By Bruce Green
Teaching Minister at 10th Street Church of Christ
By providing financial assistance to widows who were in need, the church at Ephesus was fulfilling a vital part of its mission (1 Timothy 5:3-16). The church as the body of Christ is to practice justice, mercy and faithfulness (see Matthew 23:23). When this is done, people are able to live and thrive in community. In the kingdom of God, everyone is someone and Jesus Christ is everything.
Here’s some things the text suggests in regard to justice:
1. Justice has to do with how we treat “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40, 45). Taking care of the widow who was really in need was taking care of “the least of these.” In Scripture, the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner represent the spectrum of marginalized people. The church, as much as it is in its power, is to ensure justice, mercy and faithfulness is experienced by them all. Anything less, means a lesser church and a lesser reflection of God to the world.
2. Justice begins in the home and family. The situation at Ephesus was that apparently there were people who, if not pushing for it, were at least okay with the church taking care of a widow who was part of their biological family (v. 3-8). Catch the irony—they wanted to church to live up to being just and doing the right thing—even though they weren’t. Sometimes the people calling the loudest for justice are those who have practiced it the least.
Justice in the church and justice in the world begins with justice in our homes and families. That’s why the qualifications for church leadership (3:1ff) have so much to do with marriage and family. If you want to change the world that’s noble, but make sure you start with your home and family. You cannot be pro-justice and anti-family.
3. Justice is a two-way street. The church was accountable for supporting widows who were really in need, but the widows were also accountable for meeting the definition of being in need as well as in reference to their character (v. 5, 9-10). Working for justice meant both sides had something to do. We would have a lot more justice in the church and in the world if people on both sides of an issue recognized this and were willing to make themselves accountable to what they needed to do.
4. The goal of justice is to do what it true, right and good—not to make everyone happy. As Timothy implemented Paul’s instruction, it’s doubtful that everyone at Ephesus was happy. There was probably a family or two who would rather have had the church take care of their grandmother than them. It’s not hard to imagine there was a widow or two in their late fifties who thought the sixty-year-old cut off was arbitrary (v. 9). Nonetheless, Timothy was doing the right thing. Those who didn’t like it disagreed with God.
5. Justice can be a powerful witness. In Acts 6:1-6, Luke tells us a problem that faced the early church in Jerusalem. There was a certain group of widows who were being overlooked in the food distribution. This was a justice issue and wise leaders looked into the situation and delegated authority to men who were equipped the handle the situation. These men did what they were appointed to do and the church didn’t just move on—”the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly” (v. 7). The way they handled the situation was a powerful witness to the world around them!