, and so I did what I could to minister to him. We would meet once a week for coffee. Even though I could never take the place of his wife of sixty years, I wanted him to know that he was loved, valued, and important.
So, keep an eye out for widows and widowers in your church. See what you might do to care for them. If there are none, see if there are any in your neighborhood or community and share the love of Christ with them.
J. V. Fesko is Academic Dean and Professor of Systematic Theology and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California. He has written numerous books on the Christian faith, including Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism, Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine, The Theology of the Westminster Standards: Historical Context and Theological Insights and the newly released commentary, Romans (Lectio Continua).
This article by J. V. Fesko was originally published under the title "A Pastor's Reflections: Widows" on Westminster Seminary California's Valiant For Truth blog. For more helpful content by Dr. Fesko, please visit jvfesko.com.