“Honor widows who are truly widows. 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.”
(1Timothy 5:3-4 ESV)
When I served my first congregation, I lived in a parsonage in inner-city San Diego. Around me lived people from many different cultures and ethnic groups. And something always struck me about these people. It was impossible to miss the fact that they are very family oriented.
I had a Vietnamese family living on one side. And in their home lived the grandparents, the parents, and the children. On the other side of my home was an apartment complex where several Mexican families lived. And they also maintained strong intergenerational connections.
I learned from a friend that, when a Vietnamese couple married, they moved in with the bride’s parents. Her parents would help with the children and the housework. And, as they aged, they were cared for by their children and grandchildren.
This struck me because, in American culture, our goal is to get out of our parents’ house. We want to get out on our own and take care of ourselves. We have little, if any, desire to stay and to care for our parents.
And this mentality is seen not only in the young. As adults, we want to get our children out of the house so we can enjoy the quiet of our golden years. Among older adults, it’s viewed as strange to have adult children living with you. It signifies that your children have not succeeded and are not able to take care of themselves.
As they age, many older adults are unwilling to live with their children. They say that they don’t want to be a burden. And, for this reason, they choose to move into a nursing home.
It seems to me that we’ve lost sight of the call of God to take care of our family. Paul, in the above passage, was talking about the care of widows. And he encouraged the church to care for widows who were truly widows. What he meant by this is that, not only have they lost their spouse, but that they have no family left to care for them.
However, if a widow had family, if they had children or grandchildren, it was expected that they would provide care. He refers to this as showing godliness to their own household. He says that, in this way, they’re making some return to their parents. And he tells us that this is pleasing in the eyes of God.
We often fail to remember that, by serving our parents, by caring for them, we are serving God. After all, it’s he who called us to honor our father and mother. As Jesus points out, in Mark 7:9-13, by providing for our parents, by caring for them, we fulfill this command.
In verse 8 of 1 Timothy 5, Paul makes a very strong statement, one that we’d do well to consider. He says: “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.” Even unbelievers understand that it’s right and proper to care for their family. So, if we fail to provide for our family, and this is especially true if we’ve failed to provide for those of our own household, we’ve denied the faith. We cannot sincerely profess faith in Jesus if we’re unwilling to care for our family.
Considering this, I think that it’s good for us to be counter-cultural here in America. As the church, let us not fall into the mindset that’s so prevalent in our nation today. Let us not ignore our parents as they age. Let us not seek independence from our parents to the point where we no longer honor them. And let us, as we age, willingly receive the care and provision of our children.